Podcast 321 : Lens Calibration and Microadjustment with FoCal

Podcast 321 : Lens Calibration and Microadjustment with FoCal

Today we’re going to take a look at a great new product from Reikan Technology called FoCal. The folks at FoCal were kind enough to provide me with a copy of their product to give it a good test, and I really liked what I saw, so decided to share my findings here today. We also have a great deal on FoCal for you, if you decide to give it a try yourself, which we’ll get to at the end of this post.

Three Flavors of FoCal

Before we get started, you’ll want to note that FoCal currently comes in three flavors, Standard, Plus and Pro. Standard gives you Target Setup help and Semi-Automatic Calibration. Plus gives you Fully Automatic Calibration with one button press. Pro gives you Analysis information, Reporting, Target Optimization and extra tests in addition of course to Target Setup and Fully Automatic Calibration. I had a chance to use FoCal Pro, which is what we’ll look at today, but you can see what you get in the other packages here too.

No Delivery Necessary

The great thing about FoCal is that you don’t have to wait for delivery. You print the targets yourself, and detailed instructions are included in your download, so it’s quick and self contained. You do currently need to wait for up to a day for your initial license to be sent to you, but hopefully there’ll be a totally automated licensing system in place at some point.

Camera Support

Right now, FoCal version 1.1.0.40 supports the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 7D and 50D, and the 1Ds Mark III is supported although the Semi Automatic mode is not available for the 1Ds III, and Mirror Lockup isn’t used during the tests on the 1Ds III either. The 1D Mark IV and III are set to be added soon, and support for a range of Nikon cameras is planned for early March, though this could obviously change.

Other Future Features

Other features that I’m told are on the roadmap are AF Low Light Performance checks. This not only allows you to check the test environment, but will also give you an idea of your lowest exposures at which you can expect good autofocus in the field. Also, a test to find the sharpest apertures of your lenses is coming, and this is very powerful. Imagine being able to just press a few buttons and find your optimal aperture for all your lenses!

Also, Shutter Vibration tests are coming, and this will basically find which shutter speeds are most affected by shutter vibration. I know for example that around 1/50 of the second is really bad for vibration with my 600mm f4 lens, but I’ve not really looked into this for other lenses. Again, being able to work through your lenses finding these details, probably in one fell swoop, is huge in my opinion.

Mac Version on the Way Too

One other thing to bear in mind too is that FoCal is only supported on Windows at this point in time. I have Windows machines available but as I’m now a Mac user, I decided to run my tests using Parallels to ensure that this worked, and it did work fine, so is certainly an option until a Mac version of the FoCal software is made available.

Start with the Documentation

Although there’s nothing particularly difficult about FoCal, you’ll benefit from reading the documentation before you start to actually use the product. As of February 2012, FoCal comes with two  PDF documents, which are the product manual and a FoCal Testing Guide. Do take the time to read the Testing Guide, as this helps you to fully understand the product and the process, though I am going to walk you through much of this today as well.

Printing Your Targets

Before you can start the calibration, you’ll want to print the target pages that are included in your download package. The two target pages that include three targets. The first (left) is a middle sized target used for testing between 17mm and 300mm, and the second (right) contains a large target for longer telephotos and a tiny little target for calibrating macro lenses close up.

Medium Target

Medium Target

Large and Small Target

Large and Small Target


The advice is to print these targets on heavyweight matte paper with an inkjet printer. The use of heavyweight paper is for strength in the targets, so if you don’t mind printing new targets as yours become tattered then normal A4 paper will work apparently. Matte paper is used to reduce reflection.

The targets are designed to be printed at 300dpi, so to control the size, ensure that no scaling is carried out. I had to trim a bit of white space from around the edges of the files and then just select to print the image centered on the page with no scaling when printing from Photoshop. This ensures that the file is printed at its native resolution.

Software Setup

For the FoCal software to work, for Canon cameras at least for now, you also need to ensure that you have the Canon’s EOS Utility application that comes with your camera installed. Once you have EOS Utility on your system, just run the FoCal software installer, which is very straightforward and needs no explanation here.

