Understanding AF and MF: focusing aids tested

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Right after the question of ‘what X should I buy?’ comes ‘how do you manually focus your lenses?’ in popularity. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to dismiss everything under the sufficiency banner; contrary to the trends in image quality, we’ve gone the opposite direction away from sufficiency. There used to be a time when viewfinders were actually very good for acquiring focus manually; there was no choice because there was simply no other way to focus, either. That required a few things: firstly, a focusing screen with adequate coarseness (sometimes also referred to as ‘snap’); the same distance between flange and focusing screen and flange and imaging plane; adequate magnification, and fast lenses – to compensate for the coarseness of the focusing screen making it somewhat dark. Looking through the viewfinder of an F2 or a Hasselblad is a revelation compared to the drinking straws of modern finders. It seems we barely have the latter these days. So what can we do?

The obvious answer would be to use a camera with an EVF or live view off the LCD, since both approaches eliminate almost all of the issues – you see actual depth of field, can magnify, and use aids like peaking. But holding a camera at arms’ length or mounting it on a tripod isn’t always practical, which rules out the LCD; and EVF cameras are probably the future, but for the moment there seem to be some practical implementation issues*. In the meantime, we still need a solution to be able to access the great range of manual focus legacy lenses out there, and others that will never be designed for AF – such as the Zeiss Otuses.

*Basically, the technology exists but for one reason or other no manufacturer has built one that’s ‘right’ yet. Those which are usable have small sensors that compromise image quality; those with large sensors suffer from file compression or lag or excessive bulk.

There are actually quite a few reasons why you’d want to use manual focus even if your system is AF capable – these mostly centre around precision. In order to understand why, we need to understand a bit about how AF works. Whilst AF can determine distance to a target and move the lens accordingly, it has to do so either via phase detection or contrast detection. The latter assumes that the highest contrast image is achieved when the image is in focus; this looks for the highest spatial contrast within the box and racks the lens helicoid back and forth until a maximum is hit. This may not necessarily correspond with the intended subject being in focus if it’s lower contrast than the background – being backlit, for instance.

Phase detection splits light from the subject through two paths and calculates the phase angle between them; if in focus, the phase angle should be zero. The lens is moved accordingly; no racking back and forth is required because the camera knows in which direction the image is out of phase, and can turn the lens directly there accordingly. The problem here is if your subject is not planar, then the camera doesn’t know which part of the subject underlying the AF box is your intended focal plane: think about a face in profile that occupies perhaps 5% of the frame. Which part of the face is focused on? Most of the time, this is a non issue because the distance covered by the area under focus box is much less than the depth of field of the lens. Those of you who use fast telephotos will know this isn’t the case: in a headshot, there’s a very clear difference between focusing on the iris and the eyelashes even though the camera will report either one in focus without having moved the AF point. And it’s visible and only gets worse with higher resolution cameras.

To complicate things further there’s also field curvature – this is where the plane of focus isn’t flat but curved; an AF array can only be made accurate for one point in the curved plane unless you can tune each individual AF point, or only use the centre one. And we haven’t even started talking about focus shift when stopping down yet – suffice to say that it isn’t always covered by increase in depth of field for all lenses. There are some that are notorious for this such as the Leica 35/1.4 Summilux ASPH (pre FLE); Zeiss ZM 1.5/50 C Sonnar, and in my experience, the worst of the lot – the Nikon PCE 24/3.5 which has both focus shift AND extreme field curvature.

In an ideal world, then manual focus is very much WYSIWYG – but only providing you are actually seeing what you’re getting. The trouble is that with an SLR of any kind, you need to have an identical distance from mount flange to focusing screen and sensor plane across the entire plane for critical focus; this is almost impossible to achieve to the level of precision required for the D810 and 5DS class of cameras. It requires both flatness for planarity, shimming of the focusing screen for distance, and mirror angle for parallax in one of the axes (the other is not easily adjustable). To make things worse, such shims are not easily available, modern mirror box designs appear to be fixed and lack adjustable mirrors** and the service centres look at you like you’re from Mars if you ask them to align your mirror and focusing screen. (It’s easier with medium format because everything is larger but the tolerances stay identical.) So whilst you can make a serious improvement on things by changing your modern matte slow-AF-kit-lens-friendly focusing screen for one that’s designed for manual focus, it will only help to a degree.

**The Nikon D750, for instance, lacks the eccentric mirror adjustment screws accessible through the mirror box that all previous cameras had. It displayed the best out-of-the-box mirror alignment I’ve seen yet, but it still wasn’t perfect.

It’s also worth remembering that there’s a tradeoff between brightness, coarseness and ability to discern between faster apertures and focal planes – the coarser a finder is, the darker it will be, but the better it will be able to show accurate depth of field at larger apertures. This is because it is not gathering light that spills off-axis (i.e. comes from out of focus areas). Modern focusing screens are very good at gathering light and consequently very bright, but they’re also unable to show depth of field much less than about f4 – you’ll notice that the bokeh of an f1.4 lens appears much more pronounced in the final image than in the finder.

The best kinds of focusing screens are those that have both a split image (line up continuous lines to be in focus) and micro prism collar (little pyramids that dissolve when you’re in focus) – this allows you to work on both images that have line detail and irregular textures. Effectively, both split the image into two paths; if it’s in focus, the distance between the two paths is the same, and you see no break in the image. If not, it’s obvious the image has been broken up. The Nikon K3 is probably the best modern version; Canon also makes the Ec-A and Ec-L with various types of split prisms. None of these natively fit modern cameras, and so must be modified; focusingscreen.com has a variety of options. However…they are not ideal, as frequently they will require filing or trimming to fit, and you of course run the risk of scratching the very fragile surface. On top of that, the thicknesses do not match the original screens – I suspect this is because they have to add material around the edges – and sometimes the thickness is too much to be adjusted for by shimming. Canon screens are much thicker than Nikon screens, for instance, and there isn’t always enough adjustment latitude; you may also need to file the thickness of the edge of the screen where it sits in the wire carrier.

In the past, I have fitted every one of my DSLRs with a manual-focus aid screen – whether by modifying a screen myself or using a third party product. The D810 will probably be the last camera that I bother with simply because we have now reached the point where such screens are not accurate enough to reliably and consistently focus lenses like the Otuses wide open, no matter how well calibrated and adjusted the installation. At best, I can hit focus in the centre about 50% of the time with the 55mm, 20% or less with the 85mm, and not at all at the edges because of the geometry of optics. Undoubtedly this is because the focusing screens show depth of field somewhere between f2 and f2.8, and that just isn’t enough for a lens that slices the world into planes at f1.4. Combine that with the risk of slipping and damaging something inside the mirror box, and it’s not really a recommended option.

