How to Ensure Your Lens Is as Sharp as It Can Be Without a Tool

Have you ever taken a shot and while you're sure you nailed the focus, it's a little bit softer than you'd expected? Perhaps your lens needs calibrating to ensure the autofocus is perfect.

It's worth noting straight away that lens autofocus calibration is only generally needed for DSLR shooters. Mirrorless cameras tend not to lean on the lenses to secure a perfect focus and the sensor will do the heavy lifting, correcting any imperfections. However, with DSLR cameras, the lenses can vary on sharpness in part due to calibration. Typically this will happen over time through general wear and tear, and a tool is needed to get it pin sharp again. In this video by Karl Taylor, however, he shows a way of returning the lenses back to their former glory without having to go out to buy anything.

I first noticed this problem with one of my oldest lenses which I was using for macro. I felt as if I was missing focus ever so slightly, far more often than I used to. I put it down to user error for a while before realizing that the lens might be slightly out of whack, and it was. Using a similar DIY technique, I applied a pretty heavy in-camera adjustment to compensate for the defect and immediately felt the impact. With a lot of photography, it's barely noticeable, but when you're doing commercial photography, macro, beauty, or anything where detail is paramount, your work's quality will be slightly inhibited and that will continue to grow if left unfixed.

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19 Comments

No, I buy proven lenses and bodies without these problems, so we're no longer in the Stone Age :p

jacob kerns's picture

I've had to Mirco Adjust every lens I've owned. I don't know what you are smoking all your lenses probably need it too and your lenses will be are sharper for doing it.

Alex Herbert's picture

Buy a better monitor lol

Brook Brown's picture

Your comment demonstrates a great deal of ignorance regarding the importance of lens/camera calibration.

Daniel Medley's picture

Lens calibration is a black hole that you don't want to go down unless it's absolutely needed. And in most cases it's not needed. For those who say that every lens they've owned required adjustment, I'd say the problem is likely not with the lenses.

Brook Brown's picture

If you're shooting fast, telephoto primes wide open; they will almost certainly need to calibrated. BTW, this is probably the main appeal of mirrorless camera to me.

Daniel Medley's picture

"If you're shooting fast, telephoto primes wide open; they will almost certainly need to calibrated."

That has not been my experience. In all of my shooting, I've not had one lens require calibration. I've not personally experienced another photographer who had a lens that required it. I've had a few photographer acquaintances claim their fast lens shot wide open needed it, but that really wasn't the case because in the hands of a different photographer, the lens was just fine.

Almost every lens shot wide open is going to be a little softer. That's generally not a calibration issue. It's an optical issue. Again, if one feels that "every" lens (even fast lenses shot wide open) needs calibration, it's far more likely the issue is not with the lens.

jacob kerns's picture

It's not required. I've had a few lenses that were only off by a hair that it wouldn't matter but a few 3rd party lens that was off by a lot.

It depends on the body more than the lense.

50mm Nikon on the D610 was tack sharp on the D750 it was back focusing loaded up FoCal no issues now.

Some times you can't tell that it needs but calibration software has helped to make them tack sharp because its usually the body that isn't AF correctly and has nothing to do with the lens.

Mikael Grahn's picture

I have a Nikon D750 and i have to correct every single lens on the body to get a sharp image. Example - with my Tamron 24-70 & 70-200 G2 i have to use FoCal Reikal and the Tap-in console to get a even close to "sharp image". Maybe its a bigger issue with the D750 than alot of other models. But the problem withstands and its a lot of work, and still it isnt functional at 100% with my zooms.

Mutley Dastardly's picture

For the lazy ones: there's an easier solution - move into the system-camera. You have to calibrate your lenses due to the difference between the image sensor and the location of the AF-module. Maybe it's a little different with Canon's dual pixel system - i have no clue about that one.
You should calibrate your lenses - especially the longer ones, and those with large openings where it matters.

Ivan Lantsov's picture

is nice watch - what cost it?

Tony Clark's picture

The video motivated me to test all my lenses and bodies. The only issue was with the 50L which needed a slight adjustment. I can see how easy it is to go down yet another rabbit hole, you know the one right next to the pixel peeping and across from the color balance holes.

dierk topp's picture

I don't believe it!
you should mention in the beginning, that you are talking to DSLR users, using decades old technology :-)
With mirrorless there is no such thing as an AF module and no need for calibration!
Or even better, get a mirrorless camera yourself.

Robert K Baggs's picture

3rd sentence I said it's aimed at DSLR shooters. 4th sentence I said mirrorless users don't need to. My primary body is mirrorless.

dierk topp's picture

sorry Robert!
I did not look at the text, as it started with boring old stuff, just watched the video.

Gonna have to check out this video when I get home from work. I only have like 2 AF lenses, but it's probably a great idea to go through and calibrate if needed, I've never bothered before.