Screen or Viewfinder: Which is best for discreet photography?
With the universal popularity of smartphone photography there is a whole generation of snappers content to compose on a screen instead of peering through a viewfinder. Yet for photographers brought up on viewfinders it is hard to see the benefits of screen composition. Many cringe at the thought of holding a camera at arm's length.
I’m a great fan of viewfinders and have often said I wouldn’t buy another camera without either an optical or electronic finder built into the body. I’m not entirely true to my convictions because I do own three little cameras without built-in finders — the trusty old Leica X1, the Ricoh GR and a recent acquisition — by chance as it happens — the Panasonic Lumix GM1.
I can fit optical finders to both the Leica and the Ricoh, but the little m4/3 GM1 — which I will be covering in more detail soon — has no accessory shoe, therefore no opportunity to fix a finder. Since I’ve been using the GM1, therefore, I have been forced to compose exclusively with the screen. I am getting used to it and beginning to see some benefits.
Eric Kim is already sold on the idea of composition by screen as he outlines in this article. He lists a number of advantages of screen-only shooting.
He believes it helps with creativity and it helps him get closer to the subject without scaring the horses; the absence of a viewfinder means the camera body can be smaller and helps Eric take his photography less seriously.
The important point to take from this is that screen composition is more casual, more smartphoney and consequently less threatening. A photographer with the extremely competent Ricoh GR, for instance, will be seen as an amateur, a tourist even, and can harvest candid shots that might otherwise frighten off or annoy more sensitive subjects.
I can see lots of merit in this argument. For small pocket cameras such as the GR, the Sony RX100 or the Panasonic GM1, I can manage without a viewfinder. Once upon a time I would have regarded this as heresy of the first order; but now I accept that I can often get closer and take more candid shots than would be the case if I were squinting through the viewfinder of a Leica M or, even worse, an SL or pro DSLR.
This argument can run and run. Some photographers wouldn’t look at a camera without a viewfinder and spend considerable time looking down their noses at smartphone users and tourists with their point-and-shoot cameras. Others take a more pragmatic view and accept that there are occasions when an ultra-small camera can be more effective when used via the screen.
Are you a die-hard viewfinder person or do you agree with Eric’s strident views on screen composition? Discuss.