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Top: Zacuto Z-Finder Pro 2.5x and mount; bottom: Kinotehnik LCDVF

More interesting are the LCD magnifiers I’ve been using instead: the Zacuto Pro and Kinotehnik LCDVF models. Both were designed for DSLR cinematographers – the underlying theory being that of easy viewing of the LCD when filming. They’re equally good for live-view stills shooters, and of course are much more stable than holding the camera at arms’ length since you now have a third point of contact with your face and the ability to brace the whole setup. Both are available in a variety of fitments to match the aspect ratios of various cameras. Neither is good for eyeglass wearers because of the eyecups; I have to use contact lenses to not make a mess of my glasses and be able to see the whole frame at a glance. The Zacuto is available in 2.5x and 3x magnification; the Kinotehnik offers 2-2.2x magnification. I find 3x to be too much because the resolution of the LCD is simply insufficient; 2.5x is nice for size but adds little extra detail or ability to discern critical focus over 2x.

All are a massive improvement over the optical finder and bare LCD; it actually takes you a little while to get over the fact that you can now accurately see and focus on any point in the frame without having to remember how much to turn the focusing ring to compensate for off-axis parallax. I find my hit rate is somewhere in the 70-80% range across the frame, which is much, much better than using the optical finder. A little focus bracketing takes care of the rest. Of course all is not perfect: for most DSLRs, there are significant compromises involved in using LV to shoot. This manifests as slowness to get into LV, image lag in low light, long blackout time between successive frames, no image when shooting bursts, and of course terrible battery life. They weren’t designed as mirrorless cameras, and it shows. Sadly, it seems none of the mirrorless cameras quite get it right either – the only serious full frame contender suffers from image quality compromises through shutter shock and/or compression.

As far as the actual products themselves go, I’m on the fence. The Zacuto is clearly the better built of the two, being thick gauge plastic and machined aluminium – it really feels solid. Unfortunately it’s also nearly three times more expensive and the bulkier of the two, requires mounting via the tripod hole (kiss your L bracket or vertical grip goodbye, and remember your spanners) and is very fiddly to remove. On top of that, it’s not very ergonomic: there are a lot of bits that poke at your hands. I also suspect the mount points will wear down to the point of looseness after a while – mine are showing some signs of abrasion already. It also has built in diopter adjustment, better optics and an (uncleanable) anti-fog eyepiece, which the Kinotehnik does not.

What the Kinotehnik loses to the Zacuto, it makes up for in convenience and price. It mounts either via a sticky frame that adheres to your LCD, or clips on (to the existing LCD protector brackets on the D800/D810), and then the finder itself sticks to it via magnets. This makes it easily removable for reviewing images or navigating menus; I find it extremely useful when teaching because I can easily show my students what I shot. It is thinner gauge plastic with some very visible seam lines, doesn’t sit that securely (I suspect this is why a neck lanyard is provided) and the eyepiece is neither anti-fog nor does it contain diopter adjustment. It is just a little more low profile and streamlined, though.

I actually think there’s a case for both (at least until a better alternative comes along) – the Zacuto is best when you’re either always going to be using MF lenses, don’t need to show somebody else your LCD, and if you don’t need a vertical grip. If you want something that can be quickly removed, or you need to use a vertical grip or you’re switching between AF and MF lenses (the optical finder still has a clear advantage for AF lenses), then the Kinotehnik is a better choice. My one hesitation with the Kinotehnik is that customer service seems to be utterly nonexistent – several emails to try and purchase additional mounting frames have gone ignored, and there’s no way to get them otherwise in Malaysia.

It seems to me that we are currently in a transition phase: there is still a clear advantage for optical finders and DSLRs in some situations, but those are rapidly shrinking. I don’t think AF is the way to go for all applications; most of the time it takes me so long to get precisely the right focal plane with AF that I’m faster with MF and one of the LCD magnifiers. Yet we’re not quite there with EVFs, either – ironically though, it’s the rest of the hardware that’s holding things up. In the meantime, at least there are workarounds. I’d highly encourage giving one of them a try; you’ll probably find manual focus a lot easier than you imagine. MT

Zacuto and Kinotehnik finders are available here from B&H.


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  1. Hi Ming, I am a big fan of your blog and your vast experience. I am a Nikon shooter and use a D600. I own a bunch of Nikon primes and zooms including the 70-200 2.8. I used to own the classic Zeiss 50mm 1.4 planar and learned to manual focus on that. About four months ago I bought a Zeiss Milvus 50mm 1.4 and fell in love with that lens, I also just got the 85 Milvus 1.4 too. I have shot portraits, flowers, landscapes and whatever else I can with lens. I started out using the green focus conformation dot, but it felt too clunky to me and started using what I call the swing method, where I just quickly get the focus to the general in focus area and I swing/spin the focus ring back and forth real fast pressing the shutter button when I see the sharpest image in the viewfinder between the back and forth swing. With tons of practice I’ve gotten pretty accurate and fast this way. the only stipulation is I generally shoot between F/2 and F2.5 (occasionally F/4) The two reasons I don’t tend to go to F/1.4 too often is its insanely shallow dof and I’ll admit its hard to nail or be super accurate. That and I think I really enjoy F/2-2.5. My idea is to get a new camera when the next version of the D610 or D750 comes out, use that for all my autofocus lenses and put a focus screen in the D600 and make it kinda a manual focus setup. My question to you is, how much trouble would it be for me to order a S type matte precision focus screen from focusscreen.com and use that. From what I understand the focus screen will help with the manual focusing, but maybe if I just use this camera for my manual Zeiss lenses I wont have to worry about the view finder being too dark at higher apertures (F/8 and beyond) If I currently have a decent keeper rate already from my F/2-2.5 range, do you thing it will aid me in getting more keepers from F/2 down to F/1.4? The one major concern is all the talk about shims and getting the screen to fit right and align right, as of right now I don;t feel confident I could get that right. I’d really like to continue using the viewfinder style of shooting versus viewing through the LCD. I have questions but I’m so glad I bumped into this blog because it has a ton of info already and has helped me out. Thanks for your time!

    P.S. My photographer friends all think I’m crazy because I spent a lot of money on Zeiss lenses with no auto focus. I really love the way these lenses render and I’m willing to put in a little extra work, I still have all my autofocus Nikon glass and use them too.

    • Haven’t used one of those – I prefer something with a split prism or micro prisms. Shims DO matter, as does mirror position, especially at wider apertures. what you describe as ‘swing’ can cause all sorts of other issues with camera shake as you’re adding extra motion.

      • One last question if I may? I’ve never done this before (install a focus screen) I’ve watched a few videos on how to do it, but I’ve not been able to find anything on the shim installation, do you know if you need to put them in because the focus screen being loose or is more of a calibration thing and you out the shim in to move the focus screen (more like a fine tune method)?

        On a side note I was considering the just announced Nikon 105 1.4 and went with the Milvis 85 1.4, maybe the Nikon will have enough performance and come close to the Zeiss. People are not sounding too positive about manually focusing these lenses around here and elsewhere. (Especially with the camera megapixels/resolutions getting higher)

        • You put them in between focusing screen and prism, but the only way to know if you need them is start without and try…replacing the focusing screen in between. Understandably, the more times you do this, the higher the risk of scratching something. It’s more like fine tuning, but you basically have to take that thing apart and start again.

