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Boldstar Aug 26, 2008 9:15 AM

I've got the itch... I'm thinking about buying my first dSLR. I'm currently using a Canon S2 IS and I'm relatively happy with it. To be honest, I haven't perfected the use of its manual functions yet, but it's difficult to ignore the "I want a new camera" bug once you catch it.

I've been thinking about the Canon XSi. I've read mostly good things, and everyone I know who owns an XTi is in love with it. I assume the XSi would be even better. I'm a little concerned about the live view function though. I've read that it's very unfriendly but I don't really understand why. I don't intend to use that function regularly, but it would be a nice option for awkward angles and for the odd time someone else picks up my camera to snap a picture (most non-photographers are accustomed to having that option).

Alternatively I've been looking at the Sony A350, but it's not a move I really want to make. I've been happy (for the most part) with all my previous Canons. And if I bought the A350 I'd also have to invest in new memory cards.

I'm also wondering if I'll get burned by a new release. I mean, if I go out and buy an XSi this week, will they come out with an XRi next month with an improved live view option? That seems like something that would happen to me.

JimC Aug 26, 2008 9:44 AM

Try them out in a store (including the live view features).

I think you'll find that your idea of letting someone snap a photo with it using Live view will be more trouble than it's worth with most dSLR Live View systems. The Autofocus tends to be very slow with most using Contrast Detection Autofocus (i.e,, the camera's main sensor), and a bit "clunky' trying to use the dedicated Autofocus Sensors with Live View (because of the way the camera has to block the live view image from the main sensor by flipping the mirror out of the way for Autofocus, before returning to Live View).

Is it useful? That depends on what you're shooting. For something like closeups, I can understand some users wanting to use it, because you can get a magnified image of your subject on screen to help out with focus accuracy and Autofocus speed isn't an issue with that type of subject.

But, for ordinary snapshots, it's not very practical to use with most dSLR models yet. The Sony is an exception since it's using a dedicated sensor for live view, while still allowing the 9 point dedicated AF sensor to see the same image being projected to the live view sensor (meaning that you don't sacrifice Autofocus Speed when using Live View). On the down side, to implement this type of system, Sony had to make the optical viewfinder smaller (because the live view sensor is in the Viewfinder housing so that it sees the same through the lens image normally seen by the optical viewfinder when you're in live view mode).

Now, I do expect the contrast detection Autofocus using a camera's main imaging sensor to improve with time for camera's so equipped (i.e., faster than the current generation of dSLR models with this option). But, for now, I'd try out this feature in a store if it's one you're interested in (because you'll probably be dissapointed in the Autofocus performance and ease of use compared to your existing S2 IS). Also, keep in mind that most models equipped with Live View like the Canon you're looking at don't have a tilting LCD (although the Sony models do). So, it's of limited value for awkward angles with most dSLR models.

As for memory cards, it's very inexpensive to buy a relatively fast (i.e., 133x) card anymore from some manufacturers. For example, you can buy a Transcend 16GB 133x CompactFlash card for $53.99 plus $6.99 shipping at right now (and smaller cards are less).


I'm also wondering if I'll get burned by a new release. I mean, if I go out and buy an XSi this week, will they come out with an XRi next month with an improved live view option? That seems like something that would happen to me.
There will always be a newer and faster camera coming out with more features. The timing of those announcements is difficult to predict (although Photokina in Cologne Germany next month is a popular "launching point" for new models). However, the XSi is a new model. So, I don't expect it to be replaced anytime soon (although you may or may not see similar models with more features come out at some point).

Personally, I wouldn't place a lot of emphasis on live view, especially considering the drawbacks (for example, a smaller optical viewfinder in the Sony models with it, and slower AF speed when using it with the Canon). Again, I'd try them out in a store and see how they work/feel for yourself.

Boldstar Aug 26, 2008 11:08 AM

Thanks for the detailed reply Jim, you've definitely helped me. I'll have to read over the live view stuff a few times before I completely grasp what you're telling me, but I think I understand the general idea.

