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Decipher the Viewfinder Data

Use Your DSLR Camera's Viewfinder More Efficiently


Decipher the Viewfinder Data

You can see a viewfinder at the top of the back of this Fujifilm HS20 camera.


If you’re someone who has always used point and shoot cameras, you’ve probably become comfortable with using the LCD to frame your photos. One of the advantages of looking at the LCD when preparing to shoot an image is that you can see as many of the camera’s current settings as you want displayed on the screen. Typically, you’ll see shutter speed, aperture setting, ISO setting, and the exposure compensation setting on the screen.

As you move to a more advanced camera, though, you may find that the camera includes a viewfinder. The viewfinder is the small “window” above the LCD screen on the DSLR camera. Depending on the type of DSLR you own, you can either look through the viewfinder to frame the photo or use the LCD with a mode called Live View.

Many experienced photographers prefer to use the viewfinder to frame photos. Using the viewfinder allows you to hold the camera steady against your face, which makes it easier to avoid camera shake. Most DSLR cameras perform a little better when using the viewfinder versus using Live View, too.

With the viewfinders on older DSLR cameras, though, you didn’t have the option of displaying some of the camera’s settings through the viewfinder. Now, however, DSLRs can display almost anything about the camera’s settings in the viewfinder, similar to the way data is displayed on the LCD. The way the data and settings are displayed in the viewfinder may differ a bit from what you see on the LCD, though. Use the tips below to help you understand the data you’re seeing in your DSLR’s viewfinder.

  • With many viewfinders, the main area for framing the photo includes a framing grid (lines that divide the frame), a faint circle around the center of the frame (for center-weighted metering), and small rectangles that indicate focus points. These items will not appear on your photograph. You also usually can remove them from the viewfinder display through the camera’s menus.

  • The battery power icon usually looks like a AA battery. Sometimes, it is part of the display in the viewfinder all of the time; other times, the icon only appears when the battery is low.

  • You’ll probably see a lot of numbers and icons on the display with the viewfinder. The possible numbers in the display include shutter speed, aperture, number of shots remaining on the memory card, and white balance indicator. Because the viewfinder doesn’t have a lot of room in its display window, the camera doesn’t have a lot of explanations of each icon or number in the viewfinder window, so it pays dividends to figure out what each icon or number represents.

  • Some DSLR cameras offer some different pieces of data than others. For example, some Canon DSLR cameras include a number that indicates the number of frames you can shoot in the currently selected burst mode.

  • With some cameras, you can change what’s displayed in the viewfinder screen. Look through the DSLR’s on-screen menus to find a command that allows you to customize the viewfinder data. (The same command may allow you to customize the LCD data, too.)

  • If you’re ever confused about the data you’re looking at for your particular DSLR camera, you always can look at the user guide for the camera. Look near the front of the guide for a diagram that shows you an image of the viewfinder screen along with labels for each piece of data shown on the screen.

  • Finally, keep in mind that many DSLR cameras include a focus ring for the viewfinder. The focus ring is needed to allow photographers with different levels of vision sharpness to use the viewfinder. The focus ring usually is on the right or left side of the viewfinder housing. Use your index finger to roll the dial back and forth to adjust the focus.
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