_DSC2316---September-02,-2014-Edit

One of the biggest complaints about the Nikon DF retro styled camera (other than it doesn’t do video) is that it didn’t come with (or at least have an option for) an old school split screen manual focus screen. It did seem odd to me that they would make it compatible with any of the older Nikon manual focus lenses but they wouldn’t give a great way to focus them.

Now I can already hear you all cracking your knuckles getting ready to type out a long “But the two arrow/green dot rangefinder system is really good and accurate and Bla Bla Blaa…..” comment.

nikon-d600-viewfinder

To that I say yes it works great but it sucks to look away from your subject to the green dot and then back to the subject that chances are has moved :) The green Dot is awesome for stationary or slow moving stuff but street photos or what not it sucks to actually use in real life.

Now as near as I could discover researching this on the Internet was that everyone would say that these aftermarket focus screens were available but it would seem that no one wanted to spend the money to find out if they did or did not suck/work.

NIkon-DF-Focus-Screen-googleSeriously at the time of this post the first three google hits for ‘nikon df focusing screen‘ are Nikon Rumors saying hey these are available but nothing more, Dpreview.com forums filled with people wanting a review, and Flickr Discussion board filled with people asking if anyone had tried it out.

So the long and the short of it I got tired of waiting for someone to try them out and I tried one out myself. Now I feel obligated to tell the internet about how it all worked out :)

Nikon-DF-Focus-Screen

Installation:

The changeover was super easy once I half ignored the badly translated Taiwanese instructions and just looked at it logically. There basically is a wire spring/clamp (not all that dissimilar from a traditional mouse trap) that holds the screen in place in the camera. Holding the camera upside down with the front of the camera facing towards you gently press down and back on the wire to unhook it from the black plastic clip and bob’s your uncle it pops right up. The focus screen is actually sandwiched between two of these wire holders so carefully pull the old one out and put the new one in and reset the outer wire spring to hold it in place. Done!! I did have to lightly jiggle the camera to make the screen sit in there well to be able to clamp it down.

Initial insights of its actual Use:

It works Brilliantly! To start the manual focus seems to be BANG ON and the regular autofocus works just the same as it did with the factory screen.

It seems to be just as bright and what not as the factory screen with no overly dim corners or weird spots.

I didn’t have to shim it or anything to fit, it was perfect as is.

The split screen portion looks really small in the photos and when you are looking at the uninstalled screen but in the camera viewfinder it is large and easy to see the split.

NIkon-DF-Focus-Screen

It seems as though it is as accurate or better than the Electronic RF system. The green dot comes on when the split is in ‘focus’ but it seems you can do much finer adjustments with the split. Something that is slightly not matching on the split part will still just show as a green dot with the Electronic RF. We will see what real world testing shows on that EG: not just taking photos of things while I sit in the dark at my computer desk at 11:30pm :)

Update:

It seems that Prime lens manual focus works brilliantly but for some reason modern zooms seem to be a little hit & miss. I tested both manual and autofocus with the 24-70 and at 70mm the manual focus was significantly better while at 24mm the autofocus was the way to go. I found similar discrepancies with the 70-200 but I will have to do some more testing to be sure. That all being said all of my primes (35, 50’& 85’s) manual focus has always been as good or better than autofocus or the Electronic RF system.

The metering seems the same. I tested this by metering on some specific things about the house (spot, matrix, & Centre weighted) and confirmed these numbers with my Sekonic both before and after changing the screen and the numbers were the same.

Dealing with the company:

I was originally apprehensive about ordering some ‘sketchy screen’ from some ‘shady website’ that i am sure was translated into french, german, italian and mandarin before finally being translated into English. I actually feel that this video is a good representation of how such an awesomely awful translation could have happened.

However dealing with the company (at least from my point of view) was just fine really, the paypal payment was as they always are. Seemed all legit. ETC. All that being said I haven’t tried to return anything so who knows about that part of the customer experience really :)

Nikon-DF-Focus-Screen-siteThe Shipping to Canada was way quicker than I thought it would be.¨ I bought it in the middle of the night on July 28th and it was delivered here (Vancouver BC) August 5th. So just 5 business days! Way crazy.¨ There were 3 email updates to let me know when/what was happening so again the customer service seems good but again I haven’t returned anything or had out of the ordinary questions.

Other Random Questions I had that I couldn’t find answers to:

Q. Why is it say canon when it is for a nikon?
A. I don’t know. Infact have no idea. I just assume that the Canon made screens are the same spec as the nikon ones? I am guessing here really The screen came in a Canon box (although the packaging looks a little grey market)

Q.Do I need to shim or not?
A. totally looks like not but I think that some come with it just incase? Again the literature here is really hard to decipher but I am assuming the random plasticy things were shims and i am sure that I didn’t need to use them if that is infact what they were :)

All in all A++ would buy again :)

56 thoughts on “My Review of the Nikon DF Split Manual Focusing Screen

  1. Thank you for sharing. Some time has passed since you did this mod, and I wonder if you, like some others, have gone back to the standard Nikon screen?

  2. Hi and thanks so much for the review. I am panicking a bit with the retaining clip on my Df. I tried to undo it yesterday with the L-shaoed aluminium tool provided but gave up as it wouldn’t unclip. I’ll try again today with the « push down and in » advice, but am worried about not forcing it. I can’t quite understand the relationship between the wire and black plastic clip?? Help! Please….

  3. So…considering that the last post here is from 2017, I don’t have high hopes for an answer, but I’ll try anyway: The thousand dollar question: Screen dimensions!

