Focusing Problems and Micro Adjustments - Your Camera May Be At Fault

Focusing Problems and Micro Adjustments - Your Camera May Be At Fault

One of the most frustrating things that can happen in photography is seeing a perfect moment and snagging a shot, only to get back to your computer and find out the picture was barely out of focus. As a wedding photographer, I can't count how many times my couple has been composed perfectly with that magic moment that only lasts one frame, and my autofocus drags away from their eyes. To be fair, there is a lot of human error that goes into focus problems. However, did you know the problem doesn't always lie in the user?

Probably not all photographers are aware that every lens bought from their manufacturer isn't always perfect right out of the box. In fact, when it comes to focusing, most new lenses are shipped with an acceptable amount of variance in their auto focus. For your average picture, these small differences are probably pushed aside. But if you're interested in getting your shot tack sharp every time as far as the camera is concerned, you may want to pay attention.

With many cameras these days, it's possible to test your lenses and make micro adjustments to your auto focus without having to send your lens back to your manufacturer. Unfortunately, this feature is not included in every camera. If you want to check to see if your camera has this feature, I've included a list below from some of the major manufacturers. If your camera does include a micro adjustment feature, the option to make adjustments can be found in one of the custom function menu options. If you own another model and find issues, you'll have to send your lenses in for adjustments.

There are several ways to test the accuracy of a lens's auto focus. Each manufacturer has a slightly different way they advise for their own lenses, but for today, I'm going to talk about an easy do it yourself option. All you need is a measuring tape, a tripod, a little bit of space, and some contrast.

When measuring your autofocus accuracy, it's important to run any test in an evenly, well lit area. Your camera looks for contrast when it focuses, so make sure your test subject is easy to pick out. Ideally, all you want is a small piece of paper or a small flat object. If you want something professional, there are focusing chart options which can be purchased for this exact thing. For my test, I placed a piece of white paper on a dark wooden table near some soft window light.

When you set up your camera, make sure it is stable on a tripod. The camera should be placed at a distance approximately 50X your lens focal length away from your subject. In other words, if you are shooting with a 50mm lens, you multiply 50mm x 50 = 2.5 meters away. This is not a set rule that needs to be followed. If you primarily use a lens from a certain distance from a subject, then you may want to make any micro adjustments for that specific distance.

Once your camera is set, place the measuring tape right next to your piece of paper or whatever point of contrast you've chosen. Your camera should be at an angle from the measuring tape so that it is easy to tell where the focal plane is landing. Open up your f-stop to the widest option of the lens and put your focal point right on your subject. Take several sets of test shots.

While it is possible to zoom in on your LCD, for more accurate results, you may want to view your images on a computer screen.

Your shots should fall into one of three categories: front focused, back focused, or correctly focused. Note that these images are cropped in to clearly show results.

Front focused- the focal plane lies in front of your point of contrast.


Back focused- the focal plane lies behind your point of contrast.


Correctly focused- your focal plane lies evenly on your point of contrast.


If your lens does seem to be consistently focusing incorrectly open up your custom function for micro adjustments and add or negate value to correct the focus problem. If you are front focused, you will need to add value. If you are back focused, you will need to negate value. The first time you adjust, you will probably need to guesstimate the value adjustment needed and then retest until you are satisfied with the results.



As of 2013, cameras that have the auto focus micro adjustment feature include:




































David Strauss's picture

David Strauss is a wedding photographer based in Charleston, SC.

Log in or register to post comments

For the amount of time and hassle it saves, Reikan's FoCal automatic lens calibration software is absolutely worth the very reasonable expense.

Ok, so I downloaded the software as suggested, and it is not completing the test at all. (5d mk ii, 50mm 1.8 is what I'm attempting to adjust) I have ensured that I have focused on the target (also when "zoomed" in) but shortly after the test begins, I repeatedly receive the same "failed to download image from camera" message, and then the program shuts down. If you have experienced this, please advise how to proceed... (I am using the Plus version, at fully-automatic) I'm a pretty unhappy customer right now, a couple hours into the process with no result... :( Thanks in advance.

