EDIT: An update from Rick follows.

I turned my order page off but when I turned it back on Saturday night, it looks like the PayPal code isn’t working right.  I’m not sure if the problem is the code on my site or at PayPal, but I’ll reload a new order button in case it’s at my end.

I had 16 orders on Friday, it took all day yesterday with the page shut down to catch up.  I can comfortably make 4 or 5 a day.  Please tell folks to be patient, I have a very full day today so it might take me some time to get it fixed!

Rick Oleson

For a photographer, there is nothing quite like the experience of looking onto the focus screen of a TLR or other medium format, primarily waist-level viewfinder cameras such as Hasselblads, Bronicas or Mamiya RB67s. For some reason, a scene presented on a large focus screen draws attention to lines, forms, shapes, the elements of design, in a way that a viewfinder held up to the eye or an LCD live-screen does not.

Unfortunately, using vintage cameras half a century old can often fall short of our expectations because either the original ground-glass focus screen lacks a fresnel lens to spread the light evenly into the corners, or if it is made of plastic, it will have yellowed and faded with the time.

Either way it’s more like gaping into a pit than composing a picture.

Twenty-five years ago I part exchanged my Rolleiflex 2.8GX for a crappy plastic 3MP SLR digital thingy, which produced files so large (at least 5MB!) that my Tiny computer took a full 20 minutes to open each image. On reflection, getting rid of the Rolleiflex might have been one of the sillier decisions I made because if you sold a GX today you’d be able to purchase a low-mileage Mazda MX5, tax and insure it, put on four new tyres and have enough change to tour Scotland for a fortnight.

As usual, I digress.

In a sense, the choice to switch to digital was forced upon me. As a lecturer in photography at a Further Education College I was supposed to be at least a couple of paragraphs of ‘Photoshop for Dummies’ ahead of my students although I have to admit sometimes it didn’t work out that way. “Yes Rachel in the front row, thank you for asking that . . . I’d actually planned this topic in the next lesson so we’ll leave it ’til this afternoon”, scurry back to the staff room at lunchtime and look up ‘file formats and compression’ or whatever. Why couldn’t they ask me something I actually knew??

I digress. Again.

As soon as I was old enough and no longer had to work to live or learn anything else about digital imaging, I gravitated back to proper photography. I began collecting a few old and interesting roll film cameras. And, as I’ve always regretted selling my GX, I recently bought another. This time, a grey Rolleiflex T, which had just been serviced and is in good working condition. The only problem is that the 60-year-old bit of plastic that was supposed to be a focus screen was yellowing with age and had gone quite dark along one edge.

Note the photo below: the Rick Oleson Brightscreen is already installed but you can clearly see how bad discolouration on the old screen was.

Unfortunately replacement Rolleiflex focus screens are rarer than a win on the lottery, especially if like me you don’t buy a ticket. The last one I’ve seen advertised on eBay was badly scratched (described as in excellent condition, it pays to look at the pictures at their full enlargement) and the price being asked was £55 + P&P.

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Until a few years ago there was a choice of replacement focus screens but the two major players have both long ceased manufacture. Even ten years ago, a replacement Maxwell screen for a Rolleiflex was priced at $350 and the Beattie Intenscreen $200 so certainly not cheap and today not even an option.

However, Rick Oleson, who trades under the name Brightscreen continues to manufacture replacement screens, offering a choice of focus aids and grid patterns and at a very reasonable price. I paid £60 ($80) including postage and packing to ship a custom screen for my Rolleiflex T from the US to the UK, which arrived after exactly one week. I chose a design with two parallel horizontal and vertical grid lines to aid composition. I compose for the full focus screen frame and can’t abide a sloping horizon in beach scenes!) and a rangefinder set in a microprism collar for precise focusing.

The grid design and focus aid are very personal and one can choose from a variety of grid patterns or a plain screen, and just a microprism on its own. I have poor eyesight so need all the help I can get, and I’m used to using a rangefinder.

The Brightscreen is a well-engineered, quality product. It comes with full instructions. All one needs is a small screwdriver to ease up the two retaining clips to remove the original screen, and a pair of rubber gloves to ensure the new screen goes in clean. The photos below were taken after installation, hence the lack of latex!

The gridlines and microprism/rangefinder of the Brightscreen go face down towards the mirror, and the fresnel ring surface is uppermost. In use it’s much easier to achieve precise focus and is probably a stop or more brighter than the old screen it replaced.

Before I changed the screens I took the camera into the garden and focused on a variety of subjects, repeating the exercise ten minutes later when I’d fitted the new screen. The difference was immediately noticeable, especially in how quickly I could achieve focus and be certain of the accuracy. It makes using the Rollei T an absolute joy and I can now fully exploit this lovely old camera for the purpose it was intended. The side-by-side below was put together in Photoshop after the fact but describes the ~1-2-stop difference in brightness between the new (left) and old (right) screen.

Rolleiflex T with new Rick Oleson Brightscreen installed (outside)

The side-by-side above was put together in Photoshop after the fact but describes the ~1-2-stop difference in brightness between the new (left) and old (right) screen.

Rick Oleson offers replacement screens for most of the popular medium format cameras available today. Fitting the Brightscreen to my Rolleiflex T has transformed it into a modern, practical camera for everyday use. Jobs a good ‘un.

