Nikon F5 focusing screen swap with F3 screen

Items needed:

•    Nikon F5 non/EC-B focusing screen (see below for details)
•    Nikon F3 focusing screen of your choice (see below for details)
•    Small screwdriver (#00 Phillips seems to work best, magnetic tip is highly reccomended)
•    A clean dust free work surface
•    Either cotton gloves or surgical gloves
•    Tweezers (optional)

Pros:

•    Much brighter focusing screen compared to stock EC-B or any of the other F5 screens.
•    Easier to focus with manual focus lenses with several screens from F3
•    Split Prism (K-type) screen that was not available on the F5
•    Several other screen options not available on the F5
•    F5 screens are hard to find so this allows you to find screens easier.
•    AF performance is not affected.

Cons:

•    You will lose the AF indicator spots (boxes) and the glowing indicators. Actual AF performance is NOT affected.
•    Metering MAY be affected in SPOT metering if certain screens are used (not verified).
•    You will need to carefully take apart both an F5 and a F3 screen to swap them out. Small manual labor.

If you want to skip the following long winded reason why you want to do this and go directly to the guide then click here.

Let me start of this with a single question and answer: Why would I want to do this?

If you own a Nikon F5 then you know what an awesome camera it is. If you own auto-focus (AF) lenses then you know that it is just as fast as any of the modern DSLR. Since it’s a film camera then you can use pretty much any Nikon mount lens out there (a few exceptions that I will not go into details here).

Although the F5 is the second generation professional level AF film camera (F4 is the first but Nikon did make other AF consumer film cameras at the time) it is the first one that Nikon began focusing (no pun intended) on AF and not so much on the legacy MF lenses. The first sign was the mount that excluded some older lenses unless you sent it in for modification. The second sign was the exclusion of a K-type (split prism) focusing screen. They didn’t even make one for the F5. On the F4 there was one available but it was almost impossible to find. The remaining focusing screens were mostly AF centric. It’s a shame really, since the F5 has one of the easiest Finder to remove and the screens a bit easier to remove than the F3/F4.

You may be asking why is this such a big deal? Well, since Nikon began their AF centric conversion of their bodies they began to lose focus (yes, another unintended pun) on their user base that still had plenty of MF lenses and/or love to use them over AF lenses.

If you fall on that MF user base then you know that MF lenses are not the easiest to use on the AF bodies. Yes, the AF bodies have focus confirmation indicators and/or rangefinder indicators but those are not as fast, or as accurate, as using the ground glass focusing screen on those older MF only cameras.

Let’s talk about those older MF bodies and their focusing screens. If you have ever picked up a Nikon F3 with a K-type (red-dot) screen and a F5 with the stock EC-B screen and put the same exact lens lens (let’s say the Nikon 85mm f/1.8 D) on both and compared them side by side then you know what I am talking about. If you don’t then let me shatter your world. The F3 will be like looking through an open window with absolutely no obstruction and bright as day. If you pick up the F5 then you will see that not only is the window closed but there may be a bug screen in the way. I might be exaggerating a bit but there is a huge difference. If I had to guess I would say that the difference is up to or over 1-stop of light difference.

The difference is dramatic but most people don’t realize it since few still shoot the old F3’s or are too young to remember them. This is the one thing that I first noticed when I started using DLSRs. “Why are the viewfinders so freaking dark?” It’s not that they are dark but the screens are darker.

So that being said,

Here we go:

You will need two screens for a swap. I call them the “frame donor” (F5) and the “screen donor” (F3). The Screen donor is the F3 screen that will go into the frame donor that will eventually go into the F5.

This is very important… the F5 frame donor screen CANNOT be a EC-B screen. This is the screen that comes with the F5 from the factory. The frame is completely different from all the other F5 screens and will not accept any other donor screens. Don’t even try it or you will hate yourself afterwards.

You do not want to use these types of screens. Note the non-red-dot K-style screen and the EC-B cannot accept donor screens.
Nikon F5 J-type screen (frame donor)

You will need any other F5 screen for the “frame donor” and I always use the J-type. Why that one? It’s the easiest one to find in brand-new unopened condition from several camera shops and they are running for about $12 to $25 each. I still buy mine from Focus Camera either on eBay or from their website (I am not affiliated with them in any way but they are the cheapest price around and I am cheap). You can use any other F5 screen frame as long as it is not the EC-B but I have not tested all of them so just stick with the cheapest and the one I have tried and know that works.

The F3 “screen donor” is a bit more tricky. Nikon made 23 different styles for the F3 so you have lots to choose from. I personally stick with the K-style because that is what I am most used to. But any of the other 22 screens should work depending on what you need.

Nikon F3 K-type (red-dot) screen (screen donor)

BUT…. There is one caveat. Nikon changed their manufacturing sometime in the late-80’s-mid-90s with their screens for the F3 and considerably improved the quality and brightness on almost all screens. They did not mention this to anyone and there is no documentation on the change. The only way you can tell the difference is by two things; (1) the brightness on the screen once installed and (2) the little red-dot on the frame next to the name/type. Basically, you WANT to get the red-dot screens no matter which screen you get. Some red-dot screens are harder to find while others are plentiful. The K-type is easy to find but you can still find non red-dots out there so be careful when buying one second-hand.

Once you have both screens you are ready for the swap. It’s not hard so don’t freak out. You just need patience and a semi-steady hand.

Take both screens and place them on your work table on some sort of dust free surface or you will be cleaning them for hours later on. Make sure you place them bottom-side-up since you will be working on them from that side. Working with either cotton gloves or latex surgical gloves work best. I prefer latex since most cotton gloves are also dust magnets.

