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Thread: Focusing, glasses, & LF

  1. #1
    Large Format Curious
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    May 2018
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    Focusing, glasses, & LF

    I've been having a lot of fun with my "new" 4x5, but one thing has been bothering me. I find it really hard to focus, even to see clearly when working with the groundglass.

    I'm nearsighted and have astigmatism, and normally wear glasses. Ideally I prefer to work without glasses, but have trouble finding the sweet spot where I can see the GG clearly and work on composition and plane of sharpness.

    First thing I need to do is get a dark cloth, I realize now how much it will help increase contrast and make it easier to see. Because of my vision, I want to keep my face 30-50cm away from the GG in order to see clearly, further when wearing glasses.

    Of course when using a loupe I do need to wear glasses (or so I've been told, and it seems to bear out).

    Because of this I wanted to solicit experiences and suggestions as how others deal with failing eyesight and working in LF.

    I notice that with MF I end up using the loupe on the waist level finder more and more often the last few years. It's not ideal, but I can still see the whole frame and both compose and focus, although I prefer using the waist level finder alone when I'm able to, I find it results in better compositions and timing of the shot, as I can really see the whole situation in front of me in a way I can't with the loupe.

    Thanks for any ideas and suggestions.

  2. #2

    Join Date
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    Re: Focusing, glasses, & LF

    Hello from France!

    I've been a regular user of MF cameras with waist-level finders since several decades, and a happy user of a LF view camera since about 20 years now.
    Being also short-sighted with astigmatism, I also have to keep my glasses on for focusing.
    Actually I had no problem accommodating in the past, then, with ageeing, happened what is not unexpected i.e. I'm no longer able to accommodate.
    I was hard-pressed by friends and advertising to use what we call in France "progressive glasses", but I resisted and I routinely use 2 pairs of "fix-focus" glasses, one for reading (set-up for 30-40 cm / 12-16") and one for long distances.

    For viewing the ground glass on a LF camera without a loupe, the "short distance" glasses work fine for me.

    I sometimes use a loupe. There have been many discussions here on the proper magnification to choose, eventually I use a 4x loupe designed for looking at 35 mm negatives, the Rodenstock 4x.
    I also have a 4x "Horizon" Russian loupe covering the 6x6 format, this loupe has an adjustable eyepiece.
    Regarding loupes, besides magnification and possibilities to adjust the eyepiece, the main feature to check is the actual field that you can see with your eye-glasses on. Not all loupes of the same (say: 4X) magnification offer the same field of view when using eye-glasses. For example I once bought a loupe supposed to cover the 6x7 format. Poorly designed, It as almost unusable for me with my eyeglasses on, I re-sold it immediately to a friend who does not need glasses.
    Same issue with the 1st generation of Linhof "multi-focal" viewfinders, I bought one, but re-sold it soon, since I was not able to see the whole field. Later generations of Linhof viewfinders have solved the problem.

    With a loupe equipped with an adjustable eyepiece, or an adjustable distance between the loupe and the base, I can always properly adjust for either of my eye-glasses, either the "short distance" or the 'long distance".
    I also use on a regular basis a 2X reflex viewfinder for my 6x9 and 4x5" view camera. With this relatively low-magnification viewer, my "short distance" glasses work fine.

  3. #3
    Ed Freniere
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    Re: Focusing, glasses, & LF

    I am very nearsighted, too (about -5 diopter) with a little astigmatism in my left eye. I am also in my 60s, so I have little to no accommodation left. I use Toyo 8x10 and Toyo 4x5 field cameras. The 8x10 has a beautiful, finely ground groundglass and no Fresnel lens. The 4x5 has a coarser groundglass and a Fresnel lens. I find that I can focus the 8x10 easily and precisely by removing my glasses. With the 4x5, I find I must use a loupe (with my glasses on) and even then I struggle to find best focus. My theory is that in order to produce a more directional scattering pattern that can then be focused by the Fresnel lens and thus brighter viewing, the 4x5 groundglass has a coarser grind. Anyway, the combination produces a very mushy-looking image to my eye, and makes it an unpleasant experience to focus, unlike the 8x10, which is a thing of beauty. One of these days I will replace the 4x5 groundglass/Fresnel set with a finer grind groundglass to see how it works out.

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Oct 2015
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    800

    Re: Focusing, glasses, & LF

    I need reading glasses for close focusing. I use a pair of magnifying glasses (the ones you can find cheaply at many merchants) to compose and focus on both 4x5 and 8x10. Works great! You could investigate different groundglass/fresnel combos or different makers of groundglass. The trade off with standard groundglass is balancing brightness against contrast. Both parameters help you to focus easier, but... In general, brighter glass = less contrast; while more contrast = reduced brightness.

  5. #5
    Large Format Curious
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    Re: Focusing, glasses, & LF

    Thanks, I'll look into some reading glasses and see if they help.

    The camera is an Arca Swiss F-field metric, reasonably new. The ground glass seems pretty bright and contrasty, just not enough when I actually want to do critical focus with it. Never having used a LF camera before, I don't really have anything to compare with. It has an integrated fresnel. I'm sure a dark cloth will help the contrast and brightness.

