Your Viewfinder: What You See May NOT Be What You Get

I was shooting my most recent photo installation with my associate, Bob Boyer, when he suggested I write a blog on a common and frustrating issue for photographers. We had just viewed some outtakes of the photo session and noticed that many of the images included materials along the edges that we had not wanted to be in the frame.

The issue here is that many viewfinders, that is the scene you see when you look through the eyepiece or the back of your digital screen, does not actually represent what the camera will record on the sensor. In my case, my Nikon D700 that we were using for this shoot has 95% coverage. That means that the actual image the camera produces will include 5% more coverage around the edges than what I saw with my own eyes as I squinted through the eyepiece. Fortunately we noticed this as we shot, since we were tethered to my trusty Apple MacBook Air and could see the images immediately on its crisp 13” screen.

In this first image, we noticed the white photo ID placard to the left of my wall-mounted images, good for marketing my work to patrons, but bad for a PR brochure shot.

In this next shot I cropped in-camera to remove that distraction.

However, this viewfinder issue can be a real problem in some situations, as unwanted distractions pop up in the final image. Okay, you may say, that’s no big deal, I can just crop the image and remove the distractions if you do your own post-processing. That’s often true. But don’t forget that most digital SLRs have a 2:3 format or perhaps a 4:3 format, known as the aspect ratio, meaning that the image size is longer than wide. That means that you can’t crop equally on all sides, which may affect your composition.

With some digital point-and-shoot cameras you can change the aspect ratio. The Canon G12, for example, can be changed from its native 4:3 ratio to 3:2 or others. But it famously has 100% viewfinder coverage, so what you see is what you get.

My point here is that you should always check out your owner’s manual to see what your viewfinder coverage is. Take some test shots, too. At very close range 5% missing coverage may not mean a lot, but in a landscape scene it might include a good deal of unplanned detail that can ruin a shot.

Happy shooting!

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