A new photographer’s guide to the camera viewfinder


If you’ve just gotten a brand new camera, you’re probably looking at its viewfinder and wondering exactly what you’re seeing. Just be aware that even advanced users watch it sometimes and see a ton of information. But you don’t need to be intimidated. Here’s what you need to know in less than 600 words. Hopefully by the end of this you will have a bit more clarity on the subject.

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Can’t see clearly? Adjust diopter

When you look through the viewfinder of your new camera, it’s not supposed to be blurry. If this seems to be the case, you need to adjust the diopter. Think of it as a magnifying glass. Sometimes the closer the magnifying glass is, the less effective it is. So basically you have to move it back and forth. You can adjust it using a small knob near the viewfinder. Turn it to the + side if you are farsighted and can see things clearly from a distance but not up close. Turn it to the side – if you need to see up close. My diopter is always completely turned to the negative side and I always take pictures with glasses.

Also, remember that you might have one eye stronger than the other.

Exposure preview in exposure control modes

If you set your camera to M (manual), Av or A (aperture), S or TV (shutter) or P (program), the camera will give you some control over the exposure settings. By default, cameras are set so you can adjust exposure settings and see the adjustment effect on the scene. Different brands call this effect different things.

If the scene is dark, you must either:

  • Increase your ISO (the higher the number, the higher the ISO)
  • Open the aperture (the lower the number, the more open it is)
  • Slow down the shutter speed (this works in fractions of a second, so 1/4 of a second is slower than 1/8000th)

Likewise, if the scene is too bright, you should do the reverse of the above.

Autofocus confirmation

When you focus the camera by pressing the autofocus button, you will see the camera focus on a subject. In the viewfinder, it will appear with one or more green boxes on that subject. This is how the camera tells you that the subject is in focus.

The Info/Display buttons and the information you will see

Your viewfinder can show you a lot of information. Place the viewfinder over your eye and press the information or display button until you see exactly what you want. You can also customize them in the settings, but that’s a whole other thing. Here you will see information such as exposure settings, autofocus, type, white balance, metering type, remaining space on your memory card, battery life, level and much more.

For beginners, this is what you need to start using your sight. There’s more to go through, but this is where things get more advanced. We don’t want to confuse you. And if you want better shots, the viewfinder can help eliminate all distractions by making you look into a small window and, therefore, into the eye of the camera.

For more beginner-friendly tips, be sure to check out our Helpful Photography Tips section.


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