1

I've seen some focusing screen questions, but I can't seem to find a general question, so I'll go ahead and ask.

Over the years, there have been different focusing screens and I'll list some below. However, what are the differences and advantages of each of them? Also, can some cameras switch out their focusing screen to a different one?

  1. Split prism

  2. Split image

  3. Cross split image

  4. Matte

And there are several others, but that'll be a good start.

I'm going to leave this for other people and future reference.

2

There are generally three main different types of focusing screens:

  • Split circle with a prism collar
  • Matte
  • Gridded

And umpteen variants of each of these. But the first type was more common in film dSLRs and were to aid manual focus. The "split" in the middle would show you how far out of focus you were, and as you adjusted focus, the two sides of the image would align when when focus was achieved, and the prism collar would be evenly illuminated. These types of screens were mostly dropped when autofocus came into cameras, because mirrors in SLRs were no longer 100% efficient--some of the light had to be diverted to the autofocus sensors, and this was done by making the mirrors partially transparent, so that light could then be diverted to the AF sensors (typically in the "floor" of the camera body. Less light meant that the prism collar would be darker, and, well, you had autofocus now, so did you really need the split circle and collar to help you out?

Matte focus screens then became norm, and are in fact the default focus screens in most dSLRs today. The main differences you may find are "high-precision" matte screens, which simply make things a little darker and easier to judge DoF accurately.

Gridded focus screens are an aid in composition. They simply have a grid pattern on them to help the photographer align or position subjects in the composition by the grid.

Many older mid-range and pro end SLR/dSLR camera bodies have the ability to swap focus screens quickly and easily (e.g., my Canon 50D and 5DMkII do this), but these are mostly going the way of the dodo, because of a newer feature--the viewfinder LCD overlay (e.g., the Canon 5DMkIII, 7D, and 70D all have an LCD overlay and do not allow for interchangeable focus screens). Rather than having a physical focus screen that swaps out to do grid lines, an LCD panel is now in the viewfinder lightpath next to the focus screen, and can be used to turn grid lines and AF point displays on and off. Probably because of the possibility of damaging the wiring required for the LCD, most models of cameras that have an LCD overlay in the viewfinder do NOT offer the capability to interchange focus screens, although it's still physically possible to do so (i.e., the LCD overlay is usually physically separate from the focus screen, not integrated into it).

  • That's a shame about the newer dSLRs. I see definite value in LCD-based grid overlays, but removing the option to swap out for a precision matte (for example) doesn't seem like progress to me, particularly on what are otherwise pro/semipro bodies. Admittedly I'll use Live View for checking fine focus but this isn't always easy in bright light and no articulating screen (yes 5DII, I'm talking about you...). Sometimes you really need all the assistance a good screen can give, more so when using MF lenses. – Darkhausen Mar 6 '15 at 21:43
  • @Darkhausen The 5DII has user changeable focus screens and several are available from Canon as well as third party suppliers. – Michael C Mar 7 '15 at 0:48
  • Canon did include interchangeable focus screens for the newer 6D model. It will be interesting to see if any of their forthcoming newer high end bodies allow for user changeable focusing screens. – Michael C Mar 7 '15 at 0:49
  • @MichaelClark Of course, the 6D doesn't have the LCD overlay. It seems to be an either/or proposition, when we want it to be and. – inkista Mar 7 '15 at 2:08
  • @Darkhausen I just use the super-precision matte screen for the 5DMkII. Works about as well as my KatzEye for the 50D when I'm using my adapted Zuiko 50/1.2 wide open. – inkista Mar 7 '15 at 2:11
1

Most of the Canon EOS xD and xxD series (5D, 50D etc.) have user-exchangeable screens. The screens themselves are a matter of personal preference - I like the "architectural" screens with a grid pattern, handy for level horizons in landscapes and a must for working with tilt-shift lenses. Screens with splits are helpful for manual focusing, and fine-grain/precision screens are helpful for manual focusing in low light. It's all down to your dominant style of photography as to which will best suit your needs.

  • What is interesting is with my EF cameras I don't have a problem with manual focusing. I'll sometimes verify with auto focus and there won't be any adjustments and with split prism I feel like I'm always out of focus (even when focus to infinity). Is that just youthful eyes or do you think it is because I started on matte screens? – SailorCire Mar 6 '15 at 18:40
  • Sounds like youthful eyes to me - oh to be young again! Having said that, if you've a decent, bright viewfinder and you've set the dioptric correction properly then manual focusing shouldn't be a problem (MF is of course especially useful if you've an errant lens with back or front focus issues which can throw AF off target). I tend to use the finder for composing the shot (hence my liking for screens with grid markings) and if I'm not in a hurry I'll then use Live View on maximum magnification to confirm I've got the focus as I want it. – Darkhausen Mar 6 '15 at 19:54

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