My Review of the Nikon DF Split Manual Focusing Screen

Jerkwithacamera Gear, Gear Reviews, Nikon DF 52 Comments

_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 :)

Comments 52

  1. Avatar
    Joe Hockley

    Hi there,

    Firstly thanks for your review. I have just ordered the same screen as yours.
    I have a quick question. You said your manual focus primes worked the best. What kind of lenses are your primes specifically? Are they AF-S/D or G? For example, is yours a 50 1.8D or 50 1.8G? Did you notice the screen to be dimmer than the original screen?

    Thanks!

  2. Avatar Post
    Author
    the jerk

    Hey Joe!

    Thanks for the comment! I tested it with basically all the 50mm’s I used the f/1.4 D & G as well as the f/1.8 D & G all with the same great results. The other primes that I tested were the 35mm 1.8G DX, the 85mm f/1.4G & the f/1.8G. As well since the post i have done tests with two of the Sigma art lenses (50 & 35) and the Nikon 105mm f/2.8 macro all with the same awesome results. I haven’t had an opportunity to really dive into the zoom lenses (24-70, 70-200, & 14-24) for a more comprehensive test. Having said that I am still brilliantly pleased with the results.

  3. Avatar
    Steve

    I did purchase a focusing screen from them for a Pentax. They are quite good and it is working quite well. I also bought a Katzeye, which is supposed to be the best (at least Pentax users think so), for another Pentax, but I can’t see that much difference between the two. For sure, you can focus more accurately with the split screen than you can from the in-camera focus confirmation with a manual lens (I have a Nikon too), but it does take some getting used to. Also, things have to line up the right way. If the lines run perpendicular or on an angle to the focus line, then it isn’t hard. But, if they run along the same axis as the focus line, you’ll have to turn your camera a bit or the object will not be able to be split for purposes of lining things up in the viewfinder

  4. Avatar Post
    Author
    the jerk

    Re: Steve

    Yes I cut my teeth with a split level focus screen so I find it a bit second nature but I totally get it. I have had a few cameras in my time that had a split screen focusing screen that was on a 45 Degree tilt. I found them to be utterly brilliant but they are rare and I am not sure why?

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  6. Avatar Post
    Author
    the jerk

    Re:Andre

    The different types are for the different types of focus screens. Some are split which means that they image will be split in two until it is in focus, while some use Micro Prism which is shows things drastically out of focus until they are not. Choosing is really a matter of preference although Split focus is probably the most common type. The Screens Comparison page of that site does a pretty good job explaining the differnt types http://www.focusingscreen.com/privacy.php.

  7. Avatar
    Alf

    Hi, I just got the K3 focusing screen and I found the focusing point was a bit too high.. i.e. your center focusing square, where the focus confirmation is, cover the bottom half of my split focus.. lol.. did you get that problem ?
    Also for those who want to buy the k3 screen, it had two extra tabs below causing the fit to be VERY tight. (Normal focusing screen pops out easily, but i had to almost dig this one out.) (I did the k3 on the s5 pro in a seperate order before and it was perfect)

  8. Avatar Post
    Author
    the jerk

    Re: Alf

    My screen lined up perfectly although if selected the centre autofocus point is often in the way :) I usually select another point to avoid it.

  9. Avatar
    Tom

    Hey, i just came across your site and wanted to add one piece of information, that you obviously dont have:

    The focus screens are actually originales from differnt companies and are cut to correct size for the specific camera-model. so you have a original canon-screen cut to size to fit the nikon df.
    focusingscreen.com is well known for this service and if you had googled this, you would have found out. there is plenty of topics about this on the web… ;)

  10. Avatar Post
    Author
    the jerk

    Hey Tom
    Thanks for the info. Although I am not sure it had to be delivered quite like that…. I will assume that this is language translation issue and not that you are an asshole :)

  11. Avatar
    Kim Sorenssen

    I just installed a split screen for the Nikon D3 from the same company. Originally an F6 screen. It was super easy to install, and as fas as I can tell (only installed it just now) it works very precisely and metering is still normal. I will do some testing to make sure. On my D3 there’s a setting to make the AF point automatically disappear in MF mode, which I find very useful. No viewfinder clutter, just the split screen. See if you have a similar option on your Df.

  12. Avatar
    Alejandro

    Hi Jerkwithacamera! I just got my second focusing screen for my DF, the first one sadly i scratch it trying to put it on the camera. Also it was quite not that precise. How did you grabbed your screen so it was not scratch?

    Also my camera has like a metal frame below the original focusing screen that falls out easily are you suing this, or you take it out?

    Thanks!

