Many many photographers consider live view to be something unnecessary. I however have found it to be quite a useful part of my camera. some cameras make it easy to use and some make it a bit less convenient.
as i sat in glacier national park watching a bear through the viewfinder i thought to myself “there has to be a better way.” i’m sitting down, my camera is on the tripod and here i am twisting my neck upwards and sideways to stare through that viewfinder for an hour at a time. i can tell you, i felt that sore neck for the next 2 days. so live view to the rescue.
the next day i was sore and uncomfortable so sitting and staring just wasn’t going to be a fun option, so i decided to give live view a try. well, short story, it was great. you can sit back, mount your camera on a tripod and watch the screen much easier than twisting around looking through the small viewfinder. it greatly prevented more neck pain and i think this comfort thing is a huge advantage.
i have found this to be a huge advantage when shooting from a tripod but not so much when you are hand holding. one huge advantage is shooting from a car. frequently i’m driving and i use the window as a rest for a large lens. sitting in the driver’s seat with a 600mm resting on the window makes for some big bending and twisting on my part to get my eye to that viewfinder. but with live view i can simply put the seat back a bit, turn to the side and have a much more comfortable position and i am able to stabilize the camera better as well.
landscapes and scenics are a place where live view really can shine well for you. i shoot many panoramas and live view makes it easy for me to keep track of landmarks and reference points so it will be easier for me to put together back on the computer. plus, a huge thing that most don’t know about is live view is essentially a mirror lock up. when doing long exposures the camera can shake with the simple movement of your finger pressing the shutter, or the mirror moving. the problem with using mirror lockup in the normal viewfinder is that once you lock the mirror you can’t see what you are trying to shoot. well live view to the rescue: now we can see what we are shooting, we can refocus, adjust for things, and with a shutter release cable or a timer release you can practically eliminate camera shake. one example i have is when i was shooting some newborn bald eagles. the light was poor, they were far far away so i had to use a long lens and teleconverters. with the low light some of my shots were 60th of a second. even with a big tripod and a wimberly head using such a slow shutter speed and a 600mm with converters just never would have worked well through the viewfinder. the simple weight of my hand on the camera was noticable. so here we are with live view, the mirror is locked, i use a cable release and i don’t have to twist my neck up. i simply sit back, watch the screen and when the birds do something interesting i just push the button on the release.
many many people will say it’s great to be able to see what the image will look like on a bigger screen than the viewfinder. well, yes, that’s also a great feature. sometimes when looking through a viewfinder we get caught up on the main subject and forget the surroundings a little. with live view you can play around with composition a bit more sometimes. on some cameras you can set the point where it will focus and you can move that point around easily while watching the whole scene. this is particularly helpful in wildlife photography where the subject is often hidden partially in the woods. now you are sure the subject is in focus, not the trees all around it.
some cameras are better than others at how the live view will work and the benefits and drawbacks of it. it does look like nikon is improving on their design now by having a dedicated live view button on the d300s. this is great because i can still use my fast 9fps with live view. unfortunately my older d700 does not have that dedicated button so i’m stuck with one frame at a time, but i’m sure they will change that with updates on new bodies. most importantly be familiar with your camera. play around with it and learn now it works. this is a whole new way of thinking about composition and body position and like anything else in life it takes a bit of getting used to. once you figure it out and get comfortable with it you will sleep sounder and won’t be eating aspirin for neck pain at the end of each