Are All DSLR View Finders Like This?

blinkie

macrumors regular
Original poster
Sep 7, 2007
241
31
Hi,
I've been using a DSLR for the first time this week and I've been struggling to focus (manually).
I used to use film SLRs a lot so I was surprised when I borrowed a Nikon D5000 that there is no focusing aid in the view finder. The type of aid I mean is the optical effect type where, for example, you might have to match two semicircles.
Has this sort of focus aid been done away with in DSLRs? Or is is still a feature in different makes or models?
Thanks,
B
 

Ungibbed

macrumors 6502a
Dec 13, 2010
653
132
USA
I can't speak for current Nikon DSLR cameras, but my Canon shows a focus point array which will flash red on what the camera is using using for an autofocus indicator.

When shooting manual, things get a little different. I still have the AF grid points but just have to judge by my eye. I used to shoot 35mm before and know the viewfinder guide you speak of. It's on my old Canon AE-1 along with a analog indicator showing my current exposure level.

I'm still learning to use a DSLR as I've always carried my point & shoot everywhere. The only problem with that camera was whack F-stop range which always landed me grainy images. My BlackBerry took better photos.
 

blinkie

macrumors regular
Original poster
Sep 7, 2007
241
31
When shooting manual, things get a little different. I still have the AF grid points but just have to judge by my eye. I used to shoot 35mm before and know the viewfinder guide you speak of. It's on my old Canon AE-1 along with a analog indicator showing my current exposure level.
The viewfinder was proving so difficult to focus with that I start to use the lcd screen but I wasn't very impressed with the resolution on that. I really hope other viewfinders are better and incorporate a focus aid. I've been toying with the idea of buying one but I hadn't even considered this and a potential issue.
 

initialsBB

macrumors 6502a
Oct 18, 2010
688
2
On the D5000, and other Nikon DSLR cameras, you'll see a small green dot in the bottom left of the viewfinder when you have focus lock. This works regardless of auto or manual focussing lenses, at least that's what I noticed when I mounted 30 year old 100% manual lenses on my d5000 a few weeks ago. I think it uses contrast type algorithms or some such magic from the camera's processor to determine when you're in focus even with non-processor lenses.

Of course going from a full frame 35mm film camera to an APS-C type digital camera, the first thing you notice is the much more cramped viewfinder. If you want to be able to have the same comfort as 35mm cameras you'll have to invest in a Nikon FX camera (D700 or D3).

I still love the old focus assists of film cameras, but focussing and measuring are so effective now in digital that it's impossible for me to go back.

edit: Ken Rockwell has an overview of the AF settings on the d5000, maybe it can help you trust the camera more !
http://www.kenrockwell.com/nikon/d5000/af-settings.htm
And if you want to buy a Nikon DSLR, have a look at the d7000, it's a brilliant camera in my opinion.
 
Last edited:

mackmgg

macrumors 65816
Nov 2, 2007
1,416
38
The viewfinder was proving so difficult to focus with that I start to use the lcd screen but I wasn't very impressed with the resolution on that. I really hope other viewfinders are better and incorporate a focus aid. I've been toying with the idea of buying one but I hadn't even considered this and a potential issue.
I don't know about on the D5000 as I use Canons, but on mine I can zoom to 10x when in live view, which makes focusing a lot easier.

If you want a split prism focusing screen like the ones in old SLRs, you can get one from KatzEye for around $100.
 

jabbott

macrumors 6502
Nov 23, 2009
326
7
Hi,
I've been using a DSLR for the first time this week and I've been struggling to focus (manually).
I used to use film SLRs a lot so I was surprised when I borrowed a Nikon D5000 that there is no focusing aid in the view finder. The type of aid I mean is the optical effect type where, for example, you might have to match two semicircles.
Has this sort of focus aid been done away with in DSLRs? Or is is still a feature in different makes or models?
Thanks,
B
The focusing aid you describe for film SLRs is called a split-prism focus screen. Some DSLRs have the ability to swap out the standard focus screen with a split-prism version (the Canon 5D Mark II comes to mind -- not sure which Nikon models allow this). This is especially useful when using manual focus-only lenses such as the Zeiss Distagon series or Canon tilt-shift TS-E series.
 

harcosparky

macrumors 68020
Jan 14, 2008
2,055
1
The viewfinder was proving so difficult to focus with that I start to use the lcd screen but I wasn't very impressed with the resolution on that. I really hope other viewfinders are better and incorporate a focus aid. I've been toying with the idea of buying one but I hadn't even considered this and a potential issue.
Proceed with caution, even those with interchangeable focus screens come with a caveat.

Seems the really work well with faster lenses.

Someone mentioned the 5DII has being interchangeable, well it is but will not work well with lenses slower than f/2.8. I own a 5DII and have been looking into various options.

As to your original question, yeah most DSLR's are gonna be like that.

