4.15.2011

Digging around inside my camera with a screw driver and shaky hands.


If you've read the column for any length of time you probably know that I'm both attracted and repulsed by different aspects of "gear."  I want the stuff to be good and to work right but I don't want it to stick its head into the picture and start giving me "helpful hints," and I rarely want to hear about exactly how anybody did anything.

I was attracted to Zeiss manual focus ZE lenses and bought four of them to shoot on my Canon cameras.  I know most people think I should using the lenses on the 5d2 but I'm stubborn and I like what I like and I wanted to also be able to use them on the Canon 7D.  Here's the problem I found:  While I can easily manually focus the lenses if I use live view and enlarge the images ten times trying to accurately focus fast lenses on the stock 7D screen is hit and miss.  And mostly miss.

I bought a new screen for my Canon 1d2N and it worked really well.  The screens I'm looking for are the ones with the split image rangefinder in the center circle.  Just like the ones we used to have in our Pentax K1000's and Olympus OM-1's. (And our Canon f-1's and our Nikon F's).  The braniacs at the camera companies decided, when they implemented autofocus, that no one would ever want to focus anything by hand every again and took that opportunity to remove screens that would allow us to do it out, replacing them with "candy" screens that make everything seem delightfully in focus to the eye even when the focus is way off.  If screens don't need acuity for proper manual focus they can apparently be made brighter and.......happier.  And we know how much everyone likes a bright and happy finder....

But curmudgeon that I am I wanted to manually focus and I wanted to do it with my really super cool 7D and not always be locked into using just the 5D2 or the 1dmk2n's.  I looked into the Brightscreens and they made changing the focusing screen on my own sound ominous and scary.  But if I coughed up about $180 (with shipping) they'd stick one of their plastic gems right in and send it right back.  I like to manually focus but can you imagine how many cups of Nescafe instant coffee you can make for $180?

I found a source on Amazon that sells a screen for around $30 with shipping and they have step by step instructions on the web.  Not nearly as hard as the Brightscreen people made it out to be.

The screen came yesterday.  It just happened to come on a busy afternoon when I was way into overdosing on caffeine.  After too much coffee and a couple glasses of white wine I grabbed my magnetized screwdriver and went to work on my $1500 camera.  At the kitchen table.  I used an LED ring light for close up illumination.  Two screws and one springclip later and I had the old screen out.  A few shaky, false starts and I had the new screen in the right place and the camera pieced back together.  And you know what?  It really works.  The screen is a bit darker than the Canon screen but you can see the exact point of sharp focus with fast lenses.....just like we were able to do ten years ago, and twenty years ago, and thirty years ago.  I tested the whole shebang after swim practice this morning and it's just about as accurate as the 10X focus in Live View.

Go ahead and perform surgery on your camera, if you are using MF lenses.  You  own it.  You are allowed to take it apart.........

Sad media note:  Kiplinger Magazine named Austin the BEST city to be in for the next ten years in all of the United States.  Any time we get a declaration like this hordes of people from LA and NY rush down here like prospectors on a gold rush.  Then we have to wait in long lines in restaurants, the roads are packed with idiot drivers (and I didn't think anyone could be worse than Texans.....) and we hear whining about how the body waxes here just don't compare to LA or how shitty our bagels are from the New Yorkers.  Then the market crashes and they all leave without paying their bills.

