Just about all cameras have an LCD display on the back. It’s used for playing back photos when they’ve been captured and for camera settings and menu navigation. On most cameras it’s also used for composing pictures – in fact, on cameras without viewfinders, it’s the ONLY way to compose your shots.
These screens are typically referred to as LCD displays but it’s not always technically correct. Some use higher quality OLED panels, for example, which offer higher contrast and color saturation.
There are two crucial specifications for LCD displays: screen size and resolution. The screen size is measured diagonally from corner to corner and a typical screen measures 3-in, but some cameras have larger 3.2-in screens.
The screen resolution is measured in millions of dots. These days, screens start at around 0.92m dots, which is still plenty to give a sharp image with no visible granularity. The best screens have up to 2.1m dots.
Many LCD displays are now touch-sensitive. Touchscreens have become a common way to adjust the camera settings, and in particular to set the autofocus point. It’s often a lot easier to use a Touch AF mode to tap on the screen where you want the camera to focus than it is to move the focus point using a physical control. Cameras with a Touch AF system will usually have an optional Touch Shutter mode to go with it, so you can tap once on the screen to both focus and take a picture.
On cheaper cameras, the rear screens are fixed and non-moving, but it’s becoming more common to add a hinge so that the screen can be angled in different directions for when you can’t get directly behind the camera or you want to shoot from a low or a high angle.
Tilting screens are the simplest. These tilt upwards, usually up to about 90 degrees, so that you can shoot with the camera at waist level or even ground level, looking down on the camera from above. The screen will usually have a (smaller) downward tilt too for overhead shooting at a concert or in any kind of crowd, for example.
Often, the tilting mechanism will go further to offer a 180-degree movement so that it faces forward. These ‘selfie screens’ have also become important for more serious content creators and vloggers who need to photograph and film themselves while being able to see themselves and their background as they shoot.
The one weakness of tilting screens is that they’re less effective with the camera held vertically for portrait format shots, though some tilting screens offer a secondary sideways hinge too.
Vari-angle screens have a wider range of movements. These typically have a sideways hinge and pivot movement that lets you angle the screen forwards, upwards, sideways or in almost any direction. They are just as effective for vertical format shots as horizontal ones.
Some cameras have more than one screen. More advanced DSLRs and mirrorless cameras often have a secondary status display on the top of the camera. This is usually a simpler monochromatic black-on-green LCD display designed solely for icons, text and numbers, not displaying images. These consume very little power and are easy to see in normal lighting. In dark conditions, you can use an LCD backlight button or lever to make the information visible.
Not all status LCDs use conventional LCD technology. Some newer cameras use a white-on-black OLED display that also consumes little power but is visible in a wider range of conditions without the need for a backlight.