Focus, Focus, Focus

Posted 2009.08.28 9.32 in Photography by Stephanie

Some time in the past 20 years, auto-focus became a big thing. And appearantly the camera makers decided that auto-focus was so big, that nobody ever used manual focus any more. So the manufacturers decided that since nobody used manual focus, there was no point including any focusing aids. Kit lenses don’t have distance scales on them any more, and more alarmingly, when you look in the viewfinder all you get is a matte screen for focusing. No fine-tuning aids like microprisms or a split-image.

No big deal if all you use are auto-focus lenses and your auto-focus works perfectly and you never want to get artistic. But what if you want to play? What if you want to get funky with your photos? What if you want to use manual-only lenses? The plain matte screen is not much help.

And seriously – I got the DSLR because my point-&-shoot camera didn’t have a manual-focus function. I got the DSLR because I want to manual focus! It’s not good enough for manual-focus to be a sort of after-thought, something they included but didn’t expect anyone to take seriously. It has to be accurate, it has to work!

Just line up the vertical elements and it's in focus!

Enter Dr. Haoda and his aftermarket focusing screens! It’s just like the good old days, a split image in the middle, surrounded by a circle of microprisms.

Focusing is easy – just find a vertical line in your subject and dial it in so the top and bottom halfs line up. Or use the microprisms, when out-of-focus they are all nubbly, when in-focus they go smooth.

(This is a close-up of the middle of the focusing screen, just the very centre. Most of the screen is still the matte view that shows you the full image.)

Haoda ScreenDr. Haoda’s kit includes tools (tweezers & a special plastic tool) and little finger-gloves along with the actual focus screen. Installation was a bit hairy – basically you’re working in the delicate optical guts of the camera, going in where the lens goes and removing the existing screen then putting the new one in. If you take it slowly and are careful not to get the parts mixed up or turned around, you should be ok. I somehow managed to get things upside-down and backwards, and consequently I had to redo things a few nervous times before I figured out what I had done wrong.

When I got it right though, it really felt good! Suddenly my DSLR is a real camera! Auto-focus still works of course, now I can even see that it’s accurate, but more importantly, manual focus is now fast and easy. This is how I learned photography and it feels good to have it back.

Package and old screen

When the operation is complete, it’s a good idea to keep your old focusing screen ‘just in case’. The package you get from Dr. Haoda is a good place to store it.