          Hitting critical focus on something like an Otus wide open is tough: misses are made even more obvious by a very distinct in-out of focus transition thanks to the high level of correction and apochromaticness…

          • Ahh I think I am finally starting to understand this better! Well I have a focus screen coming and I’ll do my best to install it carefully and of the shimming part if needed.

            Good thing I enjoy these lenses at F/2-2.5, at least it will easier to nail focus more than at 1.4 (which I’m currently doing fairly well) that makes so much sense about the correctedness of the Zeiss, that’s why it has such a quick fall off between in focus and out and kinda gives you that 3D feel.

            Thanks for the several Ah Ha! moments:)

            • The thing is, even the best matte screens will only show you DOF at f2-2.8; something which is coarse enough to differentiate at f1.4 will also be very dim. I’m not even sure anybody makes one…this is one of the reasons for the focus variability, and one of the reasons focusing aids like micro- and split-prisms are highly useful…

              • But the downside of using split and micro prisms, is they are all in the center of the frame and I would assume you eoukd have to put that on your subject, focus and then recompose if you wanted an off center comp? I see what your saying about the replacement mat screen, but I’m hoping its at least a bit better than the factory Nikon one…not trying to be confrontational, this is all fascinating to me.

                • Less of an issue than you would think if your lens is fast enough. As for off centre compositions, all screens aren’t going to be very accurate in practice…the only way to avoid parallax/ field curvature/ focus shift etc. is to use live view.

  2. Hello Ming,

    What focusing screen would you recommend for my D750? A K3 or a EC-a? I find it quite difficult to nail focus on my 50mm f1.2…


  3. I will probably purchase in the near future, either the Pentax K-5iis or the K-3. I am planing on using a couple older Zeiss C/y lenses, which i really don’t think think will resolve the full 24mp of the K-3 . So on the older model k-5iis with the16mp sensor, can I get away with using something like an aftermarket K3 nikon screen, maybe stepping the lenses down a bit, and get a fairly decent hit rate. Or am I better off with the better LV on the K-3 and the focus peaking that is on that model as well. AF isnt really that great on either so that doesn’t matter.

    • I’m not sure you can adapt them to K mount because of the flange distance. And whilst there are some dogs, there are lenses which will more than outresolve the K3 – the 5DSR has an even higher pixel density, and (at least in my experience) the 35 PC, 2.8/85 and 100-300 all at least match the resolving power of the sensor wide open.

      • http://www.leitax.com/zeiss-contax-lens-for-pentax-cameras.html
        apparently you can alter the mount. Suprised to hear that regarding an older lens that can be purchased at reasonable rates, being able to resolve a 24mp APS-c sized sensor? I trust your experience but if you think of the original purpose that is a remarkable amount of over engineering.

        • I stand corrected on the mount – I always thought K/F flange was very close, and the CY-F conversion is somewhat borderline – not all lenses can be adapted.

          Not every lens is good enough, but a lot of them are.

          • Well I’ve begun to use a late model Zeiss 50mm 1.7, not the most well regarded c/y Zeiss ever,but I always loved it on the old contax camera I bought it with. So far I’m really quite shocked,focus confirmation is actually working(to some degree) for me,at least stopped down a bit, I can’t see any focus creep so that’s handy. I’ll have to look at things in a more controlled manner but I’d say stopped down a bit it probably exceeds the sharpness of my Nikon A(granted the advantage of 24 vs 16mp).Weather is stormy so I haven’t seen how it handles flare. Flange distance is very very close, but still required an adjustment of the focus ring for infinity focus.

  4. In future models after Canon 5D mark III or the Nikon 810, what could be add by the brands that one does´t need to use a loupe anymore? My goal is the focus accuracy with manual lens. An EVF would solve all the problems?

  5. Hi Ming, The focussing subject is an interesting one. I come from a background of using a view camera so using a loupe is second nature. I always use a remote release, tripod, MUP and electronic second curtain. I have fitted a .3 mm glass screen priotector to the LCD. I focus using LV on the primary point at wide open aperture then pick what else I would like to have in focus and bring it into focus adjusting the aperture as I look through a Schneider 3x MF loupe. the results are consistently spectacular. This is with Sigma 35mm f1.4 ART, Sigma 50mm f1.4 ART, Zeiss 21mm f2.8 Milvus and Zeiss 100mm ZF.2 Makro Planar. I’m a happy chappy 🙂

    • The challenge is doing this without a tripod and transient subjects – we’re still not there yet…the magnifying hoods are the closest I’ve found to a good solution, barring much better EVFs – or better optics between those EVFs and our eyes; they tend to be too small (even if resolution is adequate).

  6. mbphoto says:

    Great article!

    When I went to full frame (Canon 1Ds III) from my 60D the big viewfinder felt like a revelation.
    However, when I got my Nikon F2 I looked at my 1Ds reproachfully like: “have you been stealing light from me?!”

    I did install the Ef-S high precision matte screen and focusing is much easier with it but still far from perfect. I didn’t want the split prism because I often follow the rule of thirds and focus/recompose doesn’t work at f/1.4.

    What I really came to love, though, is the AF confirm chip on the adapters for my vintage manual focus lenses. I can set the AFMA for the outer focus points and often find myself relying on the “Beep” before I take the shot.

    Your presentation of these LV-magnifiers made me curious but my 1Ds mk III has a really low res screen (it’s sooo low res that you get 100% magnification at 10x in live view)..
    Do you think that this magnifier would make things easier anyhow?

    • The magnifier is only useful if the rear screen is sufficiently high resolution and LV isn’t laggy – otherwise it’s just going to be frustrating.

  7. Hi Ming, thanks to your post, I’m no longer in desperation of a focus aid when using the Otii. I tried out the Zacuto on the D7200 and it worked like a charm. Because of the fine DoF when using apertures 1.4 to 2.0, I still find myself using the magnify button on live view from time to time. You might be curious why I’m using the Otii on the D7200, because D800e is just plain useless when taking pictures on live view! First of all is the silly face detect which can’t be turned off, and secondly the severe lag when pressing the shutter button and actually taking the picture.

    • 🙂

      You can turn off face detect with the 800E – mine doesn’t do it; it depends on your AF mode (counterintuitively). The lag can’t be helped. But the 810 is much, much better – and the view is clearer, too.

      • Great! Good to know. Thanks for the prompt reply. My wallet’s coming out again . . .

  8. Giella Lea Fapmu says:

    Cameras are already tethering and some sort of WiFi connectivity and gadged such as the Olympus Air are starting to appear, it shouldn’t take too long before we have the ability to connect wirelessly a camera to a high definition tablet/screen if the demand starts to appear, Hopefully, this blog will accelerate the process.

    Giella Lea Fapmu

    • Except it’s one more device to juggle and there will be inevitable lag…that might just cost you the shot.