Make sure you put both frames on a soft dust-free surface to prevent having to clean or scratching them.

Which side is the bottom-side? Looking at the screens you will notice that the screens have a flat-side and a convex side. The flat side is the bottom-side so you want that to face up. You can also tell by the fact that the bottom-side is the side that has the retention clips that actually hold the screen to the frame. You will be removing these clips to remove the screen from the frame.

It is far easier to unscrew the clips by keeping the screens flat on the worktable.

You can either work on the screen while they are flat on your worktable or you can place them on their sides so you can access the screws from the top. You decide which is best for you. I do both. I remove the screws with the screens on their sides but re-attach the screws while the screens are on their sides.

Clips hold down screen via a small groove on edge.

Before I tell you to remove the screws you need to realize how the clips work. On the flat side of the screen there is a small groove that travel the entire width of the screen and this is the only place that the clips have contact with the screen. You just have to make sure that the clip is covering that groove when you tighten them. Sometimes the clip will move while you tighten them so keep an eye on the position to make sure they stay on the groove.

Make sure you keep the clips and screws safe. They are small and easily lost. Trust me.

Now, take a #00 Phillips screwdriver and carefully remove both clips from one side. Some screws are a bit tight so try not to strip them. This is the worst case scenario but it is not a fatal one. If you find a screw that will not come out no matter what then you only need to remove one clip from that side. As long as three clips are removed you can still get the screen out. If two clips are stuck then you may need to strip the screw out and try to replace it later. BTW, make sure you have a place that you can put the screws and clips while you work. They are very small and can easily get lost. Trust me, I did that once. Not fun.

Once you get all four clips off you can remove the screen from the frame. The first time you do this you will find this part a bit unnerving. If you turn the screen over you can carefully let it fall out of the frame. Don’t let it drop!!! Most screens will not just drop out of the frame without some help. They are built that way. They may have a bit of tape on the edges but some may not. My favorite technique is to turn the screen over and slowly use my finger on the top-side to put a tad of pressure and it will slowly come apart. I hope you are wearing your gloves or this part will leave nasty fingerprints on the screen. Not fun!

Once you have the screen off you can see how they are built. Basically, there are two parts to each screen. The convex glass side (top) and the flat plastic (some/most are glass) ground glass. They are usually adhered together so you don’t have to worry about them separating although there are some that were not so don’t freak out if you find one that comes apart when it comes out of the frame. They will will just fit back together in the frame when you put them back in.

Here you can see how the actual focusing screen is built. It has two parts. Most are adhered together so no worries about them separating.

You will need to remove the screens from both the “frame” and “screen” donors so you need to do the above steps twice. Going the other way you have the option of putting both back together or just the one you will put in the F5. I always put both back together so I can keep the old screen as a back-up.

Now, putting the donor screen into the donor frame is pretty straight forward. Carefully drop (place) the screen into the F5 frame so that it sits all the way down. The clip grove should be just below the lip of the frame. Some screens are tight so you may need to put a little bit of pressure for them to fit all the way in. And when you begin putting the clips back on you may want to add a little bit of pressure onto the bottom-side to make sure the screen is sitting flush.

Now comes probably the hardest part of this process… getting those damn clips back on. Its not really hard but they are very tiny so you will need patience and a steady hand. My technique is to put the screen on its side, making sure the screen does not fall out or move from the frame (most won’t) and then take the clip and carefully put it on the side of the frame and make sure the clip is sitting on the grove of the screen. You may notice that the clip’s screw hole may not perfectly match with the frame’s screw hole but not to worry, they will once you put a little pressure on the screen and frame.

It is a bit easier to put the frame/screen on its side and carefully placing the clip on the frame and then placing screw to secure it.

Using a magnetic tip screwdriver will be a HUGE help right about now but if you don’t have one (like I did on my first swap) you can just use tweezers to place the screw into the frame/clip hole. Another tip using magnetic tip screwdriver is to put the screw on the actual tip of the screwdriver and then slowly place it into the screw hole. If you have a steady hand a strong magnetic tip it should hold all the way in.

When you tighten the screw do not over tighten them or you may either strip them or get them stuck forever. Again, you may need to put a little bit of pressure on the screen to make sure that the clip engages the grove on the screen. Don’t be afraid to stop and loosen the screw just a bit and re-position the clip. I do it all the time.

I find it easier to do one side first and then other although one screen was a bit fickle and I ended up doing opposite corners first since the second clip would not sit within the groove any other way.

Once you get all four clips on, and they are sitting on the grove, and you don’t feel any play/movement on the actual screen then you are done. See, that wasn’t so hard.

Enjoy your new brighter new F5 screen.

Put the screen back into your F5 and enjoy your brighter viewfinder and focusing aid if you chose a screen with it. You may need to dust off or even clean the screen after you put it into the F5 and look through the viewfinder. I have yet to get a new screen into an F5 (or any other camera) without dusting it off at least a couple of times. You may need to remove the screen multiple times to properly clean it or dust it off. BTW, I am type-A when it comes to dust on viewfinder. Drives me nuts. If it does not bug you then don’t worry about it.

BTW, I have never found any focusing issues with any screen swaps but a good way to test it is to use an AF lens and focus on something on the center of the screen with the camera’s AF and compare it to the split-prism (if you added it) and you should see the two splits aligning perfectly. I have yet to find any that did not match in focus.

Not sure how metering will be affected in SPOT metering since I only use Matrix and always on M. Actually, I haven’t even tested the metering on my F5’s. But fill flash still seems to work with no problems.

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