Camera Viewfinder Guide & Ratings

While it is not the most important feature of a camera, a viewfinder of good quality does ensure that you will know what your photograph is going to look like. Centering an object in a photograph can be difficult with a poor quality viewfinder, and your photograph may not include objects which appear near the edges of the viewfinder. The viewfinders of different cameras range from being a piece of clear plastic to a very accurate lens. A few cameras also have top-mounted viewfinders which allow you to preview the photograph by looking down at the camera. It is sometimes said that low-quality viewfinders have a “parallax” problem, and you may occasionally see cameras advertised as “parallax-corrected.”

I have inspected the viewfinders of several cameras and provided a rating of their accuracy and size in the following list. I did not include any SLR (Single Lens Reflex) cameras, because they use a different previewing system which does not involve a viewfinder. I also included the location of the viewfinder for each camera, which is usually the upper-left or upper-middle.

Higher ratings indicate a more accurate viewfinder. The viewfinder size rating is separate from the accuracy rating.

Camera Model: Minolta F10BF Viewfinder Rating: 9/10
Viewfinder Size: 7/10 Location: Upper-Middle

Camera Model: Vivitar BV997 Viewfinder Rating: 9/10
Viewfinder Size: 9/10 Location: Upper-Middle

Camera Model: Tura Waterproof Viewfinder Rating: 9/10
Viewfinder Size: 5/10 Location: Upper-Middle

Camera Model: KB JamCam 2.0 Viewfinder Rating: 8/10
Viewfinder Size: 5/10 Location: Upper-Middle

Camera Model: Suprema GP104 Viewfinder Rating: 8/10
Viewfinder Size: 4/10 Location: Upper-Middle

Camera Model: Bell & Howell 35J Viewfinder Rating: 7/10
Viewfinder Size: 3/10 Location: Upper-Slightly Left

Camera Model: Meikai AW4396 Viewfinder Rating: 7/10
Viewfinder Size: 3/10 Location: Upper-Left

Camera Model: Bentley BX3 Viewfinder Rating: 4/10
Viewfinder Size: 3/10 Location: Upper-Left

Camera Model: Weston WX7 Viewfinder Rating: 1/10
Viewfinder Size: 7/10 Location: Upper-Left

What can you do if you really like a camera’s performance and features, but it has a very inaccurate viewfinder? One option is to hold a better viewfinder (make sure you use the outer lens) in front of the camera’s built-in viewfinder. I took the viewfinder from a broken Vivitar BV997 and held it in front of a Weston WX7’s viewfinder – it improved the accuracy significantly. Please be aware that this may cause eyestrain, depending upon the existing viewfinder. However, this is inconvenient, and you may achieve better results by opening up the camera and installing a better viewfinder. It is also possible to purchase an accessory viewfinder for some cameras, which attaches to the camera’s metal hot shoe (flash port, which not all cameras have) and is likely to be more accurate.

Some people use cameras with inaccurate viewfinders and manually correct for the viewfinder after they understand how it is inaccurate. For example, if you know that the lens is actually lower and pointed more to the right than the viewfinder indicates, you can always point the camera in a way which causes the viewfinder to show the area above and to the left of the target. However, this is more time-consuming and can easily be forgotten, especially when taking a photograph of something which may move away at any second.

Based on the ratings I listed, it seems as if viewfinders located in the upper-middle of the camera are more likely to be accurate than those installed in the upper-left. This is probably because the lens is located in the middle of the most cameras as well, so being located in the middle helps the viewfinder to be accurate. Cameras which have a metal hot shoe (for attaching a flash unit) seem to rarely have viewfinders located in the middle, although I have seen a few exceptions made by Akira and Meikai. Compact cameras can have inaccurate viewfinders but are less likely to have very inaccurate viewfinders because there can be less distance between the lens and viewfinder.

One way to quickly determine if a viewfinder is of low quality is to look through the viewfinder at an object, then move the camera away from the object while you are still looking at it. If the object is still appears to be the same size (with and without the viewfinder), the viewfinder is probably inaccurate. If it changes size, it is probably atleast of fair quality although there are still less obvious indications of accuracy.

It should be remembered that the quality of a camera’s viewfinder is not always an indication of the camera’s overall quality. Some cameras with poor-quality viewfinders can produce photographs of good quality. At the same time, some cameras with higher-quality viewfinders create more accurate but lower-quality photographs. The size and quality of a camera’s viewfinder should only be one consideration among others when selecting an appropriate camera to purchase.

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