It sucks, but the manufacturers seem intent on making us totally dependent on Auto Focus which sometimes just doesn't work all that well. I guess they figure why go through the expense of putting a decent viewfinder on the camera so long as there is Auto Focus available.
 

mofunk

macrumors 68020
Aug 26, 2009
2,415
159
Americas
Coming from film too I thought it was crazy hard to focus manually. Only time I will focus manually is when I'm shooting in very low light and AF can't not lock in on the image. What you can do on Nikon DSLR is use the AF lock. One you get your image in focus, hold the AF lock.

Also, choosing different AF selectors .. find the one that fits your needs. I keep my camera on AF-C or AF-S.

SHooting with a D5000 I thought it was harder. I like the D300/D90 focusing better.
 

Obsidian6

macrumors 6502a
Apr 29, 2006
682
2
Laguna Niguel, CA
For anyone using a Canon 1 Series (be it a Film version or Digital) the option of the Ec-B screen is available which offers a split image circle as a manual focusing aid.

I think there is a third party split screen for the 5D series but I'm not too sure. I just use the EG-S screen which offers a more precision matte. It helps the image snap into focus, but it does give a slightly darker viewfinder image. It's really only a problem with slower lenses. Fortunately I only use fixed focal length large aperture lenses ;)
 

compuwar

macrumors 601
Oct 5, 2006
4,717
2
Northern/Central VA
Hi,
I've been using a DSLR for the first time this week and I've been struggling to focus (manually).
I used to use film SLRs a lot so I was surprised when I borrowed a Nikon D5000 that there is no focusing aid in the view finder. The type of aid I mean is the optical effect type where, for example, you might have to match two semicircles.
Has this sort of focus aid been done away with in DSLRs? Or is is still a feature in different makes or models?
Thanks,
B
My guess is the D5k has the green dot for focus assist in the viewfinder, and while not as easy/quick to use as the "triangle and dot" stuff on the higher-end models, it's generally pretty accurate- if you get used to just focusing until you get a confirmation with the green dot, you should be fine.

You can always replace your focusing screen, the Katz Eye for your model seems to not affect metering in almost any situation other than spot:

http://www.katzeyeoptics.com/item--Nikon-D5000-Focusing-Screen--prod_D5000.html

If you shoot with lenses with a maximum aperture slower than f/2.8, you'll probably want to pony up the extra $50 for Optibright coating so you don't suffer viewfinder blackout in low light with those lenses.

Paul
 

gnd

macrumors 6502a
Jun 2, 2008
568
17
At my cat's house
The focusing aid you describe for film SLRs is called a split-prism focus screen. Some DSLRs have the ability to swap out the standard focus screen with a split-prism version (the Canon 5D Mark II comes to mind -- not sure which Nikon models allow this). This is especially useful when using manual focus-only lenses such as the Zeiss Distagon series or Canon tilt-shift TS-E series.
I swapped out the focusing screen on my Pentax K20D with one that I got at http://www.focusingscreen.com. I use a lot of manual focusing lenses and I can't imagine working without a split-prism focusing screen. I bought my screen about 2 years ago and I remember their prices being around half of what they're right now ...
They're showing 4 focusing screens for Nikon D5000.
 

blinkie

macrumors regular
Original poster
Sep 7, 2007
241
31
Thanks for all your help guys. This is not my camera so I'll not be buying a new viewfinder for it. But this is a real issue I'll have to consider when I buy one of my own. It's so annoying, but not surprising, that viewfinders are worse now.

On a side note, and perhaps this need a separate post, what is the obsession with hugh ISO's? When I'm taking photographs I invariably want as low an ISO as I can get. Yesterday I was playing around with a Canon s45 from 2002 and I could get it's ISO down to 50. This Nikon will only reach down to 100! I can't be the only one that feels camera technology is set on a different path from where I want it to be. Can I?

Love,

B
 

mackmgg

macrumors 65816
Nov 2, 2007
1,416
38
Thanks for all your help guys. This is not my camera so I'll not be buying a new viewfinder for it. But this is a real issue I'll have to consider when I buy one of my own. It's so annoying, but not surprising, that viewfinders are worse now.
Love,

B
It's not that all viewfinders are worse, but rather that low-end cameras have low-end viewfinders. If you look at a D3 or a 5D, their viewfinders are still pretty good. They don't have the split prism in them anymore without buying that separately, but they're much bigger and brighter than the one in the D5000 you tried.
 

compuwar

macrumors 601
Oct 5, 2006
4,717
2
Northern/Central VA
Thanks for all your help guys. This is not my camera so I'll not be buying a new viewfinder for it. But this is a real issue I'll have to consider when I buy one of my own. It's so annoying, but not surprising, that viewfinders are worse now.

On a side note, and perhaps this need a separate post, what is the obsession with hugh ISO's? When I'm taking photographs I invariably want as low an ISO as I can get. Yesterday I was playing around with a Canon s45 from 2002 and I could get it's ISO down to 50. This Nikon will only reach down to 100! I can't be the only one that feels camera technology is set on a different path from where I want it to be. Can I?

