With most manufacturers in a mad rush to add live preview to their newest dSLR cameras, it is worth considering its value for serious photographers.
Many manufacturers see live preview as an important component in helping to migrate compact camera users over onto dSLRs. Frankly I find this very scary. While live preview is very handy on small, light compact cameras in many picture taking situations, it worries me thinking of people holding a much heavier SLR at arm’s length. Thankfully there are some serious uses for live preview.
Many come to photography later in life and with an aging population there are more photographers than ever with eyesight issues. There are times when an SLR viewfinder, wonderful and bright as they are, can be hard to use for some people. What live preview does in such situations is provide an alternative way of shooting that may work better for the particular person’s eyesight.
Many of us miss the days of waist-level viewfinders. There is something wonderful and transcendental from using a waist-level finder. It slows you down and can make your photography more considered. Of course many cameras would benefit from having a folding light-shading hood fitted to the LCD and it really helps if the LCD is a tilting, rotating kind.
Shooting at low level, in difficult positions or shooting over your head in a crowd all benefit from live preview. Too often it is so much easier to just shoot the world from your eye level. Changing this perspective can be a great aid to getting the right shot. Trouble is you often don’t want to get your clothes dirty, get wet or muddy, just to get the shot you want. There will be times when, to fit photography into your life, you will go out shooting in good clothes. Plus with aging many of us have trouble getting into some positions so that you can see through the viewfinder.
Macro photography is one area where many of the above factors can come into play. Here live preview is very helpful. On some cameras live preview with manual focus offers a hugely magnified view that makes focusing easy. On some cameras, such as the Olympus E-3 I am testing at present, even depth of field preview works in live preview. DOF preview is a useful tool but has always been somewhat limited by the fact that the viewfinders goes so dark when you are working quite stopped down. On the E-3, and probably some other live preview cameras, you can press the dof preview button and all that changes on the LCD is which areas are sharp and which are blurred. It is amazing and for those who have struggled with dof preview in the past is something you really have to try. For the first time it really allows precise dof preview judgment.
Other specialist areas, such as astrophotography and using the camera with a microscope, and even underwater photography, also benefit from live preview. With some cameras live previews gives you a working view even with an infrared filter in place for IR shooting.
Here I show you how live preview works with depth of field preview (stop down) on an Olympus E-3. We go from wide open at the top to f22 at the bottom.
It is very important to note that not all live preview cameras are the same and offer the same ease of use and capabilities. The update rate of the live capture display, for example, can greatly affect how useful it is, as are things like whether auto-focus works or not. Olympus does seem to be further along in making all camera functions still work in live preview. Sony also seems to be heading the right way with the new A350. So pay very careful attention to what you are getting if making a camera purchase decision and live preview is important.