So I'm starting a little campaign.  If you are thinking of moving to Austin let me share a few facts with you:  1.  Every years thousands of people die here from the allergies.  Hay fever that won't stop till you hemorrhage and drop.  You literally sneeze yourself to death.  That's something the Chamber of Commerce won't share with you...  2.  While we have a few weeks of mild weather in January and February you can pretty much count on it to average around one hundred and five to one hundred and ten degrees most days.  Sometimes it gets so hot people's tires melt and stick to the road, stranding them. Then the engines overheat, the air conditioning stops working and they die in their cars.  Not too many.  Five or six hundred a year.  3.  All cuisine is covered with Habanero peppers, the most virulent in the world today.  Yep, you guessed it.  If you don't build up an immunity......well.....you die.  4.  We don't have an income tax but, before you get too excited, we have the highest property taxes in the entire world.  Even Hong Kong and Monte Carlo have much cheaper property taxes.  Millionaires cry when they see the tax bill for their garden sheds. (so expensive it's all laid out a la carte......).  You may think you'll be escaping some taxes but yikes.... 5.  Did I mention that everyone in Texas is encouraged to own guns and carry them around the way other state's citizens bandy about with their cellphones?  We give them out to small children, psychopaths, insurance salesmen, the people who stand around on the street corners, talking to themselves and even to our pets.  Sometimes you can't hear Rick Perry on the television because of the casual gunbattles happening all over the city.  Just don't reach for your pocket too quickly at the PTA meetings.    And finally, we live the Tea Party conservative dream here.  We spend less per student on education than Bangladesh or Somalia.  We provide limited healthcare for seniors.  Once a year poor seniors get a voucher for their own box of band-aides and a bottle of Nitrogen Peroxide.  If you're coming from one of the those "blue" states you'll have to get used to stepping over the bodies of the dead and starving to get to work.  Hell, even to get into the grocery stores.

So, to sum up.  Moving to Austin, Texas is a bad idea.  Especially if you are a professional photographer.......just a little perspective.  

Here's the screen info:

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

Anybody feel the love?

ginsbu said...

Would you mind sharing a link to the screen you bought on Amazon?

kirk tuck said...

Your wish is my......I embedded it at the end of the article. Good luck.

Kyle Batson said...

After switching over to using prime lenses exclusively on my Sony a850, I bought the M-type focusing screen for the camera. It doesn't have the focusing circle in the middle but it makes it much easier to focus manually. Sony had the foresight to design this capability into the camera so there are no screws to remove to make the swap. The focusing screen comes with a little tweeser tool to hold on to the screen and everything comes out and goes in very easily.

I only wish a third-party manufacturer would come out with an old-fashioned style screen to go with this wonderfully designed camera.

Nikhil Ramkarran said...

I changed the screen in my Pentax, very easy in execution, but I have to admit, a nerve wracking exercise.

Then a week later something got between the screen and the prism and I had to do it again. It's not an exercise for the faint of heart.

Ended up changing my friend's in his Nikon too (I'm a sucker for punishment). I think they are brilliant, everyone should know and love manual focusing, it's all about control.

kirk tuck said...

Yes, Yes, Yes to Nkhil. "It's all about control."

Bill Beebe said...

...the roads are packed with idiot drivers (and I didn't think anyone could be worse than Texans.....)

Yes, Florida. Especially around Orlando.

mayamocha said...

Ah, the focus screen! Its been one of my pet-peeves with using digital cameras. I learned on a Ricoh KR-10 and used that for years. I bought it in college for my intro to photo course because it had a DIAGONAL split focus screen, rather than horizontal. otherwise I would have gotten a K-1000. BTW, at my school we learned early on that it was the photographer not the camera and the best images were coming from someone with a K-1000 and the kit lens! Anyway, I learned how to quickly get the subject in focus and then frame the picture. I finally bought my first DSLR a few years ago, a Nikon D40, the first thing I had to do was get a Katz focusing screen for it.
I also figured out how to use that get the subject in focus when using a digicam's autofocus. E.g., on my Oly waterproof 850 I have it set to always show the rule of third gridlines. I do the half-press to focus on the subject and the gridlines help me keep everything aligned (its harder to keep images level with the lcd rather than the old fashion view finder).
I recently got an Oly E-p1 with the 17mm lens. It took me a while to find the settings but I have the gridlines set and changed the focus to single-point center and do the same trick. I love this camera mostly but it drives me crazy when it uses the "zoom in" feature to help me manual focus as it means I lose a sense of the entire composition.
Which is why I'm loving using a Nikor 50mm 1.8 lens on it. It doesn't trigger the manual zoom issue. I use what I learned all those years ago and as well as using my eye, I check the lens settings to get an idea of how well my focus will be by the distance/focus setting and the f-stop. E.g., yesterday it was very sunny so I just picked a small aperature and set the focus ring to infinity and concentrated on composition.
Today, riding the bus, I tried to get in focus pictures everytime we stopped. Because its a bit unpredictable how much time I have I can practice getting it right then I check the image using the zoom in feature.
Anyway, thanks for a great blog. It makes me think.

Anonymous said...

