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Gear & Apps

Nikon’s New Feature: Automatic Autofocus Lens Calibration

By Kishore Sawh on April 22nd 2016

If we looked at the long list of annoyances in photography (and it is long), few would contest that sitting right near the top would be autofocus problems. There is nothing quite like special kind of fury felt when coming back from a shoot and loading up those image on a big screen only to find the majority are just enough out of focus to be unusable.

Of course, this happens more frequently for some types of shooters than others; Landscape photographers shooting at infinity likely won’t have the problem quite to the same extent as a portrait or wedding photographer shooting at f/2 or shallower, but the problem is malignant. It’s one of the reasons we sing the praise of tethering and urge you to do it as much as possible, and why we care so much about being able to program buttons for single-press 100% zoom – so we can quickly analyze in-field when without a tether station.

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However, even when tethering and checking focus, that just tells you if you’re off; showing the symptoms rather than administering the cure. At least, however, the diagnoses is generally straightforward – your autofocus needs tuning.

Just like any piece of machinery cameras and lenses go wrong sometimes and need calibration, and the problem is that most photographers don’t ever address autofocus calibration. In fact, the problem is of pandemic proportions. It’s somewhat understandable because it’s a bit of a geeky thing, and the traditional ways to calibrate are geeky endeavors, even if easy and inexpensive. You can buy a simple and straight-forward calibration tool (and should), and most cameras have menu options that allow you to do the fine tuning with these kits in no time.

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Lens Calibration tool example. Get this one as used by our Jay Cassario here.

To be fair, these systems aren’t perfect, and many of these systems allow for AF fine tuning to only affect a single focal length and distance, but in my experience, it tends to be worth it. That said, Sigma – surprise, surprise – is doing it well and better with their dock. But Nikon is stepping up to the plate with their new Auto Autofocus calibration system to be found on their D5 and D500 cameras.

The new cameras will be the first to offer the option, but there is hope that Nikon will be able to usher in the feature to other camera models via a firmware update. Essentially the Auto AF fine tuning just cuts out a few steps of the tuning process, but it still requires you to set some ‘controls’ when using it. Nonetheless, the controls required aren’t much, and you can do it in the field, on the fly.

Now, mirrorless cameras are generally less symptomatic of these AF problems due to how they focus – right off the sensor, so it sort of makes sense that in order to do the fine tuning on these Nikons you’re got to lock-up in Live View for it to work, though that’s hardly much to ask really.

[REWIND: NIKON FULL FRAME CAMERAS AT DISCOUNTS UP TO $700, & MORE SAVINGS FROM CANON & SIGMA (DEAL DASH)]

The fine people over at DPReview have put together a short flick on how this new automated Autofocus fine tuning feature works, and how to do it yourself, and you can check it out below. We’ve been in touch with Nikon to get some more details on the topic and whether it may trickle down to other cameras like the D750 and D810, and will update you as we learn.

Source: DPReview

About

Kishore is, among other things, the Editor-In-Chief at SLR Lounge. A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Dave Haynie

    It makes perfect sense this should be possible if the DSLR bothered to get contrast focus working well. The camera could easily use the CDAF on a subject, then compare PDAF, and figure the correction needed.

    A proper version of this wouldn’t require mirror lockup — you’d select the calibration option, undoubtedly deep down in the menus, with camera pointed at an acceptably high-contrast target. The camera could automatically check focus on the sensor in the area of each PDAF sensor, and produce an aggregate correction (or, if the scene proves unsuitable, a message that nothing is recalibrated).

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  2. Vladimir Ladev

    It would be amazing if D810 got this feature in a firmware update.

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  3. Ralph Hightower

    Geez, these photographers today have it so easy with Auto Focus, Auto ISO, and Auto White Balance.

    Back in the day when I started photography, we had to focus the lens our self, we couldn’t change the ISO of the film once we started shooting (we could push or pull, but that was for the entire roll), and white balance was set by the film that we loaded.

    If the photo wasn’t in focus, either the photographer didn’t nail the focus or the photographer needed to have his vision checked and get glasses.

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    • Chuck Eggen

      We also travelled by horse and buggy but that doesn’t stop you from driving today now does it.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Progress is progress, and progress is good. But something to be said for knowing how it’s done without an aid. That said, it’s not in our nature to snuff out the fire…so more innovation here we come.

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    • robert raymer

      True, though as someone who still shoots a lot of film on 6×6 and 4×5 as well as shooting old AI-s lenses on my D800 (and not to mention who wears glasses)I have to say that AF calibration is important. Im not sure about the other manufacturers, but I know that Nikon does not make interchangeable focusing screens with micro prisms, split images, or any other focusing aids, meaning that any help I can get with focusing is greatly appreciated.

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  4. Ty Yang

    When Nikon adds features to older cameras via firmware is when pigs will fly.

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    • Lauri Hytti

      I was thinking the exact same thing. Can’t remember Nikon ever creating a firmware upgrade that actually made any meaningful change other than fixing things that should of worked from the start. Lets hope this actually happens.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      one can hope. This is one thing, as a long-time and primary Nikon owning individual, I’ve been truly disappointed with

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  5. Chuck Eggen

    I tried this with my D5 and it worked great. Nice feature. Only limit is when using a zoom you have to choose a focal length you’ll use most and tune it there. Nikon 80-400mmG tuned @400mm.

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    • adam sanford

      Is it automated? Somewhat. Better than a target for sure.

      But is it comprehensive? No way. Only works for one focal length on a zoom. Only works for one focus distance that you decide based on what you usually shoot with that lens.

      Sigma’s dock (though it certainly requires a target setup and some off-camera review time), offers more ability to tune a lens.

      Here’s hoping Canon can Frankenstein together Sigma’s powerful adjustment options with Nikon’s basic automated method.

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  6. robert raymer

    My first thought on reading the title was “I hope they can add it to the D800 via firmware upgrade”. I hope it happens.

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