Viewfinder Quality [Why]

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by vahe_sahakian, Jun 6, 2010.

  1. I am primarily into film but considering a Nikon DSLR to post images on the internet.
    My camera is a F2, I have yet to see a DSLR that has a viewfinder as nice as this old film camera, last night I checked a friends D300, the viewfinder is simply crappy compared to the F2, why?
    Why are the DSLR viewfinders so crappy?
  2. The DX (d300) sensor is much smaller than 24x36mm (film size) and it's AF. MF nikons will always be better/clearer VF than AF especially the F2 at 100% coverage.
  3. On the other hand, there are so many advantages with digital and AF...
  4. The FX cameras, such as the D700, and D3 series cameras, have very nice viewfinders. For my D700, I've added a DK-17M magnifying eyepiece from Nikon, that provides about 1.2x magnification and while the corners are a little darker I can still see to the edges of the frame (and to the indicators on the bottom) easily. I think the DK-21M for the DX DSLRs has a similar effect and can improve your viewfinder experience as well. For manual focus lenses a replacement focusing screen, such as one from KatzEye or Haoda might be helpful.
  5. Check out a D700 or D3. The viewfinders are much better than the D300. On the other hand, what do you dislike? I for one prefer a split-image to focus manual lenses with, so I replaced the screen in my D300 with a Katz Eye and use a magnifier eyepiece. The D3 is good enough without such aids, but it is still arguably not quite up to the standards of the F-bodies. The best viewfinder (IMHO) I currently use is on my F6 but I am quite happy with the others.
  6. Why? Because they're used for composing, not focusing.
  7. you can shoot frames 37 to 200 [or so] without worrying about changing film. And you may change the ISO settings as you wish, without looking in your camera bag for that other roll of film.
  8. I've had two D3 cameras for two years now, and while I'd classify the finder as 'useable' for eye-focusing, it's not as good as I remember the F2 finder being. The F3 was a step down in finder contrast from the F2, but still, with the F3, it seems easier to discern focus than with the D3. I do find that periodic adjustment of the diopter setting on the D3, multiple times during a single day, helps keep the focusing as easy and accurate as it can be on the D3. And yes, the DK-17 helps sometimes.
  9. Hi Vahe,
    It is expensive to manufacture a prism finder of the quality of the various Nikon F2 prisms. I believe the inferior finders of today's amateur Nikon digital camera bodies are a cost cutting strategy.
    The Nikon F2 is the best manual Nikon body ever built, in my opinion, and its various prisms are exceptional in function and quality.
    In any case, compared to your Nikon F2, Nikon DSLRs are disposable cameras.
  10. In any case, compared to your Nikon F2, Nikon DSLR's are disposable cameras.​
    Disposable cameras they maybe but they surely are more useful for most people for taking pictures...
  11. It's a smaller image, but I have no problems with my D90.
  12. Robert Hooper- "In any case, compared to your Nikon F2, Nikon DSLRs are disposable cameras."
    The F2 is a slightly better anvil/hammer, but its digital counteroarts (D1x, D2-2x, D3-3x are better, more productive, picture-making instruments for both rank amateurs and working pros. I write this while currently owning and using two Nikon F2's (and having owned several) & many Nikon and one Canon DSLRs. In its heyday, the F2 ruled. That day is now history.
  13. Luis,
    I write this while currently owning and using two Nikon F2's​
    Yes, but will anyone still be using a, "D1x, D2-2x, D3-3x", 40 years from now, oops, I mean 40 months from now?
  14. Nice camera, the F2, but I have a couple of questions.
    Where do you put the back when loading or unloading the camera? Unlike the Leica bottom plate, it's too big to fit in a shirt pocket.
    Where do you find a cable release for that proprietary release button? Or do you just poke and hope when shooting long exposures on a tripod? Do you ever use a tripod?
    Where does the flash go?
    How do you shoot with your glasses on (if you wear glasses)? High eye relieve took a while to catch on at Nikon.
    I could go on. My point is, to paraphrase Will Rogers, "Things ain't as good as they used to be, and they never were."
  15. Edward,
    The back hinges on an F2 body and does not require removal to load film.
