If there's one weakness to shooting with the Pentax 67 cameras, well, besides the weight and film loading that takes some practice, it's the poor viewing screen.
Yes, it is sort of dim. But it's also dull. The contrast isn't great and the only reason it's fairly easy to focus with is because of the sheer size of the image.
So, I began a search to find a way to improve the focusing screen in my Pentax 67s.
Testing the Screens (Methodology)
I tested three bodies in a dark room using only a ring light lighting the subject at a fixed distance, all with the same lens (105mm 2.4, wide open), and all images were taken with the same camera and settings (1/160th at f/2.8, ISO 1600):
- A Pentax 67 with a microprism screen
- A Pentax 67 with a gridded matte screen
- A Pentax 67 with a Maxwell Hi-LUX Brilliant Matte screen
As a note, there are other Pentax 67 screens. Also, the Pentax 67ii has an improved screen over the 67, though I don't yet have the 67ii examples up. I have tested the 67ii microprism screen and have found that it is nearly as good as the Hi-LUX, with a slight edge the the Hi-LUX. As I find time, I'll also upload those photos of the 67ii screen.
The images you will see below are all RAW exported JPEG's. I did not do post-processing to any of them besides cropping. If in any image the subject appears closer, it is only due to cropping in post and not due to a change in the location of the Pentax 67's or the subject.
My Pentax 67 Focusing Journey
I was originally very attracted to the microprism screen because I thought using that and then recomposing would work well.
1. Recomposing at a shallow depth of field can cause the focus plan to move, leaving you with out of focus images.
2. It is near impossible to use recompose method on moving subjects.
So, I started focusing without the micropism. At this point, the microprism started becoming an annoyance.
I decided to try out my plain gridded matte screen, and to my surprise noticed that it was slightly brighter and provided a much more crisp image. Compared to the microprism screen, it makes it look very muddy.
Lastly, I decided to try the Maxwell Hi-LUX Matte screen. While Mr. Maxwell claims that the benefit of his screen is the contrast and optical clarity and NOT the brightness, I found both the latter and the former to be fantastic.
Maxwell Hi-LUX Screen Really Shines
In bright light, the Maxwell screen has a bit of an edge over the gridded matte, while completely demolishing the microprism screen.
But, in low light/shadows is where the Maxwell really shines. The microprism is a dark screen, and the gridded matte screen barely better. But the Maxwell is probably close to 2/3rds to a stop brighter than the others. That, coupled with its superb clarity makes it much easier to spot focus as the subject pops into focus.
If you don't know much about Bill Maxwell or his screens, you might be missing out. He's a very friendly chap (and his screens are pretty accommodating as well). Out of all his screens for the Pentax 67, he'll heartily recommend the Hi-LUX Brilliant Matte screen for those that use "shallow depth of field and strong off-center composition".
My Only Complaint
The Hi-LUX Brilliant Matte screen is VERY clear. Almost so clear that it is sometimes a little tricky to tell exactly what's in focus when in very bright, harsh-light conditions like outdoors on a sunny day. Now, this is in comparison to the gridded matte screen. The gridded matte is a dull screen, but when something is in focus, it's obviously not near as dull as everything else around it. But, when it gets dark, the gridded matte gets pretty tough to really tell what's going on.
So, this isn't really so much of a complaint, as something that may need some getting-used-to if your more familiar with the Pentax 67's darker screens. My experience is just that, in bright light, the gridded matte popped just a tad bit more for me when compared to the Hi-LUX.
A Word On the Gridded Matte vs the Microprism
The gridded matte screen performs so much better than the microprism. Unless you're doing mainly still life and almost always center compose, I highly recommend the matte over the microprism. If you're not wanting to invest in something like a Maxwell screen due to various reasons, then the gridded matte is worlds better than the microprism.
But Of Course, The Winner Is...
So, in conclusion, the Maxwell Hi-LUX is the best out of these three screens. I have also now tested the 67ii screen and can confirm that it is ALMOST as good/clear/contrasty as the Hi-LUX, with a slight and sublte clarity/brightness advantage to the Hi-LUX.
If you'd like to know more about Maxwell Precision Optics and their focusing screens for various cameras including the Pentax 67, visit the Maxwell Precision Facebook page, email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call them at (770) 939-6644.