The Curse of the Shrinking LCD
Canon SD960 with chopped LCD, about actual size. enlarge. Notice how the image has to shrink to fit inside the shorter screen. It helps me keep adding to this site when you use these links to Adorama, Amazon, B&H, Calumet, Ritz, J&R and eBay to get your goodies. Thanks! Ken.
Images made on compact digital cameras, as well as 4/3 system SLRs, have the same shape (aspect ratio or AR) as standard TV pictures: 4:3 or 1.33:1. This means they are 1.33 times as wide as they are tall.
Digital cameras have always had screens the same shape as the pictures they've made. You took a picture, and it always filled the screen.
For some screwy reason as of 2009, some compact digital cameras are starting to use LCDs that have their tops and bottoms chopped-off to make them smaller to fit smaller cameras. Camera makers have tried to impress innocent first time buyers by calling these chopped screens "wide screens."
These newer screens aren't wider: they are just shorter.
Worse, as they get shorter, you now have to shrink the image to fit vertically. You wind up wasting the sides of the shorter LCD, since pictures don't fit them. The sides of the LCD wind up being black, a terrible waste of the smaller LCD.
If you get a camera with a chopped (shortened or "wide screen") LCD, the effective size of the LCD is a lot smaller than you'd think from the specifications.
To find the effective picture size on a chopped 16:9 "wide screen" LCD, multiply its diagonal measurement by 0.8171. In other words, the Canon SD960 has a 2.8" diagonal LCD, so its effective size for viewing and composing pictures is only a tiny 2.3."
Sure, if you hit the zoom control on playback the picture will expand to fill the screen, but now you can't see the top and bottom.
I can't overestimate how annoying this is in actual use. From the specs, you would think the SD960's 2.8" LCD would be about the same as the 3" full-height LCDs of cameras like the SD880 and S90. When you realize that these numbers are diagonal measurements, and that the sides are wasted with chopped LCDs, the SD960's 2.8" LCD becomes the equivalent of slightly less than a 2.3" LCD, which is smaller than any LCD used since about 2004!
What's even worse than the small effective image size on these chopped LCDs is that it's sometimes hard to see where your image stops and the black bands begin. This can make composition difficult if you have anything dark near the sides, since when shooting outdoors you can't easily tell where your image stops and the wasted black band starts. The black screen sides make it tough to see composition of darker images.
When buying digital cameras, be sure to get a full-height LCD, not a chopped "wide screen" or 16:9 aspect ratio LCD.
A chopped screen is OK if you're shooting chopped pictures, which you do when shooting HD video or set the image size to "wide," but if you're primarily shooting video, a camcorder usually gives better results.
If you're shooting pictures, get a full-height LCD. Even a 3" diagonal chopped LCD has less effective image area for normal pictures than a 2.5" full-height LCD from cameras from the early 2000s.
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