Best Viewfinder and Manual Focus Experience

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by christian_fox, Aug 31, 2014.

  1. I have been collecting classic cameras in a meandering way for a few years, and I use compact binoculars daily in the same way photographers capture images with passion. If you are interested in knowing what compacts I have come to admire as the best, send me a message.
    After a three-year G.A.S. attack, I am beginning to settle down on classic/modern film cameras. Different models have come and gone, sometimes to the disappointment of enthusiasts I have met for those cameras I let go (I apologize), but a few interesting cameras are taking shape in my collection. I have learned that beyond a basic level of quality, the "best camera or feature" is a highly subjective opinion based on our personalities, and whether we spend more time collecting, tinkering, or actually making film images. I have a developed a desire for nice VFs and screen combinations, larger size cameras in my hands, as well as silky smooth focus rings wide enough to find them while looking through the VF. Portrait (85-200 range) is my favorite range of focal lengths.
    Nikon is fun for its development history, low cost, modularity, and tinkering ability. A fan of the classic F, and the modern F4. In search of a more advanced VF screen for he Nikon F. Focusing with the F4 VF and NAI lenses with silky-smooth focus rings is a pleasure.
    The Contax MX with a silky-smooth focus Yashica 50/2 is nice, and it opens the door for CZ lenses. A future effort in the making.
    In search of amazing performance, Leicaflex SL2 and R8 are getting a lot of my attention, but require serious lens investment - not as fun as Nikon's staple. I had a recent experience comparing the SL2 to F4, and unexpected things happened. I rely on the F4 diopter and I note a loss of clarity when not looking straight through the center of the VF, while the SL2 appears magnified with amazing clarity across the entire VF, and I have yet to add a diopter for it. I thought using a diopter was a given for my eyes, so I am somewhat perplexed at this time.
    As I finally settle down on my G.A.S. (can't guarantee honesty here), I'll explore a few classics with high magnification VFs, and if they are small, I'll add a Motor drive configuration to them.
    There are many technical factors that lead to a great manual focus experience, as well as our own subjective opinions. For those of you that have cared about capturing an image with film, I am curious about your best VF viewing and focus experience and what camera/VF/screen/lens combination led to that perfection.
    Thank you.
  2. Olympus OM1 - 2 serie (can't speak for 3 - 4) with there large viewfinder.
  3. Perhaps not the best (immediately off-topic) but perhaps the most surprising viewfinder experience i had was using the old Hasselblad prism sports viewfinder.<br>I have no picture of it at hand, (maybe later) but some of you may know it. If not: it is a smaIl viewing tube (with prisms) providing a magnified view of a small part of the center of the viewing screen, on which a small frame is mounted, and in front of which a clip holds perspex sheets with printed frame lines. Polarizers in the eyepiece frame and the center part of the perspex sheet ensure proper alignment, so the direct view framing is accurate.<br>I initially thought it would amount to not much, but was surprised at how well this thing works. A quick glance through the tube (switching from frame to prism and back again requires only a small movement) makes accurate focussing quite easy, while the direct view frame finderpart does what that type of finder does pretty well.
  4. I've read good things about the Leica R viewfinders, and also that the R6 shouldn't be too shabby. And as I found out, it isn't - but it's not as good as my F3 (with the standard non-HP viewfinder). I do not have a lot of older gear, and hence not the most comparison material, but I do know everytime I look down that F3, I'm just amazed how clear it is and how easy to focus (also with really fast lenses). For what you prefer to do, add a 105 f/2.5 and you'll have a top-notch tool.
    The R6 is a really nice camera, but funds prohibited me to a single lens (60mm macro) which surely doesn't disappoint (for what it's worth, I explicitely wanted a R6 or R6.2 for the all-mechanical operation, and for the same reason got a Nikon FM2 coming, which I do not expect to knock the F3 of my top spot). It is a very nice camera to use, and the lens really does feel that bit better made than the Nikon Ai/AiS lenses I have. But the macro lens is relatively cheap; I'd love to add a Summicron-R 35mm, but prices in my parts of the world are just too much - as you said, for the same money, you can have a lot more fun with Nikkors.
  5. SCL


