I've had an old completely analog Praktika SLR with a set of lenses for a few years now. The camera and lenses are still quite good but I wanted to go digital.

Having recently acquired a Nikon D5200, I was curious if it was possible to use the old lenses on my new body.

Of course I realized manual mode would be the only available mode, but I'm used to shooting manually anyway (the Praktika is from the '70s, so fully manual). I did find out that I would need an adapter with a correction lens, and I bought one with and one without the correcting lens.

It sort of works, except I've no way of knowing the lighting conditions beforehand (the camera doesn't know the aperture, so it can't estimate the lighting, apparently).

However there is one very big problem. When looking through the viewfinder, an item seems to be in focus. When I look in the LCD screen, it's very much out of focus (and not by a tiny margin, a very large margin). The actual photo matches the LCD screen.

I tried fiddling with the little wheel next to the viewfinder, but it's pretty much impossible to get it workable.

I tested the same situation with the kit lens, and it is perfectly in focus on both the viewfinder and the screen.

Extra note: The old lens I'm using is a 50mm (so, 75mm now, I guess) with an aperture of 2.8. No zoom.

Also, when using the adapter without the correction lens, the same applies but I have a much smaller viewing distance (almost macro distance) wich is the reason I also bought that adapter.

Does anyone have a clue what the problem is and if it's fixable ? It I can get it to work properly I'd suddenly have an enormous list of available high quality lenses for under 100 euros. So you can image why I'd like to make this work.

  • If you want to set the viewfinder diopter correctly, turn on the grid lines (custom setting d2) which are much finer than anything else in the viewfider overlay and adjust until you can make them out as sharp lines. An f/2.8 should not be too difficult to focus on the bare screen (faster lenses may be) once the diopter correction is set correctly for your eyes, though it will be an adjustment from the big, bright screen you're used to. You should also be able to use the focus confirmation light at the lower left of the viewfinder. – user2719 Jan 16 '14 at 16:37
  • If you really want to use old lenses then Nikon is an ill choice of brand because of the high flange focal distance ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flange_focal_distance ). Canon or Pentax are much better suited, personally I prefer the latter for this. Your lenses are probably M42, the Pentax bayonet was specifically designed to allow extremely simple adapters for this, and their DSLR firmware has the custom settings needed for this. If you really want to use those old lenses you should think of switching before investing too much into one system. – his Jan 16 '14 at 19:31
  • Why not use live-view to focus, or the camera's AF sensors, they should still work and tell you when your subject is in focus. – Orbit Feb 5 '18 at 15:48
  • Have you tried MANUALLY focusing the kit lens using merely the viewfinder? – rackandboneman Dec 4 '18 at 17:06

This isn't actually to do with the old lenses per se, but with the design of the viewfinder in modern DSLRs. In short, they're optimized for brightness, and assume automatic focusing. The downside is that they're not very accurate for manual focusing — not really showing differences in depth of field below what you get at f/2.8 or so, if even that. You'll see the same behavior with fast modern lenses.

There are third-party replacement viewfinder screens which are made for manual focusing. One of the most popular brands is KatzEye — I've heard nothing but good things about them (except for the occasional gripe about price, because they're not cheap). They have a model specifically meant for your Nikon D5200, and lots of others as well (including Canon, Pentax, and other brands too). These can be ordered in a variety of configurations, and usually include a split-prism focusing aid to help with manual focus.

Of course, there's an inherent problem that most consumer DSLRs have a viewfinder much smaller than that on even consumer-level SLRs (let alone higher end models). That's an artifact of the sensor size (along with price consciousness) and can't really be helped.

Some other questions and answers on this site provide more information:

  • Most likely because of the near universal use of AF lenses with cameras like the D5200, the focus screens on such cameras don't seem to be as precisely positioned to match the flange-->mirror-->focus screen distance to the flange-->sensor distance. Although some models still hold the screen in place with screws that can be adjusted/shimmed, most DSLRs seem to use non-adjustable metal clips to hold them in place. – Michael C Jan 16 '14 at 17:17
  • Thank you for your answer. I do have one followup question. Would my default kit lens pretty much become useless if I install a new focusing screen ? If so, then I'd better first get some better quality lenzes before switching focusing screen. – Jochem Fuchs Feb 4 '14 at 14:55
  • Sadly, it seems that KatzEye have gone out of business. – dmkonlinux Feb 5 '18 at 15:01
  • @dmkonlinux Huh. I fixed the typo but should have updated that too. I'lll do some research.... – mattdm Feb 5 '18 at 15:20

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