FoCal 3.5 Beta – Brand new CalCheck, Wireless updates and lots more!

Roll up, roll up! Reikan FoCal 3.5 Beta is ready for you, and this is a big one!

Longships Lighthouse and settings sun, along with Reikan FoCal logo and FoCal 3.5 Beta text.

The headline feature of this release is a complete rework of the Calibration Check tool. Not only does it provide clearer and more accurate information, but it now works with Mirrorless cameras like the Nikon Z-series! One click, and you can learn whether your system is behaving as it should.

There’s also big improvements to the Wireless Camera Module support, and a whole host of user interface improvements and bug fixes – so much so that we’ve skipped a couple of version numbers to bring you FoCal 3.5 Beta.

What’s New?

[If you’re not interested in the details and just want to grab the release download info is here]

Headline Features

For a recap of the operation, you can check out the FoCal 2020 overview video.

The Release Notes contain a comprehensive list of changes.

Brand New Calibration Check

The Calibration Check function in FoCal has offered a quick, hands-free (on every supported camera) way of checking whether the performance of your autofocus system is up to scratch or could benefit from tuning.

For FoCal 3.5, we’ve completely changed the way the tool works for most cameras, providing more accurate results and now adding support for mirrorless cameras!

Calibration Check Overview

The basic idea behind the current Calibration Check tool is to use the quality of a Live View capture as a representation of a tuned autofocus system, and then compare the quality of a Viewfinder (i.e. non Live View, usually phase detect) capture. Here’s an example showing the Live View capture in blue, and the (not well calibrated!) Viewfinder capture in red:

Chart showing live view vs viewfinder autofocus quality
“Classic” Calibration Check worked by comparing Live View (blue) and Viewfinder (red) autofocus results

There are a couple of issues with this approach.

  • It assumes the Live View autofocus is perfect
  • What if you don’t have Viewfinder autofocus – i.e. mirrorless cameras?

Is Live View autofocus perfect?

Live View autofocus uses the image sensor to capture data for autofocus. By comparison, DSLR viewfinder autofocus uses a separate sensor, usually in the bottom of the camera, and the results from this separate sensor are susceptible to errors (see here for more info).

But that doesn’t mean Live View autofocus gets the best image possible. There are compromises in the implementation of the algorithms – mostly to increase speed of operation and allow those headline-grabbing features like autofocus at 30 shots per second – and these compromises can affect the overall quality of the focus.

Take a look at the example below, captured during the development of the new Calibration Check tool. It shows the quality of a number of points measured using a Canon EOS 6D. The purple line is the best achievable quality, the green line is the phase-detect autofocus quality, and clearly at the bottom, with the lowest quality values is the live view quality in orange:

Chart showing live view quality is not always best
Live View focus doesn’t always get the best result

Sure, the Live View result is usually pretty close to the best possible quality, but it’s not always right up there at the top.

To add to complexity, the Nikon D780 allows AF Fine-tune adjustments for both the Viewfinder and Live View autofocus separately, a clear indication by Nikon that Live View autofocus may not always give you precisely the focus point you want.

Mirrorless Cameras

Mirrorless cameras only have Live View autofocus, and up until FoCal 3.5, you couldn’t use Calibration Check with mirrorless cameras. With only 1 autofocus system, there’s nothing to compare.

So… we created a new autofocus system – FoCal AF!

FoCal Autofocus

FoCal AF has existed in one shape or another for more than 5 years within FoCal, but it’s been a huge challenge to actually get it working correctly.

Whereas a camera manufacturer has internal control of their equipment and can make precise adjustments to lens focus position, FoCal only has access to the control commands offered by each manufacturer, which are coarse and imprecise.

There’s also a huge variation in how lenses behave when the focus position is moved – new and higher quality lenses tend to behave quite well, but lower quality or very old lenses can exhibit varying degrees of stubbornness to respond to commands and tend to move very randomly!

But over those 5 years we’ve learnt a lot, and tuned and refined the workings of the algorithm so that it now gives us that reference – that “best quality” image – we’re after to allow us to check the performance of the native, internal autofocus system of the camera.

Here’s an example of the results on the Nikon Z7 with a well-calibrated, good quality Nikkor 24-70 f/4 S lens. The red line shows the quality achieved by the Z7 standard autofocus, and the blue line shows the value obtained using FoCal AF – always at least the same as the Z7, usually a fraction better. (Note this chart is only showing a small fraction of the whole Quality of Focus scale – the values are very, very similar, but FoCal AF is just fractionally better).

Chart showing FoCal AF is always at least as good as the camera autofocus
FoCal AF (blue) is always at least as good as the camera autofocus (red)

Are there limitations?

FoCal AF uses real-time analysis of Live View data from the camera. There was a bit of a step-change in Live View quality around the start of 2013, so cameras older than that date tend to behave poorly as the live view images are not detailed enough or are over-sharpened.