Licensing

One FoCal license allows you to register the serial number of up to 5 camera bodies, and these can be changed any time for free, so you’re not forced to buy a new license when you upgrade your bodies. You just contact Reiken Technology, the makers of FoCal, to remove your old camera’s serial number and add the new one. Hopefully the initial serial number registration and this kind of  update will be something that you can do online at some point, without any human intervention, at least for a limited number of changes before a reset is necessary.

When you start the FoCal software the first time, when the Camera Selector window is displayed, click on the License button and install the license that you’ll have received by mail when you buy the product.

Searching for Cameras

Searching for Cameras

This is also the screen that you’ll see once a license is installed, but no cameras are connected. After you connect your camera to your computer with a USB cable, it will appear in the list for you to select. Under the Setting menu in the main dialog, you can turn on a checkbox to automatically select the camera if only one camera is detected. I turned this on as I doubt I’ll ever have multiple cameras connected at once for this kind of testing.

Camera Selector

Camera Selector

Target Setup / Distance

Tape or use Bluetack or something to attach your test targets to a wall, at the same height as your camera, also ensuring that you can get the right distance from the target to your camera. You can perform the test at any distance, and if you often use your lens at Minimum Focus Distance, you might want to calibrate at that distance, as the results can vary, but the FoCal documentation quotes the Canon advice of calibrating at 50x the focal length of the lens.

This means if you are calibrating a 50mm lens, the distance should be 2,500mm, which is of course 2.5m or 8ft. It doesn’t really matter to the test how far away you set your camera, but this will be the distance at which the microadjustment is the most accurate, so keep this in mind as you run your tests.

The same goes for zoom lenses. You can calibrate at any focal length that the lens can be set at, but this will mean that the lens’ focus will be most accurate at that focal length and may run off slightly as you move away from that focal length. So, if you want the best performance across all focal lengths, then you might want to set say a 24-70mm to around 50mm, in the middle of it’s range. Alternatively, if you pretty much always shoot at 70mm, you could choose to calibrate and microadjust at 70mm.

The FoCal documentation also suggests calibrating at both extremes of the lens, finding the microadjustment values, say +4 for 24mm and +7 for 70mm, and making your decision based on these values. For example you could set at either of these values for best focusing at either extreme, or choose microadjustment of +5 or +6 to get a happy medium.

Although this seems a little bit haphazard, the new 1D X is actually going to have the ability to a microadjustment value for either end of the focal length range to remove the guesswork, so Canon fully understands that there is something missing from the microadjustment on cameras to date.

FoCal states the general advice of calibrating at the telephoto end of a zoom lens, 70mm in the case of a 24-70mm lens, as the depth of field is shallower at 70mm, allowing for more accurate microadjustment values.

Camera Setup

Once you have your targets attached to a wall and your camera distance sorted, you’ll want to setup your camera for the tests. For the tests to work, you need to ensure your camera is in Av mode, with the AF set to ONE SHOT and select only the center focus point, not automatic selection. Also turn off image stabilization if you are testing an IS lens.

Your test environment also needs to be bright enough to get at least a 1/4 of a second exposure at f2.8, ISO 100, although brighter will help to get more reliable results. 1/125 of a second at f2.8, ISO 100 is recommended.

Fire up FoCal

Connect your camera to your computer with the USB cable that came with the camera, and fire up the FoCal software. Assuming this isn’t the first time you start FoCal, and you already have a licensed camera connected, you’ll either see the Camera Selector screen, or you’ll see the following screen if you have set FoCal to automatically select the camera when only once camera is selected. The details of your camera and lens, as well as any Microadjustment you might already have set for the lens attached will be displayed.

FoCal Main Screen

FoCal Main Screen

To get your camera aligned with the Target, click Show Tools and then Target Setup, and your camera will go into LiveView and show you your target on the wall. At this point, even on a sunny afternoon, with my normal room lights turned on, the image on the screen was very dark.

Target Setup Help

Target Setup Help

Even after getting a standard light from another room, there didn’t seem to be enough light, but the software was able to guide me to the point that it was happy to start the tests.

Target Setup Complete

Target Setup Complete

The on-screen alignment help is very cool. It not only tells you when you need to move your camer up, down, right or left, but it detects too much rotation or if you are looking at the target from too much of an angle from the sides, or above or below the target. Once you have everything lined up correctly, you’ll see a check mark on the screen, showing you that you’re good to proceed with the tests.

