Can you see clearly now?
Several years ago, I owned a camcorder with only a large LCD screen for a viewer. That agonizing experience convinced me to “never again” buy a camera without a real viewfinder. It had to have a viewfinder of some type or “no sale”.
But as digitals became more compact, and more people got used to using an LCD screen exclusively, manufacturers dropped the viewfinders, to save money and to save space. Eventually I did buy a small point and shoot camera without a viewfinder, and when I couldn't see the screen, just guessed and hoped for a good snapshot.
But the Panasonic LX-3 was different; it's a downright "serious" camera, with fine lens and features and capabilities that photographers welcome. When your photos matter, it usually helps to be able to see what you're shooting, and there are a lot of situations where you just can't see an LCD very well, at least not any detail.
I bought a couple of used hotshoe-mount optical viewfinders, but found them pretty worthless.
What I really wanted was to be able to see detail, unaffected by ambient light, like I can with my electronic viewfinder. But since there are no add-on electronic viewfinders for most cameras, the only option left were the hood-and-lens combinations that mounted behind the LCD and made the camera very large. Yes, they can be removed, but then where do you keep it? Probably on the shelf, or in a camera bag somewhere, and when you need it, it's not there.
I remembered a small folding viewer I had received years ago, for viewing type and halftone prints at close distance. I dug it out, and sure enough, I could see a very decent view of the LCD; even most of the 3” LCD on my LX3...certainly enough to see what I needed in most photos. Some investigation led me to find out this was a 20 diopter lens. So I removed the lens and fashioned a plate that went into the camera’s hotshoe, to hold the diopter lens the right distance from the LCD. While it was inconvenient to have to be constantly removing and replacing the viewer, it did enable me to see what I was shooting, and I knew I was on the right track. This original design I used is similar to the current hotshoe-mount version of the ClearViewer.
After many trials and experiments, it has evolved into a folding tripod-socket-mount viewer, that's fairly compact and lets me see all the detail the LCD screen offers, under nearly all conditions. And even better, since it uses a tripod screw, it can be adapted to most any digital compact, not just the LX-3! Even if your camera does have a small optical viewfinder, you might still find the ClearViewer useful, because it shows you, in detail, what you're really getting, not just a glass-lens approximation of what the camera is pointed at.
A Little History
What many of us, unfortunately, see when we try to take a photo using the LCD screen