Looking Into the Possibilities for Using an External Screen for Photography

Looking Into the Possibilities for Using an External Screen for Photography

An external recorder can be a good choice for video. Such a recorder has no use for photography, but it can function as an external screen. Since you don’t need the recording option, there are some affordable possibilities as well. Perhaps an external screen can be of benefit for your photography?

I use an external recorder for my video. It offers a lot of benefits and is also helpful if you’re filming yourself. On occasion, I record the camera LCD screen for tutorial purposes. It makes it much easier to show the menu settings, the exposure, and much more. I wrote an article some time ago about using an external recorder for video.

A screen capture of one of the tutorial videos I made. I used the Ninja V to make screen captures of the camera's LCD.

An external screen can be helpful for photography as well. It offers a larger viewing experience compared to the standard three-inch LCD on the back of the camera. Especially on occasions when the normal viewfinder is not used, that external screen makes it much easier to see what you’re doing.

A larger screen is easier to use. This is the difference between a three-inch and a five-inch screen.

These external recorders and screens are connected with an HDMI cable. Although nearly every modern camera will offer this ability, older cameras may lack the possibility. Check the manual of your camera before you invest in an external screen.

What You Need

There are a few things to consider when opting for an external screen. As mentioned, there is an HDMI connection necessary. You also need to use a couple of batteries for the external screen. On most occasions, these are the universal NP-F type batteries. Lastly, it needs to be mounted onto your camera hot shoe or by a clamp onto a tripod.

Besides the external screen, you need batteries, an HDMI cable, and a way to place the screen onto the camera.

There are a few options available if you find an external screen for your camera an interesting option. There is the expensive external recorder, and the much cheaper one without recording abilities. You have to decide which one works best for your situation and intended use.

An External Recorder

The external recorder allows me to record video footage. It also makes it possible to make a screen capture of my camera’s LCD, as mentioned before. For this, I use an Atomos Ninja V, together with an SSD drive for the recording. It’s an expensive option if you use it exclusively as an external screen. However, you can skip the SSD drive in that case, which will save you a substantial amount of money.

The SSD drive can be skipped if you use the recorder exclusively as an external screen.

In my opinion, these recorders are overkill if you don’t make use of the video recording capability. However, if you do video as well, it may be an interesting option. If you predominantly do photography, a normal external screen may be the better choice.

An External Screen

Take away the recording option, and you end up with a normal external screen. These are also targeted for video with all the video-related viewing options. However, they are ideal if you want to use it as a portable external screen for photography.

There are a lot of different brands to choose from. Atomos has some available, but if you want to keep the price low, you might want to check out BestView, Freeworld, Desview, and Viltrox, to name a few.

A BestView screen in action. The difference in size is obvious.

Make sure you keep an eye on the maximum screen brightness. Many of the cheaper ones have a low screen brightness, making them difficult to use outside in bright sunlight. These cheaper external screens are not bad per se. You just have to be aware of the limitations.

The Smartphone

If you don’t want to carry a separate screen and a bunch of batteries with you, a smartphone can be a good alternative. Use it with a smartphone holder on the hot shoe and use the dedicated camera app to make a connection with your camera.

Most dedicated camera apps offer the ability to use remote live view. You need a WiFi connection between the camera and smartphone, and it has to be stable as well. If the connection gets lost or the smartphone goes into sleep mode, it ruins the fun.

The simplest way of using a smartphone as an external screen. The connection is made by Wi-Fi and the dedicated camera app.

Your camera may even have the ability to make a connection by cable. Perhaps with the HDMI port on your camera, or with a USB-C connector. You have to check the possibilities in the camera's manual for that.

There are also special adapters that will transform the smartphone into an external recorder. These adapters will connect with your camera by HDMI. Be aware, these adapters often require a separate power source. On most occasions, this is an NP-F battery as well. One example of such an adapter is the Accsoon SeeMo.

These adapters can be expensive since they are dedicated for video recording onto a smartphone. But the price also depends on the possibilities they offer. I think the biggest downside of a smartphone as an external screen is, it seizes the use of that smartphone.

You can't use the smartphone for anything else if it's used as an external screen. That's a big downside.

How About Tethered Shooting?

Lastly, there is tethered shooting. In this case, the camera is connected to a computer by a long cable or wirelessly. The photos that are taken are loaded directly into photo editing software. Although tethered shooting is mostly used in a studio situation, it can also be used on site. You need a computer for that, of course. However, this is not the same as an external screen.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but as far as I know, tethered shooting doesn’t offer a live representation of what the camera sees. It shows the result after the photo is taken. Although it’s possible to use the laptop and tethered shooting, it’s not something easy to take with you on location.

Have You Used an External Screen for Your Photography?

I can think of a few situations when the use of an external screen can be convenient or even helpful. Macro photography, architectural photography, or even landscape photography, are just a few that come to mind.

An external screen for macro photography. 

Do you use an external screen for your photography? Or have you used one in the past? Please share your experiences and thoughts in the comments below.

Nando Harmsen's picture

Nando Harmsen is a Dutch photographer that is specialized in wedding and landscape photography. With his roots in the analog photo age he gained an extensive knowledge about photography techniques and equipment, and shares this through his personal blog and many workshops.

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I do a lot of videography and have 3 dedicated video cameras so have used external monitors quite a bit for that...I use a 5" Portkeys monitor attached to the tripod leg with a magic arm and clamp with my Canon 6Dmkii in my studio which is a converted dining room also used for video interviews so not much spare space to go tethered...I do still life images and like to be able to see a bit better than when only using the small screen on the camera...the monitor also has all the good exposure tools (waveforms, RGB parade, false colour, zebras) and focus tools (peaking) that I'm familiar with using for video and those can help with exposure, focus and white balance.
I have a couple of 7" monitors I can swap over to if really necessary but they mostly live on my video cameras.

Of course, waveforms, false color and zebras are also usable for photography. It's obvious, but I didn't really thought of it. Thank you

I do not make a lot of videos. However, I purchased one, Portkeys 7", for photographing the solar eclipse this year. Even though the clouds came out and blocked totality I found it to be a powerful addition to have with me. The only time I use it is on a tripod when photographing stationary subjects, landscape, waterfalls, and what have you.

Good to know about the solar eclipse. I'm planning for 2026 and it's something to consider. Thanks

Thank you. I don't use but connect wirelessly to a tablet and operate camera with scene view on that. That is a cheap alternative. One of my photographers at my studio videos and uses external screen. I see the benefits. I must try it for photos. Thank you.

I have used my phone to trigger the camera when doing a photo walk - a dozen photographers with big obvious cameras tends to be counterproductive when trying to photograph people going about their daily lives...

I love the idea, but not the practicality for what I do (take too much gear already).

For such photography this is truly overkill. A smartphone as trigger works also. Especially if your camera doesn't have a tilted LCD screen. If it does, the smartphone isn't necessary anymore.

As a unit stills photographer working in television, I've long used external monitors and waveforms to match the broadcast as closely as possible. The waveform is also incredibly useful for portrait photography. I've always said it's amazing to me that a tool used to make literally everything you watch in TV/commercials and almost everything in film isn't included anywhere in stills processing software.

Anyway I wrote about my process here at length:

Thanks for the link. I'll have a look