I found though that if you measure the distance from the floor to the center of your lens, and make sure the target is attached to the wall with the round circle in the middle at the same height, then just judging by eye if the camera was square on, then looking through the finder and putting the center focus point over the circle, the test passed first time. Also, as the test is also run when you start the Fully Automatic Microfocus Adjustment Test, and won’t proceed if there are problems, this is probably the quickest workflow.

You also get a distance readout, so you can see how far away from the target your camera is. In the above screenshots I was 2.2m away, but changed this to the recommended 2.5m for the test with my 50mm lens.

Once you have your camera lined up, just hit the Fully Automated AF Microadjust button on the main screen, and the Test screen is displayed, and you just hit the Start button to kick off the test. The test takes a minute or so, and your camera will make a number of exposures.

Once the test is finished you’ll see a specific amount to adjust the lens by, which in the case of my 50mm f1.2L lens was +7. This is not surprising as I actually had Canon set this lens to front-focus slightly, as I found that there were discrepancies between the center focus point and the peripheral points, and we were trying to reach a happy medium. This setting might negate some of that of course, but that’s not what we’re here to look at today.

Test Finished

Test Finished

At this point, you are actually able to set the amount of microadjustment in the camera right there, and you’re done.

If you hit the Analysis button on this screen, you can see the various microadjustment settings mapped out on a graph and check how blurred or sharp the image became between each setting by clicking on the nodes, which is really useful. (Click the image to view details)

Analysis Screen

Analysis Screen

I went on to test my 70-200mm f2.8 L II lens, and found that at both 70mm and 200mm, there was no microadjustment necessary, which didn’t really surprise me, as I’ve never had any problems with this lens at all. Note that I did perform this test at 2.5 meters though, which is a bit close per the recommended calibration distance, but I often use this lens quite close too, so I left it as it was.

70-200mm Spot on!

70-200mm Spot on!

I then calibrated my 24-70mm f2.8 L lens and found that although no microadjustment was necessary at 24mm at 1.25m, at around 3m I required +4 adjustment at 70mm. Based on this, I tested the lens at 50mm at around 2.5m and found that no microadjustment was needed at this focal length and distance either. I then ran the test again at 3 meters at 50mm, and found that once again, +4 adjustment was necessary. I started to wonder now whether the problem was in the focussing distance, or the focal length? So I did the test again at 24mm from 3m, and found that the lens needed a -2 adjustment at this distance.

Semi-Automatic Microadjustment

I hadn’t really understood the Semi-Automatic AFMA Test to this point, but then found the value in this feature once I had a lens that had somewhat sporadic focus adjustment measurements. The manual has a good explanation of how to use this module, which you’ll need to read, especially if you opt for the Standard version of FoCal, in which this is your main workflow.

Semi-Automatic AFMA Test

Semi-Automatic AFMA Test

For me though, I found it useful to be able to run the test while switching through a few different focal lengths and settings to see where the happy medium lays. Once you have a lens that requires a difference microadjustment amount for various focal lengths and focusing distances, you really just have to find the best value as a compromise between the various possibilities, which this tool enables you to do by playing with the possibilities, then applying various adjustments and refocusing using the onscreen buttons, and see how the sharpness improves each time.

The higher the line on the graph by the way, the sharper the image. The graph here is a bit all over the place, because it shows three different focal lengths. I’m not sure if this is how it should be used, but it helped me to lock in on +2 as my final microadjustment.

Check Your Settings!

After I’d finished running my tests on these three lenses, closed the application and unplugged my camera, I noticed that my camera’s file format was left at Large Fine JPEG, and the meter mode was set to Spot Metering. I found in the manual that the software does try to return camera settings to their original values, but this didn’t happen with me, probably caused by the camera going to sleep while I was making notes and the software lost its connection with the camera. Either that, or because I changed lenses with the camera connected and software open, which I also read can cause problems.

Anyway, regardless of why this happens, you’ll want to check these when you’re finished, to avoid shooting JPEG afterwards, or ending up in the wrong metering mode etc. I spoke with the FoCal people about this, and have been told that this should get more robust in future versions. They’re a great team and really listen their customers.