Is it safe to assume that Canon, Sony and the other manufacturers adding live view functions to thier dSLRs is more of a gimmick than anything else? I mean, I wonder if they're merely trying to appeal to a wider audience in the short-term while they work out a more functional approach for future models. I know cell phone companies do that... add an imperfect feature just to get it out there and work out the kinks for later models.

You're right, I've been spoiled by the swivel screen on my S2. Wow, what a handy feature that turned out to be. I can't believe how much I use it.

Perhaps my preoccupation with buyinga dSLR is premature. I wonder if I should stick with my S2a while longer, at least until I get more used to the manual settings and feel really limited with my current camera.

Food for thought. Thank you for the advice.

JimC Aug 26, 2008 11:24 AM

Boldstar wrote:

Is it safe to assume that Canon, Sony and the other manufacturers adding live view functions to thier dSLRs is more of a gimmick than anything else?
Sony's live view implementation is actually pretty good. But, it's got the downside of a smaller viewfinder because of it's design, making it closer in size to the smaller viewfinders found in the entry level Olympus dSLR models. Of course, Sony could always increase the body size some if desired to get around that in future models with this design.

You could always use an eyepiece magnifier to help out, too. See this article on the subject:

Again, try them out in a store and see what you think. Personally, I'd prefer to use an optical viewfinder for most photos, so I'd prefer a model with a good one (although I do miss being able to do things like shoot from the waist with my DSLRs, like I can do with a model like my old Nikon Coolpix 950). There are pros and cons to any of them. ;-)

peripatetic Aug 26, 2008 1:41 PM

I don't think live view is a gimmick in its current implementation at all.

What it is good for is very precisely adjusting your plane of focus where time is not of the essence. In DSLR terms that means primarily Macro and Landscape photography.

When you need speed or focus accuracy is not as critical then an optical viewfinder is about 1 zillion times better.

The Sony implementation to me has the priorities all messup up. They have sacrificed the viewfinder to get a poor real-time implementation of an EVF. It may be as good as your standard compact, but frankly that still falls far short of what I would want.

The mirror is both the biggest advantage and disadvantage for SLR cameras. It allows a great TTL optical path, but means that it has to flip out of the way.

See the new announcement of the Micro Four-Thirds standard for a sensible alternative approach - for when you don't want a mirror and don't need or want TTL.

There is a lot of experimentation in the market, and the manufacturers are jockying for position by trying out different features. Over time the market will speak and they'll probably all end up doing the same thing, but for now there is an interesting range of choices.

StevieDgpt Aug 26, 2008 7:34 PM

I love the swivel LCD screen.....

We all have done the "shoot over our head trying to focus on the Presidential candidate or whatever". It is a Bytchwith a standard viewfinder typecamera. Even harder on a heavy camera with a big lense protruting from the camera body.

So those cute little pocket cameras with the swivel LCD screen are often used for those unusual shots and they work verywell.

Guess what, trying to take a picture of baby's first step can be done from the normal eye level standing adult postiion or the picture can be shot from waist high to capture baby'sexpression during the first step. And since quality is not an issue for these type photos (like nobody except themommies and daddies want poster size prints)the pocket camera does quite well.

.... but the swivel LCD and live view on the dSLR may be just a bit too muchfluff due to the weight and handling charactertistics of the camera. That said, live view may be good for static position shots, such as a tripod with miacro lens.

I would look to live view as a tie breaker between cameras rather than a must have.

JimC Aug 27, 2008 11:37 AM

peripatetic wrote:

The Sony implementation to me has the priorities all messup up. They have sacrificed the viewfinder to get a poor real-time implementation of an EVF. It may be as good as your standard compact, but frankly that still falls far short of what I would want.
It's not *that* small, unless you compare it to the A200 (and the viewfinder is still a TTL Optical Viewfinder, not an EVF).