    Dedicated cable releases were ubiquitous in the day and are still readily available on eBay.
    Flash mounting does require an AS-1 adapter. I must admit to having misplaced a few of those at just the wrong time.
    I wear glasses and never had a problem shooting an F2 because of it.
  16. Thanks for pointing out a pet peeve I have with DSLRs. I had a D200 and traded it back because the viewfinder was junk and I wasn't happy with the manual focus capability. There is no comparison to the the viewfinder on the Nikon F, F2, or even FM / FM2. At some point I'm considering a D3X and the viewfinder is going to be a big criterion in deciding whether I plunk down the pennies.
  17. D700 viewfinder is nice, almost as big as my mamiya 645 viewfinder, minus the dust.
  18. I used an FM2 and an F2 for 25 years before adding a D200/D300. Viewfinder differences didn´t annoy me at all. Getting used to AF, AE, zooming and no winding got most of my attention.
  19. The professional Nikon DSLRs have excellent viewfinders, much larger than the consumer models, and the D3 finder is magnificant - comparable to that of my F3. I have to conciously check the corners - you can't see the whole thing in one glance (although it's all visible, even wearing glasses and using an eye cup).
    I have no difficulty with manual focus on my DSLRs, perhaps because I had 40 years of experience before owning a camera with autofocus. I do not need nor want a split-prism "rangefinder" screen, and have replaced them whenever possible with plain or grid screens. Where that's impractical, I find myself focusing and recomposing just to get the rangefinder out of the way. Your mileage may vary.
  20. As mentioned, the viewfinder size and quality are based on a) the level of the camera in the lineup at the time, b) metering abilities, and c) sensor/mirror size.
    While there are a lot of film cameras that have great viewfinders, your average AF SLR probably isn't going to be one of them, unless its a single digit F or EOS. Why? More crap up there means the viewfinder needs to shrink to make room. The F5's viewfinder was arguably the same size of the F2, and yet the prism's dimensions were bigger.
    All of this is, of course, ignoring the fact that manual focusing is infinitely more accurate on a zoomed live view image than it is on even the best viewfinders. Yes, assuming you're not rushed.
  21. Why are the DSLR viewfinders so crappy?
    The question is obviously about the viewfinders only, and I can't understand why some people keep fighting about which camera is better, or more useful ...
    1. Cut cost, many finders even use mirrors instead of prism. Cutting cost is for the customers and because of the customers
    2. Most users don't use finders for manual focusing anymore
    3. Because sensors are not built to be interchangable, users need to replace their digital cameras much more often than their film cameras. Why build it too good if you will have to let it go soon!
  22. Very succinct. Thank you, John.
  23. Y'see, I don't think DSLRs have a shorter lifespan than film cameras. Assuming they're kept in good shape and taken out for a spin at least once or twice a year, the age of the camera has almost nothing to do with its reliability. But since 'film' is essentially free, people shoot way more.
    I'd bet good money that if you took 20,000 frames a year with your F3 or your Leica, that'd crap out after a couple years too.
  24. I'd bet good money that if you took 20,000 frames a year with your F3 or your Leica, that'd crap out after a couple years too.​
    That would be about 550 rolls of 36ex or roughly over $2200 at $4 per roll. Roughly, a d700 and that's not counting the cost of processing...
  25. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    As one of the moderators here, I'd like to remind everybody that this thread is about viewfinders; in particular why some viewfinders are better than some others.
    Please do not turn it into anyother film vs. digital debate. We already have way too many of those debates that have never changed anybody's position.
    I have used the Nikkormat FT3, Nion FE, N8008, F4, F5, F100, D100, D2X, D300, D3000, D5000, and all flavors of the D3. I also have a Contax 645 SLR with its much bigger viewfinder, focusing screen and mirror. I have no major issue with any one of those viewfinders. The only really bad Nikon viewfinder I have seen is the one on the D70/D70S and D50. Otherwise, even the penta mirror on the D40 and D3000 is acceptable, certainly not that good, but acceptable.
    But clearly it is a big deal for some people.
  26. Zack, if you bought an F3 when it first came out, it has as good an image quality as a brand new F6 at the same exposure with the same film.
