View Full Version : In Praise of the Maxwell Screen

Jeff Moore
7-Nov-2005, 12:08
In the approximately 10 years I have been shooting LF, other than the Boss screen, I think I have tried most of the available ground glass options, including the original that came in my Wisner Expedition, the Beattie Intenscreen and most recently the Satin Snow. For one reason or another I found each of them lacking. (I would have to say however, that in terms of value for the money the Satin Snow is quite good.)

A few weeks ago I purchased a Maxwell screen. I was hesitant for quite a while on this purchase because it is quite expensive. But eventually I decided to bite the bullet and go for it.

Prior to last week, I haven't had time for any photography since I installed the Maxwell screen and was anxious to try it out. I just returned from a 7-day road trip of camping and photographing, travelling first to the mountains of West Virginia, then across over into Virginia, driving the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway down to North Carolina with several side trips along the way.

With respect to the Maxwell screen, all I can say is, "Wow!" This screen is, by a wide margin, the best ground glass option that I have tried. The off-axis viewing is much better than I expected and much better than anything I have previously used, with very little light fall-off in the corners. For the first time, using a 6x Silvestri loupe, I was able to stop down to f/32 and check focus right up into the corners and actually see something. The screen is so bright it was as if an LCD had been installed in my camera.

Needless to say, I love the Maxwell screen and am quite confident I have purchased my last groung glass/fresnel option. Yes, it is expensive; but for me, at least, it is very much worth every penny.

Leonard Evens
7-Nov-2005, 12:29
My feelings exactly.

I also like the fact that the Fresnel rulings don't interfere with focusing even with a fairly high power loupe.

Bruce Watson
7-Nov-2005, 12:58
Yes. I've got one on my Toho. It really works well, and with a surprising range of lenses. I thought I might have trouble on either end, but it works well for me from 80mm out to 360mm. As Mr. Moore says, worth every penny.

Danny Burk
7-Nov-2005, 15:07
Absolutely agreed. I've used a Maxwell screen for about 4 years and it's unquestionably the best I've seen. I recommend them highly to my LF workshop participants, and they've been as pleased as I am. I also had Bill treat the original GG in my Fuji GX680, which added about 2 stops to its brightness level...finally, it became easy to focus on low-light macro subjects!

Danny Burk www.dannyburk.com

Jeff Moore
7-Nov-2005, 15:09
Forgot to mention, my lenses range from a Super Angulon XL 58/5.6 out to the Nikon 450/9. I was really surprised at the performance with the 58. When I spoke to Mr. Maxwell, he informed me that he makes a screen specifically for wide angle, but after putting it through the paces over the past week I don't see the need for it. Besides, it would require the addition of an extra back for my Wisner and I don't like the prospects of trying to get one of those given the current state of affairs at Wisner.

Brian Ellis
7-Nov-2005, 22:07
I agree. I think I've used them all - Fresnels on two Ebony cameras and a Tachihara, Linhof Super Screen, plain ground glass, Beattie, and BosScreens on three or four different cameras. I like the BosScreen and it does cost about $100 less than the Maxwell but the Maxwell is the best of the bunch IMHO and well worth the cost. I can put an 80mm lens on the camera and see everything perfectly from edge to edge with virtually no light fall off. Plus things "pop" into focus almost as well as with a plain ground glass.

Jim Ewins
7-Nov-2005, 22:20
Where can these Maxwell Screens be obtained?

Jeff Moore
8-Nov-2005, 01:29
Maxwell Precision Optics,
P.O. Box 33146,
Decatur, GA 30033-0146

Phone: 404-244-0095

E-mail: maxwellprecisionoptics@toast.net

Jeffrey Sipress
8-Nov-2005, 13:15
Yes, they sure are good. And if you want to be sure that they are good, just ask Bill Maxwell. He'll tell you all about it, and for some time, too.

Mike Kovacs
8-Nov-2005, 16:21
Just curious what the price is for a 4x5 screen? Bill did talk my ear off when I bought one for my Rolleiflex TLR (SUPERB) but what a screen.

