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by Russell McMahon

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I suffer from astigmatism. It's only mild, though I feel it's affecting what I'm seeing when looking through the viewfinder. Frequently, after shooting a photo with my Canon EOS 7D, I'll load it into Lightroom and discover that what looked sharp as an LCD preview is actually not at all in focus when you get down to the 1:1 level.

Normally I let auto-focus do all the work, so I attribute this to back-focusing effects that I'm not picking up on when looking through the viewfinder.

Today, I switched to manual focus while using my tripod to see if I could do a better job than the AF. Rocking the focus ring back and forth, I found it hard to distinguish the point where my subject is in focus (blurry -> slightly blurry -> blurry); indeed, when I got back to Lightroom I still found about a third of my shots came out slightly off-focus.

Is there anything that I can try that could improve my shots, particularly anything that would reduce/nullify the effect of my eyesight while using the camera? The obvious answer to this could be "wear glasses" -- which I do, but not while using the camera, as I feel like they're in my way every time I peer through viewfinder!

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Just out of curiosity, have you tried to get your astigmatism corrected? I have a moderate amount of astigmatism, and my eye doctor has been able to correct it both partially with glasses, and pretty much fully with contacts. I generally use contacts when I do my photography, as it greatly helps in the area of focusing. A 6 month supply of weighted (astigmatism-correcting) soft contacts usually costs anywhere from $150-$300, depending on what you get, and of course...they work with any camera gear. ;) I highly suggest you try some, at least for a while, and see if they work for you. –  jrista Jun 19 '11 at 18:24
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I've got glasses, but I have never considered contacts -- I may look into it. :) –  Blair Holloway Jun 19 '11 at 23:14
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@Blair: You can't focus despite wearing the glasses? Sounds like you need new glasses! –  Billy ONeal Jun 20 '11 at 0:11
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I'm +6.50 with astigmatism. I spent about a year wearing contacts, which couldn't correct the astigmatism. I finally went back to wearing glasses full time. Contacts have their own needs and complications, there's a lot to like about them, but ultimately, the hassle was more than they added to life. also realize that not everyone wears their glasses while shootimg. I do, but others take them off while looking through the camera. You can't correct the astigmatism if you take them off... –  chuqui Jun 20 '11 at 6:59
    
Hi, I also have astigmatism (different for each eye - around 5). But this can be eliminated by the glasses. But in addition, I also have nystagmus en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pathologic_nystagmus which cannot be corrected. So I also have problems to focus. In fact I cannot focus without glasses and manual focus for macro or some very small details is very difficult for me. So I use center point AF (have Pentax K-x). Also tried Live View with magnifier,but it was not helpful. –  Juhele Jun 20 '11 at 11:53

7 Answers 7

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Pixel peeped images aren't likely to look sharp unless you're viewing from a distance... Something to bear in mind.

However, for manual focus improvement, you may want to consider a custom focussing screen such as the Katz Eye split prism screen. The basic idea here is much like a rangefinder camera, the prism splits the image when it is out of focus and when it is brought into focus, the image lines up. This can assist quite a bit, especially with poorer eyesight.

On the plus side, it will help confirm if your camera autofocus is iffy.

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Good suggestion, and I can personally vouch for the Katz Eye focusing screen... They even made me a custom screen. It is probably worth mentioning, however, that a split prism focusing screen doesn't work as well with 'slower' lenses, and/or smaller apertures, as they simply 'go black.' –  Jay Lance Photography Jun 19 '11 at 19:29
    
@Jay what kind of custom screen? –  Evan Krall Jun 22 '11 at 7:32
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ah, the good old split prism. Always wondered why they're no longer featured in SLRs... –  jwenting Feb 3 '12 at 12:35
    
Thanks a lot. I didn't know you could get a split prism for current DSLRs. –  Pete Feb 3 '12 at 13:50

One of the most important things for people with less then perfect eyesight is to adjust the viewfinder diopter to their own eyesight. The diopter allows you to change the focus of the viewfinder so it matches your eyesight, effectively making the viewfinder like your eyeglasses.

