According to Wikipedia…In photography, a viewfinder is what the photographer looks through to compose, and in many cases to focus, the picture. Viewfinders are used in many cameras of different types: still and movie, film, analog and digital.*
The camcorder’s viewfinder is critical for the camera operator to see the image being captured. Louis Le Prince invented and built the first motion picture camera in 1888, and it had very simple viewfinder, but we can’t be sure of this because it no longer exists, as Louis and his belongings disappeared mysteriously in 1890. The Frenchman boarded a train beginning a journey to England, to be followed by a trip to the USA to promote his invention. However, Le Prince did not arrive in England and was never seen again.
Since Louis’ invention of the motion picture camera, the viewfinder has been a part of the camera because it needs to be close to the lens that is capturing the image. In recent years, we have seen video cameras separated from the viewfinder and connected by wire (or even wireless).
Necessity is the mother of invention, so this solution was born where traditional camcorders were not effective. This uncoupling of the video camera and the viewfinder has found a following in the youth sport of skateboarding. It is easier to skateboard without holding a camcorder in hand. The viewfinder is attached to a visor and the tiny camera can be held in one hand, fastened to the skateboard or a headband. Samsung used to offer a sports camcorder that catered to this market, but discontinued the product. The independent camera and viewfinder idea has been used for years in covert surveillance. Supercircuits, in Texas, has a wide selection of tiny cameras and one-inch color test monitors.
Someday we will look back on the silly era when people had to hold camcorders in front of their face when shooting video. This configuration is helpful when holding a camcorder is inconvenient or draws too much attention to the camera operator.
Having the separate video camera and viewfinder is useful whenever a camera operator wants to record video without changing the behavior of the subjects. This is often useful in creating a documentary. The impact of the camera operator upon the subject being recorded is an enormous topic in the world of making documentaries. Some believe that any appearance of being recorded alters the behaviors of the subject, so there is really no such thing as a true documentary. Others believe that leveraging the recording process with a big professional-looking camcorder elicits subjects to engage in unique showboat behaviors that make for a better documentary.
Matthew York is Videomaker‘s Publisher/Editor.