  13. Avatar Post
    Author
    the jerk

    Hey Alejandro

    I actually did scratch mine a little but it didn’t bother me so it is still in there :) I hadn’t noticed the metal frame on mine but i assume that it is a shim for aligning the focus screen for accuracy.

    Let us know how the second one works out!

  14. Avatar
    Steve P

    A good idea for avoiding a scratched screen on installation is to look online for rubber tipped tweezers. Coin collector sites are a good place for these. Not only
    does it protect your new screen from scratching but handling is nice and grippy which makes the whole job easier. Oh, and they don’t cost much either.

  15. Avatar
    The Jerk

    Hey Steve!
    Great idea however my screen actually came with some rubber tipped tweezers, which worked great. I managed to scratch mine when puttting the retainer clip back down the little tool they give for that slipped. :)

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    Author
  18. Avatar
    Espen Olsen

    I just installed a K3 on my Df. The new screen seems actually a bit brighter than the stock one. The copper pad came out with the original screen. When installing the K3 the focus was off. I removed the pad – the screen is now in without the pad and I get perfect focus. In particular it seems my manual focus is more accurate at long distances.

    Great kit, no problems except the english language leaving somewhat to be desired…

    Definitely adds camera functionality with my manual-focus Voigtlander lenses.

    Espen

  19. Avatar
    The Jerk

    @Espen Awesome! I am happy to hear that it worked well for you as well! I totally agree that the viewfinder is super bright and clear and makes things look somehow more substantial :)

  20. Avatar
    dan

    Hi, That focus screen site does offer a 45 degree angle version for the DF.
    Df F6-L Focusing Screen is the model number. I had a film camera with an angled split screen and it really made a difference.

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  22. Avatar
    yorgasor

    I looked long and hard for a focus screen for my Nikon D3s. They don’t seem to make one as other split prism screens have thrown off the metering. The final solution was to buy a Canon split prism screen and sand it down to just the right dimensions. I had to shave off .4mm on each side and the tabs. My guess is that they’ve done the same thing, taken the Canon split prism screen (that only costs around $30), sand it down to the right dimensions, and reselling it for $100.

  23. Avatar
    John

    I just installed a K3 on my Df. I watched a couple of YouTube clips showing how it is done and ended up not using the tools provided. The hook thing that is provided to release the catch slipped off and scratched the original screen without releasing the latch. I ended up flicking the latch with a thin blade. I used the provided rubber finger tips to handle and place the K3 into the body hence avoiding metal contact with the new screen.

    The copper pad came out with the original screen and I left it out. There is also a replacement pad provided in the kit. All in all it was a pretty easy changeover.

    At longer distances the split screen gives sharper images than the green dot. As all of my lenses are manual focus Ai-s primes I cannot compare with autofocus but as an old manual focus SLR guy I am even happier now with my DF.

    John

  24. Avatar
    Nash

    Ordered two K3 screens for my D800E and D810, as I use a number of manual lenses. Just finished installing K3 screen on a D800E. Left the original Nikon shim pad in and not the plastic pads that came with the focusing screen (there were two in a little plastic bag). It’s nighttime, so I can’t do a lot of testing right now. Tested a 500mm/8 Nikkor Reflex lens focusing on a lamp and it focused OK but the image did not come out super sharp. Tested a Nikkor 24-70/2.8 and AF focusing produced noticeably more accurate image than manual focus using a split focusing screen, which is a bit of concern for now. I will do some more testing tomorrow, before installing the second screen on a D810…

  25. Avatar
    John Leithem

    Just received the K3 Focusing Screen for the D810 and after a quick installation I must say that I really like it. Brings back that good old “film feeling” when changing the focusing screen was almost an everyday task back in the days.

    It works great and I see no difference in AF performance and as a matter of fact I think it feels even better. I really like to focus manually for my landscape photography but also using auto focus is great and spot on.
    In the D810 there is a thinner layer beneath the focusing screen and that should be left alone, only remove the original D810 focusing screen and replace it with the K3. Remember to do it in a dust free environment with good light.

    And don’t use force….only put it carefully in its place and you’re good to go. Nikon doesn’t recommend you to change the focusing screen yourself because it might put the AF system slightly out of alignment, but like I said if you don’t use force then there is absolutely no need to worry. A Nikon NPS technician could do the same job for you in less than 2 minutes.

  26. Avatar
    The Jerk

    Awesome I am glad to hear that the screens are working so well! I still love it in my DF and use the manual focus often now even with AF lenes.

  27. Avatar
    Jon Kandel

    I’m a bit late to this thread. I put a K3 into my Df about a year ago. At that time they had no stock on actual Nikon screens and the K3 was listed as a Canon screen that would fit the Df. I left in the original shims. For MF I primarily use a 50-year-old 105mm f/2.5 Nikkor-P — a gem of a lens — though I have a few other MFs.

