After we published our article on 10 bit per channel workflow, our readers requested to provide information on how to calibrate monitors with a built-in Look-Up Table (LUT). Specifically, a number of our readers asked to provide a detailed guide on how to properly calibrate the Dell U2413, U2713H and U3014 monitors, which we have recommended a number of times before due to their affordable price, attractive features and superb color reproduction for photography needs. Historically, true 10-bit and higher monitors with hardware LUT capabilities were extremely expensive, making them only attractive to those with large budgets. With the introduction of sub-$500 monitors featuring professional-grade IPS panels (read our article on best monitors for photography to understand IPS terminology), those with tighter budgets are now seriously considering such monitors for photography work. Unfortunately, many end up even more confused after acquiring such tools due to questions related to proper monitor calibration.
If you are looking for a professional-grade IPS monitor (if you have no idea what IPS means, see “this article“) for your photography needs, then check out this HP DreamColor LP2480zx that is currently on sale at B&H for $799. Yes, that’s a hefty price for a monitor, but keep in mind that this is a professional monitor specifically designed to accurately reproduce over 1 billion colors (12-bit look up table with 100% Adobe RGB and sRGB Color Coverage). With a 6 ms response time, this is one amazing monitor that can be used for pretty much anything you throw at it, including gaming. And the $799 price is a heavy discount, because the retail price of this monitor is a whopping $2,299! I looked at a number of websites and could not find this monitor cheaper than $1500, so this is a very good deal.
Michael Tapes Design, maker of the highly acclaimed LensAlign Focus calibration system, has announced FocusTune, The Auto-Focus Software Solution for correcting DSLR body/lens mismatch errors and restoring maximum sharpness potential.
Why FocusTune? In a nutshell, FocusTune quickly and accurately identiﬁes the best AF ﬁne-tune adjustment setting to match a given lens with the DSLR’s body. While virtually every high-end DSLR is equipped with micro-ﬁne tuning adjustments, the manufacturers have left the users to determine the optimal ﬁne tuning for themselves. That’s why Michael Tapes originally designed LensAlign. And now with the super high resolution cameras becoming so popular, FocusTune is the clear companion to get the ﬁnest detail from these remarkable cameras. Originally conceived as a partner for LensAlign, the new product quickly took on its own identity, offering its highly accurate analysis capabilities as both a standalone tool and in conjunction with LensAlign MkII.
If you are wondering about how to calibrate lenses, this article has detailed explanations and different methods of AF fine tuning. Due to the nature of the phase detect autofocus system that is present on all SLR cameras, both cameras and lenses must be properly calibrated by manufacturers in order to yield sharp images. Various factors such as manufacturer defects, sample variation, insufficient quality assurance testing/tuning and improper shipping and handling can all negatively impact autofocus precision. A lot of photographers get frustrated after spending thousands of dollars on camera equipment and not being able to get anything in focus. After receiving a number of emails from our readers requesting help on how to calibrate lenses, I decided to write this tutorial on ways to properly fine tune focus on cameras and lenses. Lens calibration is a complex topic for many, so my goal is to make this guide as simple as possible, so that you could manage the process by yourself, while fully understanding the entire process. In addition, I strongly recommend to follow these tips every time you purchase a camera or a lens in order to identify and address any potential focusing issues. But I have to warn you – this article is NOT for beginners. If you just got your first DSLR, you might get very quickly frustrated with the calibration process.
1) Why Calibrate?
Why is there a need to calibrate lenses? With the release of new, high-resolution cameras like Nikon D800, it seems like calibration is becoming an important and hot topic. Why is that? As I have explained in a number of my photography articles and reviews, while the increase of megapixels in our cameras has a number of benefits (see benefits of high resolution cameras), it can also expose potential focus problems. A slight focus issue might not be as noticeable on a 10-12 MP sensor, but will be much more noticeable on a 25+ MP sensor (assuming both sensors are of the same size). Especially when viewed at 100%, which is what we, photographers unfortunately like to do too much. Hence, the need for a properly calibrated camera setup today is bigger than ever.
Below is the easiest and quickest way to test if your DSLR has an autofocus issue, along with a recommendation on what to do if there is a problem. This test can be used to detect front focus or back focus issues with a particular lens or a camera body. I will be using the Nikon D800E as a reference camera for this article, but any modern DSLR with Live View capability can be used for the same test (even entry-level DSLRs such as the Nikon D3200 have a Live View mode). Why would you want to test your camera for autofocus issues? Because if your camera or your lenses are defective or have a calibration problem, then you will not be able to obtain critically sharp images.
1) What You Will Need
For this test, you will need the following:
- Any DSLR with Live View mode capability such as the Nikon D7000.
- At least one lens, but preferably 2-3 lenses if you want to isolate the problem to the camera or your lenses.
- A good stable tripod.
- A flat vertical surface in a very brightly lit area. For example, your garage door or a wall inside your home that is adjacent to a very large window will do fine.
- Print out either this Siemens Star Focus Chart or this Focus Test Chart on regular letter size paper. You can print it on a laser printer or inkjet (doesn’t really matter). Make sure to print on regular paper, not anything glossy like photo paper.
- Scotch tape or some other adhesive material to keep the focus chart on the wall.
I recently posted an article on how to calibrate a monitor, but completely forgot to mention about using color-managed applications. Whenever you deal with different color profiles on your pictures, you should always use color-managed applications. Otherwise, some of the pictures could appear abnormal and the colors could be way off.
One of the most basic applications that we would expect to have integrated color-management is our Internet browser that we use everyday. Surprisingly, many of the most popular browsers such as Internet Explorer, Google Chrome and Opera simply ignore color profiles embedded into pictures. Therefore, for ultimate photo-viewing experience, you should always try to use a color-managed browser. The best and the most popular color-managed browser is Mozilla Firefox. It is my favorite browser and I use it primarily to surf the web.
Color calibration should definitely be an essential part of every photographer’s workflow. Otherwise, it is impossible to tell whether the colors that are displayed by your monitor are truly accurate and whether what you see will match the print. There are many ways to do it and the process can be fairly simple or very complex, depending on how accurate you want to reproduce the colors and whether you are also printing your work in-house. The simple method involves free and commercial tools for color profiling LCD / CRT monitors for everyday photo editing and image viewing, and there is also an end-to-end professional-grade color profiling that requires very concise calibration of all display and output devices (such as printers). In this article on how to calibrate your monitor, I will only focus on simple methods to make your monitor show more or less accurate colors, so that you could rely on it for everyday photography needs.
1) Why is calibration important?
One of the big misunderstandings about calibration, is that people think that it is only needed for printing. Wrong! It is needed for everything – from viewing other people’s work online to processing your own images in Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. If your monitor is not properly calibrated, you are most likely not seeing everything in the image. For example, a smooth and beautiful sunset might appear as pale and gradient streaks of light or a black and white picture might appear too dark or too light.