Sony's design works by placing a separate Live View sensor in the Viewfinder housing, so that it sees the same image that you would normally get from the Optical Viewfinder when in Live View mode. So, you just flick a switch if you want to go between Live View (sending the image from the Live View sensor to the LCD) or Optical Viewfinder mode (which lets the TTL image to go the Optical Viewfinder).

Here are a few entry level viewfinder sizes for comparison:

Sony Alpha 350
16.52 x 11.04 mm
(~6% larger than E420 / 4% smaller than 400D)

Olympus E420
15.12 x 11.36 mm
(~10% smaller than 400D / 6% smaller than Alpha 350)

Canon 400D
16.87 x 11.25 mm
(~4% larger than Alpha 350 / 10% larger than E420)

Sony Alpha 200
18.61 x 12.46 mm
(~35% larger than E420 / 27% larger than Alpha 350 / 22% larger than 400D)

Boldstar Aug 27, 2008 12:19 PM

Okay, I think I'm beginning to understand the limitations of live view and the differences between the Canon and Sony approaches.

But when I read about the slow Canon focus speed when using that function, I have to wonder if those are opinions of people with higher expecations than mine. I mean, are we talking about milli-seconds here? Would a non-professional photographer even notice the difference?

I'm somewhat used to missing shots because of my camera's lag time... I wonder if the XSi would out-perform my S2 in live view mode, but just fall short when compared to $3000 camera EVFs that the pros have been spoiled by.

That is not to say I'm disagreeing with what anyone has said, I'm merely trying to get some perspective. And of course the live view function is not my #1 priority. I'm merely curious about it as a semi-useful function that might be fun for some users and basically a "nice to have."

While photography is growing into a more serious hobby for me, the majority of my pictures are taken at social gatherings with friends and family (weddings, parties, holidays), on vacation, at the cottage, etc. I don't photograph sports or anything that moves faster than my dog, but in the case of faster-moving subjects I normally use the view finder. People are usually my subjects, although I'm getting more into landscape, architecture, nature, etc.

JimC Aug 27, 2008 12:48 PM

The AF speed probably is going to be very slow compared to your S3 IS if you try to use Live View on most of the current dSLR models equipped with it (with the exception of the Sony A300 and A350).

With the Canon implementation, it's not too bad using the built in AF sensors. But, that means pressing a button for the Mirror to flip out of the way to achieve AF (with significant blackout time before the Live View Display appears again), then pressing the shutter button to take the photo (i.e., it's a "clunky" way to do it). In Contrast Detect AF mode (which uses the camera's main imaging sensor versus it's dedicated Autofocus Sensors), you eliminate the Mirror Flipping and extra button presses. But, AF is much slower (and we're talking several seconds or longer, not milliseconds).

There are reasons why Steve's review says what it does about Live View with these camera models. I'd read the XS review conclusion for more detail. Here's an excerpt:


As I stated earlier, I really don't see a use for this feature on the XS. While I feel it's a great camera, if you are one who plans on using Live View often, I suggest looking into some of Sony's dSLR models instead.

Nikon's implementation in models like the D300 isn't much better (it's also relatively slow, and best used for stationary subjects, especially since the LCD blacks out entirely in continuous drive modes trying to use Live View).

For closeups, it's got it's benefits. For most other subjects, I'd probably avoid Live View with most dSLR models. I'd suggest using the Optical Viewfinder for what you're thinking about (letting someone else take a quick snapshot with your camera). Just hand them the camera, tell them to frame using the optical viewfinder, and press the shutter button. It's not that difficult. ;-)

The next generation of cameras with Live View should be faster than the current models (and a number of new models are being announced leading into Photokina, which is a large trade show in Cologne, Germany next month).

Boldstar Aug 27, 2008 1:18 PM

Thanks JimC, you've given me a detailed account of the XSi's live view function. Less than user-friendly I guess! (It's amazing how they spin the TV commercials, as though it'll work like a point-and-shoot.)

And you're right... It's not that hard to tell someone to use the viewfinder!

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