Etching Square Format Lines Into a DSLR Focusing Screen

Focusing Screen5 copy

Alternative focusing screens for DSLRs aren’t hard to find, but they usually don’t have any guide lines geared toward photographers who are used to framing scenes in a square format. Zurich-based photographer Howard Linton is one such shooter. Linton decided to take matters into his own hands by modifying his DSLR’s focusing screen with custom lines etched in using an X-Acto knife.

Here’s what Linton tells us about the motivation behind his mod:

In the days of film I was a hardcore Hasselblad user and the beauty of a square for making portraits haunts me to this day. The beauty of the modification that I performed is that you can have the best of both worlds. You can frame squares to your heart’s content but, at the same time, you have the option of going wider/longer as the need arises.

Linton started out by buying a replacement focusing screen.

Focusing Screen1 copy

He then took a metric ruler, and measured 6mm from the left and right edges of the screen, making a small mark at the top and bottom.

Focusing Screen2 copy

Next, Linton lined up his ruler with the marks, and made a light vertical cut using his knife. This created guide lines exactly 6mm from the outside edge on both sides of the frame.

Focusing Screen3 copy

Focusing Screen4 copy

Here’s what the viewfinder looks like with the modified focusing screen installed:

Focusing Screen5 copy

Focusing Screen6 copy

Linton sent us these two same photographs showing images he captured using his personal screen. He writes,

You can see how simple it is to accommodate the constant movement of the performers allowing me to focus on shooting square images but also have the option of going to a rectangle as the need arises.



We shared a similar mod earlier this year, but that one was done with tape and wasn’t a very stylish or flexible solution.

You can find more of Linton’s work over on his photography website.

Image credits: Photographs by Howard Linton and used with permission

  • Michal Rosa

    Right, that’s because no photo editing software has a crop option. Oh well, perhaps one day somebody will invent it!

  • thisbecause

    They make photo editing software?!

  • tttulio

    Cool, so now my DSLR pictures can look as if were taken on a Instagram phone.

  • Brian

    This doesn’t crop the photo, it’s for framing.

  • Kevin Henney

    You still need to crop with software, this is just an aid for composing shots that you plan to crop to a square format in post.

  •!/thelonelylights Adam Cross

    you’re missing the point entirely

  • Kevin Henney

    Or a $30,000 Hasselblad. Instagram didn’t invent the square format.

  • Joakim

    Neat idea but kinda risky.

    Visualize a square in head shouldn’t be that hard, when at least I can visualize rule of third or even golden ratio.

  • Sasebastian

    My d800 already does this and crops square too. I’d never cut into a focus screen like this. If it wasn’t sanded and cleaned thoroughly the tiny plastic shavings would eventually find their way to the sensor.

  • Kathleen Grace

    It’s what one is accustomed to seeing – this is simply a tool, a visual aid. There’s no need to get critical.

  • Darbraun

    I own a D800 and it does NOT do square crops. 1.5x, 1.2x and 5:4 do not a square crop make.

  • Jake

    Wow, how do you make room for all those commenters jumping down your throat at the same time??

  • Banan Tarr

    I agree. It’s neat to do this if you need it, but I don’t need it, so it’d be a waste of time (and focusing screen) for me to do it…because I can visualize it easily enough.

  • Marcelo Metayer

    The CHDK firmware mod lets you draw custom lines for framing in virtually every PowerShot. I don’t know if there’s such an option for a DSLR.

  • Jackson Cheese

    You’re an idiot.

  • Alex Szecsi

    600D has livewiev square cropping mode.

  • ddoran

    i use a screen guard on my flip out screen on a nikon d5100. I just mark that for widescreen crop aid.

  • gochugogi

    The grid on demand of the 7D optical VF has a perfectly centered square within the pattern. Works well for me.

  • Terrance Lam

    Yes, if it supports Liveview then you can do it with Magic Lantern which shares some of the CHDK hacks.

  • KB

    This is stupid, but not as stupid as the guy putting tape on the screen.
    What is not not stupid…assuming you really need the lines…is to MARK THE SCREEN WITH A PENCIL OR PEN. Any lines you want, any color, AND you can wash them off later. The digital photo interweb world seems to be filled with BASIAB* types.
    *BASIAB=Building A Ship In A Bottle

  • tttulio

    I know, I used to draw lines in my Hasselblad for 3:2 aspect ratio, as the magazines wanted.

  • I See Squares

    If you’re having trouble visualizing a square frame while shooting, then maybe photography isn’t the best profession for you.

  • b.fleck

    Doesn’t work with a 5D though. Just sayin’. . .

  • b.fleck

    I don’t know. I’ve been doing photography for close to 30 years and it works great for me. Besides you can do all the “visualizing” you want and still not get exactly the way you want in my experience.