Autofocus Calibration

There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are. – Ernst Haas

I have had my D800E for about two years. It can give incredibly sharp results with good lenses, but too often images didn’t seem as sharp as they could be. I always blamed myself. I used a tripod, a cable release, mirror up. I made sure that the auto focus spot was right on that eye or other focus point, and the little round dot said it was focused.

Well it still wasn’t focused…or my fault. The autofocus calibration was off. Tam Le from the mid-Atlantic PSA gave a talk on bird photography back in July at the Baltimore Camera Club and he emphasized the need to check your focus calibration. I finally bought a Lens Align MKII Focus Calibration System (Lens Align) to check it. The calibration system was essentially two parts: (1) an alignment target to assure that the sensor was parallel to the device and (2) an inclined ruler to help you see the depth of focus. It seemed over-priced (about $90) for what it was, but it did show me that my camera consistently and significantly back focused with all of my lenses, i.e., instead of about one third of the depth of focus being in front of the focus point and two thirds behind the focus point, virtually all of the sharpness was behind the focus point. This did not happen when using Live View to focus.

The D800E has an autofocus fine tune menu function that allows for some adjustment, but even at the maximum adjustment, the camera was back focused, so I decided to send it back to Nikon for adjustment. I have had the camera for more than a year, so it is out of warranty and it cost me about $250 at Nikon for the adjustment (which included a cleaning of the camera and sensor, and firmware update) and return postage. I insured it to send it in so add another $25 for my shipping.

Lens Align autofocus calibration device

Lens Align autofocus calibration device

Happily, when I got it back, the focus calibration appeared to be right on. I haven’t yet gotten out into the field to really test it, but the Lens Align provides a good indication that my focus should be better from now on.

If your autofocused shots seem to be a little less sharp than you think they should be, or the sharpest point isn’t where you thought you placed it, you can probably begin to check with just an inclined yardstick, with a narrow piece of tape across it. Put the tape across the ruler perpendicular to its length. Draw a line on the tape, focus on the tape. If the focused field isn’t about 1/3 – 2/3 in front and behind the line respectively, you may need to get your autofocus calibrated. If it is close, your camera may allow you to adjust (mostly higher end cameras have adjustment capability). If it is far off as mine was, you might consider sending it in for service.

Dec. 25, 2014
Update: It was so nice outside, I abandoned my family after Xmas breakfast and presents to shoot a little at Fells Point and test it out.  After a moment of panic, in which nothing would focus, I realized the diopter needed to be readjusted (does your camera have an adjustment for your vision and is it properly set?) and when that was fixed everything was fine.  Somewhat embarrassing that  after all of the years I have been shooting I didn’t realize sooner that the autofocus was off.  Many shots may have been better if I had.

Realized when downloading that Nikon reset my file naming convention, color space and bit depth.  Needed to reset.


Paul Strand and the Philadelphia Museum of Art

…And someone stained the glass for light to pour through, washing the set stones in color. — Linda Pastan, Carnival Evening, excerpted from Anon. for Gil

Stained glass window in the Philadelphia Museum.

Philadelphia Museum

Philadelphia Museum steps during Paul Strand exhibit.

I attended the Paul Strand exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum on Dec. 17, 2014.  The exhibit is open until Jan. 4, 2015.  I was very impressed with the Museum, less so with Paul Strand’s photography.  It could be simply a different aesthetic, but I thought most of the prints were too dark, although I concede that he did retain detail even in the shadows.  Also, many of the prints were platinum, which doesn’t have a bright white, making the overall print seem darker. Most of the earlier prints were platinum with a sprinkling of gum bichromate and palladium prints throughout the exhibit.  The more recent work was silver gelatin.  The prints in the catalog book of the exhibit were much lighter and more in line with today’s printing approach.

Certainly his photographs were ground breaking at the time he made them, but I don’t think his work has stood up as well as the work of Cartier-Bresson, for example.  His iconic image of a blind woman was noteworthy (also printed with a broader tonal range).  The “Conversation,” apparently one of his lesser known works, I thought was one of his better images, despite being printed extremely low key.  His work from Mexico, Egypt and Ghana is all very good.  The work from Maine did not excite me.

In my opinion he left a lot on the table from the Hebrides and judging from what he did do, I believe it must have been photographically richer than that body of work would suggest.  In some ways, in the capture of a culture and an age from Luzzara, Italy, and from France, his work seemed to me to be analogous to some of the Farm Service work of Walker Evans and others.

The museum itself  offered a lot.  It is moderately priced, but we were able to cut that in PhilaMuseum_DSCN1588half by using a Groupon coupon, which the  museum readily accepted.  Parking is not too expensive for a major city at $12 for the first four hours and $2 for each additional hour.  I think the exhibit is worth seeing, even if I wasn’t impressed –  only my opinion and history has decided otherwise.

Regardless of the photography, the company was absolutely top notch.  Thank you all for a great day!



Jeffers Project

The most effective actions are those conceived in the wisdom of clarity.  – Sylvia Boorstein

Robinson Jeffers was a poet who worked on the central California coast from the 1920s through the 1950s.  His poetry often emphasized ecological themes, addressing the wholeness of earth and that man is part of the ecosystem, rather than separate from it.  I first became aware of Jeffers’ poetry from a book titled “Not Man Apart” that combined Jeffers’ poetry with the work of several famous photographers also working on the California coast at the same time, including Ansel Adams, Edward and Cole Weston, Philip Hyde, William Garnett, Cedric Wright, Steve Crouch and others.

Jeffers writes of man’s destruction of the earth:

…remember that civilization is a transient sickness.

…remember that civilization is a transient sickness.

Through wars and corruptions the house will fall.

Through wars and corruptions the house will fall.









Mourning the broken balance, the hopeless prostration
of the earth
Under man’s hands and their minds,
The beautiful places killed like rabbits to make a

But also of the earth’s beauty:

…but to fling
Rainbows over the rain…
And beauty above the moon, and secret rainbows
On the domes of deep sea-shells,
Not even the weeds to multiply without blossom
Nor the birds without music…
Look how beautiful are all the things that He does. His
Is the beauty of things.

I find Jeffers’ poetry moving and insightful, and often very well-informed technically and scientifically; I connect with his subjects and his metaphor.  I am starting a new project to illustrate verses from Jeffers’ short poems with my images.  The images will perhaps not address the environmental/ecological issues as broadly as did the Sierra Club in Not Man Apart, but I hope that the combination of images and text will be more compelling than either of them separately.  I have organized approximately 75 verses I wish to illustrate into the following categories:  Man Destroying Earth, Beauty, Gulls, Ocean, Metaphor, and “everything else.”

In some ways I have been considering a project of this type for a long time.  I have over 50 pages of quotes, and you  may have noticed that I start most blog entries with a quote. In this case, part of the intent is to focus on a specific project and better develop a personal style and vision, by going out with purpose rather randomly taking (rather than making) images that catch my attention.  I need to do more making and less taking.

These images are very much exploratory — proof of concept images, so I would greatly appreciate any comments that might help me to improve the project.

Old stone building covered in part with ivy and forest growing around it.

Now the spoiler has come …It has all time.
It knows the people are a tide
That swells and in time will ebb, and all
Their works dissolve.
— Robinson Jeffers in “Man Destroying Earth”