      • Giella Lea Fapmu says:

        I was thinking to still life, products, food… For sport and fast action I think I’ll rely on AF and take the chance or prefocus if at all possible. I don’t take much nature picture but maybe that’s where the decision is more difficult, you come from there maybe that’s what you had in mind?

        Giella Lea Fapmu

        • These things aren’t really an option for sport/action other than to trap focus. Most of the time it’s slower paced work for me.

          • Giella Lea Fapmu says:

            Ok, but then probably I don’t understand: how can you possibly miss a shot of a watch standing on a table? The problem for me so far is that these are at the moment only gadgeds without all the controls of a camera but with time who knows. Once again thank you for your patience.

            Giella Lea Fapmu

            • You can get the depth of field very wrong by laying the focal plane in the wrong place…and I do use manual focus lenses for street/cinematic/documentary work, too.

  9. Manfred says:

    Dear Ming,

    Your review on the 5DSR has pointed out one more time: in HQ imaging manual focus is indispensable. However the means are limited. It is not to expect that either Canon or Nikon would go back to adequate split field / microprism screens any time soon. It rather seems, that at least Nikon tries their best to raise the bar avoiding to selfmount alternative screens. Probably it’s their strategy to push other lensmakers as Zeiss and Sigma Art off the market instead of adjusting their own program. I wouldn’t even change a AF-S 50 f. 1.8 against the AF-S 58mm f 1.4 let alone ignoring the Sigma Art 50mm 1.4 or the Otus.

    But a Zacuto is a pain for travel-trips not to talk about needing a good tripod to make full use of it.
    Both Apple and Samsung offer high resolution tablets that may well be trip companions anyway. Why is it so difficult, to hook them up with the HDMI Exit of the DSLRs? One told me, because the tablets do have only an HDMI Exit but no entry. Since the hardware (connectors) is already there, wouldn’t there be a workaround to make them show the live view out of the Cameras. That should be a good enough possibility to adjust critical sharpness. There used to be an Aple “Jailbreak” so there should be something to enter HDMI into tablets.


    • That would make sense for them to force users to buy their AF lenses, which don’t always AF accurately…

      Nikon screens are still interchangeable. It appears from casual poking around the mirror box that the one in the 5DSR isn’t without some serious disassembly, though I might be wrong. At least the Sigmas are AF and they have that USB dock for fine tuning (though it isn’t clear to me what happens if you use the lens on another body – which will inevitably have different focusing adjustment – since you calibrate the lens, not the camera).

      Actually, if you have a tripod, you don’t need the LCD magnifier. It’s more for use to have a third point of support to brace against when shooting handheld. The LCDVF is a lot more convenient than the Zacuto, but not as solid (since it lacks the same rigid mount). The downside of the Zacuto is that you lose the ability to mount a non-rotating L bracket…

  10. When mounting the great Sigma 35/1.4 Art onto my D800, I have 85% of the time wrong focus (even finetuned with the Sigma USB thing).
    On my beaten D700 it nails focus over 90% of the time. (The reason I keep the D700, the Sigma is glued to it…)

    Why is that? It shure must have to do with the higher pixelcount/resolution but how come that I can hardly get the Sigma working on the D800?

    Thanks for your time,

    • No, I suspect your D800 might have focusing issues. This was common from the first batch…it is also possible that you have misaligned elements that create softness that is visible on the D800, but not the D700.

  11. Why we don’t get to see one of your cameras, with the attached magnifier?

  12. Ming, thank you for another insightful article. I was wondering if you have had any experience with photographing children with manual focus lenses. I have found the experience very frustrating at wide apertures. Do you ever use manual focus when photographing kids or do you stick to auto-focus? Thanks.

  13. Have you tried one of these rigs? The video just popped up as a YouTube advert, and they’re suggesting use with an LCD magnifier. Makes me thing about shooting guns vs. cameras – the former have much better support and stability for critical aim (perhaps for a reason, but doesn’t mean the latter shouldn’t be improved). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXn7_AzsZeM

    • No, and I think I might have trouble carrying one of those on a plane…

      • I’m not so sure – it doesn’t seem to have any dangerous parts. You could just fold it and screw it on the camera to clear suspicions. Umbrellas and selfie sticks are more dangerous weapons anyway, but I’m speaking mainly with experience from continental Europe.

        • Oh you must have meant weight restrictions. Stupid me.

        • Speaking of continental Europe, stay clear of Air France. They are militant about carry on baggage and I was forced to buy another full price seat recently for my camera bag – for EUR500! British Airways will let you carry on as much as you like in two bags so long as you can lift it (up to 23kg/bag).

  14. Martin Fritter says:

    I got a Hoodman setup for my Sigma Merrills. It certainly makes the cameras more usable, although manual focus is still a chore owing to the inadequacies of the LCDs. Now, are you doing to do an article of metering? As in, do you have occasion to user light meters? Cheers!

  15. Good article Ming. At least the magnifiers provide a way for most people to easily try manual focus lenses on the more demanding DSLRs.

    It seems as if we’ve reached some sort of technical limit for now until we get the holy grail mirrorless system!

    • To install an ZACUTO magnifier on the back of an costly pro DSLR, looks to me like using an bulky movie camera!

      Sorry, but this is for me just an very poor makeshift solution!

      The “challenger” is much further in the matter!

      • Nobody denies the benefits of mirrorless plus EVF for manual focusing, that much should be clear by now. Ming has clearly explained why he chooses to use the LCD magnifiers on an SLR, and it totally makes sense since there is really no other alternative. He has also clearly explained why he uses an SLR instead of mirrorless. If the “challenger” system didn’t have the RAW compression issue, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Pro SLRs from 2007 have true 14bit RAW with no compression artifacts, so it’s pretty hard to see why in 2015 we should settle for less.

        • At the present interview with DPREVIEW, the CEO stated that the “challenger” is working on this complained RAW compression problem! So we may see it cleared soon! No sweat!

  16. Ming,
    I’m in full agreement on the utility of the Zacuto Z-Finder. It’s always in my bag to be used as a focusing aid when in Live View or as an enhancement to review images when there’s a break in the shooting activity. I use my Z-Finder with Zacuto’s stick-on frames and all my bodies have RRS brackets. I’ve had no issues with the stick-on frames falling off. I’ve even attached one of the frames to a Ricoh GR so I can use the Z-Finder with it. It’s a bit of a Frankenstein but it provides the necessary diopter for confident focusing. I got the GR for my wife who’s off to Tibet in a few weeks but it’s a great little camera as you know. The Z-Finder and the GR’s back-button AF give me a hint of the utility of my 1Dx. In the future I think I’ll use the combination when scouting locations or shooting in situations where I know a DSLR will invite a security hassle.