Calibration Check still works on these older cameras – it just uses the original Live View vs Viewfinder autofocus comparison which gives a decent enough result to tell whether you need to calibrate or not.

For newer cameras, the Live View quality is measured during the test, and if it’s found to be very poor the results will automatically drop back to use the old method of checking calibration, so you’ll always get a result.

Other Changes to Calibration Check

In operation, the new version of Calibration Check is no different to use – in fact, it’s easier than before as we’ve improved control of the cameras to automatically setup more camera features, reducing (or removing in most cases) any initial setup checks you previously had to do manually.

So connect your camera to FoCal, fire up Calibration Check and hit Start to get going.

There are a few things that it’s worth being aware of with the new Calibration Check 

Settings

In the Calibration Check Settings page there’s a new setting: Peak Search Interval. This determines whether FoCal AF is used or not, and it’s automatically set based on the camera you connect.

Calibration Check settings page
The Calibration Check Settings page

If you’re using a camera from 2013 onwards, this will be set to Auto (this means FoCal will automatically determine when to use FoCal AF).

If you’re using an older camera, this will be set to None (this means FoCal AF won’t be used).

With FoCal Pro, you can change this setting for all cameras – so, for example, you can see if FoCal AF will work reliably on an old Nikon D700 from 2007 by switching this to Auto, or you can run in “classic” mode (comparing Live View and Viewfinder AF) on a much newer Canon EOS 90D. Having said that, we’d recommend leaving it to the default setting for the camera for best results.

Results

The scaling of the results has changed to make the difference between good and bad performance far more obvious. Previously, a well-calibrated lens would have a value very, very close to 1.0 (e.g. 0.99), and by the time it dropped to 0.9 the performance was starting to get very poor.

We’ve expanded this now and give the Autofocus System a Performance measurement between 0 and 100. A value above 90 shows a well calibrated lens, and a value above 60 shows an acceptably calibrated lens (one that you should investigate further by running a Autofocus Calibration). Below 60, and your lens definitely needs tuning.

Result Progress chart showing new scaling
Adjustment of results values means more obvious spread between good and poor performance.

We’ve also changed the naming of a few values in the Summary screen – we now use the term Autofocus System Performance instead of Calibration State

Gauge renamed Autofocus System Performance
Calibration State is now “Autofocus System Performance”

Some unnecessary information has been removed from the Details results panel (available in FoCal Pro). The primary purpose of Calibration Check is to check your calibration, not to do detailed analysis, and having all that information just made it harder to see the results you actually want (you can still see things like Astigmatism Factor, colour ratios etc in all other tests, so running an AF Consistency test will let you dig into those details for instance).

The Results table from FoCal Calibration Check
The results information for Calibration Check has been tidied

Live View Images

When running in the new FoCal AF mode, Calibration Check analyses Live view images rather than shots. These are generally a little lower quality – not a problem for determining quality differences to give a result about the autofocus performance, but the actual Quality of Focus value will be different to those obtained with a shot taken by the camera.

The Shot List table from FoCal Calibration Check
The Shot List now indicates results from Live View images

For this reason, we’ve added an “(LV)” to the Quality of Focus values in the Shot List table to make it clear that the analysis is performed on Live View images. In places, there is also a Source column which will be either “Shot” or “Live View” as appropriate.

We’ve also removed the FoCal Comparison Data bands from Calibration Check in the new mode until we collect enough Live view performance data. 

Some Results

Let’s take a look at some results from FoCal 3.5 Calibration Check.

Here’s Calibration Check run on a mirrorless Nikon Z7 using the FTZ adapter to attach an F-mount Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 lens:

The summary page from a FoCal 3.5 Calibration Check run before a camera is calibrated
Summary page after Calibration Check of Nikon Z7 with FTZ mounted 70-200 f/2.8 lens

In the Autofocus System Performance, the black marker is in the orange area, and the details show a performance value of 75.9. As such FoCal is recommending checking the calibration.

After calibration, which recommended an AF Fine-tune value of -2, the results look like this:

The summary page from a FoCal Calibration Check after calibration showing excellent performance.
Calibration Check summary after calibration

In these results, most of the measured values using the camera autofocus are matching the peak quality detected by FoCal AF, giving an autofocus performance of 100 and showing the focus is performing very well.

Big Improvements to Wireless Camera Module

Over-the-Air Updating

For the first release of the Wireless Camera Module, the firmware was embedded within FoCal so you would only get updates when there was a new release of FoCal. With FoCal 3.5, new firmware is automatically obtained from our servers and the Wireless Module is updated automatically on connection, so you’ll get the updates as soon as they’re available.

Redesigned User Interface

The Wireless Module now has it’s own page, accessible under Help > Wireless Module.