    If you bought a D1 in 1999, you can NOT get the same quality as a D3 today.
    If there's anybody still shooting with a D1 in 2020, I totally pity them.
    That, Zach, is why a DSLR has a "short lifespan".
    Shun, I agree that my D50 viewfinder is totally yukky, and yet I got a lot of pleasure out of it for four years (as an amateur, of course... the person it was designed for.)
  27. Oops, I meant to say "it has as good an image quality as a brand new F6" I edited it.
  28. My original question was strictly and only for the quality of viewfinders found in most Nikon DSLR’s, I hope that we do not get dragged into the hopeless digital vs film debate.
    I apologize for not being very clear about the topic of this discussion.
    I am an old timer and perfectly happy with film while it is still available, but I am also perfectly happy with digital, my problem is that I am spoiled with the viewfinders that Nikon provided in their older film cameras and when I switch to a DSLR the first thing that I notice is the viewfinder quality.
  29. I think Shun want the IQ/life span topic to stop. And on that note, my F2AS VF kicks butt. Only if I knew where in the closet I wrapped and packed it...
  30. I don't really find the film SLR viewfinders that much more helpful than DSLR viewfinders. I usually focus off-center and I prefer the clearer view that DSLR viewfinders provide. On film DSLRs I find it harder to focus when the point I'm trying to focus on doesn't fall within the center split-prism area.
    I do find pentamirror viewfinders to be worse than pentaprisms. They usually have less coverage and magnification too, so I'm not sure if it's their build or these characteristics.
    Also, with DSLRs, I can check my focusing accuracy much better than I can with film cameras, by examining the images at 100% - I'm wondering now whether the preference for film SLR viewfinders isn't also fueled because focusing issues can be masked more easily if you're not making large prints.
  31. Leslie,
    And on that note, my F2AS VF kicks butt. Only if I knew where in the closet I wrapped and packed it...​
    Find that camera and use it, or send it to me. I'll trade you one of my Feisol tripods for it. ;-)
  32. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    My original question was strictly and only for the quality of viewfinders found in most Nikon DSLR’s, I hope that we do not get dragged into the hopeless digital vs film debate.​
    Vahe, it is not your fault. already has countless threads on film vs. digital. Typically it is the same few individulas that recycles the same arguments over and over. Most of those individulas do not usually participate in this forum. However, whenver there is such topic, it attracts them over here in no time. Those endless arguments will not help anybody but instead will only ruin thread after thread.
  33. Vahe,
    I apologize as I feel responsible for the the misdirection of this thread. Hopefully, in between all the above wayward posts we have actually answered your question.
  34. I suspect it is because the digital camera view finders are never used for focusing the camera. The advent of auto-focus and the incredible dependency on it that almost all digital camera users have has resulted in no pressure on the camera manufacturers for a "really good" view finder. My F2 has a great view finder - for focusing the picture, my F4 has a merely acceptable view finder, my D200 is almost next to useless in comparison and the D700 is better than the D200 but not as good as the F4. The thing I find most disappointing is the lack of good replaceable focusing screens.
  35. Lorne,
    The thing I find most disappointing is the lack of good replaceable focusing screens.​
    I have never tried one, but there is the after-market KatzEye product.
  36. I would recommend that you get a D700 and a Katz Eye screen and carefully check the split image using a focusing target and if necessary, adjust the manual focus calibration (it's easy to do, and Katz Eye will help with this) and then you will be able to focus manually using either the split image or the matte area - they both work extremely well for manual focusing with fast lenses. For slow lenses like f/4 you may still prefer the Nikon screen. For the D3, I use a modified Canon 1 series focusing screen that is ever so slightly more crisp with fast glass than the Nikon original.
    The viewfinders of FX cameras will of course show a larger image and you can see the subject more clearly than on DX cameras. It's just because of the sensor size. Personally I am reasonably happy with the current situation with 3rd party screens, but would prefer Nikon to make different screens optimized for different lens types like they did for the F3 etc. Canon makes a special screen for fast glass for the 5D series. This would be very useful for fast lens users. There's no technical reason not to do it, but perhaps Nikon simply wants to force people into autofocus rather than letting their customers choose. More money to be made by selling new lenses, of course. This is unfortunate as there are many situations where autofocus doesn't work that well. And manual focus lenses can be made to tighter tolerances and with non-IF optics to reduce fringing.