    In the Leica R world, my favorite was the SL2. The only thing which could have made it better, IMHO would have been a built in variable diopter (nobody was making them at that time though) as my eyes aged; I liked the VF of the R3, but not the R8. About 3 years ago I picked up an Olympus OM2 and it matched my love for the SL2. My Pentaxes, Yashicas, Canons, and Contax all seem a little less vibrant by comparison. In the Nikon line, my absolute favorite was the F3HP - the screens were really bright and easy to change when working with different lenses...sadly the variable diopter didn't come along until the F4 - the design of which triggered revulsion in some folks, but I liked it. Then about 2 months ago I came across a really dirty Minolta XG-M with lenses for about $12. Everything worked, so I cleaned it up and was delighted to find that the VF was bright and contrasty (again no variable diopter), and the lenses a delight to use...just developed my 1st roll and was impressed...the Rokkors easily matched the Nikons of the era. So I think for me it boils down to what looks good to your eyes (I like split image RFs), fits comfortably in your hand/s, and has a stable of strong performance, reasonably priced lenses - many seem to meet my criteria.
  6. for me, the best viewfinder is in a Contax RTS III. Compared to the rest, like looking at an HD TV. Unfortunately, those purple LCDs just don't cut it but the viewfinder is amazing, IMO. Sorry about it not being a CMC, though.
  7. My taste in cameras is much older than yours. I very rarely buy a camera newer than 1950, and the 1920s & 30s is my favorite period. My classic camera with the best viewfinder is my Gundlach Korona 4x5, made around 1926. The smaller camera I like best for ease of focus and viewfinder is my Rolleiflex MX-EVS.
    Kent in SD
  8. Leica Visoflex and Zenit 3M focusing screens; maximum feedback, minimum interference
  9. The Olympus OM1 and OM2 units were revolutionary for many reasons, but their viewfinders had a definite "Wow" factor.
    Still, hands down the most precise and impressive of any SLR, was the Leicaflex SL2...
    The prism in the Leicaflex units are known as "Leica Diamonds"
    In fact, they're convex curved on the screen side; to manufacture, probably the most expensive ever...
  10. The Olympus OM series is quite nice -for a small camera-. It really cannot compare to a Nikon F3HP though. I have not used the contax or leica, so i cannot compare to those.
  11. The Pentax LX and MX have highly regarded viewfinders. The LX (0.9x) hasn't got quite as much magnification as the MX (0.97x), but it's crazy bright since everything (mirror, prism, etc.) is multicoated. The LX focusing screens are also a generation more sophisticated than the MX's.
    The LX also has adjustable diopter, which the MX doesn't. The LX also has better eye relief.
    But, the LX is pricey, and more needing of maintenance than an MX.
    I find the LX a dream to focus.
    Actually, the very modest Pentax ME Super has a great viewfinder reputation (0.95x magnification), but it's a battery-dependent camera, so it's not a CMC.
    All of these cameras were part of Pentax's reaction to the OM-1.
  12. I never liked my OM1 cameras--to get that wide field of view, the eye relief was seriously compromised. My favorite viewing experience is the Nikon FG--big enough finder, kept simple, but more eye relief.
  13. The Nikon F3HP has the best SLR viewfinder I've tried, although some folks who don't need the longer eye relief prefer the non-HP finder for the higher magnification.
    I've owned or used the Olympus OM system (owned the OM-1 and OM-2N, used the OM-4); Canon FTbn, TX, T70 (only tried the F1 briefly, seemed very good); Pentax Spotmatic; Minolta SRT-101 and XD-7/11; Miranda Sensorex. All were good. The F3HP is better.
    While the FM2N viewfinder isn't quite as good as the F3HP, the red LED meter readout is easier to see in a variety of conditions than the dim, gray F3 LCD. I usually prefer the FM2N for low light candids - I don't need glasses (yet) for composing and focusing so the shorter eye relief isn't a serious hindance. I prefer the F3HP for long exposure low light/nighttime photography from a tripod, or for subjects that demand critical alignment - landscapes, buildings, etc.
  14. "Nikon F3HP has the best SLR viewfinder I've tried" Lex J.
    All the F3HP mentions made me think "Did I forget about how great the F3 viewfinder was?"
    Well the key phrase here is "I've tried".
    Because if one pulls out and begins to compare these most acclaimed viewfinder king's, with the exception for eyeglass relief where it's tops, one should come to the conclusion that the F3HP is out of its league in this prominent bunch.