    Yes, I can order from focusingscreen.com and am willing to do so, and I have in the past used screens from KatzEye, but something itches that, once dimensions are known, I could pick up some very cheap same-size or larger screens in a used camera store, also for example some proper old ground glass with a lot of “snap” over the entire screen, and fit that (after perhaps some grinding down).

    I also get the impression that Canon screens are larger, which might be related to distance from flange to sensor (not sure at all…), and Canon has a nice collection that can be bought new (and incidentally, the screen reported here happens to come in a Canon box as well…). Could F6 screens fit?

    All this depends on the screen dimensions, so is anyone who replaced their Df screen willing to take out a caliper and measure the factory-installed screen dimensions and post them here?

    Thanks much in advance!

  4. Hey Arno!
    Thanks for bumping this back up in my mind! It has been a while. My DF was actually stolen a few years back so I am sadly not able to measure it. That said I am just going by memory here but I seem to think that it was the same as the factory one. Again gong from memory so don’t quote me on it.

  5. Hi Jerkwithacamera. Thanks for replying so quickly on this old threat (tread?). It took me a while to get back because I received my ordered Df in between (on sale at 1800 euro directly from Nikon here in Europe(!!!)), which takes freakishly clean pictures even compared to my trusted D700. Sorry to read that your Df ws stolen. Perhaps it’s worthwhile considering a new copy now that Nikon seems to be selling out their stock at a very attractive price point?

    I use mostly 35/2, 100/2, and 21/2.8 Zeiss ZF.2 lenses with MF, and sometimes Nikon 50/1.4, 200/2.8, 24/2.8 AF, plus a cheap but strikingly good 28-85/3.2-4.5 Nikon AF zoom for fast moving subjects (i.e. the kids). Overall, the results are stunning with the D4 sensor in the Df, especially when using the Zeiss optics, but focusing remains critical. I was quite amazed about the low light sensitivity of the Df, and that it takes pics up to 3200 ISO without much discernible noise, while I even took some shots at a silly ISO 12800, some of which also barely show up noise (which seems to depend much on the subject).

    Anyhow, I also dug through the web to learn everything about focusing screens (again), after having used a KatzEye split with Optibrite to much success in my D700 for many years. I eventually landed at wanting a simple matte without focusing aids, but one that gives me a good representation of the actual DOF that the Zeiss lenses provide. This seems rather difficult at larger apertures. The best explanation I found was at:

    https://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/26575112

    In short I learned the following. I decided to share this for whoever seems interested to prevent them having to go through the same learning curve. I’m a physicist so should in principle have the background to understand this in detail, but info on the web is sparse and there are many opinions written that not always seem correct. This is my current impression of what is going on, with the caveat that it might also still contain some errors:

    1) Simple ground glass is best and used for ages but the roughened surface scatters much light in all directions, also away from the prism so the image in the viewfinder is darker. This is fine for MF-only mirrors that reflect all the light, but not for AF, since the mirror does not reflect all the light into the prism anymore, because some light is passed through the mirror to use for the AF sensor. Hence, ground glass gets too dark when used in AF bodies.

    2) Camera manufacturers found a solution in that one needs some structure on the screen to project the image on, but also a structure that does not scatter all the light. They do this by placing patterns of small dome lenses on a screen that does not scatter the incoming light in all directions away from the prism but capture it (similar to what is used in solar cells to capture as much light as possible as opposed to reflecting it), while at the same time providing the roughness to project the image on. When done at low cost, i.e. on a comparably cheap to manufacture large and/or irregular dome pattern, this does not correctly capture all the light on the outer diameter of fast lenses, and also captures too much light from OOF areas, giving (somehow) a too optimistic impression of sharpness and DOF, but a bright viewfinder on cheap zoomlenses. This is “okay” for AF and for the general public, but for us nerds that shell out the large amount of dough to get fast manual primes this is a nightmare.

    3) Few manufacturers invest the time to produce a finer and more regular set of dome lens distributions. A prime example is apparently the Canon S-type screen, which is stated to show accurate DOF as generated by the (fast) lenses and as will be captured by the sensor eventually, but it comes at the cost of having a darker image when stopped down.

    I am presently debating whether to get a Canon type S screen from focusingscreen.com, but am worried it might get too dark on my one zoom lens. In principle, it is designed to show accurate DOF for 2.8 and larger so it should work well on my primes. Another issue is that contrast reduces for such a screen, possibly making focusing again more difficult (since having contrast will obviously help in focusing). All in all, my mind has not yet settled on the options that are available, and though I am perfectly willing to spend $100 on a screen, my worry is that I will be disappointed, which brings me back to the size of the screen: Once I know what the dimensions are, I can start playing around with cheap options, such as a slice of old style ground glass that I can get for a few bucks from any used camera store and cut to size myself to start with (is simple ground glass really too dark? I wanna see that!…).

    KatzEye is out of business but still responding to questions (I love this level of aftercare) and told me that the D700 screen dimensions are 38.0mm wide by 24.7mm tall, but that they went out of business before they could have a look at the Df screen. I am thus still looking for the dimensions of the Df focusing screen. In your reply you mention that the screen dimensions from focusingscreen.com are the same as the factory installed one, and obviously they should, but maybe you misinterpreted my question?

    So again: Does anyone happen to know the dimensions of the Df focusing screen?

    More later perhaps, if I can find a time slot again.

    Cheers,

    Arno

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