We’re really excited to announce the first public alpha release of the next version of our automatic camera/lens focus calibration and analysis package – FoCal 2020!
FoCal 2020 is the start of a new naming convention for FoCal releases. We wanted a way to make it clear this is very different to the existing FoCal 2.x stream of releases and FoCal 2020 fits the bill!
This release brings a brand new look, easier operation, more help, new tools and much more.
A brief history of FoCal
FoCal began life in a back room sometime in 2008, with the first official public release toward the end of 2011. Initially supporting just the Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 7D on Windows, FoCal quickly grew to support lots more Canon cameras, Nikon camera support was added along with FoCal on Mac and additional tests like Aperture Sharpness and Autofocus Consistency.
A complete rework of the user interface and core code followed to bring FoCal 2.0, and then came the FoCal Comparison Database – a feature that allows performance comparison between your camera and lens with other real-world FoCal users of the same equipment to find out how it really performs.
We jumped from FoCal 2.6 to FoCal 2.9 a while ago after a massive rework of the internals, moving our development tools along by a decade and providing support for 64-bit macOS FoCal.
Which brings us to today, FoCal 2020 is nearing completion! We wanted to share it with you to get feedback, hear about what you love and areas that can be tweaked.
FoCal 2020 Alpha 1
This is an Alpha release, which means it’s not yet finished. The look may change a bit, some features are missing, yet to be completed, and while we have shared with a small test group it’s not had extensive testing outside of Reikan (the release notes contain a bit more information).
There has been a LOT of testing, based on in-house testing so far this is the most reliable and consistent version of FoCal to date. The software is quite different from before, so we wanted to release the first version as an Alpha, indicating that it’s a pretty early release.
We would LOVE you to download this release, have a play and give us feedback. Any feedback – good or bad – will help us tune the software and get it ready for final release.
It would be easier to ask what isn’t new!
- Brand New Look
- Improved Interface
- Calibration Check
- Improved AF Consistency
- Final Calibration Results
- Measurement Warnings
- File Mode
- History Improvements
- Settings Improvements
- Camera Support Information
- In-Test History
- Test Help
- Camera Support Improvements
[If you’re not interested in the details and just want to grab the release details are here]
Brand New Look
FoCal has a brand new look, consistent across Windows and Mac (and, er… more platforms soon…). We think this new user interface is more intuitive, easier to use, more consistent, cleaner and gets you to the information you need faster.
The Camera and File mode tests have been separated out, reviewing historical information is easier and more useful, navigation around the user interface should be pretty simple and you can even review old tests at the same time a new test is running.
Oh, and you can resize the window too… something that’s been missing from FoCal for almost 10 years (sorry about that!).
This post is intended as a fairly quick overview of FoCal 2020, so I won’t go into too much detail about all the user interface features. We’re working on all the online help for this release at the moment and that’s linked within the software, if you get stuck you should be able to find help quickly.
The screenshot above shows the Camera Status page. There’s several key differences in behaviour from FoCal 2.x:
- Camera serial number and license state is recognised before opening (the green tick in the Available Cameras panel above shows this camera is licensed)
- New cameras are automatically licensed as required.
- There’s an indication if any settings need to be restored to the camera (that’s the little orange marker in the Available Cameras panel)
When you open a camera, you can review loads of information, with highlights if there’s things to note (e.g. below the camera clock is out by 59 minutes), if there’s new camera firmware available etc.
Underneath the camera/lens information are the available tests (can you spot a couple of new ones?):
If the tests aren’t available for any reason (e.g. the camera doesn’t support the right features), you’ll get a decent explanation.
And each test has a Learn More… page which gives you an overview of what the test does and help on how to use it:
One of the new tools we’ve introduced in FoCal 2020 is Calibration Check.
You’ve probably already guessed, it checks how well your camera and lens are focusing together, giving you an idea of whether you need to run a complete focus calibration.
Two key things to note:
- There’s NO user interaction in this test, even with User Assisted Mode cameras. Just hit the button and a short time later you’ll know whether you need to calibrate.
- This test will work with cameras that don’t even support any form of focus adjustment (coming to FoCal soon in a future release)
Here’s the new Calibration Check tool:
As for most tests, you just need to put your camera on a sturdy tripod in a well lit room, run Target Setup to confirm everything is in the set up correctly and hit Start.
Tests in FoCal 2020
This screenshot has introduced a few more features of the FoCal 2020 interface. A few things to highlight:
- The mode (Camera, File or History) is shown at the top, along with details of the connected camera if there is one. Hitting the camera icon on the top right will jump to you the Camera Status page.
- The bottom bar is shown in test pages and lets you know what state the test is in (Idle, Running with progress indications etc).
