About Thomas Fitzgerald

Thomas is a professional fine art photographer and writer specialising in photography related instructional books as well as travel writing and street photography. 

Spyder X Capture Pro Rolling Review Part 4: Calibrating my lenses

Spyder X Capture Pro Rolling Review Part 4: Calibrating my lenses

One of the interesting things that comes with the Spyder X Capture Pro is the Spyder LensCal. This is a special test chart that makes it easy to calibrate your lenses on a DSLR. Because of the way that autofocus works on a DSLR a lens can sometimes be off with its focus point, and when you focus on an object it can be either very slightly infant or behind the point at which you’re focussing. Most camera offer a way to offset the focus, and the Spyder LensCal provides a way to reliably measure and set it, at least in theory.

It should be noted that this only really works on a DSLR. Mirrorless cameras don’t really need this because the autofocus happens on the image sensor, whereas in a DSLR it happens on a separate autofocus sensor. I’m not going to get into the technicalities of this here, and there are plenty of articles online that can explain this better than I can. Individual lenses can be mis-calibrated, and some lenses can be fine while others can be off significantly.

For the purposes of this test, I decided to use my Nikon D700 because it has an easy way to calibrate individual lenses. It will let you store different fine-tuning offsets for different lenses (based on the lens serial number which is detected by the camera). Some of Nikons newer, high end cameras offer an option to calibrate lenses automatically, but in this case I’ll be doing it manually.

To set it up you mount both your target and camera on a tripod, and ensure that they are relatively straight on to each other (in other words the plane of the LensCal and the sensor of your camera should be relatively parallel. They should also be a minimum distance apart. The official recommendation is five to ten times the focal length of the lens you’re using. You also need to make sure it’s not too small in frame as otherwise you won’t be able to see anything. As I was in a relatively tight environment, I kept it to the smaller end of that scale.

The first two lenses that I tried seemed to be fine. Both my 28-300 and 24-105 were bang on the money in terms of accuracy. It’s actually hard to tell with the zoom lenses because the depth of filed is that bit wider. When I put my 50mm f/1.4 on, that was hen I could see that there was an issue.

It was difficult to see not he camera screen, so I double checked on the computer, and you can clearly see that the “0” line is slightly soft. It should be a solid black. You can also see the effect of chromatic aberration on the lines.

I went into the menu on the camera and went to the autofocus fine-tune menu and dialled in a value of -10 (to bring the focal plane forward) and took another shot. This time the 0 line looked much better. When I checked this on the computer it still looked like the numbers behind were more infects, but I went back and tried a bigger offset, and then the main target started to go out of focus, so in the end, I dialled it back, and a value of -10 seems to be the most accurate.

Setting AF Fine Tune Values on the camera

Setting AF Fine Tune Values on the camera

I had thought that this was going to be an easy process, but it’s actually tricker than it looks (cue hate mail telling me that it isn’t) especially getting everything aligned right. It takes a little time, going back and forward to check on your computer, and even then I’m not 100% sure I’m doing it right. It’s also hard to see the differences, especially on lenses which don’t have a fast aperture. I’m glad that as more mirrorless cameras become mainstream, this should become a thing of the past, although some mirrorless cameras still allow fine tuning, which is generally to allow for errors when using lens adaptors.

To be honest, this isn’t something I would recommend doing for anyone who is an amateur or non technical user, unless you’ve noticed significant errors in your lenses, and you like super nerdy and technical things like this. If you are very technically minded, then I’m sure this is a useful tool to have, but its the kind of thing you set once and then leave it, so it may be better getting your camera store to calibrate for you. If your’re very serious about having everything perfect, especially if you’re in a mission critical situation, then this is another useful tool to have, and coming as part of the studio kit with the colour checker, makes it a good combination, but this will probably be the least used part of the package.

If you’re interested in this, the Spyder X Capture Pro package I'm testing here is available for around $399 and you can get it from BH Photo or Amazon. It’s also available a few different bundles, including just the calibrator on its own.


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