Diopter Madness

About every third time I am called upon to look through someone else’s digital SLR camera, whether teaching, trying to troubleshoot a problem, or to take a photo for them, I look in the viewfinder and see this…

Blurry Viewfinder
Blurry Viewfinder
The diopter adjustment on the Nikon D100 is awkwardly implemented, using a stiff vertical slider that is hard to move. The only good thing about it is that it's hard to accidentally slide it.
The diopter adjustment on the Nikon D100 is awkwardly implemented, using a stiff vertical slider that is hard to move. The only good thing about it is that it’s hard to accidentally slide it.

Immediately I recognize that the diopter control, which moves the little adjustable optics between the eyepiece and the focusing screen, has been mis-set, usually to one of its most extreme positions.

Diopters many years ago were screw-on attachments to the viewfinder that came in various increments, like -1 or +3, that you could install so someone who wore prescription glasses could see the viewfinder clearly without their glasses. In recent years, the diopter control has been included in almost every camera with a viewfinder.

When I see this maladjustment in someone’s camera, I usually say something like, “Your diopter is set really strong.”

The diopter on the Nikon D80 and D200 is easier to reach and use, but requires less pressure to move, and thus probably moves too easily.
The diopter on the Nikon D80 and D200 is easier to reach and use, but requires less pressure to move, and thus probably moves too easily.

The reply is almost always, “My what?”

It turns out that most people have no idea this thing exists, and at some point either accidentally or while playing around with their settings, managed to set it to one extreme or the other. If it’s a student, I’ll explain the use of diopter settings, set it back to a normal setting (which is easy – just move it until the display items in the viewfinder look sharp), and give the camera back to them.

They always say, “Wow, that’s much better!”

The diopter setting on Nikon's pro cameras is done right; you have to pull this knob on the viewfinder housing out, then turn it to change settings. There is little chance of moving it accidentally.
The diopter setting on Nikon’s pro cameras is done right; you have to pull this knob on the viewfinder housing out, then turn it to change settings. There is little chance of moving it accidentally.
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1 Comment

  1. The diopter setting on all my (Canon) DSLRs has looked like the D80 example above. It was pointless to have on the Rebel series; the viewfinder is so small and dark that you pretty much couldn’t tell if it was in focus or not.

    Perhaps my favorite feature of the 60D is the large/bright viewfinder. I’m a tad farsighted; a slight adjustment of the diopter is usually the first thing I do when getting a new camera.

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