Improved Manual Focus in DF (or any other DSLR)

Discussion in 'Nikon DSLR Forum' started by Ray Sachs, May 15, 2015.

  1. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    Just replaced the focus screen in my DF...

    I've been using mostly manual focus lenses on my DF, MUCH to my surprise - I wouldn't have guessed I'd be doing this when I bought it. But I've got two Zeiss and three Voigtlander MF lenses at the wide end and a couple of Nikon telephotos in the portrait range. And, really, the only AF lenses I own are the 24-120, which I use occasionally, the 70-300 used almost never, and the Nikon 50 f1.4 and 85 f1.8 used every now and then.

    I've never been dis-satisfied with the manual focus in the DF. The focus screen is OK and the little green "electronic rangefinder" dot at the bottom of the finder is remarkably accurate, if not all that easy to see while concentrating on the image. I'd been reading about aftermarket focus screens that had been adapted to the DF and other Nikon DSLRs from stock Canon and Nikon screens, made for older film SLRs I believe. There are a couple of sites that sell them - focusingscreen.com is the only one I'm aware of that adapts them specifically for the DF.

    I'd been a little nervous about doing surgery on my camera like this, but finally decided to give it a try after reading about some user experiences on DPR. I ordered a Canon Ec-B type screen with a matte finish and a split circle in the center, like so many old film SLRs I used to use. The screen arrived yesterday and I set about installing it.

    I made one really bad mistake and I thought I might have really messed up the camera - when I thought I was taking out the original screen, I was actually removing the little metal clip that holds the whole assembly in place. That's supposed to pop open to allow you to remove the screen, but it's not supposed to come out of the camera. But with enough light (and it took a strong set of LEDs!) I was able to find the little holes the ends of this clip fit into and very painstakingly get it back in place. Thus very well acquainted with the cavity of the DF, the new screen went in really easily and then locked down with the re-installed metal clip. They provide a shim in case focus with the new screen is slightly off, but I didn't need it. I think if the old screen was in the right place, the new one will be as well...

    And the bottom line is it's really a huge pleasure to have a real manual focus screen in the camera with a split image circle in the center. Manual focus is quicker and easier. I still use the green dot to confirm focus, but I can concentrate on the framing and get extremely close using the split circle and have everything extremely close before I look down at the green dot for that last little micro-adjustment. And, frankly, as I get used to it, I'll probably stop using the green dot for a lot of shots because the split circle is precise enough, as it always was with my film SLRs...

    I know you can do this same type of thing on any of the Nikon full frame DSLRs it looks like just about any SLR or DSLR from any maker, from a quick glance at the site. I'm really thrilled with the way MF works on the DF now and, if anyone else is thinking about anything similar, I can now highly recommend it. Aside from the one dumb mistake I made, installation was quite easy, and the results are well worth it... And it doesn't have any impact on the camera's ability to auto-focus.

    -Ray
     
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  2. Luke

    Luke Super Moderator

    Nov 11, 2011
    Milwaukee, WI USA
    Luke
    that sounds pretty cool, Ray. Glad you didn't mess up that fancy camera.
     
  3. grillec

    grillec SC Veteran

    399
    Jan 16, 2014
    Glad your're happy with the modification.
    A few years ago I changed the focus screen on my D300s with a Katzeye OptiBride. The precision and quickness of manual focus did improve.
    But on a Sigma SD15 I had made the experience of an unsynced green dot, AF and manual focus (without any modification) with adapted lenses.
    And I don't want to repeat that "fun" with a modified Df and I'm glad the green dot is so useful.
    On the D300s I had the impression that the screen absorbs more light at small aperture values in comparison to the original plate (although it was the OptiBride version),
    so one half of the split screen went almost dark.
     
  4. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    I could imagine such an experiment going very very wrong, making the camera HARDER to focus. Which would suck, obviously. I sort of remember some of my old SLRs occasionally having half of the focus circle going dark at times, but I've been putting this one through a pretty good torture test and no such problems.

    So far, this one is all good. The only downside I can envision is now I'm probably gonna develop a bit more gear lust for the Zeiss 100 or 135, a problem I'd avoided so far because they're manual focus. I have an old Nikon 135 f2.8 AI that I'm gonna practice a lot with. As well as the 75-150 f3.5, which I'm already pretty comfortable with. If I can get good enough shooting candids of people with those, I may eventually have to add one more lens to the two Zeiss wide angles I already have...

