Datacolor SpyderLensCal (Part 1)

6/5/2012 3:44:54 PM

Autofocus is often taken for granted, but how do you ensure that the system is paying ball? We put the spyderlenscal reference system to the test

25 YEARS photographers have enjoyed the benefits of autofocus systems in their SLRs. For spontaneous shooting or when taking your time is not an option, autofocus is something that most of us could not do without. But have you ever considered the accuracy of this system that we rely so heavily on? Every camera is slightly different within manufacturing tolerances, add to that the number of different lenses available and that no two lenses of the same model are exactly the same and you have a lot of variables that can affect the accuracy of your camera's autofocus system.

Description: Datacolor SpyderLensCal

Spyderlenscal Well constructed and simple to set up, the SpyderLensCal provides a clear target and reference system to test and adjust your autofocus system.

The solution used to be that you sent your camera and lenses off for calibration, often at considerable cost and the inconvenience of being out of action whilst this was done. Fortunately, many DSLRs now come with autofocus microadjustment options built into the camera's menu system, allowing you to fine-tune your camera for optimal performance with each one of your lenses, and therefore tailor its accuracy for the glass you are using.

It's worth mentioning that we are looking at microadjustments rather than large corrections; if your camera is consistently selecting focus incorrectly by a sizeable margin then the adjustments available in-camera will most likely not correct this and we would take this as an indication that there is a more serious problem with your camera. To a similar end, if you find that all of your lenses mis-focus by a similar margin, it could indicate a focusing problem with your camera and it might be time to treat it to a service.

It has always been relatively simple to tell whether focus is accurate or not, but less so to tell whether the camera is front or back focusing, and by how much. This is where the Datacolor SpyderLensCal comes in. The SpyderLensCal offers a reference test system, allowing you to check your camera's autofocus accuracy and then make microadjustments accordingly before retesting and comparing the results.

The SpyderLensCal is a relatively straightforward device and comes packaged with a brief quick-start guide. The advice within instructs you on howto set up and use the test target, but offers no advice on how to make the microadjustments. The presumption is that you are either aware of how to find and adjust your camera's microadjustment function, or that you study the camera's manual to find out. The device comes fitted with a tripod mount and built-in bubble level so that you can set it up level for accurate readings. It's worth noting that your camera also needs to be mounted on a tripod for consistency between adjustments. Most people do not have two tripods but placing the SpyderLensCal on a flat surface, on a level plane to your camera, will also achieve accurate enough results. The quick-start guide also offers no advice on the distance between the device and camera, only that you should shoot in aperture-priority with the lens at maximum aperture. Independent opinion is that you should set a shooting distance of 25x the focal length, or set a working distance you are most likely to use the lens at.

Description: The Datacolor SpyderLensCal with Canon DSLR and lenses for scale.

The Datacolor SpyderLensCal with Canon DSLR and lenses for scale.


Although not mentioned in the SpyderLensCal guide, there are additional steps you can take to ensure the test shots taken offer the best chance of making accurate microadjustments. By using a remote release and enabling your camera's mirror lock-up mode, you will reduce vibration during the exposure - important when analysing focal accuracy at high magnification. Furthermore, I also chose to shoot using the monochrome Picture Style offered in the camera's menu system. This may be an over-precautionary measure, but in doing so you eliminate the chances of chromatic aberration affecting your judgement of the test results. Finally, I reviewed images on a computer monitor rather than the camera's LCD, as I found the camera's review mode simply did not zoom in far enough to make an accurate assessment.

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