  6. #6

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    Re: Focusing, glasses, & LF

    I use flip-up magnifiers on my normal prescription glasses for focusing (and also for fine work like crimping network cables!). The do not replace a good loupe with my prescription glasses for critical stuff, but they get me pretty close. They are also handy for seeing shutter settings just in front of my nose 8-)

    The nice thing about flip-ups is that I can switch to normal distance vision quickly.

    I use ones from fishermaneyewear.com, but there should be alternatives.

  7. #7

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    Re: Focusing, glasses, & LF

    6X6,

    I think you'll find, like I did, that you need some kind of weaker magnification for general viewing/composing and then something stronger for fine focusing.

    I use reading glasses or flip-down 4x magnifiers attached to my progressives for general viewing. Something similar will certainly work for you. The exact strength you'll need depends on your eyesight and what you like as a comfortable working distance. Get a bunch of cheap reading glasses from your local drugstore and try them out. Once you have found the right diopter correction, you may even want a pair of reading glasses made in that strength with additional correction for your astigmatism. My astigmatism isn't bad enough that I can't get by with over-the-counter readers.

    As an aside: When in the field, I wear my "hiking glasses" with a neck strap so I can take them off and simply let them hang, allowing me to don the reading glasses easily (which I carry in a small pocket in my photo vest). However, when not wearing a neck strap, I prefer to carry my 4x clip-on, flip-down glasses, which slip easily into a shirt pocket. Once attached to my glasses, I flip them down for viewing/composing and back up to view the scene itself.

    On to the next part: I've found that reading glasses get me nowhere close to correctly focused. For that, I need a loupe or other stronger magnifier. I've used loupes up to 8x. My preference now is for a hand-held collapsible 5x magnifier. At any rate, you'll likely need something similar. Whether or not you decide to use your stronger magnifier/loupe with your glasses is up to you. If you get one that has a wide enough viewing angle, then using glasses is easy. I switch between focusing with and without my glasses. Sometimes I use the magnifier together with both my progressives and the flip-down readers. Just keep in mind that you need to focus on the frosted surface of the ground glass where the image is formed. Any way you can accomplish that is just fine.

    Another tip: I am spending less and less time under the darkcloth these days. I find that a viewing frame works very well as a compositional aid, even indicating which lens I should use (close to your eye = wider lens and vice-versa; I'm rarely wrong with my first lens choice these days and if so, then only one focal length away in my assortment). As for choosing the plane of sharp focus and applying movements: I find it helpful to visualize where I want the plane of sharp focus in the scene itself, and then choose two or three focus points. Only then do I go under the darkcloth and start fine focusing. My point here is that the more work you can do in your head and by viewing the scene without the ground glass, the easier your task of focusing and applying movements will be.

    And, do get a darkcloth

    Best,

    Doremus

  8. #8

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    Re: Focusing, glasses, & LF

    I have dreadful eye sight. All the advice you've received is really solid so I'll just add a couple small points.

    * Not all loupes are created equally. For example, if you ask for favourite loupe many will respond Toyo 3.6x. I've tried one, and it's well made and probably great for many people. But it didn't work with my eyesight. To be able to see anything I had to lift it off the glass a bit and move it in and out. Very fiddly. I made a loupe out of a couple lens elements I bought, and it works better for me. You may find yourself going through several loupes before you find one you like.

    * Not all ground glass is created equally, and not all fresnel lenses work the same. I have a Wista 45VX that has a fresnel lens and ground glass combination that is very bright in one portion at a time. With my bad eyesight I find it very hard to view. I also have a Toyo D45M with a much finger fresnel lens. The overall image is definitely dimmer than the Wista, but I can see more of it at once (which is a big help with my eyesight). So you may have to try different cameras and viewing systems to find something that works for you.

  9. #9

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    Re: Focusing, glasses, & LF

    +1 what Doremus wrote about a viewing frame.

    I made mine out of 2mm birch plywood sold by Michael's, the craft store. I made mine full size; the opening is 4x5, which is what I shoot. Full size, and closing one eye, gives me exactly the lens with the focal length for the shot. That distance is the distance between my eye and the viewing frame.

    A viewing frame also tells me where to set up the tripod and camera. It's a lot easier to walk around with my viewing frame, which weighs less than an ounce (<~30g) to find the place where there is a photograph than to set up the camera and move it around.
    Peter Collins

    On the intent of the First Amendment: The press was to serve the governed, not the governors --Opinion, Hugo Black, Judge, Supreme Court, 1971 re the "Pentagon Papers."

  10. #10

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    Re: Focusing, glasses, & LF

    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Collins View Post
    +1 what Doremus wrote about a viewing frame.

    I made mine out of 2mm birch plywood sold by Michael's, the craft store. I made mine full size; the opening is 4x5, which is what I shoot. Full size, and closing one eye, gives me exactly the lens with the focal length for the shot. That distance is the distance between my eye and the viewing frame.

    A viewing frame also tells me where to set up the tripod and camera. It's a lot easier to walk around with my viewing frame, which weighs less than an ounce (<~30g) to find the place where there is a photograph than to set up the camera and move it around.
    Even easier, and pocketable, to use a good variable finder like the Linhof. It also corrects frame size as you change the distant ring.

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