Rudy Winston
Rudy Winston

Rudy Winston has over 14 years experience with Canon USA's Pro Products team, and has been responsible during that time for training Canon's staff on new products, creating presentations for customers and dealers, numerous writing projects, and providing technical assistance to professional and amateur photographers.

An overview of the Intelligent Viewfinder Display system in the EOS-1D X and EOS 5D Mark III

April 16, 2013

Canon introduced its first EOS SLR with a transparent LCD overlay to provide comprehensive viewfinder information with the innovative EOS 7D camera, introduced in the fall of 2009. This type of display allows a wide range of information to appear directly on the focusing screen, but most importantly, allows the user to tailor the camera so that only the info he or she desires actually appears during shooting.

The EOS-1D X is the first EOS-1D series model to incorporate Intelligent Viewfinder Display technology; this was followed by a similar display in the EOS 5D Mark III. With its 61-point AF system, it provides a comprehensive range of options to the photographer, regardless of whether he or she prefers to simply see the one AF point they’ve manually selected, or see the locations of each and every available point in the 61-point array. This article will give an overview of the Intelligent Viewfinder Display, including some of its options and how they can be used during actual shooting.

The LCD overlay

Like the EOS 7D, both the EOS-1D X and EOS 5D Mark III use a transparent layer above the focus screen that can display black LCD markings as well as briefly illuminate these markings in red. Like many LCD panels, the beauty of this viewfinder display is that only the information that needs to show is visible and the finder can remain uncluttered for maximum ease of viewing the subject.

The LCD overlay does require a tiny amount of electrical power to operate. This is obviously no concern when the camera is turned on, but if the battery is removed the transmissive LCD suddenly loses a lot of brightness and contrast. This is perfectly normal and will return to full brightness once a battery is reinstalled in the camera (the camera doesn't have to be turned on; it only requires a functioning battery pack to draw power for proper viewfinder operation).

There are four primary display areas within the Intelligent Viewfinder Display:

  • 61-point AF system: A display of each of the 61 AF points, as well as a fine surrounding line used to indicate that Automatic AF point selection is active.
  • Superimposed grid display: The fine horizontal and vertical lines, sometimes referred to as “architectural grid lines,” used to keep straight lines oriented straight in a finished picture or as an aid when positioning subjects. Unlike the EOS-1D X’s optional focus screen Ec-D, the in-camera LCD grid lines don’t extend into the overall 61-point AF area, meaning there are no lines in the central area of the viewfinder.
  • Spot metering circle: This is permanently etched on the EOS-1D X’s standard Ec-C V focus screen, at the center of the picture area. (spot metering by default takes place in the center, but can be moved to correspond to any manually selected AF point via a Custom Function; the etched circle, however, remains fixed to the center). With the EOS 5D Mark III, the spot metering circle is likewise fixed to the center of the focus screen. Spot metering with the EOS 5D Mark III can only be performed at the center spot area.
  • AF status indicator in EOS-1D X: This new display appears either in the lower right corner of the viewfinder or below the finder to the right of the exposure display. Either way, it appears when the AF system is actively in the process of driving the lens, so that with near-silent USM lenses, there’s no doubt about whether the AF system is focusing or not.
  • Warning icon in viewfinder in EOS 5D Mark III: With the 5D Mark III, an octagon shaped icon with an exclamation point will appear on the LCD overlay in the lower right corner of the viewfinder, if various camera settings are active. It’s a warning in case you forget to reset less commonly used settings. If Monochrome (black and white) Picture Style, White Balance Shift or select other commands are active, this icon appears as a warning. Users can control which settings will produce this warning icon when going into “Custom Functions” and then “Warnings in Viewfinder."
How AF points are displayed

With the Intelligent Viewfinder Display, each of the 61 AF points can convey very specific information to the photographer. A brief understanding of the possibilities will make it a lot easier to tailor either the EOS 5D Mark III or EOS-1D X’s viewfinder to each shooter’s preferences.