From experience, don't email, call. If he doesn't answer, leave a message and he will return your call. He often leaves emails unanswered.

Brian Ellis
8-Nov-2005, 17:56
"Just curious what the price is for a 4x5 screen?"

I believe my 4x5 screen purchased about ten months ago was around $250.

Peter Collins
8-Nov-2005, 18:14
Gulp, gag, splutter, Mr. Ellis! $250!! I will up and go to my basement, but not to the darkroom. Instead I will master the art of making copies of $100 bills....

8-Nov-2005, 21:06
I tried one for my VX125, but the factory fresnel was equally as good, or better. Of course you can't tell Bill Maxwell this, or he will explain why you are wrong? But he does offer refunds, which he did on time...

Bernard Languillier
9-Nov-2005, 19:22
Another vote for Maxwell sceens! :-)

I have been using one on my Ebony 45SU for some time, with assymetrical tilt and roll film back markings on, and it is a joy to use!

My lens set-up goes from Schneider 58 mm to Nikon 300 f9, and it covers the whole range.

It is still a bit dark with the 58 mm when shooting in EV7-8 conditions (like I did this past weekend), but is is definitely usable and I believe that no other screen would do better.

I find them to be significantly better than the original Ebony screen with Fresnel. I'll show it to the Ebony guys next time I meet up with them in Tokyo.

Highly Recommended as far as I am concerned.


Brian Sims
10-Nov-2005, 00:39
This is the first time I've seen such a strong consensus on a product recommendation. Usually there is a raging battle over competing brands (perhaps that is partially due to a certain argumentative characteristic of the "dominant demographic" of this group). Whatever the cause, I would like to propose a new use for this group forum: Anytime there is this kind of consensus on a product, one of us members offers to negotiate a group purchase discount. For example, if we can deliver a list of 20-30 orders we would get a 15-20% discount. A number of details would have to be worked out for this to work for us and for the vendors. I am not suggesting something a formal as a buying club--just a process of delivering a bunch of customers to a vendor in exchange for a good deal. What do you think?

Matt Clara
14-Nov-2005, 14:19

unfortunately, he changes his prices often enough I couldn't keep up with him, so I simply removed prices from the listing. My observations have been, for 35mm, his screens are brighter, but so smooth that focusing on fine detail can be difficult; for medium-format, I was amazed at the difference just having my RB67 screen enhanced, and my Rollei 6008i screen is a real beauty, too, though not a lot better than the screen that came with the Rollei; for large-format I see a difference, but I'm not blown away by it. Then again, I am a large-format newbie, and hate how difficult it is to compose and focus on _any_ screen.

John Brownlow
2-Feb-2006, 17:54
I ordered a pair of screens from Bill in Novemeber... one for my SL66 and one for the Master Technika... found him very affable and easy to deal with and much less verbose than I had been led to believe. The screens took a bit longer to arrive than he indicated... 2-3 weeks turned into 2 months but then again there was the Xmas holiday in between. Anyhoo, I was just going to pick up the phone and hurry them along when they arrived in the mail, exquisitely packed and presented.

I fit them both easily. The 4x5 one came with extra hardware to fit it to the Linhof back, very nicely thought out.

As to the screens, both times I finally looked through them I literally exclaimed out loud 'holy shit!' because they are *so* bright... I'd say a good 2 to 2.5 stops improvement. They are very, very easy to focus with.

The only issue I have at all is with the fresnel on the 4x5 one which leads to a slight doubling of the image at the edges when I am using a 90mm lens. I know he has a 'wideangle' fresnel available for the 4x5 so I expect the 90 is on the cusp for this screen. It is not at all problematic in terms of using the screen though.

They are expensive but probably the most significant upgrade I have ever made to a camera. Highly recommended.

10-Apr-2008, 05:20
Hi, I still have a basic question: do you speak about the groundglas itself or do you speak about the Fresnel? Which one delivers the big improvement?


Sal Santamaura
10-Apr-2008, 06:24
Hi, I still have a basic question: do you speak about the groundglas itself or do you speak about the Fresnel? Which one delivers the big improvement?

