Reikan FoCal 2, my experience (so far)

Reikan FoCal is not very known by DSLR users, so what is it all about? Copied from their info:

So what exactly is FoCal?

FoCal is computer software you install on a PC or Mac, and a special target you attach to a wall. You connect your camera to the PC with the standard USB cable and start the software.

FoCal guides you through the correct positioning of the camera and target, then you can run any of the tools at the touch of a button.

FoCal works with Canon and Nikon DSLR cameras that support AF Microadjustment/Fine Tune – see the Supported Cameras page for more details.

I would condense it down to: computer software that helps you determine the right plane of focus via in-camera auto focus adjustment.

AF fine tune with Nikon was introduced with the D300 and D3 in 2007, and all but D3000 and D5000 series are supported. With Canon it was introduced by the 1Ds Mk II and I think all including and above the 50D and on are supported. Means at this time only Nikon and Canon cameras are supported by Reikan Focal.

We’ve all heard that this or that lens is not sharp, or some use manual focus “to make the lens sharp” or maybe even some who has done some AF fine tune report that the lens is much sharper. If there isn’t anything faulty with the lens, the lens will always be as sharp as it can be at some point in distance from the camera and lens. By this I mean, you can’t use the fine tune and make the lens magically sharper, like swinging a magic wand over it. The thing you’ve done is to move the plane of sharpness a little further to the front or backward, so the subject you’ve aimed at is in perfect focus and thereby also is at its sharpest. And this is what Reikan Focal will help you with among some other features if you go for the Pro version.

The reasons for this miss in focus accuracy are mostly twofold, one is speed and the other is in the nature of the Phase Detecting auto focus system used in DSLRs. We all want lightning fast auto focus and that is the enemy of accuracy, so if we had slower auto focus we probably would have more accurate auto focus too. The other is as mentioned in the nature of the auto focus system used in DSLR where a part of the light coming in through the lens goes through the mirror and down to the phase detecting module. This module then calculates the distance to the subject and tells the lens at which distance to focus. If some of this things are just slightly off, you could have a camera or lens, or both, that either has front focus or back focus problems. For zoom lenses it can even be front focus at some focal lengths or focus distances and back focus at others.

Front and back focus.
A short explanation of what front and back focus is. Front focus is when the sharpest plane of focus is in front of your subject, means between your camera and the subject. Back focus is when the sharpest plane of focus is behind your subject, means too far away. Let me also notice that front and back focus is not always a lot, it can be anything from almost perfect to total miss. And as we are at it, a short explanation what plane of focus and depth of field is. Plane of focus is an imaginary line at 90 degree to the camera at where your best focus is, and it’s at this point the photo should be at its sharpest. Depth of field is an area in front and back of the plane of focus that is in acceptable focus. We most read about that aperture decides depth of field, and that’s correct, but also focal length, subject distance and camera sensor size plays a role in determining the depth of field. Worth mentioning too is that depth of field is not within some sharp lines, but a gradient from both sides of the plane of focus where it gets more and more out of focus. And it’s what within the area of acceptable focus we call depth of field.

Ops, almost completely derailed here, but it’s important to understand what we are dealing with when trying to adjust the plane of focus back to where it supposed to be, so back to Reikan Focal.

When you’ve decided if you’ll go for the Plus or the Pro, and you’ve downloaded your package there is three folders inside. One is the software itself, witch installs easily. The other is Target Images, which contains two pdf’s and png’s of the same two focus charts. Recommend to print them on some thick non glossy paper at the highest quality your printer can manage. The last folder contains documentation and is divided into a quick-start guide and one simply called manual. Dividing the documentation into a quick-start guide I think it’s a smart move as the manual is staggering 177 pages!! Even so, the quick-start guide has 27 pages! I mean how advanced and intricate is it to use this program? When I first started reading into the quick-start guide I became more and more confused, and I was almost like, would I break something if I didn’t do it the right way?!

