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Digital Cameras: What is Live View?

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When you shoot through a compact digital camera, you use its LCD screen to compose and focus your image. There are disadvantages to this setup when compared to using the optical viewfinders of SLRs, a few of which we touched on in earlier digital and DSLR camera guides. But there are a ton of advantages too – the primary being ease of use. But more than that, an LCD delivers better feedback of user adjustments than an optical viewfinder.

Yet because SLRs work differently than compact cameras, they have not traditionally been able to display the image of upcoming photos on their LCD screens, which, until just recently, have been reserved for settings adjustments and image playback. But all of that changed in 2008 with the advent of something that’s been dubbed “Live View.”

dslr-live-view-2Essentially, SLRs that support the Live View function allow the photographer to use the LCD as a (bigger) viewfinder. Live View is a real boon for compact camera owners who are accustomed to using a viewing screen, but are thinking of graduating to an SLR. It’s also a great perk for SLR devotees because they can now take advantage of what has traditionally been a compact camera-only feature. And, given its reception thus far, it’s hard to imagine many more SLRs will be manufactured without it.

Granted, composing and taking a photo using Live View isn’t quite as seamless as doing the same thing via a compact camera’s viewing screen. Indeed, the image transmission shuts down for a moment just before the shutter releases – a byproduct of SLR technology. Furthermore, the focusing isn’t quite as fast as it is through the viewfinder, and the image display isn’t quick to update. One more thing – using Live View drains the batteries much faster than using the viewfinder.

Yet even at this early stage and even with its foibles, Live View is a winning concept. We recommend that if at all possible, you should make Live View one of your priorities if considering your first SLR.

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