Torsten4x5 Maxwell screens discussed in this thread, as well as Bill's 5x7 screen, are acrylic combination devices with a frosted surface facing the lens and fresnel rings facing the photographer's eyes. There's a cover glass between the screen and photographer, either plain or with markings on it.

For 8x10, Bill doesn't feel acrylic can stay flat enough without support, so he sells only a fresnel. One can either place it between an actual sheet of ground glass and the photographer's eyes or between the lens and the ground glass. In the latter case, one must mill out the camera back to maintain proper focus registration. Advantage of the former configuration is that no camera modification is necessary, save bending a few clips. However, the (smooth) acrylic surface is then exposed to damage from loupes and other impact/scratching.

On axis, using a Pentax digital spot meter, I've measure a brightness difference of 1/3 stop between the 4x5 Maxwell screen (Hi Lux 4.7) and a combination of 8x10 Satin Snow glass + Maxwell Fresnel 10.5. The smaller screen was brighter.

10-Apr-2008, 09:31
Hi , very interesting to read your posting!

Bill explained me that there is also a special ground glas treated with the HiLux procedure. He also told me, that this gg enhances by a coefficient 10 the transparency, but does not facilitate the viewing (it becomes more angle dependent if I understood him well). What would in your opinion be the best solution?

I have a Canham with it's traditional groundglas.



Gem Singer
10-Apr-2008, 10:48
Hi Torsten,

In IMHO, the best solution would be to purchase a genuine Canham Fresnel for your Canham camera.

Keith Canham advised me that his Fresnel screens are made by the same people that make Maxwell's screens.

I use genuine Canham Fresnels for my 8X10, 5X7, and 4X5 Canham backs, and they out- perform all of the brightening screens i have used in the past.

Not inexpensive, but worth the price.

Sal Santamaura
10-Apr-2008, 11:01
Hi , very interesting to read your posting!

Bill explained me that there is also a special ground glas treated with the HiLux procedure. He also told me, that this gg enhances by a coefficient 10 the transparency, but does not facilitate the viewing (it becomes more angle dependent if I understood him well). What would in your opinion be the best solution?

I have a Canham with it's traditional groundglas.


TorstenTorsten, I've only handled a Canham once, and that was in a store to check out its opening/closing and rigidity. I didn't pay much attention to the groundglass. However, many reports here and elsewhere say that the Canham 4x5 and 5x7 fresnel screens are nearly as good as a Maxwell. For all I know they could even be Maxwell screens. If you have one of those, there might be little or no improvement.

If you instead have just a plain ground glass, then I'd definitely suggest going with a HiLux 4.7 screen / cover glass rather than treating your ground glass. Bill has been definite that viewing angle becomes much more restricted with a treated glass, which makes sense. He would basically be coating the ground side of your glass with something to reduce the degree that it diffuses the image, thereby making the hot spot worse.

Brightness is important but, in my opinion, not the only factor to consider. A balanced approach should be taken to brightness, contrast and how even the viewing image is.

Kevin Crisp
10-Apr-2008, 11:39
When I ordered my first gg from Maxwell, for an SL66, he asked what other cameras I had. He said his would be a great improvement to a 5X7 Deardorff, which was true. On the Canham he said not to bother, the factory one was excellent. They do look identical.

Rick Moore
10-Apr-2008, 15:49
I've always thought the screen on my 8x10 Canham with the Canham fresnel was quite bright, now I know why. The fresnel is very fine-grained and works reasonably well with my 120mm/f14 Berthiot Perigraphe at the short end.

10-Apr-2008, 16:56
IMHO, the Arca Swiss screen is pretty bright straight out of the box... does anyone know how much brighter the Maxwell screens might be in comparison?



10-Apr-2008, 17:42
I have a newer Arca 8x10 with the excellent Arca gg and fresnel, and I recently installed a 5x7 Maxwell screen in a Linhoff. I can't tell much difference, using the same lenses--they are both excellent screens.

