Is this the end of backfocus problems? Nikon’s new Auto AF Fine Tune calibration explained

Apr 22, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Is this the end of backfocus problems? Nikon’s new Auto AF Fine Tune calibration explained

Apr 22, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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With reports coming through that the D500 has now started shipping in the USA, those who have received them have been keen to start showing them off.

Amongst the fanfare of abilities like 10fps shooting, and ISO performance never before seen in a crop body, one little mentioned feature of both the Nikon D500 and D5 is the Automatic AF Fine Tune feature.

This single understated feature could mean an end to back and front focusing issues that have plagued photographers for years.

While camera & lens manufacturers do the very best they can to calibrate their lenses during their creation, manufacturing tolerances mean that one sample may be slightly more out than another.  This is where AF fine tuning steps in.

Many photographers were very happy when DSLR manufacturers started giving us the ability to fine tune our autofocus systems with individual lenses, to eliminate back & front focusing problems, but many still don’t know exactly how to use this feature, and even for those that do, it can be a cumbersome task.

It can also be troublesome if you have zoom lenses that focus perfectly fine at one end of their focal length range, but are slightly off at the other.

Obviously you can only pick one focal length to calibrate a lens from, so you generally would pick one end or the other, or compromise in the middle and have both extremes suffer slightly.

Even some prime lenses could potentially suffer.  A lens may focus perfectly fine up close, but be out when focusing at a greater distance, or vice versa.  Often, photographers just put it down to the AF point missing its target and giving the shot another go, yielding the same result.

Both of these situations mean, of course, that you aren’t always able to fully utilise your expensive lenses throughout their entire focal & focus range quickly and easily.

Nikon’s new D5 and D500 bodies aim to solve this problem by making AF fine tuning a much more speedy and efficient process, allowing you to recalibrate your lenses on the fly, as and when you need to.

In this short video from DPReview, we see Sam demonstrate exactly how this feature works.

YouTube video

Being able to calibrate your lens with just a few button pushes in under a minute will certainly make life much easier for photographers on location, working at a range of focal lengths and focus distances.

While the issues mentioned above regarding lenses being out at different focal lengths or focus distances but spot on for other parts of their range will still be an issue with Nikon, correcting for this at a moment’s notice has become a complete breeze.

Hopefully, in the future, Nikon will allow you to store multiple points for lenses at various focal lengths in their zoom range and at different focus distances, automatically correcting as it goes to fill the gaps in between.

But for now, we’re not going to complain.

Have you calibrated your DSLR autofocus system with your lenses to help ensure you get perfect focus every time?  Have you not done it because you just don’t know how and it just looks too complicated?  Let us know in the comments.

[via DPReview]

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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2 responses to “Is this the end of backfocus problems? Nikon’s new Auto AF Fine Tune calibration explained”

  1. Kay O. Sweaver Avatar
    Kay O. Sweaver

    I’ve been meaning to test/adjust my lenses, but just haven’t gotten around to it. I think chances are it won’t happen until my next lens purchase when I’ll be testing anyways.

  2. Jyi Offer Avatar
    Jyi Offer

    This is awesome.
    Should be added to other bodies in the range via a firmware update… But then it would be one less reason to upgrade ?