Big and bright is a good thing, but look for ones that flip
An LCD is like a small television built into the back of the digital camera. When you turn the camera on, the LCD shows you what you're about to take a photo of.
The most obvious difference between the LCD screens on digital cameras: their size. Digital camera ads will boast about the size of the LCD: like having a big-screen TV on the back of your camera! Not exactly, but sometimes having a larger LCD can make a difference.
What to look for in an LCD
The three main features of most digital camera LCD screens are their size, brightness and whether or not they flip out from the back of the camera.
LCD sizes vary from 1 inch across to 2.5 inches across. You can pull out the ruler or tape measure to figure this out, or just use these illustrations:
The image to the right shows you the approximate proportions of a small LCD screen (1.25 in. x 1.0 in.) This is the size of most LCD screens since the manufacturers want to make their cameras compact.
This is representative of a much larger LCD screen, and is not typical for digital cameras. Only a small number of cameras will have screens this large. The camera itself will not be much larger than the screen — basically the screen is the entire back of the camera.
This is probably the most important factor to consider when comparing LCD screens on digital cameras. Most digital cameras on the market have two ways for you to see what you are taking a photo of: the LCD on the back of the camera and a small optical viewfinder above the LCD.
There are several problems with the optical viewfinders on compact digital cameras:
- Viewfinders do not show you the whole scene. When you look through the viewfinder, you will see the scene in front of you but when you take the photograph, the camera will actually capture more than you intended. Distracting elements that you thought were not in the picture will wind up in it.
- Viewfinders do not show focus. Everything that you see through the viewfinder is in focus, and there is no indication when something is not. While most cameras today beep when the scene is in focus, you can take a lot of blurry photos if you just look through the viewfinder.
So how do you know for sure that you are taking a good shot with a compact digital camera? You must rely on the LCD screen on the back of the camera to compose and focus on the scene.
If you use the LCD exclusively to compose your photos (which you probably will once you get used to it), then chances are you are going to use it outdoors on a sunny day. Here's a little trick: all LCD screens look GREAT when you compare them indoors. If you take them outside, suddenly the glare and reflection make them almost impossible to see. Your main tool for composing photos has just become useless.
You can compensate for this — many digital cameras give you the capacity to make the LCD screen brighter when you are taking photos outdoors. There is a consequence: your batteries, which already did not have long to live, will drain even faster with the LCD set to its maximum brightness.
These types of screens are not available on most digital cameras. Flip LCD screens rotate out from the body of the camera so that you are able to see the LCD screen without holding the camera right in front of your face. You can rotate the screen up, and hold the camera low to ground. You can rotate the screen down and take photos above your head.
These screens are most effective if you know that you will be taking a lot of photos at odd angles. For example, if you're always taking photos of your pet rabbit, then a flip screen will prevent you from having to get down on the ground every time. It will also help if you like to catch photos of celebrities on the red carpet and need to shoot over the heads of your fellow fans.
While flip screens add to the versatility and fun of the camera, there should not be too many times when having an LCD like this is absolutely essential.
The Basic Rule of Thumb
When comparing LCD screens, don't just read about them - go take a look. The only way that you will know what size LCD is right for you is if you see them side-by-side. A camera with a large LCD may cost more, but if it helps you compose photos correctly, then it will be worth it.
If possible, compare LCD screens outside rather than indoors. If you have friends who own digital cameras, ask them to let you see the LCD screen in bright sunlight. This is not an issue if you only take photos indoors.
Find a camera with a flip screen and play with it. See if it is easy to rotate and change. Some flip screens only flip one way, so this may limit what you can do with them.
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