Like checking your oil, it may be time to check your focus

It’s a maintenance thing we usually don’t check till there is an issue.
Thankfully in a car, a light will come on letting you know you’ve been neglecting the life blood fluid flowing through the veins in your vehicle.
Not so with our gear.
No lights, no warning, unless you start to notice some visual differences in your shots.
When we were first heard about this unit, SpyderLensCal Lens Calibration System, the concept of our high end, auto-focus lenses needing to be calibrated, was nowhere in our mindset.
Since we generally customize the focus points on many DSLR’s, how could it be off, unless it’s operator error?
Well, it can be and this tool showed us what where we were at.
Apparently, off is where we were at. We had a bit of front focusing, and once we knew that, set a custom correction in our camera for that lens.

Let’s step back for a second and talk about how it works:
The unit comes folded flat, with a bubble level and a tripod mounting thread.
You first unfold and lock it into position, so the measurement patterns are aligned.
Then, you mount the unit on a tripod (or a table) making sure it is level.
Next, you line up your camera on another tripod (what, you don’t have 2??) level it and point your center focus at the crux of the measuring area. Go to aperture priority, open up to f/2.8 and take a shot.
Check it out on the LCD, and you will see what’s in focus.
Yeah, we know: pretty obvious.
Then you go into your cameras menu and find the AF fine tuning function. Don’t worry, we never saw it either. Actually went into the manual to see where the heck it was.
By using the first shot to determine front and back focus area, we easily adjusted the tuning to give us a well balanced, center of focus.
Saving the settings (you can do up to 12 lenses on the Nikon D700) our lens was now calibrated and set.

We had always blamed a bit of front focus to the operator. It’s a critical setting when doing portraits and anything closeup. Of course, that is why the camera manufacturers put he adjustment feature on the cameras in the first place. Nothing is perfect, and even if it’s close, it won’t be forever.

So while we initially thought of this tool as a bit of overthought, critical puffery, when we were faced with the visual facts, the usefulness was readily apparent.

OK, once you go through your battery of lenses on each camera body, then what do you do with the SpyderLensCal? how about turn on some of your photo friends to it, and share a tool?
Unlike a calibration device for your monitor, it probably won’t part of your weekly or daily ritual. At $60. USD, it’s a good investment.
We’re not saying your expensive lenses are corrupt, but like any piece of high end gear, maintenance is always recommended.

Honestly though, we were shocked at the truth about our lenses.
Yet, we could handle the truth, since we had the right tool to fine tune them.

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  • Getty Center
  • Convergences: Selected photographs from the Permanent Collection
  • July 8th-Oct.19th, 2014
  • 1200 Getty Center Drive
  • Los Angeles, CA. 90049
  • Tel: 310-440-7300
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