Should You Buy a Viewfinder or an External Monitor?
External Monitor Cover.jpg

When it comes to viewfinders and external monitors, there are numerous options available. Dive in and explore the pros and cons for each.

An important part of any camera kit is the tool that will allow you to view and monitor your image. This can be as simple as a screen attached to the camera or something more expensive like an EVF (electronic viewfinder) or an external monitor.

When it comes to viewfinders and external monitors, there are numerous options available. Filmmakers on a tight budget often have to choose between them. But how do you know which tool is right for you? Let's take a look at the pros and cons of both tools and see when you might want to choose one over the other.

The Atomos Shogun 7 "HDR Pro / Cinema Monitor Recorder. Image via Atomos.

How to find out what you need

Before getting into any particular models, ask yourself a few questions first. My previous article “5 Questions to Ask When Buying a New Video Camera” is very applicable here. As you will see in this article, here is what you want to find out:

What kind of content do I create?

Different types of content creators have different recording styles. Taking a close look at how and what you are recording can help you figure out what specific features you want and what features you actually need.

Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro viewfinderThe Blackmagic URSA Mini Pro viewfinder. Image via Blackmagic Design.

What is my budget

Both viewfinders and external monitors can vary widely in price, with viewfinders generally being more expensive. If you plan your budget properly, you may be able to get both tools for one good price.

Which functions do I need or want?

Once you've identified your most common shooting style and budget, it's time to determine exactly what you need. Here are just a few of the features to consider when making your decision:

Zacuto KameleonThe technical specifications of the Zacuto Kameleon. Image via Zacuto.

  • Battery powered
  • Wrong colour
  • Focus peaking
  • zebra
  • Areas (waveform / vectorscope / histogram / RGB parade)
  • Audio meter
  • Native vs. Third party providers
  • size
  • Aspect ratio
  • Color bars
  • Frame lines
  • User preferences
  • compatibility
  • LUT support
  • resolution
  • Point of view
  • Touch screen / menu system
  • Contrast ratio / brightness
  • I / O connections
  • Recording options
  • connections
  • Build quality

The case for a seeker

Select viewfinderFinding the right finder for your particular project is important.


If your shot requires a lot of manual labor, the viewfinder is a good choice. They are particularly suitable for run-and-gun shooting outdoors. A viewfinder allows you to see your image unhindered by your peripheral vision or distracting sunlight. You don't have to worry about glare from the sun or if the screen is even bright enough to see on particularly sunny days.

When your face is pressed against an eyepiece, it acts as an additional point of contact. This helps to further stabilize your recordings while you work without a tripod. Some of the more expensive models can also be easily tilted and telescoped.


Many viewfinders draw power from the camera, which obviously uses up the power faster. Some models are also prone to burn-in. This occurs when you point the viewfinder directly at the sun without a cover.

In general, it is a little more difficult to find a good viewfinder than an external monitor. Whether you go for a third-party product or something that comes out of the camera, you should be spending a little more on a good product. Finding a cheap option isn't as easy as it is with external monitors.

The case for an external monitor

Blackmagic Video Assistant 3GThe Blackmagic Video Assistant 3G. Image via Blackmagic Design.


When it comes to monitors, there are a variety of budget-friendly, universal options. They generally fit on any rig, while a viewfinder usually needs additional parts and pieces. When you're working with a crew, others can easily gather together and review the shot. (This can be both a pro and a con.)

LUT support is another great option that allows you to capture in the LOG but preview certain looks. This is especially useful when those annoying customers on the set keep asking why there is no contrast.

One of the big differences between an external monitor and a viewfinder is that a monitor often doubles as a recorder. If your budget allows, you can connect to a wireless facility and roam. This is perfect for a Director / DP or DP / Camera Operator setup. Some models even offer camera controls, e.g. B. remote triggering of recordings.


The main disadvantage of an external monitor is exactly what makes the viewfinder so attractive. Shooting outdoors is a big problem, and glare from the sun can easily cause you to miss the shot. And if it's not dazzling, you may have to worry about the brightness. You can always go with a bigger, brighter monitor, but then you will gradually lose your mobility.

You also need to focus on performance. Make sure you have the batteries you need and enough for the duration of your recording. These batteries can add extra weight, another disadvantage for your run-and-gun marksman.

Again, ask yourself the above questions to figure out what features you need, then find out what bang you can get for your buck.

For more gear and camera tech tips and tricks, see the following articles:

Cover picture about Atomos.


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