    The Leicaflex SL came out in 1968 and was years ahead of the industry in viewfinder brilliance, magnification and precision. The Olympus OM system in 1972 for it's size and cost, had an incredible and revolutionary VF.
    The Pentax MX and ME Super improved even more on what Olympus started.
    (Plus at this point, I believe the Pentax units are aging better than the Olympus)
  15. If Pentax: LX with all microprisms screen for me please. If somebody needs built in diopter adjustment beyond "slightly near sighted" make sure to get the ** W version of the hotshoed prism. Anothert LX advantage: with the rotating viewfinder attachment the eye point is high enough to wear a closed crash helmet behind the camera.
    But being vexed by my LX's bugs, I'll probably put that microprism screen into an MX and rely on my Gossen as usual, since it will fool the MX's meter. I love the chimney finder with flip in magnification for Mamiya TLRs, but if I have to shoot wide open I'd rather skip the *LRs and stick to RFs.
    I haven't rerally tried other 35mm systems but was amazed by the built of the 100mm Macro Elmarit, way more fun to focus that one instead a Tamron or Pentax for portraits and similar.
  16. Quite agree about the Leicaflex, but for some reason I find the darker VF in my Pentax Spotmatic easier to focus. I always prefer a plain GG screen with a microprism spot to any split image setup.
    I am constantly amazed by the brightness of the early Nikon F and F2 viewfinders, must have been a revelation in their day. Someone mentioned the Zenit 3M, and like the early Prakticas, these plain GG screens are amazingly effective for focusing, especially for close up work.
    For the total VF experience, nothing beats the huge GG on a 10x8 camera!
  17. Not long ago, I was using both a Canon FTb and Nikorrmat FT3. The FTb has a microprism center, where the FT3 has a split-image center. I find the split image easier, especially in low light.
    Without distracting from the rest of the thread, any comments on different focus screen centers?
  18. Leicaflex SL, Nikon F3HP, OM-1n all tops but... for the ultimate "big screen" experience try a Canon F-1 with the Speed Finder FN. With a 60mm eye relief, it's like looking at a movie screen in a theater.
  19. Chimney finder on the Bronica S2; it's definitely a "fall into the picture" experience. Among the older rangefinders, the Ambi-Silette with it's switchable frame lines, excellent rangefinder spot and overall brilliance takes a little beating.
  20. The Pentax ME Super can be operated without batteries at 1/125 of a second.
  21. "...any comments on different focus screen centers?"​
    Until recently I was partial to the E grid screen for the F3HP - matte screen with just enough tooth for fine focusing, even in nighttime use. But my eyes have faded a bit over the past couple of years and I need more diopter correction. Unfortunately the eyepiece threads on my HP prism are buggered up and won't accept diopters. So I've replaced the original screen. I've never cared for microprism collar focusing aids but do like the split image aids for quick focusing.
  22. @Louis,

    Is it just the Canon FN finder for F1, or is it applicable to all the sports finders? I have zero experience with sports finder, and would like to understand if an Action Finder DA-2 on my Nikon F3HP will have similar effect.