  • Manually selected AF point: Any single AF point that’s manually selected appears as a “large” square within the 61-point AF area.
  • Spot AF: If Spot AF has been selected (via the AF Area selection process), the camera uses a smaller area of a focusing point to read focus from. This is indicated by the same “large” AF point, but with a smaller box within it. Please note that this smaller icon on the focus screen does not indicate the precise size of the area that’s being sampled for AF.
  • Available AF points, not selected: If the shooter desires, all remaining AF points can be displayed continuously on-screen to indicate their relative locations. Each available AF point is displayed as a small square, while the single AF point that’s manually chosen appears as either a larger box or (with Spot AF active) a “box within a box.” Some shooters, especially those who like to change the active AF point rapidly and frequently, prefer to have this always visible in the viewfinder to see where all available AF points are. It can be easily done via a menu setting: 5th AF Menu > AF point display during focus > All (constant).
  • AF point expansion: When activated (as an option within AF Area selection), the primary point is indicated as a single hollow point while the active surrounding assist points appear with both outer and inner boxes visible – as seen during the selection process and if you’ve set the viewfinder so that all remaining AF points are displayed. If you don’t have all points visible, you can see your primary AF point displayed as a full-size box and smaller spot-type boxes for the surrounding expanded 4 or 8 surrounding AF points. If you see a hollow point in the middle, you’ve set AF point expansion as your AF Area.
  • Zone AF: Zone AF differs from AF point expansion in that there is no “primary” point within the zone you’ve selected. Instead, the camera will focus upon the nearest subject (or part of a subject) that’s within the zone. Before focusing is completed, the 61-point cameras indicate the zone with the smaller “spot” sized AF point icons. Once focus is achieved, the point(s) within the AF zone that are being used are displayed as full-size AF points in the viewfinder.
  • Automatic AF point selection — One-Shot AF mode: During AF Area selection and before focusing, all that’s visible are the outer brackets indicating the overall area covered by all the available AF points. If you see the fine-line brackets, you’re set to Automatic AF point selection.
  • Automatic AF point selection — AI Servo AF mode: Again, the outer fine-line brackets appear — an immediate indication that all AF points are active and you’re set for Automatic AF point selection. But when the camera is set for AI Servo AF, the user always selects an initial starting focus point to begin tracking from and this point will be visible within the brackets before AF begins. This point can be manually moved anywhere within the 61-point AF area.
  • Blinking row of AF points during selection process: When either manually selecting an AF point or toggling through the available AF Area selection options (Single AF, Spot AF, Zone AF, etc.), you may see several vertical rows of small boxes, which represent AF points, blinking on and off in the viewfinder. This indicates that these points are single-line AF points, not cross-type points. They still can be selected by the photographer, but the camera is letting the user know the type of AF point it is.

    The EOS-1D X and EOS 5D Mark III are the world’s first pro digital SLRs to visually distinguish between cross-type AF points and single-line AF points. Armed with this information, critical shooters are now able to know as they move to a given AF point whether it offers the cross-type coverage – an important consideration if subjects have little detail or are in low-light situations.

    The camera is considering the lens in use, too. Because more AF points act as cross-type points with a fast wide-aperture lens mounted, you’ll see fewer points blink during selection if such a lens is currently on the camera.

Managing the Intelligent Viewfinder Display

The primary concern to most shooters is what is displayed within the 61-point AF area in the EOS-1D X’s viewfinder. There are some photographers who like the control of the technology they get by seeing lots of viewfinder data as they shoot, while other shooters prefer a more minimalist approach to their viewing and composing. Users have some options here, especially when they want to manually choose their own AF point (something many pros and experienced shooters prefer to do).