  17. It´s mind boggling topic, in focus or not. May I come with two suggestions to manufactures and photographers alike. First approach is steampunk take it easy way. A lens with precise witness marks and a precise laser distance meter or a common tape, cinema style.. The second one, for the action, would be a high tech solution, kind of in camera high speed stacking coupled with AF stepping lens just enough to cover focus error. Now, that´s something. Mark you, this divagation is aimed at commercial – professional – technical aspect, where the product MUST be as perfect as possible. Otherwise personally I stick to the principle ” if you worry that your picture is not sharp enough, then probably is not interesting enough”. Of course, everything could be bit better.

  18. Hi Ming, nice article. I’m fan of zeiss lenses too. i got dream of third party evf on dslr hot shoe.
    Maybe someday will come true, and our problem for manual lenses will solve, thanks.

    • They exist – have a look at the Zacuto Z-Finder EVF – it can sit on a hotshoe and uses the HDMI out port…but the size is something else. That said, I suspect the panel itself is also something else.

  19. As an amateur photographer and a professional Eye surgeon might I suggest you consider LASIK? I’ve had a number of photographers who have had LASIK and found it to be very helpful avoiding needing glasses or contacts. There’s also a new procedure called smile that you might want to look into. Best regards, Jon

    • Thanks – I’ve been thinking about either that or ICL, but the couple of family members who had it done have had mixed results. The problem is I now have 20/10 vision with spectacles or contacts; I’d rather not have LASIK and drop to say 15/20.

      • I thought you might say that, and like all things optical, it depends. How bad is your correction, do you have astigmatism, etc. Usually with modern LASIK, there is no loss of best corrected vision, and sometimes improvement (although not better than 20/10). I think ICL’s can be risky. We are doing a clinical trial on SMILE (small incision lenticule extraction) here in the US and it is commercially available internationally — it is particularly good for high amounts of correction.

        I think your blog is the best thing I have seen in photography – I do mostly fashion photography but now expect to try some landscape with my D810. I will never catch up with you. From my experience with video production, struggling with manual focus even at f/5.6, I doubt that I can do better at f/2.0 or less than the autofocus gives me.

        • So LASIK is still the way to go? I’m at -4/-5, so outside the range of most diopters but not so bad I think I need the more extreme options.

          Thanks for the compliments. I wouldn’t say never, just a case of shooting more! If you’re using the LCD/magnifier combination, you will do much better than MF at f5.6 simply because you can focus at maximum aperture and actually see the real DOF. Most focusing screens only show f4 or smaller because they are optimised for brightness, not snap/coarseness (which is darker, and obviously not good for popular kit zooms). This of course means no precision at wider apertures…older cameras had screens good for f2-f2.8, which isn’t ideal if you’ve got a f1.4 lens, but much better than the modern designs.

          • Yes, LASIK is the way to go. Perhaps interesting to you, Zeiss makes the best vision correction lasers. I am a consultant to Zeiss in regards to their eye technology. At your level of correction the results are excellent. The Zeiss Visumax is the “Otus” of eye lasers.

      • Before leaping to LASIK, remember that everyone ages. Even those under 30. Cataracts (at least today) are inevitable for nearly everyone. Keep track of the science and know for sure that one surgery today won’t make impossible the other, later.

        • Having performed over 60,000 LASIK procedures over 20 years, I do not think that cataracts are an issue with LASIK vision correction unless they are already developed, in which case an alternative (cataract/IOL) is a better option. Many millions of people worldwide, especially in Asia, enjoy the vision they have achieved with laser vision correction. It is particularly helpful to people with special vision needs such as photographers, pilots, and others who can do their work better without glasses.

        • I’m aware of that – my mum had hers done recently.

          • I doubt you will ever make it to Colorado, but if you do, I would be happy to provide the service to you at no charge should you decide it is something you want to pursue. If you have an interest, please e-mail me directly. Like I said, I really admire your work. Any future comments on your blog will be only about photography. By the way, after really enjoying my D3s and D4 for a number of years, I tried a D750 and although I appreciated its virtues, I sent it back and got a D810 which is spectacular. The ability to shoot at ISO 64 is perhaps the most valuable feature to me allowing shallow depth outdoors with flash duration of 1/250 or less making it very friendly to my light meter and strobes.

  20. B&H does offer additional mounting frames for the Kinotehnik and thread mount diopter lenses providing +1, +2 and +4 correction, at your B&H link.

  21. You might find this review interesting. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLxN83DsGYc#t=11

  22. I agree with your points here, and am grateful for the article.

    What would be great is your take on the basics of correct manual focus technique and the impact of shoddy technique and lenses.

    I have discovered that by 1) getting my eyes examined and getting correct prescription glasses 2) learning the proper way to set the ovf diopter 3) being consistent in how I align my eye with the ovf 4) always focusing with wide open aperture and 5) identifying a point of high contrast, I have been able to improve my MF results to a considerable degree. Furthermore, I also note that the superior optics of my Zeiss 50 1.4 planar and my Cosina Voigtlander 58 1.4- as well as some of my Takumars- allow MF accuracy that I just cannot achieve with other lenses. With these better lenses, thins just seem to snap into focus; with other lenses….not so much.

    • Very simple: keeper vs delete 🙂

      I only shoot with contact lenses because shortsightedness correction – spectacles or diopters – reduces magnification, and thus precision. Setting the OVF diopter is easy; you just adjust for the focusing box markings being maximally sharp (i.e. the surface of the focusing screen is in focus). But it doesn’t solve the problem of un-snappy or badly shimmed focusing screens or misaligned mirrors. Better lenses allow for easier focus because a) they collimate light in one plane; look at the Zeiss 1.4/85 Otus or 2/135 APO for instance – and b) they tend to be faster, which means a brighter view. Good luck focusing the wide end of a superzoom 🙂

      • Can proper/re alignment of the mirror compensate-to any degree- for minor differences in flange and focus screen distances?

        • Yes it can, and you can either do it that way (may also affect planarity) or by shimming the screen. It’s easy with some cameras (the pro Nikons have an eccentric screw that adjusts zero position) and nearly impossible with others (I don’t see any way to it with my 5DSR; the mirror’s position is motor-controlled).

        • On my Sigma SD15, there are two screens in place- sandwiched together- the bottom is the focusing screen; the top is a screen having the focus point markings. The configuration is: Focus screen, shim, second screen with markings, shim. In this configuration, which surface is the one which must match the flange to sensor distance?

  23. Since the advent of the Nikon D810, I use an early Zacuto Z-Finder with the elastic straps with solid balls on the end. I strap it on the camera and do all my shooting with it using LiveView. I have yet to use the OVF viewfinder except to test it out and for a couple of snapshots. I shoot close-up, so if the Zacuto is a little crooked, it makes little difference. What I need is the ability to magnify the image in LiveView through the Zacuto and focus. I only wish that the D810 had some way to retain the magnification for the next shot, since I like to stack some or a little. I am used the three Zeiss APO lenses, two of which are Otus….55, 85, 135. I also use the Voigtlander 125mm f/2.5 APO-Lanthar, which comes close to Otus quality. I am experimenting with the Sigma ART 60mm lens as well. It is pretty good until Zeiss comes out with a WA Otus.

