Ever since Canon and Nikon released their micro adjustment (AF fine tune) feature on their cameras I’ve always been left wondering if my camera body and lenses were performing at their absolute best. Prior to the LensAlign being released it was very difficult to actually test if a body and lens combination were front or back focusing. Some photographers would take a photo and simply by looking at their lcds determine that their gear was front/back focusing and dial in adjustment on the fly. Other home brew remedies also popped up which included printing charts and rulers to test. The problem with both were that they were terribly unscientific and the results were not always guaranteed repeatable. LensAlign aimed to correct those issues.
The product reviewed here is the LensAlign Pro which has since been replaced with the LensAlign MkII, however both work the same way. The difference between the two models are the Pro’s bells and whistles were removed to make the product more affordable as that was a major complaint with the Pro version. After taking a look at both products, the review here is applicable to both.
The bottom two images show some features removed from the MkII version.
At first glance the system does look a little intimidating to use, but in reality its quite simple. The LensAlign site has detailed instructions so I won’t rehash them here. They also have a handy distance tool that takes into consideration your camera’s sensor size, the focal length of the lens you’re testing, and spits out the distance you should be testing from. Your main goal is to get the sensor plane parallel to the focus target through the rear sighting plate. LensAlign also has rear sighting ports to make this easier, simply look through the rear and align it with the camera. It works really well to get you in the ballpark just remember to move the ruler before you poke your eye out. Once you’re aligned take your image and evaluate.
Some tips I recommend when actually performing this process.
- Get a tape measure and lay it out on the floor, this way you don’t have to measure the distance each time when testing different lenses.
- Use the timer or cable release to reduce shake.
- Get a post it note and write down the lens body combination you are testing and stick it on the LensAlign. When you go to review the images later you’ll know what you were testing.
- Make sure the area you are testing in is fairly well lit. You don’t want to introduce any other variables that may throw your test off, like a slow shutter.
- Rack out the focus to infinity before every test image, allowing the equipment to determine focus each time.
- If you find it difficult to review the results in your test, open the image in photoshop and use the find edges filter which makes it easier to see the focus variations.
In conclusion, I found the LensAlign to deliver on what it promises, that is a way to test your body/lens combinations to determine front or back focus in a way that’s repeatable. If I have any complaint at all that would be doing these tests ranks slightly above watching paint dry on the fun meter. Especially if you have multiple bodies and multiple lenses to test and each lens needs to be tested with each body. It took me an entire afternoon to go through every combination. I didn’t suspect my equipment to have any issues and the LensAlign confirmed this so the price I paid was more for piece of mind that my equipment is performing optimally. However just like everything else mechanical, your camera gear may perform less optimally over time and it’s nice to have this around to test again if need be. Ultimately if you don’t suspect anything is wrong with your gear, you can skip the LensAlign for now. But if you do think you have a front or back focusing issue, short of sending your gear to the manufacturer there’s no better way to tune your gear.