Focusing screens - got me thinking...
I was just browsing the threads and the discussion of auto-focus cameras vs manual focus reminded me of some thoughts I've been having on the subject of focusing screens.
This all started when I recently purchased a Canon EF and when it arrived I realized it was a very early model, with no split-image focusing aid built into the screen. For quite some time now, I have grown very accustomed to the split image feature (as it seems almost all manual SLR's came with such a feature). I was actually a little alarmed (I bought the camera on eBay, and while aware of this difference between newer and older production runs.... I simply didn't think of asking - no harm done, but lesson learned!). When I unpacked it, looked through the viewfinder - it struck me: its jus a normal matte circle!
Well, to get to the point: I don't miss it! Actually, I realized how infuriating the split image can be! The little matte area around it is always small and dim and near useless, the two halfs go black in all but perfect light, and when there is no straight line to reference it gets outright aggrevating! As I've been doing some shooting with my "new" EF, I realized I felt almost liberated - able to focus more quickly, more precisely and paying much more attention to the composition rather than peering into a tiny little spot to figure out wether two halfs fo that often blacked out circle are lined up or not! Come to think of it, I have been shooting for years and years with an old Zenit, and always thought that a split image would be so "cool" to have (give me some slack - this goes back to childhood years - things were either cool or not) - but now that I have had them... I don't miss it at all, as a matter of fact - I like it better without!
I have spoken to some folks here who had similar experiences, how about the rest of you? Is the splitimage focusing aid a bit of an overrated feature? Does it not sacrifice some fine points on the altar of simplicity?
Just thought I'd share my experiences on something that I never really gave much thought before,
My experience is the opposite of yours.
Many years ago, I preferred the plain matte focusing screen. However, when my eyesight changed, I discovered that I had a hard time focusing with the plain screen. I then had to change to a screen with a focusing aid. The split image focusing aid worked best for me.
I recently purchased an auto focus camera that came with a plain screen and an electronic focusing aid. In some lighting situations, using the screen alone makes it impossible for me to obtain an accurate focus with my manual focus lenses. If I am shooting a moving subject, using the electronic focusing aid is too slow. Therefore, I just ordered a screen with a split image to replace the one that came with the camera.
I had the same experience switching from an Olympus OM-10 (with split image) to an OM-1 (microprism circle), I prefer the microprism circle by far, I seem to be able to focus much more quickly than when I used to spend time making sure the split image was exactly aligned in the OM-10.
Admittedly if I wanted to I could buy a split image screen for the OM-1 because it has interchangeable screens, but I don't think I will.
Anáil nathrach, ortha bháis is beatha, do chéal déanaimh.
The last Nikon F3 I bought on eBay had the screen with the grid lines and not split screen (I forget the model number). I too thought it would be a pain, but now I like it, especially since it has the grid lines. In some cases I do prefer the split screen for accurate focusing.
As a side note, I'm a bit near-sighted. Would a diopter help me or are they for people who are far-sighted?
Just because you're not paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.
Yes, the split image screens always made me unnerved - both plain and 45 degree verisons. I know plenty of people who feel right the same about them. I am so glad my Spotmatic does have a simple microprism screen... and I've never seen any studio photographer here with anything but a plain matte screen with center spot (designed for macro and close-ups) in their Hassies and Mamiyas RB/RZ. The halves and stuff around make it just impossible to see model's face, and they are often the reason for a badly composed in a hurry images with face (the focus was set on it, right?) in the very center of frame! Rangefinders is another thing - but as for reflex cameras, my heart is with plain matte.
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In general I would prefer a plain matte screen; works very well eg. in a Mamiya RB. However considering the dimensions of the screen i a 35mm SLR, I find a focusing aid such as a split image screen very useful. Yes, it can be annoying (particularly when the thing goes black - which happens all to frequently), but for critical focusing it's a very nice feature. So on balance (for 35mm) - I want the split image.
I never could focus on ground glass, although I also like microprisms more than split image, although I got the split for my RB67. At the moment we are trying to get a prism or microprism screen for my wife's old EOS 650, which seems to be having a new lease of life. The original (German) instructions say that there was quite a range available, but they aren't available anymore. The auto focus is a bit hit and miss, and we both prefer manual anyway, as we know what we want to focus on. Does anyone know if Canon's current screens fit it? We wrote to Canon, who say they don't know!
Hmmm... so I'm not alone! I can certainly see the upside of the split - but was really surprised how the matt circle just "fell to hand"! So far, I think its a love affair - but perhaps in some situations, or as the eyes start to go -I will miss my split. By then, I will have probably bought more cameras than I will ever need anyway though
As to the EOS 650 - I know that screens from the T90 fit most of the EOS bodies - but I am not 100% sure of the accuracy and ease of such a mod.
Thanks for chiming in with your thoughts - it was just something that got me thinking!
I, too, am partial to the plain matte. I use a motored F3 for sports and find the plain screens much faster in focusing. When going back to one of my other Nikon's, all with split screen, I feel like I have to look around the middle of the screen. Also in low light the plain screen seems better to me.
I like a microprism for those times when I am having a little trouble getting the focus in, but I feel that the split image takes up way too much room and is not terribly useful. I had an OM-1 and Mamiya 645 for which I sought out and purchased screens without the split image. My current 645 Super has a split image and this thread is reminding me that I want to hunt down a screen for it without.