    • I meant to write Sigma ART 24mm lens

    • I’d be nice if there was a way to centre and quick zoom with the D810 in LV – it seems the multi-selector middle can do either or, but not both.

      • I wish!

        I tried the Venus 60mm macro that goes to 2x, but the focus throw is like 90-degrees or less and it is almost impossible to focus the lens. Also, instead of being highly corrected, it is highly uncorrected. Now they have a new 15mm macro lens that I bet also has no reasonable focus throw either. I may have to order one just to find out, unless they list it somewhere, which I can’t find.

        • Ouch. I was curious about that 15mm too – they even threw in shift! But I suspect that the optics are going to leave a lot to be desired at that price, and even though it’s cheap, it’s also going to land up being an unsellable write off afterwards. How did you find the optics of the 60?

          • 60mm Macro? Crude, but somewhat sharp… IF YOU COULD FOCUS. But it runs the gamut from near to far so fast that it is almost impossible to get it at the right spot and I am shooting still life! It it had a 360-degree (or higher) focus throw, it would be (perhaps) at least interesting, but I have tons of industrial Nikkors that I can put on a rail or bellows that are highly corrected, if I am not being lazy. Venus needs some consulting from folks like us about helicoid…. then we could see what they have done better. I just tried putting a tiny bit of extension on my Nikkor 16mm fisheye lens, but did not work of course. Wishful thinking.

            • Hmmm. That doesn’t sound good at all. Especially when focus throw on wides is already so fast because you don’t need much lens motion…pass, I think.

              • However, I would love a Zeiss Otus 15mm rectangular fisheye with a long focus throw. That is the kind of closeup insect and flow lens I need.

                • I’d settle for any wide Otus right now…preferably a 28mm shift 🙂

                  • Have you tried the Sigma ART 24mm f/1.4. It is very good, if used carefully. The Voigtlander 180mm APO has to much “haze” for me. Speaking of which the new De-Haze filter in Lightroom and PS is really, really helpful for me in pulling out those images with low contrast.

                • I have all the good Voigtlanders, including the 180mm APO, but use mostly (only) the CV-125 APO-Lanthar, which is one of the great lenses for macro work, probably the best I have ever seen. I use the Zeiss Otus (cropped) or with PK-11a (8mm) extension for most close-up work now. Does not quite make sense, but it works.

                  • Wasn’t that impressed with the 125 when I tried it – but I do like the 180 stopped down, and of course the 85 Otus is fantastic at all distances…

                  • Michael, I did end up getting a Voigtlander 125mm apo-Lanthar, and enjoy using it, it is indeed a very sharp lens with a very usable long focus throw. I use Live View with magnification on tripod, and wing it handheld (with an alternate Eg-S superfine Canon screen) for live insects in bright light, with known risk of missed focus. Focusing with a vintage Nikkor AIS 50mm f/1.2 is a challenge, though, even with the alternate screen. The camera is a 20 MP Canon 6D, not one of the Canon 5Ds/sx or Sony-plus-adapter 36MP to 50MP cameras (future G.A.S.). I’d love to try a magnified viewfinder for handheld shooting, but I have high-myopia (-9) prism eyeglasses, not the sort of thing that can be reproduced in contact lenses.

                    • The 50 is a challenge because no screens show true DOF below f2 or thereabouts. It doesn’t help that the superfast lenses tend not to have a very crisp focal plane wide open, either.

  24. I’ve been agonizing over this very subject for a while now. I have an FM2N and two Voigtländer MF lenses, the 40mm Ultron and 90mm APO-Lanthar. The FM2N has a great viewfinder, 0.86x magnification and K2 focusing screen makes it quite easy to nail focus, especially since film is a rather forgiving medium. When in doubt, I flip out the DG-2 magnifier.

    I’ve been looking for a digital body that would let me use these great lenses to their full potential. The D750 and D800 are on the short list, but come with the compromises explained in the article. It seems my only option is to wait until Nikon comes up with a mirrorless F-mount body. Economics dictate it will happen as soon as the tech is mature enough. Recent releases like the Leica Q and A7Rii make me think it’s going to be sooner rather than later. In the meanwhile, maybe I’ll get a second hand D700 and slap the DG-2 on it. The image quality is not on par with latest FX sensors, but probably good enough for my purposes.

    • I will probably get the Sony A7R-II if they fix the lossy 11+ to D810 standards. I had the A7R (and A7s) and sent it back. Until then the D810 and LiveView actually work well enough until a real EVF comes along on a large Nikon Body.

      • If Sony fixes the RAW issue then the A7Rii is a very compelling alternative. It’s also very expensive, I’d have to wait a few years for it to come down in price, and by that time who knows what the competition comes up with.

        I keep thinking that the best compromise for me so far is a D700, basically because the low resolution would mitigate most of the focus issues I would run into with something like the D800. Price is definitely not a problem, just now I could get the D700 with battery grip for 600 euros. That’s value right there.

        • I agree – but I wouldn’t be an early adopter, knowing they’ll charge a premium at launch and then the price is going to get slashed by half in a year. Then I’ll buy two 🙂

          The D700 is very forgiving of lenses, and still produces great images. I’ve seen D3 cameras go as low as EUR800 in my part of the world – that would be an even better buy.

          • Thanks Ming, I had completely forgot about the D3 for some reason. Perhaps it was the idea that single digit Nikons always cost a fortune. 🙂 A quick search turned up a few results, it seems they run about 850 to 1000 euros depending on condition. That’s about 200 to 300 euros more than a D700 with grip. I need to do some reading to find out if the added cost is justified or not. Thanks again for the heads-up!

    • That’s why using a Canon 6D with Eg-S screen and focus confirmation on the selected focus point is the best solution for my MF lenses up to today IMHO, even with an Otus 55mm (focus confirmation correction -7). No high res sensor, I know. I would not know how to do mf’ing without a high precision matte screen. Therefore the 5D’ and higher Canon cams are worse. No experience with Nikons here but cerainly difficult watching the confirmation dot in the viewer down there. Using the Sony A7′ was so boring with MF lenses: peaking is not what I get from the Canon focus confirmation and magnification makes composition while focusing impossible, both at the same time would be important. Never understood how reviewers can say mf focusing works in a breeze with EVFs. I blame Sony for it’s half baken solutions: Why no magnification in a part of the EVF only? Why no focus confirmation on the focus point like Canon does? Why no focus balance ( rangefinder’ish) in the EVF showing direction and distance to focus? There are certainly more practical solutions than what an enthusiast like me can think of. Magnification mode works very precisely, true, but it is just not everybodys style to put an A7 or else on a tripod, do a composition in about sharpness and then go to magnification mode to get perfect focus in that part of the frame. It is just not the same like seeing the whole frame. And then we have the issues with the OVF clarity compared to the flat EVFs. So no ideal solution today. Maybe someone could figure out how to display a magnification into parts of an OVF. That would be something.