To adjust the diopter, put the camera in manual focus and make the entire scene within the viewfinder out of focus and blurry. Now look at the information or guide lines within the viewfinder that are a part of the camera and adjust the diopter (usually a small focus wheel on one side of the viewfinder) so they are perfectly focused for your eyesight.

Now the viewfinder is adjusted to your own eyes, when you see your subject in focus then you will know it is actually focused correctly.

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Astigmatism cannot be compensated for using this technique though. –  Billy ONeal Jun 19 '11 at 18:34
    
@Billy: True. It's surprising that this answer got so many upvotes! –  Hippo Jun 19 '11 at 23:55
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While simple tuning of the diopter will not cure astigmatism over the whole frame a person can train themselves to use one single spot in the frame and align the diopter to that place. Again not a cure for the whole frame, but would allow the person to know that the one spot is in focus and hence the rest of the frame on the same plane would also be. –  Barry Semple Jun 20 '11 at 5:35
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I never knew why they bother to install these vanity-devices, err, diopters. Any person I know that has to wear glasses and is not just old exceeds the puny +-2 correction and incidentally wears glasses/contacts while taking photos. –  Leonidas Jun 20 '11 at 22:28
    
@Leonidas - I have -7.5 :( And worst part is, when my glasses move closer or farther away from my eye because of pressure of the camera when looking through the viewfinder, the sharpness with which I see changes :( –  Kristof Claes Jun 23 '11 at 13:26

Users of a Sony camera might want to check out the "Focus peaking" on the new Nex-C3 (also available for Nex-3 and Nex-5 via firmware upgrade). In this mode, the camera outlines sharpest areas with red (or white, or yellow) pixels on its Live View.

The mode has previously been available on some Sony compact cameras, e.g. DSC-H2.

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This sounds like it could be really nice, but I wonder how it fares with high-ISO noise. –  Evan Krall Jun 22 '11 at 7:36
    
@Evan I see why you might be worried, but recent Sony sensors have been quite good in the high ISO department and random noise different in each Live View frame should be quite easy to discard from analysis. This really should be tested with a real camera to tell for sure; unfortunately, I have no access to any Sony cameras. Perhaps you should ask it as a new question? –  Imre Jun 22 '11 at 7:45
    
Hasselblad added peaking to their newer bodies, too. I'd love to see this feature in current DSLR, especially in combination with live view! –  Sam Jun 28 '11 at 13:25

One the 7d, also use the Live Image viewing option on the LDC, you'll find that really helps with manual focus (useful mostly when on a tripod). You can use that to zone in on what really good, sharp focus looks like in the viewfinder to help teach yourself how to get that sharp focus that way as well. After that, it's practice, practice, practice.

Making sure the diopt setting is set right as Barry noted is key, too.

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thinking about it, I thought I'd call this out in a comment: manual focus is a technique, and like any technique, it requires practice. and practice. and practice. With the advent of autofocus, you actually have a good teacher; the AF system. get in controlled situations and AF on subjects, and study the viewfinder to see how it looks. then practice replicating that with manual focus. it's not something that you'll turn off the AF and magically do well the first time. like most of photography, you have to work to get good at it. –  chuqui Jun 20 '11 at 7:04

For static/slow moving subjects I successfully used my laptop as a focusing screen. I've set live view on NKRemote and previewed the picture on the laptop (15") screen.

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You can remove the eye piece from the camera's view finder. That will make it easier to see through using glasses.

However, since you also remove the rubber band that is attached to the eye piece, there is a risk of scratching the glasses when they touch the camera.

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I suffer from the same issue, glasses with astigmastism that generally leads to images not being as sharp as I thought. To combat this I intend to get a KatzEye viewfinder for my camera as John mentioned.

The other thing I do that works really well is shoot on an EyeFi Pro card. I have my Asus Transformer Prime hooked up to it and sitting in my camera bag as I shoot. The EyeFi sends the JPEG Basics from the camera to the tablet over wifi so I can check the quality of the shots and am guaranteed that they look good.

I have used this set up on 3 photoshoots now, for a university nude calendar, and it has worked really well. The EyeFi also connects to phones/laptops and will dump all jpegs you havent synced at once so you can leave a laptop in the car then dump them after the shoot etc.

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