Conclusion

In general, I found FoCal to be very easy to use. It takes a bit of time to get up to speed on how to use it, reading through the documentation, but none of it is difficult to grasp. Now that I’ve calibrated three of my main workhorse lenses, I’m going to set aside another couple of hours to calibrate my other lenses, and then run through them all again with my two other bodies. Based on these initial tests, I’d say it will probably take me about two hours or so, as I have a lot of lenses, and three bodies, but it will be worth it.

Note that although I received a copy of FoCal for these tests, I have not received any financial or material compensation from Reikan Technology in connection with this review. As is always the case with my reviews, these are my own honest opinions, based on a spending some time using and testing the product.

Discount for MBP Visitors!

Just for MBP visitors and Podcast listeners, Reikan Technology have provided a very healthy time limited discount when you buy your copy of FoCal. FoCal Standard is only £19.95 anyway, so that’s not included, but you can get FoCal Plus, which is usually £39.95 for just £25, and FoCal Pro, which is usually £69.95 for just £45, which is more than a 35% discount of both products.

This discount will be available until March 31st 2012, but only if you buy from a special page setup specifically for MBP listeners. Head over to http://www.fo-cal.co.uk/mbp45 [link and discount no longer valid] before March 31st, to pick up your discounted copy of FoCal. If you are catching up after March 31st, 2012, but are interested in buying FoCal, still check this page, as I’m told there’ll be some sort of discount for you, even though it won’t be quite as hefty a saving as the initial offering. 

Note too that even if your camera is not yet supported you can either buy the software now at the discounted price, and wait for the free update when the additional Canon and a range of Nikon cameras are added, but also, do check back through February and March, as there are some changes coming very soon, probably before this initial discount expires.

Housekeeping

Andrew S. Gibson, one of my fellow Craft & Vision authors, just released an interview with me on his blog if you are interested. Andrew asked some great questions, and we touch on how I prepared to leave my old job, to pursue my passion in full time photography. You can take a read here: http://www.andrewsgibson.com/blog/2012/02/making-the-print-an-interview-with-photographer-author-martin-bailey/


Show Notes

FoCal Web site: https://www.reikanfocal.com

Music by UniqueTracks


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Podcast 195 : May ’09 Assignment – Nothing in Focus – Results

Podcast 195 : May ’09 Assignment – Nothing in Focus – Results

Today we take a look at the winners of the May Assignment with the theme “Nothing in Focus”, and congratulate the winner of the first Accumulated vote Grand Prize of 2009.

Unfortunately, before recording this episode, I didn’t notice that the third and second place had the same number of votes, meaning they were both actually joint second place. Sorry about that Craig!

Joint Second Place:

"A Blurred" by Craig Halp

“A Blurred” by Craig Halp

Joint Second Place:

"I finally found my reading glasses!" by Milt Lyerly

“I finally found my reading glasses!” by Milt Lyerly

First Place:

"Tibetan Monk creating Long Life Buddha Sand Mandala" by Paul Davis

“Tibetan Monk creating Long Life Buddha Sand Mandala” by Paul Davis

All Images © Copyright of contributing members

First Half of 2009 Grand Prize!

Remember that this assignment was the last assignment for the first half of 2009, which we’ll be grouping together for the first accumulate vote prize. The prize for this first half of the year is a cheeky rain-check prize. I’m working on a project to product small fine art print folios, that I’m hoping to make available in the next few months, and the winner of this first accumulated vote assignment will receive edition #1 of that first folio once it’s available.

And now that the votes are in, I am able to congratulate Forrest Tanaka for amassing over 100 votes in the five assignments that make up this first batch of 2009. He always puts so much into the Assignment, and it really shows. Forrest won the Lowepro bag when we were sponsored by Lowepro too. You’re certainly doing everything right Forrest, so please accept my rain-check prize, and I’ll be in touch in the coming months to make sure that your postal address hasn’t changed.

With that, we start a new series of six monthly assignments from the one currently in progress for June, until the end of November, and the prizes for this have been made possible by our sponsors WebSpy. There’s a blog post with details of the prizes, but to quickly recap, the third place winner will receive every issue of LensWork Extended up until December this year, when the prize winners will be decided. That’s 29 issues of LensWork extended, which is an incredible prize. Thanks to the kind folks at LensWork for arranging such a great prize for us. The second place winner will receive a Lensbaby Composer. Again, this is just amazing, and will open many creative doors for the winner. The first place winner will receive an incredible Sigma 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM Lens! If the winner already has this lens or simply does not want it, you can exchange it for a $500 B&H gift voucher. How cool is that!?