    -Ray
     
  5. grillec

    grillec SC Veteran

    399
    Jan 16, 2014
    Thanks for the info.

    I don't own the Zeiss 100 or 135 (and won't buy them because I'm very happy with my Samyang 135mm), but here it would be important for me to how fast and how long the way for the focus metering is.
    I own a 85mm/1.4 Zeiss Planar for c/y and it produce a very good image quality on my A7, but I would never use it for situations where a fast focusing is needed. Focusing from close-up to infinity would take very long and everything beyond the speed of an old lady would be disappear around the next corner.
     
  6. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    I'm not really talking about "fast focus" or any kind of action. I'm talking about shooting candid portraits at gatherings of friends and family. Sometimes people are sort of still, but there's some movement too and sometimes it's easy to lose focus when you're doing it manually. I've gotten a lot better at this lately. I have an old Nikon 75-150 f3.5 zoom that I use for this kind of shooting and my rate of keepers has gone up quite a lot since I first started trying this kind of shooting with manual focus lenses. And I'd imagine this new focus screen would improve that rate still more. I'm just not sure it's improved enough to invest in a really high end lens like the Zeiss 135 rather than an AF lens I don't like nearly as much, like the Nikon 135 f2 DC. I may have to rent one and have a good long play with it to see...

    -Ray
     
  7. serhan

    serhan SC All-Pro

    May 7, 2011
    NYC
    I preferred the mf stock screen when I shot the Canon/Sigma's compared to green lights though vf got darker with slower lenses. I was surprised they didn't put a stock mf screen with df. There is always third party:) That is how I started to add mf glass to shot with both cameras, but Sigma with green light confirmation was not much usable for me also...

    For shooting quick mf, I prefer the rf lenses with short throw, much better then slr lenses. Some people like the long throw for precise focus, but not good for quick shots. The Zeiss 100mm has a short throw at the long end and it has longer throw getting close to the macro end though I have not used it much for moving subjects. I have 50-60 years old Contarex Carl Zeiss 50mm f2, first Zeiss planar, and that has similar throw design with short 30cm~ 1ft mfd.
     
  8. RT Panther

    RT Panther SC All-Pro

    Dec 25, 2012
    If I had 2 Dƒs, I'd do that to one....:cautious:
     
  9. ajramirez

    ajramirez SC All-Pro

    Jul 9, 2010
    Caguas, Puerto Rico
    Antonio
    Does it affect the AF or the metering in any noticeable way?

    Thanks,

    Antonio
     
  10. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    Nope, not in the least...

    -Ray
     
  11. lenshacker

    lenshacker SC Regular

    198
    Nov 21, 2014
    "Old 135/2.8 Ai" "Old 75~150 F3.5 Zoom"... your young age is showing...

    I put "E" and "B" type screens in most of my film Nikons with interchangeable screens. so with the Df- turned the grid lines on, was home. Maybe it's just decade after decade after decade after decade after decade (ie, OLD) of using manual focus lenses with E and B screens- but it just is not hard.

    For 135- Look for a Vivitar 135/2.3 series 1. Uses floating elements, DECADES before Nikon used them for loner focal lengths.
     
  12. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    I did a lot of shooting with manual focus in the '70s and '80s myself, so I was also well acquainted with it. Hell, I shot high school football games in the mid-70s with a Pentax K1000 and whatever 50 f1.8 they were selling it with the year I got mine. I was working in a camera store when Minolta introduced the first auto-focus camera in 1985, but then mostly sat out from then until about 2010, just doing family snapshots with whatever cheap point and shoot we had around the house at the time. When I got heavily back into it in 2010, AF had gotten soooo much better than that original Maxxum that I was really happy to shoot with it (except for zone focus, which I've been using for street shooting since about 2011). Other than that, I've been almost all AF until maybe 6-8 months ago, when I started buying "old" MF lenses. I don't mean "OLD" relative to anthing except modern DSLRs and, in that sense. they're pretty old! I'm not finding manual focus difficult in any sense - I've fallen back into it like putting my foot in a comfortable old shoe. But AF is definitely an advance and for some types of shooting, a real advantage. And for the kind of stuff I do a lot of with longer lenses, I'd generally rather have it than not. I've done fine without it and will probably do better with this new focusing screen, but it's definitely a nice tool to have available sometimes...

    -Ray