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DSLR Video Weekly: Using a Viewfinder or Monitor

This is article #21 in the DSLR Video Weekly series.  If you’d like the whole thing in one shot, check out the book Creating DSLR Video: From Snapshots to Great Shots.

Once you get the hang of video, be sure to monetize it by becoming a contributor to Adobe Stock.


To truly see how your video looks, you’ll want to look at it in a 1:1 viewing environment. In other words, one pixel in the footage file equals one pixel on a screen. This is pretty easy to do when you edit after shooting but takes some extra steps to do while shooting.

Why Monitor Externally?

Even film and video professionals use external monitors when on set or on location. Other crewmembers, like the director, art director, or makeup artist, also need to check fine details in how the subject and sets look. In fact, the director of photography will often walk over and double-check that the shot is meeting the technical requirements for focus and exposure. After all, the LCD and built-in viewfinders of even professional cameras can too easily hide flaws in the video signal.

Your camera likely includes an HDMI port that’s capable of sending out a high-quality digital signal. You can connect this port to a computer display, television, professional monitor, or electronic viewfinder to see what you’re shooting on a larger or higher-resolution screen. This makes it much easier to judge focus and exposure.

Using a Monitor

Many computer monitors and television sets include an HDMI port. This makes it convenient to use an off-the-shelf computer display or television for a relatively low cost, and by using the HDMI connection, you can see your image on a screen that is much larger than the camera’s LCD. Although the color and exposure of these screens are not 100 percent accurate, they do provide better guidance on how the shot will look.

Many pros and serious enthusiasts also invest in a dedicated field monitor designed for DSLR video workflows. These are often lightweight (made from materials like aluminum) and measure 6–10 inches. Companies like Marshall Electronics and SmallHD offer battery-operated monitors that are designed to attach to a camera’s hot shoe for easy mounting and use in the field. These monitors vary greatly in price and often offer professional features to help with focus and exposure via onscreen overlays.

Using a Viewfinder

Most professional video cameras include a high-quality electronic viewfinder (EVF) for checking image quality while recording. These devices offer screens similar in size to a camera’s LCD but use much higher-quality screens with denser pixels. As with a high-resolution screen (like a “retina display”) on a smart phone, these screens make it much easier to see fine details.

High-quality EVF screens can often be combined with a loupe to create a truly professional monitoring solution. With a true viewfinder, you can clearly see exposure and focus. EVF screens often include easy-to-access buttons that turn on overlays to assist with exposure, focus, and composition.

Although EVF screens are not cheap (typically ranging from $400–$800), they make a big difference in the type of video you shoot. I find that investing in a loupe and an EVF is comparable in price to buying a new lens. Spending money on the back of the camera often has a bigger impact on the quality of images you acquire than buying another lens for the front of your camera.


Join us each Saturday for the next installment of this weekly series.

Once you get the hang of video, be sure to monetize it by becoming a contributor to Adobe Stock.

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