So, if you haven’t already, please do get out and start shooting for the June assignment, on the theme of Everything in Focus.


Podcast show-notes:

Here are the details of the photography assignment prizes that WebSpy has kindly sponsored too: https://martinbaileyphotography.com/2009/06/09/competition-prizes/

This episode is sponsored by WebSpy, the Internet Monitoring, Analysis & Reporting Specialists.

The music in this Podcast was created and produced by UniqueTracks.


Audio

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Focussing (on Poppies!?) (Podcast 139)

Focussing (on Poppies!?) (Podcast 139)

As you just heard, about a month ago, I went to the Showa Memorial Park here in Tokyo to shoot the poppies there. I was going to do just a normal showcase type Podcast on the day, but having thought about it, a lot of what I would have spoken about was related to how I focussed on the subjects in a lot of these shots, and as focusing has come up in the forum a lot recently, I figured I’d adapt this Podcast to concentrate on some of my manual focusing techniques a little. This is not going to be comprehensive, and some of what I will talk about will require specialized or more recent gear to use the techniques but this is what I’m doing right now with regards to focusing in my own photography.

There are a few observations about focusing that I probably should talk about first. For general focusing of larger scenes, or snapshots around town etc I don’t find I have to take any more care with regards to focusing as just using the camera’s autofocus. One thing I do find is that despite having 45 focussing sensors in my 1Ds I often select the center focus point. In fact, I’d say that 95% of my photographs are made with the center focus point. I will sometimes select a different focus point when working with a tripod to focus on a particular part of the image, and also for wildlife, say when tracking birds across the scene, I sometimes select all focus points and allow the camera to select the rights ones, especially when using the AI Servo mode to track moving subjects. This works well most of the time, except when the surroundings are of higher contrast than the main subject, which I find confuses the camera, and focus is moved to the higher contrast background unintentionally. When this happens, I usually find myself back using just the center focus point, even in AI Servo mode.

On the topic of contrast; note that autofocus sensors are really just looking for contrast in the scene. If you use autofocus with multiple sensors and can’t seem to get the camera to lock on to the point you expect it too, one trick is to line up the sensors with lines on the subject. If there are people in the shot, the eyes are always going to be the best place to lock on to. Firstly, you should focus on the eyes in most cases, just for photographic reasons, rather than technical reasons. The eyes should always be sharp, or your subjects will look lifeless. From a technical perspective though, eyes are outlined and have the darker or different coloured iris, so it makes a good contrast to lock in to. Otherwise, just look for lines of contrast in your subject, horizontal or vertical work best, and align one of your active focus points with that. This usually helps your camera to lock in to the part of the scene that you want to focus on.

There are some situations though when I simply do not use autofocus, or I use autofocus to get an initial focus quickly, but then tweak it with other methods. Today I’m going to go into a little more detail about these methods. Let’s take a look at the first shot from this series of poppy shots to start the ball rolling. The first image is number 1780. Here we can see a poppy bud that is partially open, with the flower about to bloom. Now I’m going to use a little artistic license here and talk about one technique that I have used for a while, but didn’t actually use here, so bear with me. Quite often, for subject like this, that are pretty low to the ground, I use an Angle Finder C, from Canon. This fits to the viewfinder once you removed the normal plastic and rubber eyecup from the back of the camera, and allows you to look down into the viewfinder from above. You can actually turn it a full 360 degrees, and it locks into place at one quarter and I think also one eighth positions around the entire 360 degrees, as well as being totally free to move to all other angles.  This is useful in itself, especially as I say for low work, but the other thing that I sometimes use with this angle finder is the ability to magnify the viewfinder to 2X what you would normally see. For macro work, I always switch to manual focusing. It just isn’t work trying to mess around with autofocus at these distances and with so many parts of a usual macro scene for the sensors to lock into. It can be quite difficult to see if you really do have your focus on the right part of the scene when shooting macro though, and because the depth-of-field is so shallow at these focussing distances, even with a relatively small aperture, getting the focus exactly right can be a challenge. If you switch to the 2X magnification mode though, you will find it much easier to focus, because you can simply see the subject better. I also find the angle finder to be very bright, which really helps too. If you have a camera with a crop factor, or focal length multiplier, then you will almost certainly be working with a darker viewfinder than a 35mm film SLR or a DSLR with a full-sized sensor, so the bright viewfinder the angle finder affords you can be even more useful here. This image was shot at F4 by the way, for 1/500th of a second at ISO 100.

