How I saved myself a $200 bill…kinda

I haven’t been taking a tons of pictures recently. I noticed recently that my images were coming out out of focus (OOF), and it was driving me absolutely bonkers. I’m really picky about my images and didn’t want to share the OOF pics. Here’s a recent example.

Zombie Photography
Zombie Photography

When you zoom in, the problem becomes apparent.

It’s not in focus. I chose the focus point that was right where Furball’s head was. But the background is crisper. Which means the camera is back-focusing.

Zombie Photography
Zombie Photography

I did some research, and I found out it’s $200 to send my camera in and have experts take a look, to recalibrate the sensor and clean it up. Great. I didn’t really want to be camera-less for a month in autumn, one of the best seasons to shoot in.

While browsing in a Pentax discussion forum, I came across a post that mentioned a way to fix the AF problem without needing to send it in. This poster mentioned a feature called “AF Fine Adjustment.” I did some more research, and found out that my Pentax K5 camera, among a number of other Pentax, Canon and Nikon cameras, has this feature, which is, strangely enough, not in my camera’s manual even though it’s supposed to be. That explains why I didn’t know about this feature – I’ve read my manual front to back! The other brands use similar terms. For Canon, it’s “AF microadjustments.” What it basically does is it tweaks the autofocus to compensate for the misalignment of the sensor and/or lens and helps sharpen your images.

If you’ve been running into the issue where your images are consistently slightly out of focus or they seem a little soft, this problem is likely either “back-focusing” or “front-focusing.” I’m giving you the keywords to help you with your googling. In my case, my camera is back-focusing (objects behind the subject is in focus).

I also learned there’s a free third party program for Pentax cameras, PK_Tether,  that allows you to fine-tune the camera’s AF even more precisely (among other features). If you have a Pentax camera that doesn’t offer the in-camera AF adjustment and you’re running into this issue, check PK_Tether out. BUT if you have a new Pentax, it may possibly void your warranty.

If you still have a warranty, for goodness’ sake, use it.

With this newfound knowledge in hand, I set out to figure out how to fine-tune my camera. I found a long, plain ruler, picked a point to focus on (number six), positioned my camera at a rough 45 degree angle, and took several pictures of that point. It felt like I was back at my optometrist’s office. “Does this look better, worse, or same?”

“Does this look better, worse or same?”

“And now?”

Zombie Photography
(0, +5 and +10 adjustments) Zombie Photography

I took several pictures with most of my lenses, and found that all of them maxxed out at +10 adjustment (far right), and still wasn’t in focus. That’s bad.

So I steeled my nerves and downloaded PK Tether. It always makes me nervous to use third party unofficial programs because they are more likely to be buggy. What if it totally screws up my camera?! Heh. But I figured I had nothing to lose; the camera is already out of its warranty anyway. Well, the good news is: PK Tether did not screw my camera up, and the focus is now much improved. I think when I get that chart printed, I should be able to fine tune it even better.

Because my DIY method wasn’t too precise and the images are still not as crisp as I’d like, my next step is to download the free AF adjustment chart and, well, use it. I need to run to the library to use their free printer because my printer is busted. I use the printer about two or three times a year, which is why I haven’t bothered getting a new one. Why, when the library offers free printing?

Anyway.

My lesson here is that with a little patience and some research skills, you can sometimes find a (temporary) solution to a problem without throwing cash at it. And that’s my story of how I saved myself $200. For now, anyway. As long as it doesn’t worsen.

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