D700 Katzeye Review






The package

The Katzeye comes sealed inside a plastic bag that's within a small padded plastic box that's wrapped with bubble wrap that's within a larger cardboard box that's shipped within a padded envelope. It comes well packaged if I may say so, and it should since it's a precision instrument. Overkill? Maybe, but I guess this way they don't have to deal with many returns due to improper packaging.  


Unlike the original screen I purchased a number of years ago, the Katzeye now comes with a custom made tool that doesn't look like it's been hacked together. When I received my 
original Katzeye for the D40/x the tool looked like they had taken a cheap screw-driver and turned it into a tool to release the retainer that holds the OEM focusing screen in place. The new tool is blue, shiny, and looks very professional. Not that it matters, but I thought I'd share a little bit of my experience with Katzeye. 





The screen itself is clearly custom made, because it's a perfect fit for the D700. I have an F6 A-type screen and the tab is way off--as are the dimensions. There's talk in some places of people being so desperate for a manual focusing screen for the D3/D700 cameras that they went so far as filing an F6 screen so it would fit inside the D3/D700. I have to admit I thought about doing something similar myself because the f-6 screen was dirt cheap. Thankfully, wisdom won me over and I spent $100 and got a Katzeye for my D700--that way I was guaranteed a perfect fit (and fewer headaches). I can only imagine how long it would've take to properly file down the F6 screen to fit inside my D700! 






Metering

The D700 Katzeye has no effect on metering, except spot metering, but so too did my non-ai macro setup of two years ago. To my style of photography and the subjects I focus on--this is a non-issue. The images below show how much of a difference using spot-metering can make with a Katzeye.
      

  Spot-Metering Matrix Metering
 Center-Weighted Average
 
 
 


I have yet to find a reason to use spot-metering, and I don't know too many people who do. If I wanted that accurate a reading off a subject I would use a light meter and probably find myself using flashes or studio lights.  

If spot-metering is important to you and your style of shooting and the subjects you work with, then you would do best to read up on how to adjust your camera to compensate for the difference the Katzeye screen makes. As far as I can tell spot-metering over-exposes, Matrix is spot on, and center-weighted average under-exposes. This agrees with what Katzeye has stated on their website (i.e. that you need to underexpose if you want to use spot-metering). 



Autofocus

The screen has no effect on my AF lenses, other than to tell me when the AF missed its mark. This is handy because reviewing an image on the LCD screen can be time consuming and not always accurate--it may appear that my subject is in focus, but when I look at the images on my computer the images are actually out of focus and by that point it's often too late to redo an image. And I'm not the type of photographer who scrutinizes every single image by zooming in on the camera screen, as my subjects tend to move fairly fast, and I don't have all the time in the world to verify focus on every single image I take. In this instance the Katzeye is very handy in letting you know if your AF system messed up without you having to zoom in on the image on your LCD screen. 

The video below shows you how cool this is--plus you'll see how the AF markings are still present with the Katzeye. 



AF points works fine! And the resulting image I might add is wonderfully sharp (for ISO 1600)--I love the D700 for its ability to shine at high ISO.

                                  The image was taken with a 20-35 f/2.8.






The Katzeye Advantage

As many of you know I've been a big fan of Katzeye screens. Having owned and used one on my D40 and D40x cameras I'm surprised it took me this long to finally get one for my D700, specially since I really enjoy using manual focus, non-cpu lenses. I do, however, have an excuse why I didn't buy one the moment I switched to FX (i.e. the D700), and that was the lack of a micro-prism collar. I had a hunch it would be something I'd miss and something I'd complain about. Thankfully, it's not as big a deal as I imagined it would be, but it is something that's missing and probably the only standard Katzeye that doesn't have one. 

According to Rachel Katz not including the micro-prism collar was viewed as a mistake by Katzeye, and they weren't exactly ready to fix it in the near future (probably due to production costs). My hunch is had they found a way to include it, sales would've been stronger (at least I probably would've purchased one much sooner). Mistake or not now that I've got one installed it has become an indispensable tool and I miss the collar far less than I had anticipated.

The best way to look at the D700 Katzeye is as another focusing tool, and not just as an alternative screen. What exactly do I mean by this?

There are times when no matter how slowly you try to focus a fast lens or a lens with plenty of compression the two triangles never settle on a circle (if you have a D700 you'll know what I mean by the two triangles--or you can watch the video below to see how some lenses give the triangles all the time and never settle on a circle). 




Whenever the triangles don't agree the Katzeye really shines because even though the camera may be telling you you're close (and keep telling you you're close no matter how precisely and slowly you focus), the Katzeye goes one step further and tells you you're in focus or you're out of focus without the need of electronics. While the focusing aids in the D700 can be reliable, they do struggle with fast lenses or lenses with plenty of compression as the video above shows



How to Use the Katzeye

There are several ways to focus using this screen. The most obvious is to use the central split-image prism as demonstrated in the video above. This has its advantages when there are perpendicular lines because you can easily tell a straight line (in-focus) from a split line (out of focus). It's a boon for street shooting and for architecture where perpendicular lines are plenty.

The other way to focus using this screen is to use the edge of the split image prism. I prefer this method because it doesn't focus my attention to the middle of the screen and makes it easier if lines aren't exactly at 90 degrees to the central prism. What do I mean by that? Watch the video below to understand how this screen doesn't always require perpendicular lines. Pay close attention to the outer-edge of the split-image prism.



