Inexpensive camera with a viewfinder
Placeholder The Nikon Coolpix A1000 (starting at $476.95) is an affordable digital camera that features a viewfinder.

Until digital cameras you had to look through the viewfinder to take a photo. Now most digital cameras have display screens on the back allowing you to see what you're taking a picture of. Nonetheless there are still many reasons for having a viewfinder in addition to or instead of the rear screen.

Reasons to Consider a Viewfinder

  • Taking pictures in very bright light can make it extremely difficult to see exactly what you're taking a picture of on the display screen.
  • Having the camera braced in close and held tight provide better ergonomics for taking a steady shot vs having your arms outstretched.
  • People who require glasses to view the display screen can use a viewfinder without glasses as most have a diopter built in to adjust for poor eyesight.
  • Optical viewfinders permit you to you use the full resolution of your eyes which is magnitudes higher than the LCD screen.
  • A viewfinder lets you immerse yourself in the picture - using up much more of your field of vision allowing you to experience the photo.

Types of Viewfinders

Pentaprism - SLR

SLRs permit the photographer to see through the lens. Pentaprisms use a prism to redirect the light from the lens to the view finder vs the camera sensor. Pentaprisms are the highest quality viewfinders - they provide the highest resolution and most natural representation of the photo about to be taken. Pentaprisms are higher quality than penta-mirrors and thus are found largely in most professional DSLRs, they allow more light to pass through permitting a brighter view of the scene being photographed.


Penta-mirror Viewfinder
image of a penta mirror setup for an SLR Illustration of a penta-mirror that would be commonly found in a beginner digital SLR. Image by Basilicofresco.

Most entry-level DSLRs use penta mirrors which, like pentaprisms permit the image being captured by the lens to be redirected (in this case by a series of mirrors) through the viewfinder. This permits full resolution and a natural immersive view of what your are taking a photograph of. Penta-mirrors provide the same function as a pentaprism by are typically constructed of plastic and cheaper to produce; on average they produce a darker image in the viewfinder.

Tunnel / Rangefinder

This is also an optical element and permits the full resolution of the eye but it does not look through the lens. These viewfinders are separate optical elements that for the most part approximate what the camera will take a photo of. When a subject is very close the suffer from parallax error, meaning what you are looking at will not be what the camera is taking a picture of - macro photos using these viewfinders are not terribly useful because the parallax error is huge. Depending on how important the framing is a few feet away may be acceptable to remove the parallax error. You will nonetheless get used to the parallax and adjust accordingly - especially with the instant feedback of a digital camera.

Best Digicams with a Viewfinder

These are some of the best digicams that offer a viewfinder

Nikon Coolpix A1000
from $477
Touch screen Touch screen Help
Fewer buttons
Wide angle Wide angle lens Help
24 mm
Image stabilization Image stabilization Help

Learn more about the Nikon Coolpix A1000

Green arrow See more of the top digicams with viewfinders


Showing 18 comments

Guest (9:46 PM, April 01, 2015)
You're right. The old ways are the best. But they'll just say I'm 'resistant to change'. I'll have to buy a new lense for my old SLR, I suppose.
Avatar for FiendishThingy FiendishThingy (1:52 AM, October 29, 2014)
Where is the viewfinder on the Sony Cybershot DSC-H300???
Avatar for rickie rickie (0:00 PM, September 30, 2014)
I've tried nikon digital cameras in the same price range as sony, around $130. and the sony takes better pictures. but what i want is a good digital camera,in the $100 to $200. range that looks thru an accurate view finder,but does not have to have a lot of frills ( like wi-fi,connection to smart phone,and a bunch more) although a reversable lcd screen,for selfless would be nice.
Martin Polomski (6:35 AM, August 27, 2014)
Sony DSC-H300 doesn't have a viewfinder. :)
Avatar for rreeve2 rreeve2 (6:23 PM, June 23, 2013)
Turning the LCD 'settings' screen into the viewfinder is by far the worst thing that has happened to modern cameras in a very long time. Having an old style viewfinder that you have to look through to take your shot is critical to good photography. Just having an LCD display on the back to aim and shoot with if near-on impossible to get right, especially with the smaller digital cameras that are getting smaller every year. Every camera manufacturer should go back to the old way of doing things because they will all have happy customers again. In fact, if they each done their market research properly, they would discover that most customers don't want their camera to be too small anyway because it's easier to lose them. Plus, most people would happily have a slighter bigger camera if it included a traditional viewfinder to look through.

It's SO FRUSTRATING because I'm currently researching cameras as I'm looking for the best camera I can get for under £100. There used to be loads to choose from a large selection of different features. Buying a camera used to be about finding the right one for what you need it for. However, today I have realised that virtually EVERY single camera on the market is just a copy of it's competitor. There's no choice anymore as they all look the same and function the same as the others. There's not even one maverick brand that is doing something differently from everyone else but as I've already pointed out, my biggest gripe is the lack of cheap cameras with a traditional viewfinder.