~ Nigel

NB: Hi everyone, EM here. Nigel is not affiliated with Rick Oleson, nor was he compensated for this review. He got in touch asking me if it was ok to write about it on EMULSIVE, to which I resoundingly agreed. As a customer of Rick’s for a decade now, I can’t shout enough about how well-engineered and transformative his screens are for older cameras. If you’re reading this, Rick, bravo, and please keep at it!

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Nigel Shuttleworth

I made my living from photography straddling the analogue and digital eras but my pleasure in retirement is in collecting and using vintage (ie. cheap!) Polaroid and rollfilm cameras. The fact that every...

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14 Comments

 

  1. Often times the front surfaced mirror is the culprit especially when the screens are glass and not plastic, What can be done about those?

    1. Clean the mirror! To clarify, I encountered this on the first TLR I added an Oleson screen to. The combination of cleaning the mirror and stopping out a brighter screen did wonders.

  2. There’s some exceptional aftermarket screens available (including Oleson), but another option that a lot of Rollei and other TLR users forget is simply to get your mirror cleaned! ~50 years is a lot of accumulated gunk, and it’s amazing how much of a difference a clean makes…

    1. True, but proceed with care. These mirrors are silver surface coated, unlike a glass mirror where the silver is protected. TLR amd SLR can very easily be scratched, or the silvering actually come away. Do not use wet cleaning.

  3. I can vouch for Rick’s screens too… I replaced an original 124G screen years ago with one of his and it was much better. I eventually sold the camera, but have recently acquired another 124G I was shocked to see how dim the original is in comparison. I’ll be ordering a new one soon from Rick, well worth it. I wish I could get a similar split one for a Nikon F100

  4. All I can see on the “ORDER” page of the provided link is a cat stuck in a projector. Already out of stock?

  5. You say, “Until a few years ago there was a choice of replacement focus screens but the two major players have both long ceased manufacture.”

    I bought a new (albeit “seconds”) screen from Bill Maxwell last June for my Rolleiflex 3.5F. I didn’t get any indication from him that he’d ceased manufacture. He assured me that the screen just had some cosmetic imperfection that didn’t affect functionality. I can’t actually see any imperfection in the screen myself.

    I’m not sure I’m entirely happy with the “upgrade”. It wasn’t cheap, and I don’t get any warm glowing feeling in my heart that it’s actually any easier to focus now than it was with the original Rollei screen. YMMV.

    1. Yeah, I was recently in touch with Bill, he’s still selling screens. Luckily I bought a 3.5E that had a Maxwell in it, and it’s really a dream.

  6. I have a Brightscreen in my Rolleicord Va, tried the Brightscreen in my Bronica ETRSi, and a Maxwell in my Rolleiflex 2.8F,

    Even Oleson will admit that the Maxwell is “better” than his. And compared side by side, the Maxwell has finer fresnel lines.

    However, the Brightscreen is a great value for a similar product, as I couldn’t justify spending more than the cost of the camera for the Maxwell screen for my Rolleicord. I got the microprism w/o the split.

    For the Bronica, I have the factory matte, factory microprism w/ split, and the microprism Brightscreen. However, I’ve gone back to the factory matte screen as it suits my shooting style the best for that camera. The general feeling on the Bronica vs the TLR: it’s not as “bright” and I notice the fresnel lines more (maybe this is due to the prism).

    All in all, it’s a great product and appropriately priced. It’s really up to you if it’ll suit your shooting style.

  7. When I first saw your comment that you’d p’xd your 2.8GX for a digital wonder I nearly had a heart attack. But then, looking back, one learns that the early dslr’s were very expensive, and the least expensive of the top 2.7mp models, the Minolta RD 3000, was initially priced around $4,000 US. I’ve no idea what it would have sold for here in the UK.

    The brighter screens are well worth their cost for those who regularly use a TLR, and it is good to learn that Rick Oleson can supply new. Awhile ago now, I upgraded my Mamiya C330S with a Beattie, but for my Rolleiflex 3.5f and Yashica 24 a few years back, there were some inexpensive screens coming out of China, for around £20 or so, and these work perfectly well.

    As you pointed out, the difference is quite noticeable, but I found them to also have an added advantage when using my C330S and 3.5f for which I also have the pentaprism finders.

  8. I also have a Bright Screen by Rick Oleson on my Rolleiflex T (black) and can only confirm your experience.

  9. Nice one Nigel! Wearing glasses (and being on the 50s :-D) I had some problems with a Yashica Mat 124G (bought second hand) that had a very dim focusing screen.

    I think that Yashica finders are far less bright than Rolleiflex but mine was very opaque.

    For that reason, I bought a brightscreen with both split diagonal rangefinder and thirds lines (code 6603): After that my life had changed in better! 😀

  10. I have a replacement screen for my Flexaret Automat by Rick Oleson – great improvement! Idid not make any before/after pics but Rick is a great guy!

    1. I can also attest to a Flexaret Va Brightscreen. Rick includes great picture instructions for installing the new screens (and cleaning mirrors, lens, etc. while you are inside the camera). I just installed mine two weeks ago and am having fun just walking around the house admired the view through the viewfinder.