  25. Very short comment from you about this subject Ming, I figure, you’re missing it on you cameras too! It was one of the reasons, why I got rid of my 5DMkII, and I am crying no tears after it !!!

    • But I’m also missing file quality, ergonomics, professional support and battery life from the Sony cameras you seem to love so much. A professional tool? Hardly, unless you’re a paid ‘ambassador’.

      • All this is coming now with the brand new SONY A7RII to your country soon!

        • No, it isn’t. RAW files are still compressed, and I still see the effects of the compression on screen and in print. My clients would reject those files. There is still no professional support. Battery life is worse than the A7R which was already terrible. We are not there yet.

          • Alex Carnes says:

            If they fix the RAW compression, I’ll buy the A7RII without hesitation (when the price has come down a bit). I just can’t stomach the idea of buying any more high end DSLR glass given what’s now on offer for Sony’s FE mount. The Zony 55/1.8, the forthcoming Batis 25 and 85, maybe the Sony 90 macro, and that’s me set. Light, compact, bright, and sharp as hell. I’m perfectly happy using aftermarket grips for extra stability and battery life. Just please fix that bloody ‘RAW’ format! [/rant] Manual focussing is great on the A7s, if you really need to…

  26. According to experts from Zeiss, LiveView is the only appropriate method for precise focusing!

    Cameras are not callibrated measureing instruments!

    But I really don’t understand, why these so called “pro DSLR’s” don’t have these very practical flexible tilt screens! I can state this as very ignoring and stupid only!

    • Perhaps the D4 and 1DX lack tilting screens for reasons of durability and weather proofing. I agree that these tilting screens are helpful in a lot of ground macro or tall tripod use.

  27. Great article as always, thanks
    Now to lower the tone. I used to use a ‘look through’ film slide viewer sans screen mounted onto the tilting LCD screen of my Nex camera with a rubber band. It helped my old eyes no end and gave a view the size of a tennis court, but with the edges a bit blurry and outside the natural field view of my eyes. Still I could nail focus virtually every time with old manual lens and that’s what mattered. They are dirt cheap, light as a feather (the screen stayed at the angle you set it) and enabled me to use the camera in sunlight. I now have an A7II which is sufficient if not great.
    It is good to hear business is good for you

    • 🙂 same thing practically! Good hack.

    • Same approach here, Bill, except I use a cheap. Chinese made viewing hood that was marketed for a Nikon dslr but also fitted my Nex 5 via its tripod socket and aligned perfectly with the lcd. With a 2.8x magnifier I have an enormous view from the 3″ lcdn and manual focusing is a doddle as all sunlight is excluded. I sometimes wonder if a look like a prat with this thing mounted on a small camera but, hey, I’m the one getting better images as it also fits my 5N, although I do have the Sony evf for this one, too.

  28. mukundsivaraman says:

    Hi Ming

    I bought a 7D Mark 2 which has similar dot pitch and sensor tech to your new 5DS R, and was a step up from an old 450D. I’ve been very unimpressed with softness with this new camera. So far I thought it was the camera’s fault, but it seems for ANY sharpness at 1:1 these need a very steady tripod with timer drive to eliminate any minuscule vibration. This is supposedly a popular camera with birdwatchers, but I don’t know how they nail any kind of sharpness for a distant bird moving in flight. Your article on MF focusing aids seems to point that shooting discipline is a big deal with these new sensors. I get about 1 in 10 sharp images when using AF and using normal shutter button drive modes on tripod. With the live view mode zoomed in 10x, it shows how even touching the camera makes the view vibrate when mounted on tripod.


    • The lenses matter quite a bit, too. Critical sharpness requires some really good glass – honestly, most of the current options are not able to make full use of the sensor. When you look at both Nikon and Canon to see what they actually have that can support 36/50MP…the options are pretty thin in the ground.

      Sounds to me though you need a new tripod and head. Touching the camera lightly with magnification shouldn’t cause vibrations for more than a fraction of a second – at least it doesn’t with 180mm, 16x magnification and the Cube/RRS24.

    • Mukundsivaraman, check your tripod and head, use a wired or wireless remote release, use Live View (= electronic first curtain), avoid shooting in a brisk wind if possible, avoid shooting through air turbulence (heat differential between air and ground or water) or smog, hang a weight off the tripod center mount, avoid using the center column for more than a few cm of height adjustment. I and many others have used the 18 MP 60D or 7D-original successfully for star-field photography at 400mm with a sidereal mount attached to a sturdy tripod and head. Hand-held bird-in-flight photography with the Canon 60D and non-image-stabilized excellent quality 15-year-old design 400mm f/5.6L requires a fair amount of practice. With steady panning and shutter speed at or above 1/1000 sec, very sharp images can be obtained with single-point servo AF on this older camera. Of course I am using only the center portion of this lens’s field.

  29. At the ZEISS booth at the Photokina, there is always an “playground” where people can “play” with various Zeiss lenses on various cameras. I had watched the scene for a while and noticed, that not any person, has adjusted the camera view finder, or EVF for it’s eye for focusing! I have mentioned this to one of the Zeiss reps, and he just looked at me and smiled, without any comment!

    This has told me a lot!

  30. To my experiences, the BRIGHTSCREEN focusing screen with an 45 degressiv Split Image! and Micro prism colour! costs 229 €, and was the best focusing on the market, for Canon and Nikon. Unfortunately, the firm does nötig exists anymore. Then I bought me an special holter from the firm Zoerkendoerfer, to attach an 45 degree prism finder onto the LCD monitor on back side of my Canon 5DMkII. This clumsy attachment worked very well, especially with long telephoto lenses. But finally, the very heavy and clumsy camera set, make me to switch to Sony A7, and I am satisfy now!

  31. Ming, as you know, I’m a big fan of the Kinotehnik. I have to agree that the customer service leaves a bit to be desired: my one encounter with them gave me the correct answer, but it came with a surly attitude about something they still don’t publish — the size of the 4ND frame for the D810.

    I also shoot with glasses, and find that the LCDVF works well with it, even in portrait format. Yes, my glasses sometimes get smudged, but it’s surprisingly comfortable. And to address matso’s concerns about ergonomics, that’s one of the nice things about the LCDVF’s self-aligning magnetic mount. It’s an easy motion to bring the camera up and attach the viewer to frame a scene, and then detach the viewer when I’m walking about, so the camera can hang on its strap like normal. With the Zacuto and its more solid mount, you can’t really do this and have to deal with the oblong football shape, as I’m sure you’ve experienced. I’ve hiked up mountains with this setup, and find it comfortable and easy to use.

    I know at least one person has found that they can view all of the LCD screen with the Zacuto, but in my experience, it cuts off the top and bottom, since it was optimized for video 16:9 work, so it was a no-go for me. The LCDVF has almost a 100% view, and I find it easier to frame with it. YMMV.

    The LCDVF also takes 37mm diopter elements, so you can customize it for your eyesight. It’s not as convenient to adjust, but once done, it’s done. I believe Gary G. uses this setup.

