App Review: ViewFinder Preview on iOS

In my review of the Fuji GW690iii camera here I mention that I have had issues framing accurately with it on some occasions due to the lens blocking out the lower portion of the viewfinder. 

So when I heard about a new app on iOS called ViewFinder Preview ($1.99 USD on the App store) which is designed to help photographers frame their images, I was keen to try it out.

I was invited to take part in the beta program for this app and was able to see how developer Adam Fowler took on board feedback, adding features and tweaking the interface for usability. Mind you, I was already impressed with the design and simplicity of the app when I first opened the beta version.

When you open the App for the first time you are greeted with the main interface or "Viewfinder". In image 1 below you can see this is currently set up for my Fuji 6x9 camera and its 90mm fixed focal length lens. On the screen you see a box which is the frame for my camera and my focal length. You can choose in the settings whether to have this box as I have it (Rangefinder on) or whether to use the entire phone screen as the frame. I prefer the Rangefinder on so that I can see just around the edges of the frame and tweak a composition to remove/include things I don't want. This was one of the suggestions I put forward to Adam during the beta process and I'm pleased that he included it in his next update.

Clicking on the bottom left icon lets you choose from the camera system you want to preview in the app (Image 2 above). You can customise this completely in the settings menu and Adam has added many of the most common camera types in here, including digital cameras - this app isn't just for film photographers.

Clicking on the bottom right icon lets you choose the focal length of the lens you are using (Image 3 above). Again you can have a variety of lenses here to choose from with plenty of defaults included. If yours isn't in there, no problem, just add it in the settings menu. I should note that there is a limitation for some focal length and film combinations brought about by the limitations of the iPhone camera itself and what it is able to display. For example, users of the Fuji GW690iii with the fixed 65mm lens will notice a red box (Image below) denoting the frame edges which are outside the range of what the iPhone camera can display. This is not a limitation of the app itself I should point out and framing is still possible.

Image 4 - the red box shows the limitations of the iPhone camera at certain focal lengths although you can see that framing is still possible

Image 4 - the red box shows the limitations of the iPhone camera at certain focal lengths although you can see that framing is still possible

The menu system (Image 5 below) is where you can change options including having the Rangefinder box on, changing the histogram and pretty much any information you want the app to display. It's customisable completely to how you want to use it.

Going into the Film Format menu (Image 6) you will see the presets that come with the app. If yours isn't there you can click the "+" button and add it in. Included in here are most of the film formats available along with the digital systems out there.

Heading into the Focal Length menu (Image 7) gives you the lens choices. There are some presets or you can again add your own with the "+" icon on the bottom. I think this makes it an incredibly powerful app allowing for almost any combination of camera system and focal length to be set up by the user. The only limitation being what the iPhone camera is able to show. That said, for all my needs, I'm covered fine.

Once you have found a composition, you can use the app to take an image recording the main information for the exposure in the gallery. You can see this in Image 8 where the format and focal length are recorded along with the shutter speed, aperture and ISO - these are all things you can set on the main ViewFinder screen depending on how you want to create your image. In fact, ViewFinder itself has a built in light meter. For the example in Image 8 below, I set the aperture to F/8 and ISO for the film at 400 and the app gives me a shutter speed of 1/10s. I have found this to be accurate enough in a pinch, as with all iPhone light meter apps, but still use my main light meter. The date and time of the exposure is also recorded. This gives you, in effect, a film note taking app alongside the main viewfinder part. There is also a place where you can add your notes on the scene and any special considerations you had to take e.g. exposure compensation, filters used, reciprocity notes.  (Image 9)

As you can see, there are a lot of extra features available making this more than just a preview app. As a preview app though it excels. I have found the preview to be extremely accurate in showing what I'll be getting in the viewfinder of my cameras. I have tested this with my Fuji and also my DSLR. I can imagine it would also be great for larger format cameras like the 4x5's and 8x10's too where getting a composition can take a long time to set up correctly.

The interface is easy to use and I love the Rangefinder box for showing what's just outside the frame. In terms of using this app I have found there to have been plenty of occasions where I haven't wanted to unpack my bag, get my film camera out and lug it about trying to find a composition whilst looking through the little viewfinder. This is especially true in bad weather where the app allows you instead to move about and try out different compositions without the need to be fiddling around with a camera or tripod set up initially.

I haven't really used it as a note taking app. I have already provided suggestions to Adam for making this a bigger feature but I appreciate that it isn't the primary function of the app, just more of an added bonus at this stage. He said it is something he may look at for a later version. I know that for me, this would make the app perfect. In particular, if I was able to record images into specific rolls indicating their film types, I would find that very useful. Especially so if I could add other custom data or calculate things such as reciprocity in the same app. However, these are all features for later or even another app. What is great is that Adam is open to suggestions and has been quick to add things during the beta. I'm confident that this is an app he will keep up to date.

I highly recommend ViewFinder Preview. This is not just for film camera users, although this is where I have found it to be most useful. 

I'm not affiliated with the ViewFinder app or Adam nor did I receive payment for this review. I did receive a complimentary copy of the app as a thank you for my participation in the beta process but I wouldn't have hesitated to buy the app myself if that hadn't been offered. 


Update 14/04/2018

As I mention in my review, Adam is very good at updating the app and since publishing my review has tweaked the UI slightly and added a few things too.

In the settings menu the Photo Gallery is now top of the page, as this is the part of this section most people are using. Adam has also added some presets for film makers and organised the presets much too much more easily find the one you need.

There's also a huge 1500mm focal length increase in response to a request on a photography forum! I'll update the review as Adam updates the app.