    Louis Meluso [​IMG][​IMG], Aug 31, 2014; 08:48 p.m.
    Leicaflex SL, Nikon F3HP, OM-1n all tops but... for the ultimate "big screen" experience try a Canon F-1 with the Speed Finder FN. With a 60mm eye relief, it's like looking at a movie screen in a theater.
  23. Yes, Bruce, the effect is similar. Keep in mind a few differences over the standard finder. There is no way to apply dioptric adjustment lenses to the finder eyepiece. The aperture direct readout and shutter speed lcd get shifted to the bottom of the finder display and, overall the finder tends to be slightly less bright.
  24. I found the Olympus OM 1 and 2 are the largest / widest. (but dono about the F3HP) The other OMs are also good, but a tad smaller. Canon AE1, AE1P are a bit smaller than OM but even brighter at the same given aperture. I've also used many manual Pentaxs, Ricohs, Nikons, Minoltas, Konicas and Contax. Found none as bright as the Canon AE1P or as wide as the OMs. .
  25. Les,
    I am grateful for your presentation, regardless of its potential negative effect on those with G.A.S. Stunning and I'm sure will be reviewed for years on
    Which LX VF screen did you find to work best for the dark lens?
    I wonder how all that equipment passed the sales Director in those days? It must have been an image strategy for Pentax to offer such a comprehensive selection of gear. Was there really a comprehensive user market for this stuff?
    Did anyone else match Pentax in regards to a wide mix of VF and screens for a single model? I wonder who had a reputation for the best quality and most functional selection of options.
  26. If possible try before you buy, preferably with a variety of lenses. Might mean visiting a large camera shop (if possible) or visiting a few friends that have what you're interested in.
  27. Like Gus, I really like the Olympus OM-1 finders. They are honestly the only ones that ever actually "wowed" me.
    Lots of other good ones, of course. One of my favorites is the original Nikon F with the plain prism finder.
  28. Gus Lazzari:
    I took up your challenge, having recently acquired a Pentax ME Super I can compare to my Nikon F3HP. I agree: The HP wins for my glasses (and seeing the aperture in the finder), but the ME Super wins for everything else.
    The ME Super is brighter, bigger, clearer, better with color, and sharper (or so it seems). I have to move my head around with my glasses on so that I can see the whole frame. If I didn't wear glasses, I'd jam my eyeball right into that finder, and it's a beautiful world.
    The F3HP is only better in that with glasses, I can see the whole frame in a stand-off sort of way. But in direct comparison, it suffers by comparison. Throw in the Throw Weight, and I'll take the F3HP with me when I'm not travelling far and / or using a tripod. The ME Super is currently king-of-my-bike-bag, having just replaced the Olympus 35 DC (too little control, and not quite perfectly sharp lens).
    But my Go-To camera of all time has been the Nikon FE. I held it up to the ME Super, and wow, what a difference; not all good. The ME Super wins in Brightness (even mounted with the SMC Pentax-M f2.0 compared to the Nikon's AIs f/1.8.) The ME Super wins in clarity; the matte finish about half-way to the sides is much clearer than the Nikon. The ME Super wins in weight, of course. The FE wins in data display: analog, needle meter, full f/stops in the viewfinder. Eye relief is a tie for the glasses wearer. I'm guessing that the Nikon would be the slightly technically better glass than the Pentax, but that's just a guess. Nothing probably matters at F/8. The FE also has DOF preview and effective MLU, so that helps it win when I'm going to be seriously shooting. But for around town carry, I'm currently on the ME Super.
    Fascinating. Thanks for the thread, y'all. It puts my F3HP in its place where it belongs: On The Shelf.
  29. "If I didn't wear glasses, I'd jam my eyeball right into that finder, and it's a beautiful world."
    I like that statement. All I needed to hear.
  30. I like the Action Finders for the Nikon F and F2 that give an experience similar to looking at a small TV, and making the camera bodies more dangerous as tools for splitting wood - and heads. The downside is the added weight on top. The equivalent accessory for the Canon F-1, called the Sports Finder, adds the capability for waist-level viewing through an ingenious mechanism that allows it to be swung up 90 degrees.
  31. One reason I use RF cameras for most of my photography is the presence of their aerial viewfinders, admittedly not usually as accurate for field coverage as some SLRs, but of a brightness independent of maximum lens opening of attached optics. I once tested briefly a Leicaflex Standard (initial model) SLR system, which rather uniquely has an aerial VF and a small central RF patch. While it does not have the ability of stopped down depth of field analysis (not always easy to do) it did have a fine VF. As others mention, buying into another expensive lens line was not an option in my case. Also, the non TTL exposure meter and ugly duckling appearance of the camera (a minor point in my consideration) worked against a buy decision.

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