Review: ViewfinderMasks

A custom viewfinder mask to save time and money

By Don Chick, M.Photog.Cr., CPP

Every now and then you encounter a product that falls into the category of “nice to have,” but for one reason or another, it just doesn’t make your priority list. Initially for me, a custom viewfinder mask was such a product. I could see the reason to own one and the potential value, but higher priorities and price kept me from making the investment of $195. Boy, was I wrong to delay!

Now that I have a custom viewfinder mask from ViewfinderMasks in my camera, I am convinced that it is one of those must-have products that will make your post-production life easier and pay for itself in both time and money.

A custom viewfinder mask helps because a DSLR, or 35mm camera creates a 3:2 ratio image area, which translates to 4x6 or 8x12 image formats, while most professional portrait photographers print 4x5 or 8x10 images using a 4:5 ratio. The composition and cropping problem happens when you fill the frame with your 8x12 subject (Figure 1) and attempt to print the image on 8x10 media.

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Figure 1: Composing your image without a viewfinder mask,
you tend to fill the frame with your subject …

Part of the image must be cropped off at one or both ends (Figure 2). It is especially difficult to create a pleasing portrait when some of the head and body has to be cropped and the frame is filled mostly with the subject’s face.

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Figure 2: … but when you print, you have to crop one or both ends. Images ©Don Chick

The Viewfinder Mask I now use has the lines scribed on either end to indicate an 8x10-crop. When I create a portrait now, I almost never see the edge of the screen, but rather the lines. This has completely eliminated any guessing about how much or how little to include for the final image. Figure 3 shows the 3:2 ratio full viewfinder image and the final 8x10-crop image.

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Figure 3: The 3:2 ratio viewfinder view on the left with ViewfinderMask lines indicated, compared to the final portrait crop (right) as composed using the ViewfinderMask. ©Don Chick

By confidently composing the image for the crop in-camera, you don’t have to worry that you’re not going to have enough room for cropping or that you’ve allowed so much extra space around the subject that you lose some of the camera’s resolution.

Figure 4, below, shows another ViewfinderMask option. With the mask oriented vertically, you can produce underclass or sports team portraits with every image having the identical head size. No more guesswork, no more post-production cropping. The dashed lines allow correct cropping for 5x7 images. From time- and money-saving perspectives alone, serious photographers should consider a custom viewfinder mask.

 

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Visit ViewfinderMasks.com for information on the many custom mask options, pricing and ordering, and user-interchangeable masks. 

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Comments (3)

Interesting article. I think maybe it could use a better portrait for an example though.

A feature introduced by Nikon with its D3 camera is the ability to set the file size at 5:4 for a perfect 8x10 file size with zero cropping and zero wasted pixels. For wedding photography it is great to have the portraits and formal group shots done at this size and being able to batch process to upload the files for online viewing and printing. This should be a standard feature with every digital camera sold instead of the 3:2, 16:9, or 4:3 that are now provided. Nikon's 5:4 format option was introduced in 2008 and oddly enough no other company has followed suit, including Canon with its 5D and 1Ds cameras which are otherwise great for studio use.

T. O. Nash, III:

Really good article. Hope it brings you lots of business. I'm really enjoying my mask. The next camera I get will have the "Yearbook Sports..." viewfinder for sure!

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