Silk in Waiting

Silk in Waiting

Even when I’m not shooting macro, as I often shoot with wide aperture lenses, and often with the aperture close to or actually wide open, focus accuracy is a very important to me. Especially when I’m shooting at a slower pace, where I can take my time on focusing, I take as much care as possible to get it right. Since upgrading to the 1Ds, there is one tool that I have quickly started to depend on, and that is LiveView. This is available on many of the latest camera releases at all levels and across the spectrum, not just Canon, so I won’t be reducing the audience to 1Ds owners here, but if you don’t have one of the more recent generation cameras just bear with us for a while here. When I first heard about this feature, to be honest, I was not all that interested. I didn’t think it would be useful. I could not imagine myself holding the camera out like a compact digital, and composing the scene on the LCD, and you know what? I still don’t. With the better optics and clear finder on an SLR, I don’t think LiveView will ever replace that. There are reasons to use LiveView for composition and shooting, say when you physically can’t get your eye to the viewfinder, but that’s a different topic.

Anyway, although I was not enthused about LiveView to start with, once I found out that you can zoom the image on the LCD to 5 and 10X, I realised there was a tool here that I had not be conscious of until that point. Obviously, if you can zoom in on the subject on your LCD, with the clarity of the LCDs these days, you can tweak the focus to make sure it is exactly where you want it to be. Let’s take a look at image number 1782, and I’ll explain the process a little more. We can see here that I’ve found a patch of poppies with some nice white poppies mingled in, and framed it up so that there are lots of poppies in the foreground, creating some nice foreground bokeh, and there are orange and yellow poppies, with a few more white one in the background, creating a dream backdrop for the image. As the poppies trail off into the distance, the scene gets slightly darker towards the top, adding overall balance to the image. One of the main reasons I bought the 300mm F2.8 lens last year was to enable me to capture this sort of image. I have been looking forward to this field of poppies blooming for the last six months.

Poppy Heaven

Poppy Heaven

To get back to the focusing though, when I first set my camera up I used the center focus point to focus on the stamen of the white flower in front of the pair to the left, then I recomposed the shot as we see here. If you recall from previous episodes, I have set my camera up so that I do not focus with the shutter button. When I press the shutter button, the camera only takes a light reading. I have to press the focus button on the back of the camera with my thumb to actually focus. What this means is that I can leave my lens in autofocus mode, but the focus will remain unchanged until I hit the focus button on the back of the camera again, which saves a little fiddling around flicking the button on the lens barrel to turn off auto-focus, which I really don’t want know because the subject on which I focussed is no longer where the focus sensor is. If you were doing something similar to this, and you are happy with the focus you gained from autofocus, or maybe even tweaked the focus while looking through the viewfinder, then you could just go ahead and take the shot now.

I however, will now use my LiveView tool to check the focus and tweak it as necessary. I have set up my camera to go into LiveView when I hit the Set button in the middle of the Quick Control Dial on the back of the camera. The mirror flops up, and the scene is displayed on the LCD. I have also set up my camera so that it gives me an approximation of the actual exposure that the shutter speed and aperture will give me at my selected ISO, and if you hit the info button on the back of the camera you also get a live histogram, so you can also check that your exposure is where you want it to be at this point. The main reason I’m in LiveView right now though is to focus, so I use the Multi-Controller noggin thingy to move a small white frame around the LCD. When I hit the Magnify button at the top right of the back of the camera, I zoom into to see the part of the image that I selected with the white frame at 5X magnification. You can press again to go to 10X, and then again to go back to viewing the entire image with no magnification, but I find that 5X is plenty to fine tune the focus. If you have a bit of camera shake you might have to half press the shutter button here to turn on your Image Stabilization so that you can see your subject better, but this isn’t always necessary. Once you are in LiveView on the 1Ds you are actually forced to use Manual Focusing, but that’s alright, because you really want to be doing this in Manual anyway. So, you just turn the focus ring on your lens, while viewing the subject in the LCD and you can control exactly where the focus falls on your subject. On this occasion, as I said, I focused on the yellow stamen of the white poppy on the left. I found that the autofocus had actually focussed on the front petals, which is understandable because there is a nice contrasty line there, so I had to move the focus back into the scene very slightly. Another benefit of using LiveView is that the mirror is already up, so then I just have to hit the shutter release button on my cable release, and the image is captured. This image was shot at 1/1600th of a second at F3.2 by the way, with the ISO set to 100. There was plenty of light to work with, as you can see in the resulting image.