*Update: Same result with the 85mm 1.8...

Ah, sorry. I had no problems whatsoever. I used the software on a Nikon D600 and it isn't fully automated for that camera. It took literally 7 minutes. Wish I could help!

Had this problem just last weekend. Canon 50mm 1.4 back focused consistently during a shoot on a Canon 7D on the center focus point, and I had no consistent way of adjusting. I'm going to try the suggested method above and see what I can figure out. Thanks for the helpful post!

Hey man - I have been fighting with that exact lens/camera combination for over a year - the problem with mine is that a micro adjustment for a close subject (head host or so on) is a different adjustment than I would need for a distant subject - even just moving to a full length shot of someone. It's a real hassle and I was told by canon that I'd have to send the camera AND lens to CPS to have them figure it out. I can't go very often without the camera, so I've been putting it off and sticking with my 2.8 zooms until I have time... (or shooting at f/4+, which negates the reason I own the lens).. Sucks man, I feel your pain

Send in your camera and lens to Canon. I had the same issue with my 7D and the v2 of the 70-200 f/2.8 IS and they fixed it. As a photojournalist and wedding photographer, I have to be confident that when the camera confirms focus, it's correct. There isn't room for error at f/2.8 at 200mm.

Send the camera-lens as well as disc with examples of the focusing issues (back, front, or inconsistent) as well as what was in-focus. Make sure they're straight out of the camera shots and the EXIF data follows with it.

Once Canon fixed it, the 7D was a dream. That little AF point would blink and I knew it was dead on. You have to ask yourself are in-focus images worth being just a few days without a camera?

I had the same issue with my 7D - inconsistent focus. I ended up selling it and getting a 5DmkII - I just couldn't deal with the 'ghosts' in the camera - I swear it was haunted.

How much did Canon charge you for the adjustments Daniel?

Canon didn't charge me for the adjustments as both were under warranty.

Exact same problem with my MarkII and 50mm. Micro adjustment works fine at a specific distance, but when I move it throws the whole thing off again. I've been reluctant to send anything to canon figuring at best they'd tweak that lens/body combination, but would have a new set of problems with a different lens.

Having the same issues with most of my lenses and the 6D, I want to cry. :( It sucks so bad.

same issue. In the view finder I showed everything in focus but when I looked at the image the lens was focusing on something else. very frustrating.

Really, the 50D has this, but the NEWER 60D doesn't? I want a hack to FIX this oversight, or an update from canon. This should NEVER have been removed.

The 60D was move slightly down-market to make room for the 7D, as I understand it. Nikon and Canon have so many bodies out right now, it's a bit confusing to track what camera turns into what over the generations!

At least the 60D can trigger Canon flashes remotely.
-Bitter 50D user :)

I'd give that up, in favor of focal adjustments, since I use radio triggers anyways.

Any comments on how to work with a zoom lens? I understand that they are a bit trickier to calibrate. Any advice is welcome.

Depending on the camera, some allow you to set multiple micro adjustments throughout the zoom range, or at least at the widest and most zoomed.

My experience has been zooms are no different, only that you often have to pick one focal length for the adjustment. I do not believe any camera manufacture support more than focus adjustment for a lens, yet....I've read Canon has acknowledged the need for this.

So, for picking one focal length, pick something towards the long end since an out-of-focus issue will be most obvious at that end of the lens. Personally, I pick something 25% shy of the lens max. This is a compromise, but allows all focal lengths of the lens to benefit from some correction with a bias towards clarity on the long end. ...and I find I'm using the zooms 50-75% of their "reach" in most cases anyway.

I 110% suggest Reikan's FoCal automatic lens calibration software. Don't mess with LensAlign. For the same price, go FoCal. One assumption, that you have the ability to print a decently good target which is provided in PDF and TIFF form with the software.

I should also mention, if you discover a lens that can't be corrected, save all of your sample images and make them available to the company servicing the camera. If you are making a warranty, you will *need* to show your case for the lens needing an issue. For this, Canon and Nikon will only look at high res unedited jpgs (or small Raws) that show the issue. You must prove your case! It can be frustrating but worth it for a properly focusing lens.

