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09-19-2018, 01:09 PM   #1
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Using a film era focusing screen in an APS-C DSLR

After my recent purchase of an 85mm f/1.4 manual focus lens, I have had some hassles with focusing. The matte focus screen fitted by Pentax is of little use. It was designed to work with slow(ish) zoom lenses. Live view helps, but it not much help outdoors. At this point somebody might suggest one of those loupe hood things that fit over the screen, but they look weird and are bulky. Not cheap either. I would rather buy some more glass.


As nothing is quite the same as looking through an optical viewfinder, my thoughts have turned to replacing the focusing screen. Pentax do offer a few but they just seem to be the same thing with different lines etched on them, not much use for my use case. At this point somebody might suggest ordering one from Taiwan and that would be a good plan. The cost is a bit of an issue. I would rather buy glass or something like a used K-3. One of those screens would cost more than I paid for the K-x that I will put it into.

I do have three (count them) broken film cameras. Each one of them has a very nice split image focusing screen inside, just asking for a second life in a DSLR. The catch is that they are too big and have to cut down to fit. The thought fills me with a bit of apprehension. It looks easy enough. Make some measurements, score lines on the screen and snap off. Looks easy, what could go wrong?


Of course the screen has to be taken out of the old camera first. The one broken camera is an MX, so the screen will just pop out. The other two will need some disassembly to extract the screen, but the things are beyond repair so there is no need for any reassembly afterwards.


The question is, will it work? The thickness of the old school screen might not match the modern one. Will this make it unusable? Can one make up a sort of shim to compensate? That sounds tricky. Apparently, spot metering will no longer work with a split screen prism thingy in the middle of the viewfinder but I can live with that. If the meter reading is off, I can live with that as well. Hopefully it will be consistent but it is hard to find information on this.


Has anybody tried this and how did it work out? For the record, I have asked my camera repair guy but he wasn't willing to take this on. There might be a good reason for that...

09-19-2018, 02:10 PM   #2
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You need to find out from someone who has done the same with your camera to be certain. yes it may work with shims, but there is the chance that the old screen is just too thick for the carrier.

Not always an ideal solution but have you tried Live View at 100% zoom. That is how I focus my manual focus glass on the K1 if possible. Much more accurate than a split prism in my view.
09-19-2018, 02:44 PM   #3
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$75 USD for a k3 (Nikon screen cut down to the k-x) @ Focusing Screen

https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/6-pentax-dslr-discussion/285300-diy-prec...us-screen.html
09-19-2018, 04:23 PM - 1 Like   #4
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There's been a fair bit of discussion on these forums:
site:www.pentaxforums.com cut down focus screen - Google Search

09-19-2018, 05:31 PM - 1 Like   #5
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Hey I feel your pain I have had two out of three Pentax Dslrs and that had focussing screens that were terrible with my 1.2/50m Pentax-A due to, a)Focus screens made for looking through and not actually using to focus and b)Wildly out of calibration for MF.. I used a Canon 5d EEs screen for one and a Maxxum 7000 35mm film camera screen for the other, Both ground down.
Check out The video I made on how to do it..I used a K5 for the video but it is the same process with the K3 even same size screen so you can use the template I made.

Last edited by Sliver-Surfer; 09-19-2018 at 05:36 PM.
09-22-2018, 12:39 PM - 1 Like   #6
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Thanks for the input, guys. I have now figured out how to enlarge the live view on my K-x. Press the INFO button, duh. Should have read the manual a long time ago. It is a little slow but it works wonders. I got the chance to try it out at a community theater last night and I got some good shots.

Putting a split image into my K200D still looks like a good idea. Silver Surfer's method of grinding down the screen seems more doable than scoring lines and snapping the glass.
09-22-2018, 02:19 PM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by Wasp Quote
Thanks for the input, guys. I have now figured out how to enlarge the live view on my K-x. Press the INFO button, duh. Should have read the manual a long time ago. It is a little slow but it works wonders. I got the chance to try it out at a community theater last night and I got some good shots.

Putting a split image into my K200D still looks like a good idea. Silver Surfer's method of grinding down the screen seems more doable than scoring lines and snapping the glass.
Use film era split screens the new ones are not as accurate
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