Honestly, I think the Reikan could have improved their quick-start guide considerably. I’m used to that quick-start guides covers less than a few pages, preferably just one. If you start reading in the quick start-guide, the first line in the introduction is “This Quick Start Guide is intended to help you get the best from FoCal.” Maybe already there it is where it went wrong? This is what I expect the full guide or manual is there for. Anyway, what’s the content of the quick-start guide? Headlines are as follows: Section 1 – All about Autofocus, An Introduction to DSLR Autofocus, What is AF and why do you need it?, What are the common types of AF?, Contrast Detect AF, Phase Detect AF, Why do you need Microadjustment?, AF behavior and so on. I mean, is this what is expected to be read about in a quick-start guide, when a person is eager to calibrate his or her lenses? Only in section 2 and 3 it comes to more relevant information about how to setting up, but still it covers 13 pages!

Don’t get me wrong, everything that is written in the quick-start guide is good and relevant information, but IMHO it doesn’t fit in a quick-start guide. I would remove section 1 completely and still tried to narrow the rest down to just a few pages. Section 1 and a more comprehensive and better explain version of getting ready and setting things up could have been moved into the full manual.

I won’t write how to set up as that is covered well in the documentation, only add some observations. Make sure your focus target is well lit, this is not a test in how dark can your camera focus. This is all about making the best results. If the place you’ve set up your tripod has wooden floor or other types that gives or sway, make sure not to walk around when you are doing the tests. If you have a long telephoto lens, zoom it in all of the way and turn on live view and take a look at the screen as you are walking around the tripod to see if target moves around too, it can be more than you think! In our living room with wooden floor, I normally stand just next to the tripod at short focal lengths and short focus distances as I need to adjust the fine tune between each shot, and I try not to move or shift weight from one leg to another. For longer focal lengths and focus distances, I normally walk a few meters away when shots are being taken.

The heart of the program.
There are two ways of calibration within Focal, one automatic and one semi-automatic. I mainly use the automatic mode and it’s easy and self-explanatory how its operate and in the end, gives you a AF fine tune value you should use in-camera or in-lens (for third party lenses). One thing I don’t find much useful though, is the Focus distance (Calculated). It’s hardly ever the same as the real measured one, and it may even change between shots in the same run and also between different focal lengths quite much (even though the size of the target is added in the preferences). As an example, my Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 VC G2 at exactly 5 meters show 5.7 meters at 70mm, 6.1 meters at 100mm and 6.6 meters at 200mm (the size of the focus chart is added into the settings).

Further analyses.
Aperture Sharpness is a valuable feature in the program where a shot is taken at all apertures and displayed as a curve to see at witch aperture the lens is sharpest and almost just as important how much does the sharpness fall at maximum aperture. This is can be done at several focus distances or at an average distance where you use that particular lens most. A potential pitfall for this test though, is that FoCal does not refocus the lens between each shot, so for lenses that suffers from focus shift will be penalized for its design in this test.

Under I’ve run a 50mm f/1.4D, and notice how much the sharpness falls off towards largest aperture!

Reikan Focal 2 6

You may also do a Dust Analysis and a Focus Consistency within FoCal witch I haven’t dwelled into yet.

– The program is optimized for first party lenses to be calibrated at medium focus distance, and it will/may give problem of giving a reliable result at shortest and infinity focus distance for third party lenses like Sigma and Tamron.
– Use the file type you are normally shooting with as it seems to be a slight difference between jpeg and RAW.
– In relation to previous, use jpeg to get your lens into the ball park, and use RAW for the last fine tune (jpeg are processed and analyzed faster, and will thereby save you some time, especially if you have a “less powerful” computer.
– Lit your target well, this is not a low-light competition.
– For third party lenses you will most likely do the calibrate at infinity outdoors, make sure you are not overexposing the target.
– If you have several lenses or some third-party lenses, write it all down in a systematic manner, as it will be a LOT of number to remember if not.
– If you are using Aperture Sharpness, I recommend to take a screen shot of the results for later use and comparison.

Should you choose Plus or Pro?
For the average amateur, I think Plus will be enough although I see the huge benefit of the Aperture sharpness in the Pro package. A solution could be to get the Pro first time, do all your analyses, and then downgrade to Plus after a year.

