The launch of the Alpha 350, with its small 0.74X viewfinder, makes a proper eyepiece magnifier attachment an essential addition to the Sony accessory range. Olympus, Nikon and Pentax all have such magnifiers, which permit a full view of the screen for most wearers and make all the difference to the manual focusing and general comfort in composing shots. We tested two devices, one of them the highly affordable Seagull 1x-2.5x right angle finder, and the other Olympus’s ME-1 1.2X ocular magnifier.
First, we’ll look at the Seagull. There are other similar Chinese-made rotating right angle finders around, some with a different attachment method for eyepiece adaptors. The Seagull 1x-2.5x is a plastic copy of the later Minolta Angle Finder Vn MkII; while it is no way comparable in terms of build quality (or weight) it appears to contain nearly identical coated optics of good quality, and typically costs around $50 including postage from Hong Kong. You can buy for two or three times this price from retailers in most countries but buying direct from China is safe and saves money. Ours took only three days to arrive by post with no customs or VAT to pay, from a trader on eBay called ‘Link Delight’ (also from ‘Jiakgong Digital’).
First you need to remove the eyecup on your Sony Alpha or Minolta/KM DSLR. It slides upwards, don’t push it by the rubber, try to push the hard frame surround instead. The first time you do this it may appear to have too much resistance. The removed eyecup exposes a nearly standard slotted viewfinder surround. ‘Nearly’ is an important tolerance – the Alpha surround is slightly smaller than most others, with Olympus being a little loose, Nikon less so, and Pentax about the closest fit. Yashica fit attachments are too small even though they look the same.
The Seagull 1x-2.5x or 1x-2x are the best choice for Alpha because these come with in native Alpha fit. All other cameras require a step adaptor, which moves the finder further from the eyepoint position, reducing the apparent size of the screen and weakening the assembly. Alpha cameras accept the angle finder directly without adaptors. There are other Chinese angle finders, which use a different adaptor system in which all cameras need their own screw-fitted plate, and the finder will not fit anything directly. Be sure to specify the Seagull 1x-2.5x, as shown – this is the one which is the ‘copy’ of the Minolta original.We’ve recently seen a 1.25x-2.5x finder offered, but do not know whether the 1.25x shows the entire screen or not.
This is the normal view of the angle finder, with the focusing adjustment set right down. It has a full 360 degree rotation, and a wide range of dioptric correction.
The magnification switch just flips over, after which you need to refocus. The 1X view shows the entire screen, but the 2.5X can not. You see a magnified central focusing zone, which is ideal for critical manual focusing.
To be able to focus accurately, you must focus the eyepiece of the finder so the focusing screen grain/matte surface is sharp. Beware! Do not focus on the focus markings. Focus on the metering spot circle. The AF focus point markings are on a separate overlay, and they are not in the same focus plane as the actual screen surface. The metering zone marking is engraved on the screen, and provides a correct reference. If you focus on the AF markers, your manual focusing will be inaccurate.
In use, the angle finder allows unusual camera positions and can make some studio tripod work much easier. It can be used with the camera in any orientation and provides an upright image, unlike the earlier angle finders which have a mirror instead of a pentaprism to do the 45 degree turn. The Seagull incorporates a prism (presumably mirrors not solid glass) and you never end up with a left-to-right or inverted image. It is supplied with a soft case.
Our next item is an accessory for a rival brand – an accessory which Sony desperately needs to add to their range. The ME-1 from Olympus is made to tackle to tiny viewfinder tunnel effect of certain E-series cameras, like the E-410, but will also magnify any other finder by 1.2X.
The ME-1 is neat and matches any camera well enough. It has its own rubber spectacle buffer, but no larger surround. You need to get your eye close to the small circular pupil, and wearers of thick specs won’t find this easy to use. I wear 1.5-2 dioptre long sight glasses, and found it possible to see the entire screen with this eyepiece in place, even on the Alpha 700. However, the camera’s dioptre correction will provide enough adjustment for naked viewing with my kind of vision. Others may find it not sufficient. Your regular dioptre correction needs to be changed slightly.
As luck has it, the ME-1 can just be popped by pressure into the rubber eyepiece surround of the Alpha 700 for temporary use. It holds there well enough for tripod work but it is not precisely centered. The Olympus sliding fit is a little larger than the Sony, but very similar in design:
I found that by using the Pentax adaptor from my Seagull angle finder, I could make a the ME-1 fit the Alpha finder securely. Other possibilities include buying a Sony eyecup spare part, and grafting the ME-1 into it. This is just a simple two-element ‘telescope’ principle magnifier. It would actually be much easier, for the Alpha system, to use the clip-in feature provided for dioptre correction lenses – these push into the inside of the camera’s ocular. A magnifier like the ME-1 could be designed to push into the eyepiece the same way, and to use larger rectangular lenses, giving better eyeposition freedom.
The ME-1 can actually be fitted without any adaptor. It just sits rather loosely, and could come off. Small modifications would be enough to make it secure. The Pentax 1.18X eyepiece magnifier will fit directly but does not offer as much gain in apparent finder size. The Nikon 1.17X also fits, again with less effective enlargement.
As for viewfinder brightness, aerial image enlargement does not suffer the same dimming when magnified (or binoculars would all show us a very dim view of the world). It remains essentially the same, even with the Seagull angle finder 2.5X magnification, to the eye. The 1.2X type fixed magnifiers do nothing but good, and when used with the Alpha 700 and its large glass prism finder, the result is almost like going back to using a full frame SLR.
These devices are not for every user, and the cameras are all made to accommodate a wide range of dioptre corrections and eyepoint variations. There are already far too many SLR users who fail to compose tightly because they can’t see the edges of the picture – you have all seen them, holding the eyepiece an inch from their eye, thinking that the vaguely outlined rectangle they see is the entire picture! They are the people who really love live view composition…
The ME-1 covers the eyepiece sensors of the Alpha cameras when fitted. In the menus, disabling Eye Start and Auto Off w/Viewfinder will give you a permanent rear screen display and no constant focusing, when the ME-1 is fitted. Enabling Eye Start means the camera will be in constant AF mode whenever the magnifier is attached. Enabling Auto Off w/Viewfinder means the rear screen illumination will be turned off permanently if the ME-1 is attached (the information is still visible, faintly). You can not use the Display button to over-ride this.
A 1.3X ocular is offered by Seculine and made by KRD in Korea. It is very hard to locate and costs over 60 euros. From pictures seen it looks very well made, but buyers report problems seeing the entire screen.
A permanent adaptation of a foreign magnifier will mean some surgery to remove parts of its mount which otherwise cover the eye sensors. I have not done so, as we happen to be using an Olympus E-510 at the time of this report, and the ME-1 proved a very useful (nearly essential) add on to improve the small viewfinder of this camera. The UK cost was £34.95 and I’m sure the Chinese can come up with a dedicated Alpha ocular magnifier, maybe pushing INTO the eyepiece leaving the existing surround untouched, and maybe boasting larger elements and a 1.3X factor. That would be the ultimate eye candy!
– David Kilpatrick