Classic Camera Viewfinder Challenge - beat the F4 w/ AF Screen

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by christian_fox, Jun 29, 2013.

  1. I just purchased a chrome Nikon FM3A - I really like the FE series classic cameras and ergonomic handling, so this more expensive and recent production model is a treat. I would have been a fan of the mechanical FM series, but I was amazed to find out how far AE can go beyond the discrete shutter speed dial.
    I note that the FM3A "improved" split-prism screen does work as mentioned - the two halves do not darken, but to my surprise, I have a more difficult time focusing using this improved prism, as there appears to be less dramatic contrast. This is something that needs to be experienced to understand the difference. Perhaps I tested it on poor contrast lines. The overall screen is brighter than my FE screen. I will get the plain matte screen to see how it behaves.
    I am facing a personal challenge - to find an equal viewfinder experience in any classic camera to the Nikon F4 with its standard AF screen, in terms of viewing and the feel of capturing a manual focus. While I admire the focus assist indicator, I won't include this requirement, as well as the internal diopter. I do not wish to kindle a debate, but I feel that the F4 is a great camera that crosses over the Nikon classic camera line into the next generation - more in terms of ergonomic feel (bulky), power requirements (a lot of batteries), and use of exterior composite materials rather than metals. If I offend anyone, I am willing to say I feel that the F4 is technically the best camera I will ever own. I will eventually part with it (I think) when I find or figure out how to render a classic camera with a viewfinder and screen that is as liberating as the F4. I wish Nikon had offered a FE series size camera with the F4 viewfinder and manual focus abilities only ("F4MF") and produced another camera for AF like the one we see today. I know, I am very spoiled enjoying classic cameras with hindsight.
    Some say the Leicaflex models have great viewfinders. I bought an original Leicaflex, but was somewhat unhappy with the seller's operational claim and lack of final check before sending it, and my frustration with availability of R lenses. While it is one heck of a classic camera, I could not warm up to its ergonomic feel in my hands - it has a bloated feel to it. I have read that the SL2 has excellent focus snap.
    If you have had experience viewing an F4 viewfinder w/ AF screen, and own a classic camera (any brand) with a comparable view and focus ability, I am all ears. I also wonder if lenses can affect focus snap as well.
    Trivia question - What manual focus-only camera offered a focus assist indicator light like the F4? Hint - don't limit your mental search within Nikon.
  2. Answer to trivia question: Minolta X-600, 1983, intended for the Japanese market only.
  3. Ans 2 -
    Canon AL-1, March 1982 ... send prize winnings to PO Box 000.
  4. Surprising answers. I had to Google the X-600 and Canon AL-1. I had another camera in mind, and I'm pretty sure it is not an autofocus camera.
  5. Split-prism and micro-prism focusing screens have a choice of how steep the focusing aid is. The steeper it is, the more sensitive it is. But, that comes at a cost of it going dark when focusing with slower lenses, or lenses of long focal length. For instance, the default microprism screen for the Pentax LX is the SA-21. There's an SA-23 optimized for lenses f/2 or faster, usable with f/2.8 lenses. There's an SA-26 optimized for long lenses (400mm or longer), it has shallower prisms.
    The Pentax LX is noted for a pretty amazingly good viewfinder. Great Pentax lenses as well. But not the most durable or reliable camera, particularly compared to the Nikon F series.
    Another thing to realize is that a lot of modern focusing screens, especially on autofocus cameras, are optimized for very slow "kit zoom" lenses. They focus on brightness, throwing away the ability to use them for critical focusing, or to accurately preview depth-of-focus by stopping down the lens. They generally don't show you how shallow the DOF is at apertures larger than (say) f/2.8.
  6. Can't speak to whether Nikon has the edge in overall viewing but.....
    It is important to note the eye focuses on contrast and not brightness alone. With a correction lens I have no difficulty with my dim 1965 Olympus Pen F screen (an all matte screen). For my OM-1 cameras I prefer the 1-10 all matte with grid screen, plenty bright and easy to use with most lenses. For the OM body I also have a 1-8 screen for super telephoto lenses.
    In the old days interchangeable focusing screens were one of my "must have" features before I would consider buying a particular camera. Of course the Pen F does not have interchangeable screens but is a unique case without options if you want a 'designed from the ground up' half frame reflex.
  7. Olympus OM-30 and a couple of Contax'es also have confirmation lights, if I recall correctly...

  8. Yes, Les, I wear prescription glasses, but I prefer to use viewfinder diopters when available. I have used an MX a few years ago with different eyes, but I don't recall anything special. Never seen an OM-1.
  9. I have to agree with you on the F4, a camera that has not been treated well by history for some reason. The all matte screen on mine is really great with MF and I like it better than the F5 and the 4 is easier to use with my older lenses too.
    Although I can't speak for every camera, I do have a lot, it's hard to pick one. I use the SL and SL2, and while the screens are bright, I have trouble focusing both quickly. The Nikon F and F2 have really good screens and focusing, quite like them. My Pentax Spotmatic, although having quite a dark viewfinder, is really great to focus, very "snappy". Another very nice screen is the CV Bessaflex, a kind of Spotmatic 11 homage.
    You should have a look at the Olympus OM cameras, their viewfinders were a bit of a revelation in their day, still quite good now.
  10. sorry, as a long time owner of Nikons and I have pretty well looked through them all, the best screen I have ever seen belongs to a Contax RTS III.
  11. Les,
    I have read discussions about magnifications vs viewfinder coverage, but I never gave it much thought about the compromise between eye relief and magnification. I don't recall such extreme examples as yours. I am beginning to sense why some folks prefer the Nikon F3 vs the F3HP due to greater magnification. Despite my need for correction, I prefer to use a diopter and place my naked eye deep into the viewer to block out the world around me.
    I have an old 2x magnifier w/ -4 to +2 diopter for the F2 and it fits on my FM3A. I never thought about using it to check my focus, as the unit can flip out of view on a hinge. No lock and no markings for each diopter setting so can figure my eyesight correction. Even the wonderful F4 locking internal diopter does not reveal correction values.
    I recall a short eye relief with the MX, but I did not compare the view with another camera and 50mm lens to note the dramatic change in magnification. Now I wish I had, and will search Google for magnification comparisons. Thank you for an eye opening perspective.
    BTW, my trivia answer was the Contax RX, which I do not own, but this post revealed many more non-AF focus assist cameras.
  12. Get a Nikon type E screen.
  13. The best traditional SLR finder I ever used was the Contax RTSIII, though any of the Contax cameras had great finders.
    The RTS III was 100% too.

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