By focusing on the edge of the split-image prism I find it easier to keep my eye on the entire scene (should things quickly change). While this may seem odd, I have found the edge of the split image does the exact same thing that the central split-image prism does--it splits a line till it's in focus, but doesn't require perpendicular lines as does the central portion.

The other way is to use the screen itself, not the split image prism that's in the middle, but the matte portion of the screen. To my way of seeing things I find the D700 Katzeye has more pop to it than the OEM screen when things come into focus. But take that with a grain of salt--my eyes are old and the last time I trusted them I was nearly crucified by fanbois for stating my Polar (aka Samayang 85mm f/1.4) was sharper than my Nikkor 85mm f/1.4. Interestingly, my eyes weren't too far off from the truth as others proved what I had seen through more scientific means and tests. 

Finally, if you can't trust the "pop" of the screen the D700 has a built-in tool that will help you manually focus lenses--the two triangles and the circle in the lower left corner of the viewfinder. It works, but not so well as you have to watch the lower left corner outside the focusing screen. As I've mentioned before this tool isn't very handy with fast lenses or lenses with plenty of compression or lenses with extremely narrow (shallow) DOF (watch that video up top again). The two triangles never change into a circle to let me know I was in focus; the split-image prism, however, did tell me when I was in focus.

As a side note, if Nikon got smart they would make those triangles and the green circle a part of the screen--kind of like the on-demand grids but green and very transluscent. With larger triangles superimposed right on the screen to let you know if you're in focus, you wouldn't have to take your eyes off your subject. I am aware of Sony's peak focusing system, but not having tried that I can't really comment on how good it is for manual focusing. In any case that's neither here nor there, and beyond the scope of this review.



         
              The ideal focusing system


No lines, low-light, and prism blackout

So what about when there are no lines or the lines are very difficult to find, as in a dark or poorly lit scene? And what about split-image prism blackout?

Let's take each of these topics one at a time. 

First off coming across a situation where there are no lines is an almost impossible situation. There's always a line in nearly every image. The only time I can think of where a line may be difficult to discern is in abstract photographs of textures like water or silk or in photographs of stars where focusing is typically done at infinity rather than through the viewfinder. 

In most situations a line is always present so you can easily use the split-image prism to focus on a  a nose, a button, someone's hair, and even the edge of a leaf--there's plenty more lines I could describe, but I'm sure you know a line when you see one so I won't bore you with where you can find them. 

Having said that please note that using the split-image prism takes some time to bring things into focus (we're talking a couple of seconds to less than a second, but it's enough time to miss an image). In those instances I use the matte portion of the screen. For example--let's say I'm taking pictures of moving kids--I find it's much easier to focus on the eyes than to use the split-image prism. In this instance I just make sure the eyes look bright and shiny and 9 times out of 10 my focus is very-good to perfect. 

I believe the split-image can come in handy when you can pre-focus or when your subject can stand still for a short amount of time (like I said it only takes 2 seconds or less to use the split-image prism to bring a subject into focus).

As for poorly-lit scenes or dark areas--there's no screen out there that can help you out.  And this is probably the main weakness (besides the missing microprism collar) of the Katzeye. It's no better than the OEM screen in this respect, and there are few (if any) screens designed for manual focusing that can help you in such situations. That's why many photographers will use a flashlight to help them focus on their subject in lowlight situations (that or a headlamp).




Finally, we come to prism blackout. Having used old-school focusing screens in the days of film blackout typically happened at f/5.6-f/8 (or sooner depending on the screen). However Katzeye has managed to keep this portion of the screen to stay bright even at f/11. This is true of their DX screens as well, including the micro-prism collar. The following video will give you an idea of how this works:





Conclusion:

If you've been sitting on the fence (like I was) regarding this screen, stop wasting your time and go get one. You won't regret it. It's such a handy tool to have and adds a couple more ways to help you focus those old lenses you have lying around. I know I wish I had gotten one sooner. I highly recommend it if you like to shoot vintage glass.

One final thing--if you're going to install it yourself (which I did) you may want to wear nitrile gloves (they're like the latex ones your doctor uses, but made of nitrile). That way you can pick up the screen and adjust it with your digits instead of metal tools (which I don't recommend at all). The tool that comes with the Katzeye is meant to release the retaining ring, not to move the Katzeye around.

You could try plastic tipped tweezers like 5244A11 (~$8) or 6182A24 (~$30) from McMaster-Carr or another distributor like Grainger, but I just found it easier to use my fingers and hands (it makes the job much faster). I tried the small tweezer-like tool that came with my F6 screen, but it just wouldn't hold the Katzeye--that's why I used my hands (with gloves, of course!). 


A word of caution: if you don't feel comfortable changing focusing screens Katzeye can provide you with the service for a fee. If you know your AF and MF cams are off (i.e. you've had back-focusing and front-focusing problems) I highly recommend you go through them as they can adjust the cams to be calibrated with the screen. I did it myself because I had no front or back focusing issues, and everything was golden from the get-go. For my D40x, however, I did have to mess around with the cams. It's not difficult to adjust the cams; it's just time consuming and bothersome to get everything to align right. I was fortunate that everything was already aligned with my D700, and it's been a blast having another focusing tool in my arsenal.


 
 


Pros:
Perfect fit for the D700
No effect on metering (except spot-metering)
No effect on AF
Bright (seems to have more pop than OEM)
Split image comes in handy
Easy to install (comes with tool)
Prism doesn't darken till f/11 (and even then it's still fairly bright)

Cons:
Poor performance in low-light/dark settings (split-image prism is useless)
No microprism collar

Till my next review, rambling, or post, this is, hey, hey,
~jsv


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