How to Use Live View and Electronic Viewfinders for Better Macro and Close-Up Photography

How to Use Live View and Electronic Viewfinders for Better Macro and Close-Up Photography

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The biggest advantage of using a mirrorless camera for macro and close-up photography is its electronic viewfinder. We’ll look at the reasons why shortly, but right now you’re probably wondering – what if I’m a digital SLR user?

You’ll be pleased to hear that Live View gives you exactly the same advantages. In fact, an electronic viewfinder is nothing more than Live View through the viewfinder.

The only limitation of Live View is that it works best when your camera’s on a tripod. It’s difficult to keep the camera steady when you’re holding it away from your body to look at the screen on the back. That’s not a practical way to work, especially for close-up photography.

Why use a tripod for macro photography?

It’s difficult to hand-hold a macro lens set to its closest focusing distance (giving 1:1 magnification). The lens magnifies the slightest movement, making it hard to focus and frame the photo.

The answer is to use the camera on a tripod. It makes things easier and lets you take your time with both composition and focusing. Plus it’s easier to use a low ISO and small aperture as you don’t need a fast shutter speed to compensate for camera shake.

Live View and electronic viewfinders in macro and close-up photography

Now it’s time to look at the advantages of using Live View and electronic viewfinders for macro and close-up photography.

1. It makes manual focusing easier

Cameras with electronic viewfinders have a feature called focus peaking.

When it’s enabled your camera displays lines in the viewfinder to show which parts of the scene are in focus. It works with manual focus lenses, or if autofocus is disabled.

Here’s a mockup to give you the idea of what it looks like. The sharp parts are outlined in red.

Close-up photography focus peaking

Many digital SLRs also have a focus peaking tool that works in Live View.

Focus peaking is useful as it’s easier to turn off autofocus and focus manually when using a macro lens. This lets you decide where to focus the lens.

You can also magnify the image to check your focus. Some cameras are clever about this. My Fujifilm cameras have a dual screen setting that enlarges part of the image. The diagram below shows you what it looks like.

Fujifilm dual viewfinder view

2. It’s helpful when using legacy lenses for macro and close-up photography

Focus Peaking also helps if you’re using a manual focus lens. For example, I have a Helios 58mm f2 lens that I like to use with an extension tube for close-up photography. It’s an old, Russian made lens with an M42 screw mount that needs an adapter for your camera’s lens mount. It doesn’t have any electronics, so your camera can’t communicate with it. That’s not a problem, but it does mean you have to adjust aperture and focus manually.

I also have a Lensbaby Edge 50 lens that I use the same way.

Vintage lenses and Lensbaby optics are fun. But you might also be able to buy an older, manual focus macro lens for your camera. Focus Peaking makes it easier to use.

Here’s a close-up photo I made with the Helios 58mm lens.

Close-up photo of flower

3. There’s a live histogram

Most cameras with electronic viewfinders or Live View have an option to display a live histogram.

This is useful because you can evaluate the photo’s exposure before you take the photo. For example, you might work in Manual mode because it gives you the option of setting a low ISO and a small aperture such as f8 or f11. Then all you have to do is set the shutter speed by looking at the histogram to see when it gives you the optimum exposure reading.

If you’re using an semi-automatic exposure mode like Aperture Priority the live histogram lets you know if you need to apply Exposure Compensation.

And if it gets in the way, there’s usually an option to turn it off.

Close-up photography of flowers

4. You can see how much depth of field you have

Most optical viewfinders show the scene as if you’ve set the aperture to f2.8, no matter which aperture setting your camera is using. For everyday use that hardly matters. But it’s crucial in macro and close-up photographer where there’s hardly any depth of field.

But if you’re using Live View or an electronic viewfinder you’ll see the scene with the correct amount of depth of field.

You may need to do something to enable this feature. For example, on my Fujifilm cameras I have to push the shutter button half-way.

It’s true that most digital SLRs have a depth of field preview button that stops down the lens so you can see how much depth of field you’re working with. But the problem is that it makes optical viewfinders go darker, so it’s hard to see the scene.

If you’re using Live View or an electronic viewfinder the camera amplifies the brightness so you can see the scene properly. It’s a big advantage.

Close-up photo of cactus

5. You can playback images in the electronic viewfinder

This last one doesn’t apply to Live View, but it’s much easier to see your photos when you play them back in an electronic viewfinder. It gives you a clearer view, especially in bright light. This helps you check your close-up photos for critical factors like depth of field and composition. And if you don’t like what you see, you can have another go at getting it right.


Regardless of whether you have a mirrorless camera or a digital SLR, both an electronic viewfinder and Live View are helpful tools in close-up photography.

Further reading

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About Andrew S. Gibson

Andrew S. Gibson is a writer with a camera. He started writing about photography while traveling in Bolivia, and has been published in many prestigious photography magazines including EOS magazine, where he worked as a Writer and Technical Editor for two years. He lives in south Devon in the UK and is inspired by meeting new people, seeing new places and having new experiences. Check out his photography ebooks here.


  1. Another advantage of both Live View and electronic viewfinders is that, when using autofocus, you’re focusing with the actual imaging sensor, so there’s no need to worry about MicroAutofocus adjustment, which is how SLR (and DSLR) users can calibrate the camera to try to make the viewfinder autofocus accurate.

    Viewfinder autofocus is actually done by phase detect focus sensors on the bottom plate of the camera, which get part of the light from the mirror bounced down to them by a second mirror after passing through half-silvered patches on the main mirror.

    This is actually a longer path than straight back to the film or sensor, so upper-level SLRs and DSLRs can have calibrate their focusing systems to match each end of the zoom range of each lens, a trial-and-error process based on aiming the camera at a printed target at a distance that’s a large multiple of the focal length.

    I’ve done that for each of my lenses, but it’s very liberating to know, when using LiveView, that it’s not even an issue, as I’m focusing with the actual sensor that will be taking the picture.

    The speed penalty from focusing with the imaging sensor that was imposed by the slower phase-detect method was abolished by Canon’s putting phase-detect focusing sensors onto the sensors – which makes LiveView focus as fast as viewfinder focus, so I now trust LiveView focusing more than viewfinder focusing.

  2. Author

    Hi Phil, that’s a great point. I love the focusing accuracy of my mirrorless cameras. It’s another reason I’ve never looked back since switching.

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