I had to send my D90 TWICE to nikon (second time with files proving back focusing issue) for them to acknowledge and correct to issue....

Next body will have this option for sure!

magic lantern have a superbe auto micro ajustment !! option v=58enf18Q0l4

Thank you

its cool !! hope the team of fstoppers test it & share it !!

Looked at the video and notes. It won't work on the 60D. :(

Here's a DIY lens calibration tool like lens align or spydercal. Just download and print the pdf template, get a piece of foam core and 15 minutes you'll have a tool you can reuse.

I've never had a problem with this/need for micro adjustment. Then again, I also don't shoot pictures of eyes from 3 inches away at f/1.2. Portraits, sports, events, wildlife - I've shot it all with cameras from the Nikon D50 to Canon 5Dmk3 with lenses from bottom-barrel kits to 400 f/2.8 and have never had a problem with this. Soft lenses? Absolutely. Out of Focus shots? Absolutely. But never have I looked at a shot and said to myself "Man, if only I had micro-adjusted that lens's auto focus, I could have nailed it." Honestly, if you stay up at night worrying about micro-adjustments to auto focus, you should probably re-examine your technique.

same idiotic comment from another 20-something know-it-all expert:

"it's never happened to me so it's everybody elses' fault".

If the problem was down to technique, manufacturers wouldn't include an option to fix it and the fix wouldn't do anything. You come across as a total and utter fool. And arrogant.

Just because you've never had a problem with it doesn't mean the problem doesn't exist. I've never had a problem with sharp focus with any of my 5D's from inception however last week I have. Clearly there is an issue with the camera AF system malfunctioning. As someone else said you sound like an utter fool, not the professional you think you are.

I had a problem with my 17-40L on my 5d MK2. Using Canons micro-focussing picture thing wasn't very useful because of the width and the perspective, so this has actually helped quite alot. I ended up focussing on something 45cm away at 17mm.. but now my focussing is accurate :)

I started using the Focus Pyramid for this and it's been really easy to use and setup.

An unknown problem on mirrorless cameras. Another reason to give it a try.

I once assisted a photographer who used bunch of canon bodies.
He showed me his shots from his ef 70-200mm f2.8L is.
As soon as I saw them, I knew it was front-focusing quite a bit. I tried to tell him but at that momeny I had the same issue with my 70-200vr. He didn't trust me.
That's when I learnt. Quality isn't everything in business.

Using a tilted target method only works if you have mapped the actual working zones for your camera's focus point(s), and can guarantee that the camera is actually using the spot you think it is to focus. The only truly accurate way to check PDAF is to use a flat target parallel to the sensor plane.

I'm doing this test with my 5DII with 24-105mm f4. When I have the camera in portrait, the auto focus pt at the top is front focusing by 2 inches however when the camera is in landscape it is only front focusing by 1/2 an inch. Also the central focus pt seems fine. Anyone know if this can be fixed using the micro adjustment function or is there something else going on here?

Someone HELP! I have a Nikon D90 (decided to go up a notch) However after a little bit I bought a telephoto lens. Everytime I tried to focus about every 4th time it would not focus but would give me an error sign that meant the lens was not compatable. It was and as soon as I messed with it for a second it would take. It was supposed to still be under warrantee. We took it to the store who told us to send it to Nikon who told me to get the store to replace it etc. By this time we were way over a year of lost film and business. Finally we went in for blood and went back to the store who handed us a new camera. Now the lens works, but many of the photos to be blurry. I had been taking photos of butterflies in flight etc and now can't count on it for anything and no one seems to care. We went to a camera repairman the store uses and they couldn't find a problem. I would like to advance my knowledge and skill but I am ready to throw this camera away. Any suggestions? Should I throw this away and go for Canons and figure the Nikon equipment is just lost money? We bought this camera about 3 years ago at the store's suggestion (Camera Exchange). Help please!

What to do in case of front focusing if the camera( I have a canon 600d) has not micro adjustment feature?