Homebrew Coolpix LCD Shade and Magnifier

Phase2: More simple mods to the slideviewer.

WARNING!!! Direct sunlight entering this magnified viewer (or viewers of similar design) could easily ruin the LCD of your camera. It is very possible for this viewer to focus an image of the sun on your LCD and horribly melt it. I strongly suggest that anyone placing a device like this on their camera equip it with a lens cap of some sort.
**08-31-02** I recently have found that if you cut off the bottom 1/2" or so of a plastic Kodak film cannister that it will make an excellent lens cap for the Pana Vue.
I've been taking digital pictures for almost three years now. My first camera was an Epson 750Z which was an excellent camera for its time and still is a very good camera. Lack of manual controls and a low maximum resolution were it major shortcomings. So after a few hints, my wife Wanda, gave me a Nikon CoolPix 995 for Christmas last year.

I really like the CoolPix. It has a nice blend of manual and various automatic modes, has a greater optical zoom range, more resolution and a host of other nifty things. After using it for a bit, I decided I needed a longer lens. After a LOT of research on the web, I decided that the various spotting scopes were not the best compromise for me. So I made a few hints and on my birthday in May, Wanda gave me a nifty TC-E3ED 3X Tele-Converter. Life is trick - well almost.

The 3X converter is optically designed for the Coolpix camera and has a very large (around 2 inches) front element. So it takes very sharp pictures and gathers a lot of light - but at a price. The rangefinder is not functional with the 3X mounted and in daylight, the LCD is almost completely useless. But even if the LCD was visible in daylight (the Epson 750z has a nifty "skylight" feature that makes its LCD more useable than most in daylight), it is very hard to track a telephoto shot using the LCD. So, for the last month or so, I've been thinking about rigging up some kind of lens shade with a magnifier.

So I bought a 10X loupe with the thought of adapting it somehow. Well, 10X is way too much magnification for the CoolPix LCD. The pixels of the LCD are far too prominent at that magnification. So I dropped in at Foto Forum (I've been going there for over 25 years now.) to look for a loupe in the 3X-5X range. While there, I found a Pana-Vue 3 slide viewer that cost a mere $2. I was amazed at my good fortune since it seemed almost perfect. Not only did it have a magnifier, but it had a black body in a rectangular "cone" shape that looked like it would fit perfectly over the LCD - and it turns out it pretty much does.

The slide viewer has two parts that snap together. There is the main black body and lens and there is a translucent white slide holder/light diffuser. The diffuser pops off pretty easily. This leaves a 1/4" tab of plastic along the bottom side of the main black body. I carefully cut this off with a jeweler's saw. (I imagine there are quite a few ways to get rid of it. Use what makes sense to you if you plan on trying this.) I then attached the modified main black body to the CoolPix with two rubber bands that I looped together. Voila!

The modified slide viewer allows a full view of the LCD, it provides very good shading from bright sunlight (a rubber eyecup would make it even better) and the resulting view is very SLR like. On top of this, it allows full access to ALL of the camera's controls! The LCD pixels are still visible, but they aren't horrible. The view is very much like an SLR ground glass with a moderately coarse grid pattern overlayed. Without the 3x and at a full wide zoom setting, the view magnification approximates normal vision - much like a typical 35mm SLR does. Aside from the inherent lack of sharpness in the LCD, the biggest drawback to this setup is that the LCD screen refresh is not instantaneous. It is nearly so, but there is a definite "tearing" and strobing of the image when you pan and tilt the camera. The Pana-Vue website says that the magnifier is 2X. My impression is that it is more like 3X. While I'm extremely happy with my results, I would think a little less magnification would be make the image more pleasant and the pan and tilt strobing more tolerable. Perhaps 1.5X or 1.75X would be ideal?

I plan on buying another Pana-Vue 3 and improving the setup. I'd like to use the tripod mound to attach the viewer and I need to add some felt or rubber to minimize the risk of the viewer scratching the CoolPix's camera body.

This project is not a unique idea. Others have come up with similar ideas and solutions. In fact, I found one guy who appears to have done almost exactly the same thing with a CoolPix CP5000.

One advantage of not being the first to try something is that you get to learn from the mistakes of others. I found a warning on Steve's Digicams that anyone doing something like this should be aware of. Apparently a fellow completely melted his LCD screen with a similar viewer by indavertently allowing the sun to shine through the magnifier. The magnifier focused the sunlight on the LCD screen and utterly destroyed it. So, you have been WARNED!!

Overall views of how the viewer fits.

View from the back and a look through the viewer (The actual view is better than this picture shows, but not a lot better.

Closeups showing button access. Note the curved "top" (now the bottom) that makes button access possible. This is the recess that allows the slide viewer user to easily grab and remove a slide.

I've been using the CP5000 for quite some time now and the LCD shade works quite well for it as well. Perhaps even better than on the CP995.

(Click on the pictures to see a full sized image.)

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Copyright © 2002 by Jay Turberville