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Hidden away in the menus of advanced DSLR cameras is something called “Autofocus Microadjustment,” which allows you to make changes quickly and painlessly to your camera’s autofocus system, resulting in more accurate focusing and sharper images. If one, or all, of your lenses consistently focuses just a little too far (back-focusing), or too close (front-focusing), you can make adjustments to be right on target.
Most camera makers have some version of AF microadjustment, and a quick search of your camera’s manual can tell you if you have access to this feature. Each manufacturer has their own specific method, but they should offer a range of levels to achieve the correction you need.
You may be wondering why you would mess around with the focusing system of a camera that set you back a few thousand dollars. Well, unfortunately, not everything is perfect, straight out of the box. A slight bump or jostle to the lens, or simply manufacturing tolerances, can result in less than optimal autofocus performance, meaning slightly blurry and sometimes disappointing image quality. AF microadjustment can also help with older, less accurate focusing systems.
Be careful: just because you’re getting one or two slightly blurry images isn’t cause for alarm. The high-tech autofocus systems of modern cameras are incredible, but not perfect. So, be sure that when looking through your images you can identify a consistent problem, and don’t be alarmed by the occasionally soft shot.
Figuring out if there is a definite problem with your lens requires a little testing, or a steady review of your images. One way to spot this issue is to think about your shooting: if you always make sure to lock focus on the eyes of your subject, but one lens seems to produce photos focused on the ears (back-focusing) or the nose (front-focusing), there may be a problem.
If you like to be more technical, you can always get a specialized focus calibration chart or tool for very exacting adjustments. You could also fashion one yourself with measuring tape or a ruler to see slight issues. These are good ways to check out new lenses, and fix issues before bringing them out in the field. But, in the end, your real-world shots will give the best information on lens/camera performance.
AF microadjustment won’t fix all of your focus woes, however; just accuracy. If you think the AF of your lens or camera is slow in low light, making these adjustments won’t miraculously bring faster focusing speeds or achieve perfect lock in pitch-black environments. But, for the more common front/back-focusing problems, this will do the trick without having to ship your lens off to a service center.