Live View on DSLR, is it a Gimmick?

Live View on DSLR, is it a Gimmick?

I am referring to Live View on dslr cameras, the feature that comes with all modern dslr cameras and the one that some people refer to as a gimmick, but is it? or is it something highly misunderstood and very useful indeed?

I hear many people who participate my workshops saying... "why on earth should I be using the Live View, when I have a lovely and bright viewfinder?" Of course, when I explain the why and how to properly use Live View, they change their mind about this feature.

Here are some highly useful things one can do with Live View.

Do all the usual preparations such as finding your subject, compose it and so on, then move into Live View. At this point I must emphasise that we will talk about shooting a landscape picture.


Next step is focusing. Let's follow your usual technique for focusing through the viewfinder – no matter what this technique is, I will not go into details here. Change your aperture into something like f/11 (instead of the usual f/22 some people get to right away, as they want as deep dof as possible). Instead of your viewfinder now, switch on Live View and with the lens switched to manual focusing, find the spot/area that you wish to focus on and zoom in there to 100% scale (digitally, by using the the camera's zoom button and not zooming the lens). Now you can manually focus via the lens with high precision, right on that spot/area. Next, move down to the bottom of the frame (the edge of your foreground).

Obviously it will look out of focus but remember, your lens aperture is always wide open on a Canon camera. Press and hold the DOF button on the camera. This will close down the aperture blades to your settings of f/11. How does it look now? Sharp enough and in focus? Fine, let's move on. Still zoomed in at 100%, start moving to the top of the screen and the distant background. Press the dof button again, looks sharp enough and f/11 covers the entire frame? Excellent, you are done with focusing and f/11 will be more than enough to give you the dof the scene requires.

On the other hand, if things do not look good, you have to think about moving your focus point/area or try f/14-f/16 (depending on your camera). I need to mention at this point that if you are using a dslr with small (crop) sensor like the canon 70D or nikon D70, you shouldn’t push the aperture beyond f/13 but this is a subject for a different discussion. With practice, very soon you will have mastered the way you focus with Live View and your focusing will always be spot on.


OK. You are done with focusing, is that all Live View can offer? No, there is more. The camera I am using is a canon 5D Mk II so all my findings are based on this camera. You need to read your camera’s manual to see how exactly your Live View works. Now let's move into exposure. Some cameras allow exposure simulation with Live View (I know canon does). What is that? While your lens is set to manual focus, you should have a square focusing bracket in the middle of your Live View screen. If you move this bracket down and towards the bottom of the screen, you get a certain exposure and you can see on the screen the aperture value (a) and shutter speed value (b). Move the bracket towards the top of the screen now, the sky. Live view now will simulate the exposure for this area on the screen and will give you the same aperture (if you are using AV) value (a) but a different shutter speed value (x). By calculating the difference between S/S value (b) and value (x), you can tell what strength of nd graduated filter you need for balancing the exposure difference between land and sky. Now, isn’t that superb and extremely helpful?

Fine, you've done all that and now you are ready to take the picture. You can always (while on Live View) bring the histogram on the screen and make sure that your overall exposure looks good. You can take a picture, double check that everything is fine and now you are ready. All you need to do is wait for the right light, knowing that all has been correctly done.

These are the basic things that Live View offers you and let's not forget how useful it is to those who use tilt/shift lenses or macro photography and so on. Live View is a simple way to provide constant mirror lockup but beware, excess use for prolonged periods of time will heat up the sensor and cause noise, switch off Live View every now and then to allow the sensor to cool down.

If there is something you didn’t fully understand or have a question (any question), leave a reply and I will do my best to answer it.

If you enjoyed this article, please leave a comment in the comments box below – your acknowledgement will drive us to write even more free articles for you.

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Live View on DSLR, is it a Gimmick?

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  1. Avatar

    I always use my back screen to compose etc and I didn’t know about the sensor heating up bit so nice tip will keep an eye on that in future..

  2. Avatar
    stuart towse on

    great tip thank you for sharing and i will give it a go next ime iam out with my camera

  3. Avatar
    Harvey Spears on

    Thanks for the information, it was really useful. I normally do not use live view, however I will make better use of it now.

  4. Avatar
    John Berninger on

    Great article, Dimitri. Are there situations when it would be better to switch off exposure simulation?

    • Avatar
      Dimitrios Vasileiou on

      Hi John
      To be honest, I never felt the need to do so, I can’t even think of a reason that would require me to do so.

  5. Avatar
    tom drysdale on

    Hi Dimiitri – nice article i’ve started using live view more and more particularly for focusing. I have a crop sensor camera (70D) so your comment about not shooting above f13 caught my eye, can you expand on this or point me towards some info? Is the diffraction issue exacerbated? I generally avoid it any but i am a sucker for a sun burst everynow and then… 🙂


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