The idea of having a viewfinder made from stiff material has been around since the invention of the camera. The simplest version can be made using an off-cut of mountboard or by using your hands to create a frame through which to look. However, when a workshop client introduced me to a low cost accessory called The Viewcatcher I was instantly sold on it.
The Viewcatcher is a simple device that combines two piece of plastic to create a resizable frame. Markings on the edge of the aperture denote various aspect ratios: 8×12, 9×12, 10×8, etc. It’s designed for painters to use as a composition aid so the aspect ratios don’t immediately make sense in photography terms but if you divide most of them by two you get some familiar measurements: 8×12 = 4×6, 10×8 = 5×4, etc.
I love using The Viewcatcher for several reasons:
I spend a lot of time getting the composition right in my photos. To help me imagine what a scene will look like as a photo, it’s crucial to think about framing: what focal length to use, how tightly to crop and what frame size to choose. The Viewcatcher helps me decide on all of these.
When I am initially working out what to photograph I leave my camera bag and tripod somewhere safe then head off taking just the Viewcatcher with me. Without that kit weighing me down I can be agile and explore a wide area quickly. When I spot something interesting I look at it through an aperture created by the Viewcatcher.
I’m not constrained to a particular aspect ratio as I can open or close its window to select panoramic, square or any format in between. Doing this in-camera is possible but it isn’t quite as liberating as simply sliding a piece of plastic across a hole. The closer I hold the Viewcatcher to my face, the shorter the focal length, and vice versa.
If I drop the Viewfinder it doesn’t matter as it’s so light that it doesn’t get damaged easily and it’s much cheaper to replace than a camera and lens.
Perhaps the most important benefit of all is that it separates the creative process of seeing from the technological guff of fiddling about with camera settings. I don’t even pick up my camera until I’ve decided that I have something worth photographing in sight. For me, it helps distil photography to its purest form: neatly putting stuff in a frame to create an appealing picture.
Have a look at the video below to see the Viewcatcher being used in a painting context.
The cheapest place to buy one in the UK is from Amazon. Granted, £7-odd for what is essentially two pieces of plastic isn’t the greatest value for money, but it does a very simple job very well and for that reason I like it very much.