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No battery = dark viewfinder

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#1 Dave Whiteley

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Posted 20 October 2009 - 02:21 PM

One of the first questions I asked on this forum after getting my D200 was why the viewfinder was dark and I could not adjust the dioptric correction or focus before I put the battery in and switched the camera on? I had expected the viewfinder, being optical, to be independent of battery power, just like the old manual film cameras. Nobody at the time could explain it, and evidently had not noticed it as they had installed their battery first. I thought it also needed the camera to be switched on, but if you notice most Nikon's these days show on the top LCD screen the number of frames remaining on the memory card even after being switched off, so some features bypass the on/off switch and evidently some of the focusing screen functions are one of them.

Anyway this effect was raised on another site today and I knew it was something to do with the LCD array on top of Nikon's focusing screens, so did a search and found the answer in the following link from Joseph Wisniewski , Nov 19, 2003


"There's a transparent display called a "guest host LCD" between the D100 focusing screen and prism. The GH LCD is only about 30% transparent when not powered up. It's near 100% opaque or 100% transparent, as needed, when powered up. The GH LCD produces the 5 AF zone indicators and the D100 gridlines. I believe Olympus uses similar technology in the E-10, E-20, and E-1, and Canon in the 1D and 1Ds (but not the lower end cameras)."

Obviously since 2003 many more cameras in different makes have used this type of LCD overlay, so don't worry if you don't have the battery in and you get a dark fuzzy screen since this is normal and will come right as soon as a charged battery is inserted. Anyway a modern camera without a charged battery is only "a door stop" anyway as gone are the days with the old manual film ones when you could use it even if the exposure meter battery was dead.

This from a D50 review:-

"Interestingly, the focusing screen is dependent on power when the battery is not in the camera, the display is dark, grainy, and uneven and impossible to focus. Of course, without the battery, the camera is a paperweight anyway."

One purchaser of a secondhand Nikon on another site, which was sold stating the battery was dead and needing replacement, thought he had bought a dud camera in need of repair since it would not sharp focus, until he was told this occurred without a charged battery. Once a new battery was installed he said the camera was perfect!

I believe it does it too on some of the later Nikon film cameras with similar focusing screen set-up's, not just DSLR's.

Dave Whiteley
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#2 Black Pearl

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Posted 20 October 2009 - 03:39 PM

Does it with any of the Nikon SLR's that have info overlayed (grid screen, battery warning etc) on the focusing screen. First thing I do before handing a camera to a customer is to install the battery, saves explaining why they can't see through it.
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