One other thing that can be a challenge when shooting with a very shallow depth of field is paralleling your main subjects, if you intend to focus on multiple objects. The LiveView feature can help here too. Let’s look at image number 1783 and you’ll see what I mean. Here we can see that I have captured three white poppies in a line, to the left of the frame. This is no coincidence of course, as I was looking for this type of detail. To make this work though, they all need to be acceptably sharp. As best as I could, I positioned my camera in a way that appeared to make my film plane, or digital sensor, parallel to the three flower heads. To check that this was really the case though is difficult when the flowers are as small in the frame as this. Again, I used LiveView and zoomed in on one of them, but once you are zoomed, you can use the Multi-Controller to move around the image, to check other areas without coming out of the zoom mode. It’s a little bit juddery, because the camera is processing a lot of data to give you this image, but it works fine. I was able to see that I was not quite square, and adjust my camera position to get more parallel to these subjects because tripping the shutter. Until now, to do this I would have shot multiple images, and zoomed in on the image after capturing it, but this is time consuming and you end up taking home more images than necessary, that will probably just eat up disk space if you aren’t a little ruthless with your deletion policy. This too was shot at F3.2 with a shutter speed of 1/1250th of a second this time, again of course still at ISO 100. Note that this lens can be used totally wide open and still give sharp images, but I just wanted literally just a fraction more depth-of-field than wide open would give me, just to pull things together a tiny bit more.

We Three Poppies

We Three Poppies

One last image I want to look at is number 1786. Here we can see that I have focussed in very closely on a the center of a yellow poppy. With regards to the composition, I’ve shot this type of image many times, and have often tried to include all the stamen, though not go past the edges of the petals when possible. Having zoomed in on some of my previous shots though, I noticed that I didn’t really need to include all the stamen and it in fact may have given me a more dramatic shot if I didn’t, so I decided to go a little closer here, cutting them off to the left and top of the frame slightly. The light levels had dropped slightly as the sky became a little hazy, but this was acting like a big diffuser, so I was happy enough about that. The thing is though, this flower was blowing around in the wind a little, so I used my Wimberley Plamp, which is a plant clamp, to hold the flower in place just a little. The Plamp clamps onto your tripod leg, and then you have like a large clothes peg that holds the flower steady from its stem. There is a hole in the plamp large enough that it doesn’t apply any pressure, crushing the stem in any way, so no harm is done to the flower.

Yellow

Yellow

This doesn’t stop the flower moving altogether though, so I upped the ISO to 200. Still, at F4 this meant that I had to slow my shutter speed down to 1/320th of a second, which is touch and go with a flower that is blowing around in the relatively strong breeze. A number of the shots were blurred, but as I was waiting for the moment the flower stopped moving before rocking back the other way, I got a few nice sharp images as well. So again, back to focusing, I used LiveView again here. This time not to help me focus on a distant subject, but really just to fine tune the focus on in this macro world. Whenever I photograph something, I look for something that is different from the rest of the scene or subject. Here, the black hairs in the center of the flower stood out, in a sea of yellow. With LiveView I could see how much of the surrounding stamen would be within the depth-of-field as I manually changed the focus around those hairs, and it was looking good, so again, I tripped the shutter at this point. The main benefit here is that again I was working low to the ground, and might have usually used the angle finder to zoom in and check the details of this image, but I was actually looking down on the flower from almost above it, and so the angle finder didn’t really make sense. I’d have had to set it up and look into the angle finder from the side, which is a little awkward when you are low down, so again, the LiveView just worked well for me here. Note that there is also a little level on the side of the viewfinder on the 1Ds to put a little shutter across the viewfinder to stop stray light getting in while you don’t have your eye against the view finder. If light gets in through the viewfinder it can affect metering, and also cause ghost images on your photograph as it reflects down into the optics and on to the sensor.