- There’s a set of buttons on the bottom right – these are for adjusting test settings, saving reports, jumping to Target Setup and starting/stopping the test.
- The view of crops has changed – they’re now shown with a slider to transition between the crops.
- The cards can be hidden (with the up arrow on the title bar), or made to take up the full window (with the square icon) – particularly useful to have a detailed, zoomed look at the crops.
The Summary tab (shown above) is designed to show you useful information without being overwhelming.
The above screen shows that the lens is in need of focus calibration:
- the marker in the Calibration State card is right against the left end of the gauge,
- the text indicates that the lens needs calibrating,
- the chart shows the results are right down in the red area,
- and the crops show that the contrast detect one is much clearer than the phase detect one.
Here’s the lens after focus calibration:
The Summary tab is designed to show you everything you need to know for the test to be useful – in this case, whether you need to calibrate your lens or not. But as each test captures so much information, the Details tab lets you dig around in the data:
It looks similar to the Summary tab, but you:
- get a whole load of extra results,
- can view more than the single chart,
- can change the crops shown,
- and can look at details for each individual point, like this:
You can look more into the details over at the Calibration Check Online Help.
How much would you like to know about your camera and lens? If the answer is “not much” then you probably want to skip this section, but if you’re interested in getting the very best from your equipment then this is the tool for you!
With MultiTest, in one tool you can:
- Determine the best focus calibration setting for you. Not just the best wide open, but the best across the whole aperture range, or even for a specific aperture. While developing this test, we’ve found out that often calibrating wide open will NOT give you the very best results…
- See the Aperture Sharpness profile. Not just one, but the profile when the lens is uncalibrated, when it’s calibrated and even the quality you’d get if you were to manually focus at each aperture.
- See focus shift – see how the focus point moves as you adjust the aperture of the lens.
- Look at Autofocus Error. Not just the quality difference, but the error in focus adjustment units (e.g. AF Microadjustment or AF Fine Tune).
And loads more!
It also has our prettiest chart yet… 🙂
This chart shows the quality (red is poor, green is good) across the aperture range horizontally, and the focus range vertically.
Here’s a quick summary of what the chart above shows:
- A focus adjustment of -2 would be the “classic” focus calibration value wide open (the dark blue line)
- This lens exhibits quite a lot of focus shift – at f/8, the focus position has shifted towards the camera by the equivalent of around 13 AF Microadjustment points!
- The red line at an adjustment value of -9 would give the best quality results across the whole aperture range.
- To get the absolute best quality from this lens, you would need to manually focus at f/4.5 (the aperture of the small white diamond).
- The lens doesn’t perform at it’s best wide open (the far left by the blue line is not completely green, but heading towards orange). Likewise beyond about f/13 the quality is dropping significantly.
The Aperture Sharpness Profile from the MultiTest has quite a bit more detail than the standard Aperture Sharpness results too:
The red line shows the uncalibrated (focus adjustment at zero) results.
Calibrate the lens, and you’ll get the green results. A little better across the board. In fact, take away the other results above and you’d be pretty happy with a lens that stays at a similar sharpness from wide open through to about f/9…
… until you realise that the lens exhibits a significant amount of focus shift – where the focus point moves as you change the aperture – and you’ll get a big boost in quality at f/4-f/9 by manually focusing (shown by the black line).
The orange line is a new metric we’ve introduced – Aperture Range Quality Score or ARQS – this is the focus calibration value to use to get the best quality – on average – across the whole lens. In the example above, choosing the ARQS value and programming that into the camera would sacrifice a little quality from wide open to f/3.5, but significantly boost quality from f/4 all the way to the narrowest aperture!
MultiTest does take about 100-150 shots and can take around 20 minutes* to run typically depending on the aperture range of the lens and the settings you’ve chosen for the test, but we think it’s worth doing to learn about all your lenses!
(* One thing to note is that not much happens in the MultiTest for about the first half of the test – you will see updates to the Calibration Curve chart, but all others require data from at least 3 different focus adjustment points which can take around 5-10 minutes before the charts start to populate.)
There’s lots more information about this test available in the MultiTest Online Help.
Improved AF Consistency
The AF Consistency test has a few extra options available, letting you test more conditions for consistency.
You can select Phase Detect, Contrast Detect or Both as the focus modes.
And you can also select Near, Far or both for the defocus directions or set to use no defocusing at all.
As an example, here’s a comparison between the quality levels for phase detect and contrast detect autofocus but with defocusing in both the near and far directions in the same test (in this instance it’s not that exciting, but the option allows you to investigate the conditions that interest you):
Other FoCal 2020 Features
Final Calibration Results
The display of the final focus calibration results are much clearer – you can compare the crops and the numbers easily before choosing to accept or reject the value:
During longer tests, it’s nice to know when you can move around the camera without disturbing the results, so we’ve added a couple of features to help with this.