  • Display only the active AF point, but keep it constantly visible: This is the factory default setting. It maintains an essentially clear viewfinder, with only the active AF point visible once the shutter button has been tapped and the camera is “awake.” Access it from: 5th AF Menu > AF point display during focus > Selected (constant)
  • Keep the viewfinder clear: once in focus, remove the AF point from finder: This is similar to the default setting, but the active AF point disappears once the camera has achieved focus in One-Shot AF mode. In AI Servo, it appears before you begin to focus-track a subject, but once tracking begins, the point disappears. This setting is for users who find having an AF point displayed longer than necessary as a distraction. Access it from: 5th AF Menu > AF point display during focus > Selected (pre-AF, focused)
  • Keep the viewfinder clear: show AF point only for a moment when AF starts: This is for users who truly want to keep the viewfinder as clear as possible, but have one initial glimpse at where their active AF point is. The active AF point only appears for a moment, when AF is initially started, as a reference to its location. It then immediately disappears and does not remain visible during focus-tracking in AI Servo AF or after focus is achieved in One-Shot AF mode. Access it from: 5th AF Menu > AF point display during focus > Selected (focused).
  • Keep the viewfinder clear: don’t ever display any AF points: AF remains fully active, but with this setting you never see an AF point in the viewfinder before, during or after autofocus operation. For users who always use one particular AF point and find any display in the viewfinder to be a distraction, this setting is one to try (AF points are displayed when manually moving from one AF point to another, and during AF Area selection process). Access it from: 5th AF Menu > AF point display during focus > Disable display.
  • Display all AF points during shooting: Whether the camera is set to Automatic AF point selection or any type of manual AF point selection (standard, spot AF, etc), to see the location of each available AF point use: 5th AF Menu > AF point display during focus > All (constant).

Other options for controlling the transparent LCD overlay for the EOS-1D X’s viewfinder include:

  • Grid Display: To display the viewfinder’s built-in grid display, go to the 2nd set-up menu: 2nd Set-up Menu > VF Grid Display > Enable (or disable, to remove it).
  • New AF Status Indicator (EOS-1D X only) The EOS-1D X is the first Canon EOS camera to display an AF status indicator. This confirms that AF is either active at the moment (lens is being driven, during One-Shot AF or AI Servo AF) or that AF has been completed in One-Shot AF mode and is locked on a subject. Users have a choice of whether this appears in the lower-right corner of the viewfinder (rectangular-shaped “AF” icon) or beneath the viewfinder, as two small triangles that point inward. Access it from: 5th AF Menu > AF status in viewfinder > Show in field of view (or show outside view).
  • Viewfinder display during a high-speed shooting sequence (EOS-1D X only): This is technically not part of the LCD overlay system, but relevant to any discussion of the EOS-1D X’s viewfinder. The shooting information that appears beneath the focus screen (shutter speed, aperture, ISO, etc) and to the right of the viewfinder (analog exposure scales, etc.) normally disappears during continuous shooting and reappears as soon as the sequence is completed. But if you prefer to see a continuous display on this info, it’s available as a Custom Function: 4th Custom Function menu (Display/Operation) > Viewfinder info during exp. > On (or off to return to factory default).
  • Red illumination of the LCD viewfinder info: The Canon 61-point AF system can momentarily provide red illumination to any visible info that’s in the finder. Canon has minimized the potential distraction of this illumination in the viewfinder by having it appear only for a brief moment when AF (or metering) is initially activated. The red illumination does not remain on continuously in order to avoid metering errors and in part to conserve battery power. Access it from: 5th AF Menu > VF display illumination > Auto (or Enable / Disable).
  • Auto: The factory default causes the red illumination to flash briefly in low light only and the camera automatically decide when it’s needed. In brighter scenes, only the black LCD outlines will be visible.
  • Enable: Red illumination will flash briefly any time AF or metering is activated (in other words, when shutter button is pressed halfway down), regardless of scene brightness.
  • Disable: Red illumination will not display, even in dimly lit conditions. Black LCD outlines for AF points, grid display and so on continue to appear in viewfinder.

Flexibility has historically been an important characteristic of truly professional SLRs since the 1960s. With the EOS-1D X, users have a newfound measure of flexibility with not only the camera’s AF system, but how its information is displayed in the viewfinder. Nearly all that capability has been passed down to the smaller, lighter EOS 5D Mark III camera as well.

While some traditional users may cringe at the thought of a 61-point AF system with so many options, visual confusion and clutter can be minimized or even completely eliminated when the photographer brings his or her eye to the finder. Those users who really plan to utilize the features and abilities of the new AF system have a camera that can provide full information right in the finder, speeding up the process of selecting an AF point or AF Area mode. All it takes is an understanding of the tools available within the finder and the menu commands to make them appear or disappear as the user sees fit.

The CDLC contributors are compensated spokespersons and actual users of the Canon products that they promote.

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