I own two lovely SLRs and cant focus with either!

Discussion in 'Film Discussion and Q & A' started by Glycerol Sound, Aug 7, 2010.

  1. Glycerol Sound

    Glycerol Sound TPF Noob!

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    So after shooting digital for a couple months I would really like to go back to film, even just part time, to improve my composition (selecting only the best photos to take instead of just snapping everything), metering skills (I have a meter but Id love to get to the point where its not as needed), and just because I like the medium a lot. I have inherited two fantastic SLRs from my grandfather- a Nikon F and a Pentax Spotmatic F- and I'd love to start taking them out with me whenever I go shooting, but I cant really focus through either of them.
    Its not because I can't hand focus because a good deal of the lenses I use with my D70 are manual (its a hell of a lot cheaper on ebay and craigslist). I've cleaned both meticulously with glasses cleaning spray and a soft cloth, but every still seems very hazy through the viewfinders. Is it that I just havent cleaned well enough? Is this normal with old cameras? Thanks for your help!
     
  2. Josh66

    Josh66 Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    It could be the viewfinder that's dirty, not the lens. Especially on older cameras... Have you cleaned that?
    (EDIT - I just re-read your post ... at first I thought you meant that you cleaned the lenses, now I see that it was the camera bodies... Maybe they just need more cleaning. Take the lens off and look through the viewfinder in bright light. Does it look clean?)

    DO NOT try to clean the focusing screen. Just blow it off if it's really dusty. (Nothing on it will show in the pictures anyway.)

    Try cleaning the viewfinder (the outside of it - you know, the part you put your eye up to) with a cotton swab and a little bit of alcohol or cleaning fluid or something.
     
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2010
  3. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    On the Nikon F...the prism on that camera comes off...and then the viewfinder screen lifts up and out...perhaps the viewfinder screen is in upside down, or is really fogged with out-gassing from foam,etc. Can you take it to a knowledgeable camera enthusiast, somebody say over 45, who might have actual experience with such a camera, for a look-see??? It seems odd that the Spotmatic would also suffer from the same issue, since they are such different designs...

    How is your vision?
     
  4. Dwig

    Dwig TPF Noob!

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    Have you given any consideration that the problem may be your eyes and that you need some additional correction?

    Most modern DSLRs, EVILs, and serious compacts have a diopter correction adjustment in their eyepiece. This allows you to trim the eyepiece focus to correct for small flaws in your eyes. Older SLRs, like the ones you list, don't. With these cameras you need to either wear the proper glasses or contact lenses or add a diopter lens to the eyepiece.

    The apparent distance that the image of the focusing screen is set to in these older cameras is about 6 feet. This means that many people over 40 still can't see the screen clearly with either their regular glasses/contacts or with reading glasses. One doesn't allow critical focus close enough and the other's range is too close.

    If your DSLR, which likely has an adjustment and that you say you can focus with successfully, isn't set to a mid-point, it is all but certain that your problem with the old SLRs is your eyes and not the cameras.
     
  5. compur

    compur No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Did your grandfather add diopter adjustment eyepieces to these cameras
    perhaps? To fit them to his vision?

    If so, you only need to remove them.
     
  6. Pgeobc

    Pgeobc TPF Noob!

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    I am inclined to ask if you have presbyopia? Old-age far-sightedness is a curse for photographers and makes it difficult to focus cameras properly.

    If you wear glasses, try moving any adjustible diopters there are that are built into the cameras' eyepieces. I find a great deal of relief by using a split-image finder, too. I also have some screw-in dopters for correcting the cameras that have no built-in methods.

    You could also take your camera, equipped with a split-image screen, to your sympathetic optometrist. You and he can then determine what makes the ground glass screen in focus when the split images line up.

    Most cameras have about an effective 1 meter viewing distance, BTW.
     
  7. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    As Dwig point out, back in "the day" SLR cameras had what was called the apparent viewfinder distance. Modern Photography magazine's camera reviews used to test and explicitly list out this distance, and as I recall, the typical distance was around 70 to 78 inches on 35mm SLR's from the mid-to late 1970's period, when I was reading Modern Photography and Pop Photo every single month. I really didn't want to go into the eyeglass-vision-apparent viewfinder distance issue right, since I myself seem to be headed toward--b-b-b-bifocals this year,or very soon!!!

    If you cannot focus the Spotmatic and you cannot focus the F, an experiened photo guy over 45 years of age will probably tell you...the problem is with your vision not quite being able to see in the zone of the apparent viewfinder distance...that approximately 70 to 78 inch zone is, as Dwig pointed out, sort of the no-man's land between reading glass prescription correction and daily wear, single-grind correction, for many people who are....over 45...ahem...dang, I can almost feel the bifocal adjustment heebie-jeebies coming on just writing about this moment I wished would never,ever,ever arrive...dang me!
     
  8. Glycerol Sound

    Glycerol Sound TPF Noob!

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    You know it could be with my eyes. I'm 19 so its certainly not old age (I hope!) but I dont have amazing eyes. Where do I even get a diopter for these cameras anyway?
     
  9. djacobox372

    djacobox372 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    A few things to consider:

    1) the DOF of a film slr with a fast lens is much more narrow then on a aps sized sensor camera. This makes the need for precise focus more important.

    2) the focusing screen may be dirty or perhaps it was incorrectly cleaned/damaged by the previous owner. New nikon f focusing screens are cheap on ebay.

    3) If the image is clear in the viewfinder but the photos turn out out of focus, make sure the focusing screen isn't upside down.
     
  10. cooltouch

    cooltouch TPF Noob!

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    If you wear glasses, then use them when looking through the viewfinder. If this is your problem, you'll notice an immediate improvement.

    Diopters come in a variety of formulas, - for nearsightedness and + for farsightedness. I'm mildly nearsighted, and a -2 is just about right for me.

    You'll need to know what diopter correction number works best for you before you go and look for them. As for where to find, if you have any old camera shops in your town, check with them. A lot of times old shops will have boxes of "junk" which can contain treasures like diopters for old cameras. Check with some of the places that sell used cameras as well as new, like KEH, B&H, and Adorama. The other source is eBay. But even with eBay you might not find what you need right away. I searched for a -2 diopter for my Canon F-1 for weeks and finally found a seller in England who had one. I live in Texas, and was glad to find one at all.

    Of course, before you do any of this, you need to determine if your vision is indeed the problem, or if it's something else.

    If the viewfinder/focusing screen is dirty, your images will be rather low in contrast when you look through the viewfinder, and you should be able to see dust particles in the viewfinder if they're on the focusing screen. It's easy enough to clean a Nikon F focusing screen -- remove the finder, then the screen. Put the screen in an empty film canister, add a drop of dishwashing detergent, then fill the canister with warm water -- distilled would be best. Cap it, and shake well. Then rinse and blow dry or let it sit and dry. As for your Pentax, it is possible to clean the underside of your focusing screen just using a cotton swab and isopropyl alcohol. Just be very gentle as you wipe down the focusing screen, and you should be okay. But if you don't see much dust in the VF, chances are this won't help. Also, if there's dust on the top of the focusing screen or the bottom of the pentaprism, then some surgery will be required. And unless you've dismantled a camera before, you're better off letting a service do it.
     
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2011

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