My favourite low cost photography accessory

Written on 9th August 2019 | No Comments

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 small plastic viewfinder.

The Viewcatcher

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:

  • It’s low tech
  • It’s cheap
  • It’s waterproof
  • It’s small and light
  • It’s simple and offers no distractions

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.

Leaving heavy camera kit behind

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.

A row of pine trees on the Mendip Hills, Somerset. I decided on the shape of this panoramic image by closing the Viewfinder down to a wide, narrow aperture.

Going back to basics

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.

Where to buy it

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.

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