Since the introduction of digital photography our cameras are provided with a nice LCD screen to see the photo we’ve just taken, or to see the photo that we’re about to take. But be careful with these screens, they can be misguiding in some situations.
Camera LCD screens have become larger and brighter over the years, showing us the photo even before we take the shot. The last couple of years some cameras even have a second screen; the electronic viewfinder. It is wonderful to have those bright and large LCD screens on our cameras. We are able to review our work and correct our exposure or composition right at the spot. The screens are packed with information about our settings, the AF point and even a histogram. We can zoom in, look at it in high magnification and in some occasions it even give us the opportunity to post-process a raw file without transferring it to a desktop computer or laptop. LCD screens on cameras are so handy that we even wonder how the photographer in the previous millennium, when digital was still science fiction, managed to get the images right. Well, they did. And as a matter of fact, I did – which gives a pretty good idea how long I have been into photography.
The use of a LCD screen or viewfinder may be very convenient, it also has a few downsides that you have to be aware of. Especially for those who use their digital camera to make photos of the night sky in very dark locations. When photographing the stars and Milky Way in a dark locations, it is good to have your night sight. This means your eyes have to get accustomed to the light level to have the best possible sight. It takes approximately twenty minutes for your eyes to get accustomed to the dark. Can you image what happens when you activate your camera and stare into that bright LCD screen?
When I go out to take pictures of the night sky, I prepare myself and set the brightness of the LCD as low as possible. This way the screen doesn’t blind you completely when you are on location. I noticed that not only the LCD screen can be destructive for your night sight, an electronic viewfinder (EVF) that is found on the modern mirrorless cameras can also be too bright. Looking to it will also ruin your night sight. I found out the hard way when I reviewed the Leica SL and the Sony A9 during a nightly photo session, and I noticed it also with the newer Canon EOS-R. Even reducing the brightness of the EVF is often not enough to maintain night sight.
Above is the difference shown of the LCD screen brightness of a Canon EOS-R, with brightness set to default and set to minimum. You can image what happens when the screen is set to maximum brightness.
The comparison above gives a good idea how much light the electronic viewfinder of the Canon EOS-R gives. It can definitely ruin your night sight when looking into the viewfinder. Of course, I only used this camera as an example. Every LCD screen and electronic viewfinder has this effect, no matter what brand or type of camera you use.
But not everyone is active in night photography. So perhaps most of you don’t care about losing night sight because you’re never photographing under these conditions. Still, the LCD screen brightness can also work against you in normal daylight situations when judging the exposure of an image. Let me explain.
I think every photographer nowadays looks at his or her screen to check if the exposure of the image is correct. This is a good habit, unless you are scrutinizing the image while losing contact with your subject in the process. Just a fast glimpse should do fine. But be aware of the brightness of your screen; this affects the way you see the image. If the brightness is of the LCD screen is set too high, you might be mistaken that the image is over exposed. If the brightness of the LCD screen is set too low, the opposite can occur and you may think the image is underexposed.
The example above shows the effect of screen brightness on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. When the screen is set too bright, it even looks like an over exposure.
Not only the brightness of the screen can affect the way you interpreted the image, also the brightness of the surroundings have an effect on the way you see the image on the screen. In bright sunlight an image may seem underexposed even if the exposure is correct and in the darkness of night that same correctly exposed image may seem over exposed. The solution to this problem is very simple, but often forgotten in the heat of the photoshoot; look at the histogram for exposure.
I already wrote about checking the histogram for exposure in my previous article. The screen brightness may affect the way you interpret the image you’ve just taken, the histogram does not lie. The histogram is never affected by the screen brightness and is the only trustworthy way of checking exposure. Don’t get fooled by how an image looks in the electronic viewfinder of a mirrorless camera also. Again, the brightness setting will affect the interpretation of what you see.
So, what then is the best setting for the screen brightness? That depends of the ambient light. In bright sunlight you can benefit from a bright setting to check composition and other details, while in low ambient light a lower setting can work better. But always be careful and check the histogram for the correct exposure. Luckily the gigantic dynamic range of most modern camera’s is so large, it gives us a bit of room to correct a faulty exposure, even when we thought it looked great on the LCD screen or electronic viewfinder.