Do you think the Auto Focus in your camera is perfect? The truth of the matter is, it may not be even if your camera or lenses are brand new. In manual focus, the lens elements can be properly aligned for very sharp images, but the Auto Focus in the camera, in the lens, or combination of both could slightly be off. This will result in slightly soft images when using Auto Focus.
There is a certain amount of tolerance allowed for every camera body and lens that is manufactured. This is due to the fact that no two cameras nor any two lenses will function exactly alike. For years, there has been a feature in high end cameras to compensate for this called Micro Adjustments. If your camera is operating with a focus point that is slightly askew and your lens is also off, the two combined together can create an extremely soft focus. This means that you will be slightly front or back focusing. The industry standard is an allowance of around 3 points (+/-3) for each camera and lens. I will go more in depth into this shortly.
Micro Adjustment menu Canon 7D
If your aperture is all the way wide open, your depth of field is much more narrow. This means that the focus plane (line) is very thin. When you close down, your depth of field is much broader and more of the image is in focus. For photographers who are using their auto focus function, having that focal plain as accurate as possible is extremely important to obtain the sharpest image possible from your lens.
If you are experiencing a soft focus, or while using your auto focus your images are not coming out as sharp as possible, this could be attributed to a variety of problems within your camera. ie: the distance between the lens elements, the sensor and the focal plane, the autofocus mirror assembly and the focus sensor; tolerances are not all perfect. One option is sending your camera back to the manufacturer to have the issue corrected. This takes days, maybe weeks, and if it’s not your camera that is having the issue, then you’ve just been without your camera for no good reason at all.
Before and After Micro Adjustments
The idea of producs like LensAlign, SpyderCal, or is to help you to determine where your problem is when you’re experiencing a soft focus during auto focus and make the necessary micro adjustments to correct it. This is really more so for photographers, as they use auto focus quite often. Video guys are more likely to be in manual, so this is something you may never notice. By figuring out the calibration, you can actually program your camera to recall each lens and it will automatically return to the micro adjustments that you programmed to achieve a sharp focus.
Micro Adjustment Calibration products pretty much work in the same manner. You level your camera with the targets and ruler on the product so you know everything on your focal plain is even and perfectly flat across the camera’s view (not distorted). Open your lens as wide as it can go, rotate the focus ring to get everything ‘out of focus’, and then snap 3 pictures (with autofocus on) to ensure they’re all landing consistently and check to see how accurate your focus is. You MUST make sure you remain in auto focus when you do this or it defeats the entire purpose. Remember, you’re looking to see how accurate your camera is focusing on its own via auto focus. If all of your lenses are really off, the problem could be with your camera. In that case you can adjust within your camera so you don’t have to make adjustments on all of your lenses. There is an option to set Micro Adjustment in the camera itself and not per lens.
So can you make micro adjustments without these tools? Once you understand the concept, it’s possible to find your own way of determining where you auto focus lands. There are several ways people are attempting to calibrate without such tools, but the bottom line is that these off the shelf kits work. They make calibrating micro adjustments easy, fast, and are fairly affordable for professionals who need to do this often and with many lenses. A few popular tools are found below.adjust focus, Canon 7D, fix soft focus, Lens Align, lens focus, soft focus
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