Dave Parker
10-Apr-2008, 17:52
Folks, there are a lot of good screens out there, I own most of them, but I am hear to tell you, there is NO silver bullet, every screen is going to have its faults or short comings...Bill Probably makes just about the best you can get, I highly recommend his screens...but they do come at a price, If you order one, I think you will be very happy with it, it does improve the view, but I have noticed using different screens, there can be trade offs..but again, if I am recommending an enhanced screen, it is always a Maxwell, you have to decide what you want, what you are shooting and how much you are willing compromise, you are never going to find a TV in the back of the camera..

Dave Parker
Satin Snow Ground Glass

10-Apr-2008, 18:26
I have a newer Arca 8x10 with the excellent Arca gg and fresnel, and I recently installed a 5x7 Maxwell screen in a Linhoff. I can't tell much difference, using the same lenses--they are both excellent screens.

Hi Eric,

Thanks for the input... I find the Arca glass quite a bit brighter than the ones in my old Master Technika and Dorffs and that's why I haven't replaced it.

Hi Dave,

The Dorff still has your glass in it and the MT has moved on to new owners (with your glass in it.) :)


Peter De Smidt
10-Apr-2008, 18:29
I'm going to jump on the bandwagon. I have a Maxwell screen in my Sinar. I love it.

Nathan Potter
10-Apr-2008, 18:35
If one chose to use a Maxwell screen by itself (No Fresnel or clear glass) I would guess that the acrylic side away from the image plane would become readily scratched from loupe use. I wonder if Maxwell could coat the loupe side with silicon dioxide as is done with plastic eyeglasses thus drastically increasing the scratch resistance? Anyone know someting about this?

Nate Potter

Sal Santamaura
11-Apr-2008, 08:48
If one chose to use a Maxwell screen by itself (No Fresnel or clear glass)...Please explain what you mean by this. Maxwell's screens are either a single-piece acrylic with frosting on one side and fresnel rings on the other -- intended for use with a cover glass -- or, in the larger size, simply a fresnel. I am unaware of any Maxell screen that fits your question.

12-Apr-2008, 14:04
I have a Maxwell in my Busch Pressman and am very pleased with it.
However, I had to use a clear piece of plastic sheet protector rather than the cover glass due to space considerations. My first screen was slightly bowed so Bill exchanged it for a flat one. (Normally the slight bowing would be corrected by the ground glass.)

Bill once told me that there is usually a trade off between ultimate brightness of the screen and contrast of the image which helps in focusing. The brighter the screen the less the contrast which makes it harder to focus. I dunno.

Andrew ren
18-Jul-2008, 08:00
I bought 2 "Maxwell"s
first one is for my rollei 28f. it's a fine screen.
then I went ahead ordered a 69 screen for my Linhof23. I asked him to cut a 6x7 frame on the screen. and ship it to Paul Ebel, who is going to align my Super rollex backs to the new screen.
When I got everything back from Paul, I surprisingly found out that the 6x7 frame was cut in double lines, I mean, on the matte side, it's 60x72, which is the right size for Linhof 67 backs, but for the fresnel side, it's a bit larger, it's quite annoying. so I called Paul, he told me that it's like that when he got the screen from Bill. then I called Bill, as soon as I started talking about the "problem", he got very inpatient right away, say"what do you want?! no problem on my side, there won't be a single scratch..." after hearing that, I said thanks, and hang up the phone. I knew I am wasting my time.
also, the new "Maxwell" gave me a big hotspot on my Planar 100/2.8, need to dance around to see the whole image.

I just ordered a Canham 5x7 fresnel kit from Keith yesterday. NO need to deal with Bill any more.

19-Jul-2008, 04:43
Sorry if I am a little slow on understanding:

on both backs of my SINAR (4x5 and 8x10) I have a screen with engraved lines facing the lens and an additional fresnel screen facing the photographer.

Which one is replaced by the Maxwell screen? Or are they both replaced?

If the front one or both are replaced, how do I get the raster lines and the reference lines for asymetrical movements?



Andrew ren
19-Jul-2008, 12:03

I think the "a screen with engraved lines" is the original gg.

you can take both screens off, put the new Fresnel on. and might need a glass with lines on top it(facing your eyes) to get reference and protect the Fresnel.