What can be improved (in non-prioritized order)
– The quick-start guide has huge potential of shortening
– I would like to be able to limit the outer microadjustement/fine tune values to 15 at one or both sides, as at the full ± 20 it looks to me that with some lenses it’s a total hit or miss where the actual valid point ends up.
– Make an option in the preference to ignore checking if the lens is at max or min zoom.
– If possible, some kind of integration with Tamron Tap-in Console and Sigma USB-Dock.
– Lot of words are taken from Canon vocabulary, as the program works just as fine with Nikon too, it feels a bit Canon biased, should have used more neutral words.
– Should be able to work without internet connection.
– Should be able to manually add ± values from Tamron Tap-In Console or Sigma USB-Dock, so the software could analyze photos taken with camera that doesn’t support fine-tune/microadjustments like the lower end DSLRs from Canon and Nikon (and maybe others too?)
– Under compare tab, it uses phrases like “typical values of other FoCal users” makes users confused about what is “typical values”. Let’s take the popular 24-70 f/2.8, Canon has two, Nikon has three, Tamron has two, Sigma has two and Tokina has one. All of them can potentially be “typical values”. Is the camera body in use added into the equation too? And what about the aperture in use? Recommend specifying better.
– In Aperture Sharpness, under “compare” it may say “Your lens is behaving better than most other users”. I hope it means other lenses, but still it’s not giving me much to go on as mentioned in the point above.
– In Aperture Sharpness it should be an option to acquire focus between each shot “stopped down” as lenses with focus shift would suffer from only focusing at widest aperture (if possible).
– Under compare tab and AF Fine Tune Spread, the data is not reliable for third party lenses as FoCal doesn’t read values added in the lens, which should be clarified in some way.
– Calculated focus distance is not the same as the real measured one or the distance embedded into the EXIF in the image file. Maybe better to read the embedded distance instead?
– Different copies of the same lens are not distinguished in the history tab.
– Have an option to calibrate focus at other than largest apertures more easily available than in Preferences window.
– In relation to previous point, have an option to take several shots “in one” at different apertures for each AF fine tune change, like an increase of one full f-stop from largest to f/11, and sort them in tabs in the result window (If I could chose just one of this, this would be it, as it would be a massive time saver!!!)
– Under History tab in Automatic Focus Calibration, it doesn’t show at witch aperture the result is obtained.

Is it worth it and would I recommend it to others?
– Well, if you only have a couple of first party zoom-lenses and or some primes, I don’t see the huge benefit actually. Reason is that you can only set one value per lens in-camera for Nikon (at the moment) and two values for some selected Canons as far as I know.
– If you own a larger number of lenses and or some third-party lenses supported by either Sigma Dock or Tamron Console, I would definitely highly recommend this software. Compared to a lot of other “trial and error” solutions where you have to compare images on a computer screen manually, this software is really a time-saver when calibrating a lens with Tamron Tap-In Console or Sigma USB Dock.
– Calibrating at shortest focus distance may give some trouble now and then with third party lenses. (Reason is that to find the best plane of focus, Reikan uses the AF fine-tune in camera to determine the best plane of focus, and by this adding a little bit of front and back focus. It is this less than closest focus distance that makes trouble. Trick is to move slightly more away from the target to get the extra room for the focus to work).
– Calibrating at infinity for third party lenses at longer focal lengths gets increasingly less reliable.
– If you are genuinely interested in how your lenses and camera(s) behave, it’s a superb software.

To try to explain better, for me this is a software for finding best plain of focus firstly, and all the other features secondly. I don’t think many will get FoCal for the other features mainly, and as for these reasons I think that if you just own a couple of first party lenses you might be good with some old fashion manual tests, because its limited how many tests you need to do. That’s also the reason I recommend it more if you have some of the newer Tamron and Sigma lenses with a lot of test points.

This is my experience using Reikan FoCal 2 and the options and solutions I’ve used (so far). This was never meant to be a thorough review of the mentioned software, but simply my daily life user experience together with my camera gear. That said, I won’t be surprised if there will be a Part 2 or an update at some later point as I’ve learned to use more of the program and hopefully more features being added from Reikan.

In the end I will praise Reikan for their thorough, honest and quick replies on my questions!

Link to Reikan FoCal:

If you have any questions, comments or requests, please write it in the comments below.

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