The most frustrating thing after a long day of shooting is to find yourself with blurry images. If you consistently encounter this problem, then you might have a ‘missed focus’ issue.
If this is happening across multiple images, then it might not be down to your focusing skills. You’ll need to calibrate your camera to ensure your lenses can focus on a subject correctly.
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Do You Need to Calibrate Your Lens?
Cameras lenses are so advanced these days that you can practically use them straight out of the box.
But unfortunately, camera lenses aren’t foolproof. Since they have moving parts, they are still prone to mechanical issues.
So does that mean you need to calibrate camera when it’s new? Not necessarily. But you may need to fine-tune your lens if you end up with blurry images, even when you’re focusing correctly.
Another reason why you should calibrate your lenses is when you’re using older optics.
Your lens from the ’80s may fit perfectly on your camera mount, but there’s a good chance that the lens alignment may be off. Furthermore, the technology behind their focusing system is older, so it may have issues “communicating” with your new device.
How Often Should You Calibrate Your Lens?
Once you calibrate lens, you generally don’t need to do it again. In most cases, your camera even stores a ‘preset’ that remembers the adjustments of any particular lens.
The presets are useful, especially since no two optical devices have the same adjustments. You have the option to save your calibration for an old 50mm lens and store another preset for an 85mm.
The methods of saving your adjustments vary from one manufacturer to the next. We suggest you consult your manual to help you figure out the process.
For my Nikon D850, I can find this feature is under the AF Fine-Tune menu. After I calibrate lens, I go to List Saved Values to save my adjustments. (you’ll learn more about this later).
Of course, you don’t have to save every single lens on your camera. After all, newer lenses don’t even need calibration at all unless you experience issues with them.
In general, you should only save your adjustments for your older optics. But you should also do it on the new lenses if you find they’re always missing the focus point.
Remember that you may also need to calibrate your lenses again when you buy a new camera. Since your device is not familiar with the optical adjustments you made, then you’ll need to program it.
How Do You Calibrate Your Lenses?
When most people hear the word ‘calibrate,’ they think of something obtrusive and challenging to complete. With lens calibration, it’s effortless.
Nevertheless, this process requires a lot of attention. You need to make sure that the calibration you just did on your camera lens is precise and accurate.
Apart from the calibrator, you don’t need special tools to do calibrations. All you need for the most part is to push a few buttons and a lot of patience.
Without further ado, let’s get on with the step-by-step process!
Set Up Your Calibrator
The first thing you need is a lens calibration chart or focus pyramid. It works best with a few minutes in a quiet environment. You can get the lens calibration chart at a reasonable price. There are more expensive options, but this works well for focusing lenses.
We use the DSLR KIT Lens Focus Calibration Tool, and it works perfectly.
If you don’t have a focus calibration tool, you can also use a regular ruler to do it. The only downside is that it may not be as precise as the commercially available options.
Calibrating with a Regular Calibrator
To start calibrating your lenses, set up your camera on a tripod or a flat surface such as a table.
Ensure both the camera and ruler are level. They should be exactly perpendicular, and at the same height.
Next, place the focus pyramid on a level surface a few feet from your lens. It doesn’t matter if it is six or ten feet away. The correction is universal to all distances.
Focus using the viewfinder, not Live View, as the focusing might not be accurate. Don’t use it throughout the entire process.
While using the viewfinder, autofocus on the crosshair at the centre of the ruler. Once you finish that, take a photo. It would be your centre focus point.
Calibrating with a Ruler
If you don’t have a calibrator, you can adjust your autofocus with a ruler as well.
All you have to do is to place a white poster board on a low table or the floor. Next, draw a horizontal line in the middle with a pen or a pencil using your ruler. It doesn’t have to run through the entire length of the board. two to five inches should be enough.
Now choose a number in the middle of your ruler and align it with the line. For our example, we’ll be using the 15 centimetre mark.
Keep in mind that the ruler needs to be vertical and the line should be horizontal.
The line you drew also has to line up perfectly with the 15 centimetre mark on the ruler.
Now mount your camera on a tripod and point it down toward the board. Look through your viewfinder and make sure that the ruler and the line are in the frame.
Set your camera to Aperture Priority and choose your widest aperture. For my 18-85mm lens, it was f/3.5. The narrow depth of field it creates allows you to better pinpoint the sharp and blurry parts in the image.
Use your autofocus and target the middle of the line on the poster board. Once you lock your focus take a picture.
During this process, don’t turn on your live view since it doesn’t always focus accurately. Instead, you should only use your viewfinder.
After you press the shutter, review the photo you just took. Feel free to zoom into the image to help you better examine the details.
The concept behind this method is the same as using a regular calibrator. If the 13 or 14 centimetre marks are sharper than 15, then you have a back focusing problem. If 16 or 17 are sharper than 15, then you have a front focusing problem.