After all the hours I've spent reading your blog and then addressing the computer asking it all manner of caustic questions about you and your sanity. I have to hand it to you. At the end of the tedious description of your manual focus obsession and the dramatic changing of the focus screen comes the big payoff.
The "DON"T COME TO AUSTIN!" segment is the crowning achievement of your blogging career. Quit wasting your time writing about art and photography. Social satire is where you belong.

pswann said...

Read this between sets at old settlers music fest. Hundred of dead here already, and it's only the first day.

Archie Noble said...

The part about Austin makes me wonder whether you are any relation to the famous political prankster, Dick Tuck . . . .

kirk tuck said...

If there's a political prankster out there named Dick Tuck I'm almost certain to be related. Not related is (no kidding) Dr. Dick Chop, an Austin Urologist. Really.

steveH said...

My dad was born and raised in Texas (and OK), moved to the west coast after leaving the navy post-WW2.

Your description sounds familiar.

I'm still trying to talk my wife into moving that way...

jonno said...

I use a split prism screen by Katzeye in the D700. Its a tad over the 100 dollar mark though. Easy to install with a precision pr of flat nose tweezers: you can order custom gridlines (eg 4:5 aspect ratio) as well. Works like a charm on the Zeiss lenses - reminiscent of the old "B screen" on F series Nikons. The only zeiss lens that is still hard to focus in low light is the 25mm/2.8 Recommended.

Regards 'the rant" - I empathize... living in Ashland OR, which is similarly desirable and near enough to the border to have a real " californication problem"...i am agnostic though, being a Brit...can't really throw stones at incomers.

Michael Ferron said...

People who buy houses here are good for my business. ( no i don't deal in real estate) Austin is friendly, has 6 months of beautiful weather, 4 nasty hot months, 2 chilly months. Also there's a lot to do in Austin and Hill Country day trips are close by when you need to get away from the urban landscape. Don't listen to the man behind the curtain.

( I do agree the roads are packed with idiot drivers though. There's always someone trying to cut you off.

Marino Mannarini said...

hello Kirk,
does this screen you got keep full AF functionality, with all the AF marks in the camera? I saw on ebay that CowBoy camera has a model for D700, and i am considering it as an alternative to the much more expensive Katzeye screen.

reading you is always a source for my art and my mind :) thanks.

Marino

kirk tuck said...

Michael Ferron is conveniently forgetting the scorpions that drop from the ceiling while you sleep and the rattlesnakes that wait by the welcome mat for you to come home in the evening. It's really a very dangerous place.

Michael Ferron said...

"scorpions that drop from the ceiling while you sleep and the rattlesnakes that wait by the welcome mat for you to come home in the evening"

Kirk that's suppose to be kept a secret. Folks here's a hint. Fog your bedroom down every night with a heavy dose of toxic insect killer and both the scorpions and giant centipedes (about which Kirk failed to mention BTW) will be kept to a minimum. Knee high boots will protect you from most poisonous snake bites. (Most) Why you trying to scare folks. ;)

Tyson Habein said...

since I'm using a lot of m42 primes these days, I'd love to switch out the focus screen on my 60d to match the Spotmatic that I also use. I'm not spotting one from Cowboy for that camera model, though. sigh... I'll keep waiting (I don't want it bad enough for the katseye prices)

Jeffrey said...

You forgot to mention that sometimes (like the winter before last) it gets really cold and people don't seem to have much heat in their house or don't know how to turn it on. Austin was a fun place to visit, especially south of the river

James B. said...

...the roads are packed with idiot drivers (and I didn't think anyone could be worse than Texans.....)

I think a trip to Quebec is in order.

Arc said...

Kirk, I realize now that my earlier comment about Dick Tuck must have sounded funny. Here is the Wikipedia link to the man himself.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dick_Tuck

Jessica said...

Forgive the question, but would a screen like this need to be removed before use with autofocus? If I'm only seldom a manual focuser, does it make sense to get focusing screen?

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the coyotes that come and take your children away...

Nick Giron said...

Will buying a focusing screen make it easier to transition if I move to Austin?
Will it be easier to see the idiot drivers and child stealing coyotes?

kirk tuck said...

No Nick. The focusing screen will probably cause problems. Remember, things may be closer than they seem....

ars said...

I skipped the tech talk, but loved your rant on moving to Austin:)