    For those interested in even cheaper options, the Kamerar Magview works well on my Sigma DP Merrill and GR. It’s kind of clunky and comes apart in two pieces, and if I had to do it all over again, I’d go with the LCDVF on everything.

    But the ultimate focusing screen really has to be a large format camera’s ground glass. I wish everything looked so good!

    • Agreed – I’m finding myself using the Kino a lot more because of the ease of attachment/detachment; especially when teaching or with a client it’s much easier to show them the screen than futz around with the Zacuto. If I’m on my own and concentrating on just shooting, the Zacuto is a lot more stury and has better optics.

      There’s only one problem with LF groundglass: dimness. I suppose soon we’ll just be using iPads under hoods…

    • So true! nothing compares the satisfaction of seeing the formed image in the ground glass of a large format camera, the experience of framing with a waist viewfinder, focusing precisely the rangefinder patch of a M. Usually, the first exclamation of somebody looking for the first time through the finder of my RZ is something like “wooow, this is like 3D!”. Photography is all about the experience of shooting and how you bond with the camera.

  32. I got an extra screen recently and tried using ultra fine lapping compound to improve the snap of focus. While the result was coarser, the darker view made it much tougher to use in all except bright contrasty conditions. The other issue I found was quickness, and while the green arrows and dot are not as accurate, using the AF indicators when manually focusing improved my results.

    The other issue all this brings up is actually hand-held shooting of high resolution cameras. Few of us are consistently steady enough to nail manual focus and avoid camera movement, meaning that slight motion degrades results. Sure, those tonal areas still have smooth transitions from all those sampling points, but we’re not getting the most out of the sensors in detail information. So we are left with cameras tied down to tripods, thereby defeating one of the benefits of smaller cameras (though the lighter gear bag is welcome).

    I’ve tried a trick with a few mirrorless cameras, and with my Coolpix A, that seems to make manual focus a bit easier. I set the JPEG picture settings to Monochromatic, and since I shoot RAW the colour information is still there. It seems that the B/W image on the LCD (or EVF) has a bit more snap to it and contrast, making consistently nailing manual focus a bit easier.

    In some ways this focus issue validates lesser megapixel cameras, at least for hand-held photography. We can be accurate enough, since the system more closely matches the viewfinder capabilities. Honestly, I wish my F4S focus screens would fit into modern DSLRs, because those are amazingly good. Those in the hunt for higher megapixels will need to adapt some very different practices, as you point out so often in your articles. It reminds me of a saying: “a racehorse may be faster than a greyhound, but the dog will lap a living room much more quickly”. 😉

    • I tried the same thing once – same problem as you had; it just didn’t work most of the time.

      In addition to going B&W, you can also try maxing out the sharpening – it affects the preview image too, and creates a pseudo-peaking effect with the halo…

  33. Thanks for the great review Ming. I’ve been looking for a solution for my mf lens for a while.

    • Hope one of these works for you!

      • Hi Ming, I went for the Kinothenik LCDV and finally I get sharp pictures with my mf (using the Zeiss 3.5/18). It turned out that for sharp pictures the infinity scale on the lense shows slightly above 3m (!) Of course for that focal length it’s mechanically not far away from the infinity mark at the lens scale but was still surprising for me. Have you also experienced such kind of deviations ? Is this the mirror alignment issue ? Anyway, I wouldn’t consider to adjust anything at my D810 as I still use a lot of AF lenses too and I’m glad to have finally found a working solution for my mf. Thanks again for your great blog about that topic !

        • No, that’s just optics – the shorter the focal length, the less group displacement required to get to infinity. Often to the point that there really is no difference between say 5m and infinity. The mirror alignment issue is when your optical finder looks in focus but the images are not or vice versa.

          • Ok good to know. Anyway in my case it’s not that there is no difference between the remaining range to infinity but always clearly blurred when turned up to marking infinity – meaning my real infinity position is just slightly before at the infinity scale end. Now I even figured out this is by Zeiss design (over travel function) to compensate for temperature fluctuations and tolerances of the flange focal distance of the camera body. As this is particularly true for longer focal lengths I simply didn’t expect this so clearly at 18mm focal length. I guess this explains my issue. And shooting with the D810 obviously reveals this detail more sensitive. Thanks anyway for your quick reply.

  34. Thanks for the comprehensive article Ming! Very helpful in understanding the options.

  35. More great wisdom. Thanks, Ming

  36. so you go on lengths about the ergonomics of a camera on your reviews and then you’re shooting using these magnifiers that have been made for shoulders rigs? what an impractical solution! The truth is we are still getting faster and more accurate focus on classic manuals AND OPTICAL Leica’s M, Nikon Fs, Blads, Rolleis or Mamiyas. I never found pleasure framing the world through an LCD screen (appart from some field monitors in video). For me EVFs are still not convincing at all (but I haven’t tried the Leica Q)
    As much as I love digital photography, a camera is still and will always be an OPTICAL instrument made to capture the light

    • Actually, they’re more ergonomic than you might think. I find my hands far less cramped with some space between the grip and my face.

      The old finders were not more accurate. It was just harder to tell because film emulsions have some thickness (and thus forgiveness of focus) to them. Try using a Hasseblad V with a digital back – I think you’ll very quickly find that the focusing screen is inadequate. And let’s not forget how often M rangefinders have to be realigned especially on the digital bodies.

      I do agree that an optical finder is much more pleasant to look through, but it doesn’t always mean that it’s the best tool to focus with.

      • Old finders were better and more accurate simply because they were usable (large and sporting focusing aids)! Then all modern finders even if they now are ultra digitaly accurate are unusable, they are too small, have a poor refreshing rate or resolution and worse : these EVF are already a corrected and manipulated representation of the world.
        Since the trend seems to be always smaller these days, why don’t they make a super small digital camera sporting an enormous and accurate optical finder (rangefinder or prism I don’t care) ? probably because an EVF is one more spec to bank on since we are moving away from the resolution competition (not quite yet : maybe not you 😉 )

        • Well, EVFs are getting better – I’d say ‘good enough’, but not ‘good’. At least they can magnify for critical focus though – not something optical finders can do. In addition, it costs a lot more to make a good optical finder than an EVF – this is no doubt also part of the reason all of the manufacturers are moving away.

          • I highly doubt that! to me the caniconsonypanapentax are merely computer assemblers…
            you can buy a Hasselblad 500 today for way less than a brand new mid range dslr, so you think it is impossible to achieve critical focus with it on their 50Mpx digital backs (I’ve seen many images that are showing me the opposite)???
            dslrs and mirrorless cameras are costing an arm these days, and they are full of cheap electronics!! Back in the days, how much was the latest Nikon F2 or 3 when they released them, loaded with these “expensive” optical elements ?

            • You forget that I own a V system and shot extensively with a CFV digital back. I’m telling you from experience that it’s very difficult to nail critical focus at larger apertures, and there’s a reason why most of the images were shot at f5.6+.

              The F2/F3 were very expensive cameras for the day when you normalise the currency.


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