  28. Avatar
    Todd Jones

    Thank you do much for this post! I am considering a split screen as well for my D810 and I’m a little confused about what I’m reading here about AF accuracy possibly changing after the original screen is replaced with the split screen. I can’t understand how that could affect anything as far as AF. What does the screen or anything past the screen toward the eye have to do with AF? Aren’t the AF sensors bellow the mirror in the mirror/sensor box? Isn’t the screen only for visual alignment of the AF sensors on the subject you want in focus, and as a visual confirmation/adjustment of manual focusing?

  29. Avatar
    Joseph Tremain

    Does anyone know where to purchase additional shims of different depths? I have a Df that I have purchased two different split screens from two different companies/makes/ including focusingscreen.com, and both of them are off in the exact same manner. No matter which shim I use, and trust me I’ve tried every one possible multiple times including combining, I cannot get it correct. I’m a little OCD, so I’ve literally repeated the process around 60+ times hoping that eventually something would fit incorrectly, which ironically it finally did to a very small bit, but it’s still not correct. I have a slight front focus, and I cannot align the focus without a shim nor with the factor shim or any of the third party shims that came with the screens. I have discovered that there is actually an alignment screw/nut inside but I’ve not found conclusive information and it sounds like it might affect the AF itself, so until I can verify what exactly it does, and of course Nikon won’t say what it does, I can’t play with it. Any advice and/or info on locations to acquire additional shims would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

  30. Avatar
    Paul

    Hi I’m really only interested in square format images and want to achieve this with a Nikon DF. I really like the sound of the split screen as it is what I have always been used to – would it be possible to mask off somehow the right and left sides of the image so that I would see a square image through the viewfinder? Any help much appreciated!

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  33. Avatar
    Mark Roy

    I installed my split screen more than a year ago, when I first bought my Df, as I use mainly AI lenses.
    One tip I want to share is how to switch off the autofocus point. I see in your sample focus video the square AF point is set to the right. I usually leave mine in the centre, recompose, and shoot (old habits die hard!) but it is right smack in the way of the split image.

    In the Custom Setting Menu (pencil icon), go to f-Controls > a5 Focus point illumination and set AF point illumination to AUTO and Manual focus mode to OFF.

    This gets rid of the annoying square when you mount a manual focus lens, regardless of whether the AF switch on the body is on or not. I just leave it on, and when I mount an AF lens, the focus point reappears. Viola!

  34. Avatar Post
    Author
    Jerkwithacamera

    What I have done in the past is mark with a highlighter the square image on the actual matte screen itself. The highlighter is enough to see on the matte screen but transparent enough to see though. If you wanted to make it opaque you could do the same thing with black dry erase marker? It is probably not something that would recommend unless you are really really sure about the square only thing :)

  35. Avatar Post
    Author
  36. Avatar
    Steve Guzy

    Hi! I would like to know, if you would, the difference between the K3 and the EcB? Which one for my Nikon D600 should I get? Is there any difference? One says it’s Micro Prism and the other doesn’t. What EVER you can tell me would be a GREAT help before I order. Thanks so much!

  37. Avatar
    David

    I just changed the focusing screen on my Df and it seems to work fine. This is the first time in my life I have done something like this and I was a bit nervous if I’d accidentally scratched the surface but everything went ok.

    My only question:
    I can see some minor dust spots ( a few small black dots which seems to be dust or dirt specs) when looking into the viewfinder and I was wondering if this is normal. Does anybody else also experience this? Should I just let it be ? ( I wouldn’t want to remove the screen again to )

  38. Avatar
    Jerkwithacamera

    Hey David!

    Yeah that is likely dust or sometimes remnants of the foamy part that the mirror bounces off when it snaps up. You can leave them there if they are not in the way or don’t bother you. Be aware they could shift about and potentially end up in your shutter blades or on your Cmos (not likely but possible) so if they are big hunks of dust or what not you could take it out and clean and put it back. Check that they are not on the outside area that you can access with out taking it all apart again as well. Use a blower brush or the like (not compressed air) and see if they move.

  39. Avatar
    David

    Thanks!
    I used a blower and the outside of the screen is totally clean.

    So the dust is on the inside where it can’t be touched.
    I doubt that this area can totally ever be 100% dust free.

    But anyway I tried to take a picture of it but it was too difficult.

    Do you think you could get a picture of how your viewfinder loks like?