If digital cameras continue on this current path, I can see myself dusting off my old SLR and going back to using a roll of film. In fact, thinking about it now, i do remember that I used to manage my photography a lot better back then. I was also far more creative with film photography because using films made you take more care over the images you took. Today, in this disposable digital age where information can be deleted over and over again with absolutely zero effort, we no longer give an image the right amount of thought before we shoot. Instead of waiting patiently and preparing a scene properly, trying to get that perfect shot first time, nowadays, most photographers will just point and shoot the scene about 100 times because the law of averages dictates that you will always get a couple of great shots at the very least. Sadly, talent and creativity are dying with digital photography and digital cameras. Rather than expecting your customers to buy a new camera each year that's smaller and faster with more memory, you guys should be inspiring us with new features and introducing technologies that create new techniques. With the soon to explode 'mass' adoption of augmented reality in everyone's lives, camera manufactures should be looking at ways to capitalize on this with features that inspire there customers to be more creative and try something different.

Anyhow, as I've clearly stated already, I'm not at all happy with modern cameras and I think the whole industry needs to take a new direction. All it will take is one brave manufacturer to take a risk and break free from the current camera rulebook of features to choose from and start to set their products apart from everyone else and do things a little different. This could hopefully encourage other brands to try something different and finally their customers will have a CHOICE again. A choice where our creative needs will play a big part in the decisions we make.

But, first things first... PLEASE BRING BACK the traditional viewfinder for all modern cameras as soon as possible.. Removing these was a huge mistake in my opinion. To highlight the flaw in your thinking, you could literally draw comparison to a car manufacturer deciding to replace the steering wheel with a joystick.

We all know this, but just as the old saying goes, if it isn't broken, DON'T FIX IT.
Joshaverhoog (0:42 PM, May 03, 2012)
 That you rate them so low*
Joshaverhoog (0:41 PM, May 03, 2012)
I find it really strange that you rate the latest versions of the Sony SLT cameras. Look at the A77, it gives a very bright, detailed viewfinder that is huge compared to similar cameras and gives 100% coverage. Also, why is it not discussed here? It is getting more important with more and more modern cameras using them!
Shpg2dmv (7:04 PM, March 14, 2012)
From my research on the subject there are basically three viewfinders today:  the LCD screen; the EVF (electronic viewfinder) and the good old tried and true OVF (optical viewfinder) as on my old Pentax.  The LCD everyone probably knows.  The EVF is mirror magic; the eye does not see exactly what the camera's eye sees, and adjustments in focusing a subject have to be learned to get a well-centered image; the OVF found only on high priced DSLRs gives the eye the same view as the camera's eye and so what you see and take is what you get--not part of subject chopped off, and so forth.  The EVF is better than just a LCD.  The LCD on my Nikon CoolPix point & shoot is now virtually useless--faded over a period of a year to no visual image so I take pictures blind, hit or miss--until I can get good bridge camera.
Shpg2dmv (6:50 PM, March 14, 2012)
the S3300 is considered a bridge camera . . . between a point and shoot and a dslr.  It is closer to a dslr than to a point and shoot, meaning features.
Guest (6:34 AM, February 17, 2012)
Why is the electronic viewfinder not discussed here? (3:09 AM, January 17, 2012)
Many of your comparison fields are incorrectly represented.  How can you rate Sony's OLED viewfinder as basically the worst of the bunch?  Ridiculous.
Avatar for Snapsort Snapsort (10:06 PM, November 06, 2011)
Hi Sam, it is not considered a DSLR.  Key features of a DSLR are: interchangeable lenses and an optical viewfinder that lets you look through the lens.
SAMtheMAN (10:50 AM, November 06, 2011)
um.....would the Fujifilm FinePix S3300 be considered as a D-SLR of would it be a point-and-shoot?
Wjesse (1:17 PM, October 11, 2011)
Another very important consoderation....the tunnel view finder does not drain the battery
Avatar for Snapsort Snapsort (2:13 PM, March 29, 2011)
We apologize, thats a mistake. You're correct, the Sony R1 has a digital viewfinder which obviously uses battery power.
Avatar for l8tr597 l8tr597 (3:28 AM, March 29, 2011)
then how does the type of camera like the sony R-1, where you say "digital" and "no battery" which cannot be accurate, as it uses some type of power, or, lets just say if its "off" the viewfinder is black (blank)
Avatar for Snapsort Snapsort (3:29 PM, March 23, 2011)
Good catch, thanks, we'll correct that.
Avatar for Justin Ji Justin Ji (6:09 AM, March 23, 2011)
800uz has no viewfinder...