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focusing on DSLR LCD monitor


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#1 tom lombard

tom lombard
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Posted 16 May 2017 - 03:46 PM

I saw comments on a thread about focusing on film cameras using distance measurements as it was more reliable than a monitor for sure and viewfinders (at least on less than top quality cameras) can still be difficult to focus accurately.  That made me wonder about focus quality on LCD monitors on the backs of DSLRs (like my Canon T3i for example) as opposed to looking thru the eyepiece.  I'm old school, 35mm stills and looking thru the eyepiece feels more natural.  I also find that the LCD monitor requires that I deal with sunlight and glasses.  But I see so many rigs & people shooting that seem to revolve around using the LCD monitor or an external monitor.  Sunlight & glasses aside, am I really compromising my focusing by using that LCD monitor on the back of my DSLR rather than using the eyepiece?  I will be doing some shooting next weekend with that Canon and with a Bolex EL to try out a few things for comparison & educational purposes.  Thank, Tom


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#2 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 16 May 2017 - 07:02 PM

There are at least two problems with using the optical viewfinder in a DSLR.

One, you can't record video or even see a video image with the mirror down. So at best you would use the viewfinder to pre-focus and then rely on the video image while actually shooting. So you would still need to rely on a monitor or viewfinder while actually shooting, and since focus usually needs to be adjusted dynamically during a shot, and because most autofocus lenses don't have repeatable accurate focus marks, your pre-focusing would be somewhat useless.

Two, the viewfinder system (specifically the ground glass) in a lot of modern DSLRs is not really optimized for focusing by eye. They are optimized for brightness and visible autofocus points, the texture of the glass is too fine and is usually missing a split-level rangefinder patch. Personally, I find it difficult to see focus with these ground glasses in my 7D and 5D Mk3. Even with an aftermarket ground glass for the latter, I can still see focus much better in my old Pentax MX and Hasselblad 501C.

On the other hand, the LCD screen on the back of the camera is also a compromise as they are usually low resolution and poorly positioned to boot.

My recommendation with DSLRs is to get an aftermarket electronic viewfinder with peaking to monitor the HDMI signal. I use a Cineroid Retina viewfinder and with the peaking turned up it is really easy to see focus. Plus, you don't have to deal with monitor glare outdoors. There also also newer viewfinders like the Zacuto Graticle out there that are full HD or nearly so and should be even better.
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