Love,

B
I shoot with manual focus a lot these days and I find it easier to use the triangle and dot focus indicators on my D2x and D3x than a split prism, let alone ground glass. It's faster, and generally more accurate for critical focus than a prism.

"As low an ISO as I can get" is a completely meaningless goal. Sensors have one base ISO, everything else is signal manipulation, and therefore a source of noise and generally, reduced dynamic range. Manufacturers will set the base at 100 or 200 because most people will shoot that and higher, and anyone who needs slower shutter speeds is likely to be savvy enough to purchase some ND filters- since you have full dynamic range and no noise at ISO 100, what would be the point of ISO 50? You get the best quality image for a particular sensor at that sensor's base ISO setting, anything else is worse, and that includes the artificially low ISOs. Nikon's professional bodies all base at 100, their consumer cameras base at 200.

The D5000's base is ISO 200, setting it on Lo.1 just makes your images worse. Here's what DPR has to say about Lo.1:

The base sensitivity of the sensor used in the D5000 is ISO200. There is also a Lo 1.0 mode that attempts to mimic ISO 100 but it's effectively just ISO 200 over-exposed by a stop. The result is that the sensor becomes saturated and clips to white quite easily, limiting that mode's dynamic range. For most applications, you'd be better off buying a neutral density filter if you need slower shutter speeds than ISO 200 will allow.
Given that digital cameras shoot like positives (slide film,) increasing the chance of clipping the high part of the signal is just plain dumb. Only someone who didn't understand digital cameras would choose it under any circumstance other than where they absolutely needed a stop slower shutter speed and didn't have an ND filter available.

Paul
 

Laird Knox

macrumors 68000
Jun 18, 2010
1,781
956
I shoot with manual focus a lot these days and I find it easier to use the triangle and dot focus indicators on my D2x and D3x than a split prism, let alone ground glass. It's faster, and generally more accurate for critical focus than a prism.
Oh neat, I hadn't noticed the triangles yet - my old bodies just had the dot. :)
 

gnomeisland

macrumors 6502a
Jul 30, 2008
795
415
New York, NY
Hi,
I've been using a DSLR for the first time this week and I've been struggling to focus (manually).
I used to use film SLRs a lot so I was surprised when I borrowed a Nikon D5000 that there is no focusing aid in the view finder. The type of aid I mean is the optical effect type where, for example, you might have to match two semicircles.
Has this sort of focus aid been done away with in DSLRs? Or is is still a feature in different makes or models?
Thanks,
B
I realize in the Canikon world this opinion could be flame-bait but have you looked at the Sony A65 or NEX series? I know, I know you want an optical viewfinder. I shot Pentax before getting into NEX for the manual glass options and I was appalled at the idea of an EVF.

Then I gave it a try. For manual focus glass it is really amazing (especially with Sony's focus peaking option) because it is WYSIWG. I get a better idea of focus and depth of field than I did with an OVF on an APS-C DSLR. Sony's EVFs are so good I prefer to shoot my M42 glass on them then my M42 camera with a split prism!

Don't just take my word for it but give it a shot. You might like it.
 

asleep

macrumors 68040
Sep 26, 2007
3,452
1,404
I realize in the Canikon world this opinion could be flame-bait but have you looked at the Sony A65 or NEX series? I know, I know you want an optical viewfinder. I shot Pentax before getting into NEX for the manual glass options and I was appalled at the idea of an EVF.

Then I gave it a try. For manual focus glass it is really amazing (especially with Sony's focus peaking option) because it is WYSIWG. I get a better idea of focus and depth of field than I did with an OVF on an APS-C DSLR. Sony's EVFs are so good I prefer to shoot my M42 glass on them then my M42 camera with a split prism!

Don't just take my word for it but give it a shot. You might like it.
^This.
 

blinkie

macrumors regular
Original poster
Sep 7, 2007
241
31
Given that digital cameras shoot like positives (slide film,) increasing the chance of clipping the high part of the signal is just plain dumb. Only someone who didn't understand digital cameras would choose it under any circumstance other than where they absolutely needed a stop slower shutter speed and didn't have an ND filter available.

Paul
Thanks for you constructive comments Paul. I don't know anything about digital photography, I think I might have alluded to the fact that I don't own a digital camera. (phones excluded).

----------

I realize in the Canikon world this opinion could be flame-bait but have you looked at the Sony A65 or NEX series? I know, I know you want an optical viewfinder. I shot Pentax before getting into NEX for the manual glass options and I was appalled at the idea of an EVF.

Then I gave it a try. For manual focus glass it is really amazing (especially with Sony's focus peaking option) because it is WYSIWG. I get a better idea of focus and depth of field than I did with an OVF on an APS-C DSLR. Sony's EVFs are so good I prefer to shoot my M42 glass on them then my M42 camera with a split prism!

Don't just take my word for it but give it a shot. You might like it.
Thanks Gnomeisland It is something I will consider. I'd recently been talking to a photographer friend about the NEX.
 
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