Loving LiveView

Most recently introduced DSLRs have a feature called “Live View” which locks the mirror up and displays on the LCD what the sensor sees, in real-time. If you were brought up on cell phone cameras you are thinking “is there any other way to see what the camera is focused on?” If you are thinking that, this post is not for you.

Frankly, watching people shake their cameras and phones at arm’s length induces in me a sensation similar to dragging your fingers on a blackboard. I’ve always prefered the stability and intimacy of the SLR’s viewfinder.

Which one is the real photographer?

I recently had an experience that changed my mind.

Twin Peaks provides almost an aerial view of downtown San Francisco. I set out to capture a view of the famous Ferry Building at the end of  tree-lined Market Street. After scouting for a suitable location on the side of the northern of the two Twin Peaks, I  mounted my Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD with Kenko C-AF Pro 300 2X teleconverter on to my Canon 5D Mark II. The whole kit was mounted on a Bogen 3021 tripod with a Really Right Stuff BH-40LR ballhead & quick release.

Twin Peaks is known for its stiff breeze and today was no exception. With everything tightened down and the camera as low to the ground as possible without having the view blocked by an errant plant, the image was still shaking like crazy in the viewfinder. I was trying to focus manually, and that was proving quite difficult. (Manual focus worked much better back when cameras did not have autofocus.) I was trying to time the exposure to occur when the shake was minimum. But with the additional delay resulting from the time it takes for the mirror to swing out of the way, I could never be sure.

Then I thought to try this new fangled Live View. With Live View I could use the 10X “digital zoom” to fill the LCD display with the subject of critical interest – the clock tower on the Ferry Building. Although the wind still caused the image to jump around, I found finding proper focus much easier. I could then sit back with the remote release in hand, wait for the image to stabilize for a moment, then CLICK. A comparison of the results taken with and without Live View are shown below.

The image on the left was taken using the viewfinder to manually focus, while the image on the right was focused using Live View. I had been wondering what caused the red streak across the lower part of the tower. In the right image it is clearly reveled as the California state flag.

The complete image is shown here:

Market Street, San Francisco.
600mm focal length lens, f/11, 1/125sec, ISO 200. The ‘curves” function in Photoshop was used to lighten and increase contrast of the Ferry Building as well as reduce the brightness of some of the foreground buildings.

I also learned what everyone who uses a view camera must know. The intimacy of using the viewfinder has its disadvantages. Your eye tends to be drawn into the scene in much the same way as if the camera were not there. Your eye focuses on various parts of the scene and the brain assembles an image where the important subjects predominate and the less significant are ignored. The final image is more objective, and much of the emotional impact may be lost. Using Live View the image is display within a frame in much the same way as the final image. It is easier to notice poor composition and distracting elements. Perhaps there should be an option to flip the image upside-down. Throw in a perspective-control lens and we would have all the advantages of a view camera.

Who’s the real photographer now?

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