As I say, this is not a comprehensive episode on focusing by any means. Really what I’m doing right now in some areas of my photography, mainly with regards to manual focusing and the fine tuning of. I’ve mentioned some other techniques in the past, like the use of focusing rails for macro work, especially once you magnify at more than 1:1 or life-size. That whole series was episodes 42, 43 and 44, and I think I talked about focusing rails in Episode 43. I’ve talked about using the back focus button a little as well, and also touched on using AI Servo a few of times too. I will though no doubt follow up on this subject again, as I notice other things that I find myself doing, that might be of interest to you.

One last thought about focusing, or the problems some people have before we finish. In the digital age, it is now so much easier for us to just zoom right in to 100% and check pixel for pixel if our images are sharp. Some people say this is going too far, and depending on what you want to use your photographs for, this might be true, but if you ever intend to sell your images commercially, anything that is not tack sharp will rarely make the cut, especially when you are up against other photographers, because they will almost certainly have submitted tack sharp images for consideration. There are always going to be times when you make an artistic decision to include deliverable blur to depict movement or something, but this should be obviously deliberate and add to the image. If a shot that should be sharp is not, you’ll be at a disadvantage, so I myself suggest that you do pixel peep, and check your images for sharpness. When you do so, and find that the image is not sharp, it is not always obvious what caused the lack of sharpness. Focusing errors are much more common than people think.

One way to find out if you have messed up the focusing is to check to see if anything in the image is sharp. Zoom in on your main subject and then start to scroll around the image to see if anything in closer to or further way from the camera is in focus. If you can find something that is, it means your focusing technique was flawed, and you’ll need to improve. If nothing is in focus, assuming that there are things in the frame that should have been, then this could something else, probably camera shake. Subject blur is also a possibility. Was your main subject moving when you took the shot, or were you moving. Image Stabilization technologies will help here, but only to an extent. The longer the lens, the more likely you are to get camera shake, and need to compensate for that with shorter shutter speeds. I’ve been into this a number of times in the past too, so I won’t go into it today. There is of course always the possibility that your lens has problems, and not focusing properly, and cheaper lenses actually can sometimes not produce images as sharp as some of the more expensive professional lenses. If you doubt that your lens may have issues, I suggest you listen to Episode 101 of this Podcast in which I discuss how to test a lens for focusing problems. As long as your lens is OK, then it all comes down to technique. Also note that some camera manufacturers make interchangeable focusing screens for some cameras in their range, and this usually includes one or two that are designed to help you with precise manual focusing, though this is sometimes at the expense of a slight drop off in brightness of the viewfinder. If you do a lot of manual focusing though, this might be worth considering, so check your camera’s manual or your camera makers Web site.

So, as you’ll notice we are a little late this week. The main reason for that is because I finally bit the bullet and bought a new A3+ or 13×19” paper size printer last weekend. I haven’t been able to make much progress with my apartment move plans, which I need to do before I go for the 24” wide printer that I have my eye on, and also, I was nervous about making a jump from Epson, who’s printers I’ve used for many years, to Canon, who’s camera’s I’ve used for many years, but never used their printers. The 24” wide model I’m looking at is from Canon, and I wanted to get a handle on how good their printers really are now, and I figured that it would help me to get a wider colour gamut than my 7 year old Epson printer can give me. After a few teething problems, I’m now making prints of the quality that I expected, with a few other gripes mind. This basically took a fair amount of time though, at the expense of the preparation for this Podcast, so we’re a day or so late. I will be bringing you a review of the Canon Pixma Pro 9500 pigment ink printer in the coming weeks though, so hopefully that will make up for it.

Remember that voting is currently in progress for the Abstract Assignment, and the voting system in the Assignment album at mbpgalleries.com will be on until the end of June 1st or maybe the 2nd as I’m going to be caught up in something around that time. You need to be a member to vote, but please do come along and do so, as the images that have been submitted for this assignment are amazing, as usual. For now though, you just have a great week, what’s left of it and I’ll be back next week with the assignment winners and to set the stage for the next assignment. Bye for now.


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