  37. I don`t think DSLR screens are bad. I don`t think AF SLRs screens are bad. Of course, they are not perfect, and there isn`t almost any option to choose. That`s the real fault, IMHO. And...

    1. Cannot be compared two different formats. The smaller the screen the less impressive. Someone could say Why my 100+ years old 8x10" folding camera screen looks like a TV and my $7000 DSLR camera screen looks like a small sink in comparison?
    2. Cannot be compared consumer and pro screens. F2 screens are great, Nikkormat screens not as great. Have you tried a D3 screen?
    3. Cannot be compared different purposes. Screens made to be used with MF lenses vs screens designed for AF systems. Have you compared a F2 to a F6 screen?
  38. I've shot extensively with Nikon F2A, F3HP, Nikormat EL, FM3 and now a D90. I never found one camera's screen to be that much different than the other. I use my D90 (approx. 14,000 exposures to date) on MF much of the time since I do a lot of macro work. I've never had any difficulty.
    I've also got a Contax G2 which Leica followers consistently trashed for it's viewfinder, but for my use it was the best 35mm film camera made.
  39. Cannot be compared different purposes. Screens made to be used with MF lenses vs screens designed for AF systems.
    No AF camera is always used with autofocus. For example, when using a fast wide angle, often the subject in focus is outside of the area of the image covered with AF points. Recomposing with a wide angle requires a lot of movement and causes erroneous results. Also, often with a wide angle you may want to position the focus between two subjects so that they're both optimally covered by the depth of field. Can't do that easily with AF. For telephoto applications I almost always do use autofocus because the focus shift due to recomposing is minimal, but still when photographing runners I may want to position the head outside of the available focus area but just within the frame (when doing a close-up of an approaching runner). This cannot be done with FX using autofocus. Manual focus it is possible with the right equipment and practice. The Katz Eye screen for the D700 and a 200/2 works quite well for this thanks to the excellent manual focus ring of this lens. Of course, a DX camera does have autofocus sensors to the edge but there are other reasons why I don't use such cameras, and it doesn't solve my main need for manual focus which is in the application of fast wide angles. Now I use the D700+Katz Eye screen for most wide angle work in available light when I'm not using the 24-70. Focusing is extremely reliable with the D700+28 ZF combination.
    The focusing screen isn't used in the autofocus function nor does it affect it (AF sensors reside below the main mirror) so IMHO there isn't really a good reason why the (manual) focusing screen of an AF camera should be any different from that of a MF camera. In practice the screens in AF cameras are made so that they cannot be used for manual focusing with fast lenses (i.e. f/1.4, f/2 etc.) at wide apertures with any reliability. Nor can you double check AF accuracy using them. I believe this is a deliberate compromise to make the screens brighter for use with slow lenses which are commonly used with consumer DSLRs. However, the user of a high end AF camera is more likely to use fast lenses than slow lenses as a rule, so in my opinion this design is harmful to most users of these cameras. Only the 500-600mm supertele users benefit, basically. I would prefer options. Katz Eye and others have shown that MF with an AF FX/DX camera with a glass prism viewfinder works great but there are some tradeoffs e.g. the spot meter is affected with slow lenses in screens with a split image. I never use the split image; what I want is a good contrast between in and out of focus areas. The Nikon screens are poor in this respect, and there is no good reason why they did this to us. A bright image doesn't equal a useful image. I understand someone using a 500mm lens with teleconverter will want a different screen than what is optimal for someone using a 28mm f/2 wide open. Nikon's screens can be easily swapped so the capability exists but Nikon's support in terms of screen options is nearly nonexistent.