Now the next step is going to be a bit tricky: You’ll need to guess how much you want to adjust the fine-tuning. If you have a back focusing problem, you’ll need to go down. If it’s front focusing, you’ll need to go up. But by how much? You’ll just have to eyeball it.
It will take a few tries until you get the 20 centimetre mark to look sharp. But once you nail the focus, you’re good to go!
Tethering the Camera
After you take a photo, inspect the photo to see if focusing is accurate. We recommend that you do this on a computer since you can see better on a bigger screen.
If you want, you can even tether your camera during this process.
Tethering simply means connecting your camera to your computer. That way, you can take pictures remotely and view them directly on your screen. For this you will need to:
- Check here to make sure your camera is supported.
- Connect the camera to your computer or laptop using the supplied USB cable
- Go to File>Tethered Capture in Lightroom.
Once Lightroom recognises your camera, you’re ready to start shooting. You can either press the shutter button on your device or click on the virtual shutter button that appears on Lightroom.
After you take a photo, it then appears in Lightroom. Review the image to see if everything is sharp. Feel free to zoom into the picture.
If focusing is accurate, the ‘0’ on the lens calibration chart should be the sharpest point on the image. The other numbers should get blurrier as you move away from the ‘0’.
If any number above the 0 is sharper, then your lens is doing something called back focus. If any number below the 0 is sharper, you have a front focus issue.
In either case, you need to correct your lens for sharp focus. You do this using the auto-focus micro-adjustment parameters on your camera body.
Adjust until you can obtain a picture that is sharpest at the ‘0’ on the ruler.
Fixing the Problem: Nikon DSLRs
On Nikon cameras, you need to look for the AF fine-tune Menu in the camera settings. You can find this by clicking on the menu button and then selecting the wrench section.
When you click on this setting, you’ll find some adjustable parameters. Ensure the AF fine-tune is ON. Here, you only want to change the ‘Saved value.’
As we mentioned before, our camera will remember the changes each time you place that lens on your camera. So you only need to use the focal lens calibration once for each lens.
Fixing the Problem: Canon DSLR
For Canon Cameras, start by accessing the Menu, and scroll to the Function area, then Auto Focus settings. Make sure you enable the Autofocus AF Micro adjustment.
Use the Adjust by lens values to correct and fine-tune your focusing. And that’s it, AF calibration complete.
You should be set and ready to shoot. Do this for every lens, and then again, if you have multiple cameras.
Fixing the Problem: Other Cameras
I suggest that you consult your camera manual and follow the instructions to calibrate lens. The menu items and the names may be different. But for the most part, the process should be similar.
The good news is that lens calibration isn’t exclusive to professional cameras. Even entry-level options have them.
It’s also worth mentioning that apart from DSLRs, mirrorless options also have this feature. Lens calibration is even more necessary for them than any other device.
You see, mirrorless cameras use a newer system of lenses that are different from old lenses. So if you use a DSLR lens on a mirrorless using an adaptor, it wouldn’t be surprising if you experience focusing issues.
It’s worth noting that in general, focusing issues with old lenses on mirrorless cameras are rare. But in case it happens, at least you can always do lens calibration.
Can You Calibrate Your Lenses Using Software?
Manually calibrating your lenses is quite easy to do. But sometimes, it can be challenging to confirm whether or not the adjustments we made were precise.
If you want to ensure accuracy when calibrating, we suggest you use dedicated software such as Reikan Focal. Instead of just eyeballing your adjustments, this program confirms whether the parameters you set are accurate.
Since Reikan is a software, it’s a bit pricier than regular calibrators. But if your career requires precise focusing such as product photography, then it’s definitely worth the investment.
FoCal comes with a calibrator which you can tape onto your wall. Once you upload the software, you can tether your camera, and the program will instruct you where to position your device in front of the calibrator accurately.
Once you set your camera’s position, you can then start the calibration process.
Choose Fully Automatic Calibration with User Assist. The program will then start taking photos without you having to do it. If it needs you to adjust parameters, you’ll hear a voice prompt telling you which values to use.
For the next part, you’ll need to go to the camera’s autofocus settings and change the calibration values yourself. You can’t do this from your computer, so you need to access your device’s Menu to make the adjustments.
Expect to hear a few voice prompts from FoCal until the test is complete. In general, the entire test only takes a few minutes.
Keep in mind that using software for calibration isn’t necessary for most people. In most cases, doing the process manually is enough. But it’s good to know that programs such as the FoCal exist if you need accurate adjustments.
Calibration should be one of your priorities, especially if you’re a professional photographer.
This process may not seem as critical for you right now. But remember that using lenses that don’t focus well with your camera can cost you your career. After all, nobody’s going to hire someone who submits a folder filled with blurry files.
Get into the habit of fine-tuning your auto-focus. Knowing that your lenses produce sharp images will give you the confidence you need to get the job done.
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