First, there’s an indication on the top bar which shows when the camera is taking a measurement – you’ll see this red triangle for a few seconds when you really shouldn’t get in front of the lens:
And if you want an audible alert just before a measurement shot is going to be taken, switch on the Pre-Shot Alert setting:
File Mode is where FoCal can analyse a set of appropriate files that you capture manually.
In FoCal 2.x, you accessed File Mode by opening a test with no camera connected – this was a bit “hidden” and not very intuitive. In FoCal 2020, the File Mode tests are available in their own section, making them clearer and more obvious. File Mode works with cameras that are not supported by FoCal, allowing you to run the FoCal analysis tests on a much wider range of cameras. Details on how to capture the shots are included in the Learn More or Help sections of each test.
In File Mode, a test shows the Files tab in place of Settings, and guides you through file selection for the test by showing information about your selected files and whether you’ve selected an appropriate set for the test:
Once the files are selected, you just hit Start in the same was as with the camera tests.
History has been improved in FoCal 2020. You can get a clearer view of the tests results available for each camera and lens, with a quick summary of the test available.
Double click or hit the Open Test button in the Selected Entry card to open any test.
And you can open more than one history test, switch between them and even review them while another test is running, using the top menu:
We’ve reorganised the settings in FoCal 2020, and included some description of what each one does:
The license information for your cameras now includes the type of camera (as long as it’s been connected to FoCal at least once).
Supported Cameras (including File Mode)
We’ve extended the amount of cameras supported and the information available about them. Although this functionality was present in FoCal 2.x, we’ve made it clearer in FoCal 2020.
From the About page you can see the cameras supported, both Tethered (where you can connect to the camera to control it automatically), and File Mode Only (where FoCal understands more technical information about the camera to give better File Mode results):
And here’s an example of a set of File Mode supported cameras:
We’re adding more File Mode supported cameras all the time, so if there’s one you’d like supported please let us know via the support system.
The History tab is available for all tests now, and shows the historical results for the camera/lens used in the open test:
And each test has a help page with an overview of the test and a link to the more detailed online help:
Camera Support Improvements
We’ve fixed and improved control of all cameras, but there are some noticeable fixes in this release:
- Support for the Nikon D6
- Better handling of Nikon Teleconverters, especially with the Nikon D780 and Nikon D6 which support wide/tele AF Fine Tune.
- Fixes for older Canon cameras
- Improvements to startup times for Live View
- Improved capture time
- Better capturing of error conditions for improved reliabilty and easier understanding of what went wrong
Operating System Support
The updates to our development tools and certain components we’re using mean we’ve bumped up the requirements for Operating System versions over FoCal 2.x releases.
The following are supported Operating Systems:
- Windows 10
- Windows 8.1
- Windows Server 2012
- Windows 7
- Windows Server 2008 R2_SP1
- macOS Catalina (10.15)
- macOS Mojave (10.14)
- macOS High Sierra (10.13)
- macOS Sierra (10.12)
There are more details in the changelog on the release notes for this release.
We would love you to try out this new version of FoCal and let us know what you think – good or bad. It’s through feedback from our customers that we can make each version better than the last. Lots of functionality in FoCal 2020 is implemented on suggestions from users – don’t be afraid to propose improvements or new ideas!
If you have any feedback, please use the Contact Support button in the Settings > Help page. This will direct you to a contact form which will have things like version numbers populated which will really help us to organise feedback:
Thank you to all our customers past and present who’ve used FoCal for their calibrations, and an extra special thank you to everyone who’s got in touch with any feedback.
How do I get FoCal 2020 Alpha 1
Download FoCal 2020.1 Alpha 1 for Windows or macOS by logging in to the account system via lms.fo-cal.co.uk. Once logged in, you will see a download link to the software.
FoCal 2020 Alpha 1 is available to all Pro/Commercial users that are within their Included Updates Period as of 9th June 2020. You can get the software as below:
- By logging in to the FoCal Account system via lms.fo-cal.co.uk. Near the top you’ll see “Click here to Show or Hide Pre-Release Downloads” – click to view the available downloads.
If the above does not apply to you, you can purchase 12 months of updates by logging in to the account system via lms.fo-cal.co.uk and going to the Included Updates Period section.
If you’re not yet a FoCal user, you can purchase the software as a download or boxed product, as well as Focal Hard Targets from the FoCal Online Store.
It’s worth just checking the pre-release software FAQ to make sure you know type of software you’re getting.
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