    I do not loudly complain about this often since so much progress in DSLR viewfinders has taken place since the difficult times of the D70. Things are indeed much better than they were then. But still, my F5 viewfinder shows better detail contrast than my D3 using any screen I have available for it. This is quite a stunning difference when e.g. doing macro; with DSLRs I basically do all focusing now with live view for macro shots; with the F5 I can pinpoint the focus the way I want it much faster thanks to the better viewfinder optics. Live view eats battery charge in the D700 very quickly; one to one and a half hours of not so intense macro work I have to replace the battery. This is unacceptable when I'm traveling, which is why I have started to use the D3 more often on trips although the extra weight is unnecessary for me. A single charge on the D3 battery can last up to approximately 4000 exposures in normal shooting and for macro work with live view focusing, I can work a full day without problems, even in cold weather. So both cameras are needed, for different situations. I'm hoping to modify some other screens and try them on the D3 to see if I could get it right in that camera too.
  40. Try a pro-level D-series Nikon: D1/D2/D3-series. My D2H finder with stock screen is equal to my F3HP finder with E screen (minus the grid).
    Other than the format differences there are no differences - both are equally bright, crisp and clear, plenty good enough for manual focusing and composition in low light. That's why I got the D2H. I use a lot of manual focus lenses and am very demanding about viewfinders.
    Years ago I passed on the D100, D70, Canon 20D and Olympus E-series for that reason. All were good enough for autofocus use in most lighting, certainly better than my P&S 35mm and digicam optical finders. But not good enough for reliable, consistent results with manual focus.
    Anyone who has trouble getting consistent results manually focusing with the pro D-series Nikons may want to consider a custom eyeglass prescription, contacts or custom diopter for the finder. That's what I did a few years ago when my vision began to deteriorate (no surprise, I'm over 50 now). For critical focus such as with macro I wear no-line bifocals and adjust the built in diopter on the D2H. That actually provides a better view for manual focus than I get with my F3HP for macro because I don't have a viewfinder diopter for the F3 - the HP finder eyepiece ring was buggered up years ago when an attachment got knocked off. I'd need to replace the HP finder completely to use a custom diopter, but I'm not going to bother with this old camera.
  41. It is interesting to note that Zeiss offer direct links from their site to the main third party manual focusing screen makers... just because many current standard AF screens aren`t visually reliable enough to use with their fastest lenses, as Ilkka mentioned above.
  42. jtk


    You might want to compare Nikon to Pentax K7.
  43. In my opinion, the best viewfinders are the ones that use a condenser optic - that way the viewfinder has a flat field without added distortions.
  44. Have to second what some people have said. You cannot say all DSLRs viewfinders are crap. You need to compare levels, ie the proffessional versions such as D700, D3 etc will equate with the proffessional versions of the film cameras, and the lower range DSLRS will equate with the lower range film cameras. Thats the way it goes. My F4 viewfinder was great, when I looked through a D200 I thought "yuks", then when I got the D700 I thought "Wow, thats more like it". If you want an equivalant to your F2, you have to spend money and go for a D700 upwards and you should be happy with the viewfinder (and everything else about the camera because there a lot more than just the viewfinder on a camera). And will everyone please stop saying that DSLR's are disposable. Thats a load of nonsense. I have no plans to throw my D700 in the rubbish bin when I've finished taking photos.
  45. I have no plans to throw my D700 in the rubbish bin​
    Nobody throws a D1, D2, D3 or even D700 into the garbage (unless they are really broken and cost too much to fix) but there is an urge to get rid of the D1 to upgrade to D2, then "upgrade" to D700, then upgrade to D3, then upgrade to ... D4. In the used market, these DSLRs are being sold at a lot lower price than the purchased price mainly for this "upgrading" need and they are still working. Everyone talks about them being replaced so fast, not about throwing them into garbage. Another way to look at it is that many people prefer to get a D700 instead of a higher rank D2x which was the best of Nikon just a few years ago
  46. Well, on the other hand it's nice that people like to upgrade their DSLR that fast. This gives 'less fortunate' people an opportunity to buy a decent camera for a 'reasonable' price.
    I have used the Nikon FM, FM2, D100, D70s, D80, D5000, D90, D7000 and D700. I think the viewfinder of the Nikon D700 is very nice in comparison to all the others. It's large and bright. Not much worse then the viewfinder of a FM2. Very usable if you ask me. I really think you should try it out sometime.

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