    I also checked the video you have on this website and correct me if I’m wrong but also in the video you can see a few specs on the focusing screen?
    Cheers, David

  40. Avatar
    Jerkwithacamera

    Yeah dust is inevitable sometimes that video of my screen has some yeah It isn’t there now but I cleaned itself on its own as time and shutter clicks when on :) I have spent many years looking thought the less than perfect viewfinder of many an old camera so I imagine I automatically tune that stuff out, If it doesn’t bother you i wouldn’t worry about it :)

  41. Avatar
    David

    Thanks buddy,

    Yeah I’ll just leave it.
    I have also heard that if you try to clean it you might just make it worse..

    Cheers, Dave

  42. Avatar
    Mitko Frangov

    Hi there!

    Great review. Thank you for taking the time to do it and to answer all of the questions that people ask. Super helpful!

    There is a topic that I somehow feel wasn’t developped very much in the comments here. It’s about the choice of the type of focusing screen. Undoubtedly, the split screen is very precise, but it is not very practical. The focusing is always/only in the center. And most of the time the subjects you’re shooting aren’t in the center of the frame.

    If you always have to focus in the center and then reframe not only makes composing difficult, wastes a lot of time recomposing, makes you lose precious moments that you can’t get back, makes you lose your subject’s (if it’s a person) patience/attention, etc… But, more importantly, it also means that if (after focusing) you have to recompose significantly, you’re actually losing the focus. The focus plane moves away from (behind) your subject after you move/tilt the camera to reframe. Especially with close subjects, with wide aperture and with shallow depth of field. (Hasselblad H-system seems to me the only cameras that actually adress this issue with their “True Focus”).

    Now… why I’m writing this all… I recently purchased a Nikon DF in order to use it with my Carl Zeiss primes. I would love to have a focusing screen that helps me EASILY and QUICKLY focus in every part all over my viewfinder/frame, so I dont have to reframe. To me a single focusing point in the middle of the viewfinder is very restrictive.

    So, please, help me understand which solution among the ones offered by focusingscreen.com (or by others on the market) can be the best for me. Looking at the screens available for the DF, I have the impression that the S-Type is the one that mathes the criteria. They say it is a “Super precision matte”. Is it actually easy to focus with this system? Is it better than the original viewfinder in the DF? Are there other types of screens available for the DF which have that same finishing among the screens with split prisms?

    Kind regards,
    Mitko

  43. Avatar
    Jerkwithacamera

    Hey Mitko!

    Thanks for the kind words :) Yeah you would be looking at the type S screen from what you are describing in your comment, whether this is going to be better than the factory nikon screen (which is essentially the same setup) I couldn’t tell you. What I can say it that the comparing my new split screen to the factory nikon screen I find it to be brighter and easier to tell focus of the whole image in addition to the split area. I don’t know this for sure but I would assume that that the Type S and the Split screen would be the same screen and would just omit the split screen area on the Type S. You would have to ask to be sure. But I personally think the that the whole screen area is better to tell focus than the factory one so you either way It would be an improvement.

  44. Avatar
    Mitko Frangov

    Thank you for this reply. Well, then I’ll probably ask the guys from the website if the split screens have the same finishing of the S-type + a split screen. Probably you are right that after all it is a better idea to buy a split screen.

    Any other opinions on the topic are very welcome :)

  45. Avatar
    Lev Flitman

    Hi!

    Thanks for such detailed review! I’m thinking about getting a K3 screen for my D700 as it has microprisms and I really like how it feels in my FE2. But one question bothers me: how is your experience with spot metering using central point? Long time ago I’ve read that KatzEye screen in particular had issues with it and required exposure compensation with f/4 and slower lenses. Basically, the slower your lens was, the more you had to compensate and the correction required was something about 1/3 EV at f/4 and 1 EV at around f/8.
    Sadly, KatzEye have gone out of business couple of months ago, so focusingscreen.com seem to be the only option left.

  46. Avatar
    Jerkwithacamera

    Hey @Lev I haven’t noticed any differences in the spot metering It seems pretty bang on to me & I often find myself using it. When I first put the screen in i did a metering test comparing it to my my Sekonic but I can’t remember if I only did incident metering or not. If compensation is required It can’t be more than a 1/3 stop which I would just fix in my raw conversion anyway.

  47. Avatar
    LifesShort

    I’ve heard of other also replacing their focusing screens using the ones from this company. Being cheap, I hate to spend money if I don’t have to. Do you have any idea if the screen from a Nikon F or an F2 would fit in a D610? I have a few old cameras sitting on a shelf whose screens I don’t mind using if they will work.

    Thanks.

  48. Avatar
    John

    I have recently purchased a screen from focusingscreen.com and
    Deki Kuo responded within a couple of days and gave me a detailed explanation of the screens and gave suggestions as to which ones might work best for me. They were very helpful. Just click on contact us and send them your question.

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