The Wireless Camera Module page with no module connected
Wireless Module page (no unit connected)

With no unit connected, you’ll just see the Activation and Restore Unit options. Enter the module key and connect to see more tabs:

The wireless camera module page with a camera connected
About, Statistics and Settings are available with a connected module

The Statistics tab shows lots of information about how the unit is running – the module CPU usage, memory use and various statistics about the transfer speed over both wireless and USB:

Wireless Camera Module statistics page
New Wireless Module Statistics information

The Settings tab offers configuration options and utilities for the module.

Wireless camera module settings page
Wireless Module Settings tab

The top of the Settings tab offers the ability to set the country for your module – you should check this is correct when you first connect.

Restore Functionality

If there are problems with the module, it can be completely reset, but at that point it will not work until the firmware has been restored which, up until now, has required a separate application from Reikan.

With FoCal 3.5, the functionality to automatically restore a reset module is now integrated.

Wireless Camera Module restore page
Wireless Module Restore function

Note: if you currently have a FoCal Wireless Camera Module, you MUST use the restore function to update the firmware due to a bug in the existing firmware (v 1.0.6). Full instructions are given within FoCal if you head to Help > Wireless Module.

Improved handling of missing internet connection

If you use the Wireless Module on a laptop, you’re likely to be disconnected from the internet as the WiFi connection will be to the Wireless Module, and not your router. This has made it complicated to add cameras to your license, but FoCal 3.5 simplifies this procedure.

First of all, if FoCal cannot communicate with the License Server, a small red icon is shown on the top right of the window:

Screenshot showing new icon indicating the license server is unreachable
The red icon at the top-right indicates the License Server cannot be contacted

If you connect to a new camera in this state, you’ll see a warning message:

Failed to connect to license server while licensing a camera warning message
Warning message if there’s no internet!

As the message says, the details for the camera have been stored, so now if you reconnect to the internet you’ll automatically see a message at the top of the window to guide you through licensing:

Alert showing that there is a camera waiting to be licensed
Internet connection restored with a camera waiting to be licensed

Hit the Click here to go to license page… and there’s a very obvious panel in the middle of the page showing the camera information. Click the Add to License button and you’re all sorted.

License page with an alert panel indicating that there is a camera waiting to be licensed
License Page when there’s a camera waiting to be licensed

At this point, just reconnect to the module and you’ll be able to use the camera.

Firmware Improvements

The module firmware has been improved to allow more control in FoCal – for example, setting the country code, restarting WiFi, rebooting etc. We’ve also made minor improvements to the transfer speed of images, and improved connection stability and overall reliability.

We’re planning a firmware update for the Wireless Module which will make a big improvement to the transfer speed and add extra functionality soon.

Miscellaneous Improvements

There are a great deal of improvements and fixes included in this version, more details are available in the changelog on the release notes for this release, but here are some notable improvements and fixes:

Canon Camera Improvements

  • Fixed an issue where live view would not start under certain circumstances on the Canon EOS R, RP, R5 and R6 cameras.
  • Improved the transfer speed of images

Nikon Camera Improvements

  • Fixed an occasional jump in focus position on start of Live View which could potentially affect reliability of some tests.
  • Improved reading Live View image data from cameras released in 2018 and later. Live View operation is more stable and there is more information available within FoCal for confirmation of the camera state.
  • Fixed an issue which stopped Live View starting on Nikon Z cameras under some conditions
  • Fixed an issue where the autofocus point selected in Live View was not correctly set, meaning under some situations a wide or face-detect mode could incorrectly be in operation.

Test Improvements

  • More camera settings are checked and automatically set on start of tests, reducing the amount of messages shown to the user and improving usability.

User Interface Improvements

  • Charts have been improved to show markers for data points that are off the chart
Chart showing markers along the bottom which indicate that there is data off the chart
Indicators show where points are off the chart (along the bottom in this example)
  • Y-axis scaling mode has been fixed. Click on the number area on the Y axis to swap between “default” and “scale to data”. Below shows default:
Quality value chart scaled to default scales, making it difficult to differentiate the data lines
Click the numbers on the left side to change scale – this is “default”

And this is the same data shown

Quality Value chart scaled to fit the data and clearly showing the values
After clicking the numbers, the scale is adjusted to “fit”

Operating System Support

The following are supported Operating Systems:

Windows (64-bit)

Mac

  • macOS Monterey (12.x)
  • macOS Big Sur (11.x)
  • macOS Catalina (10.15)
  • macOS Mojave (10.14)
  • macOS High Sierra (10.13)
  • macOS Sierra (10.12)

More details…

There are more details in the changelog on the release notes for this release.

Giving Feedback

We would love you to try out this new release of FoCal and let us know what you think – good and bad. It’s feedback from users that helps make each release better than the last. Lots of the functionality in FoCal is implemented following suggestions from users – don’t be afraid to propose improvements and new ideas!

If you have any feedback, please use the Send Feedback button in the Help > Help menu. This will open a dedicated contact form so we can make sure we capture all your feedback:

Reikan FoCal Send Feedback option
Please use the Send Feedback button to give us feedback about pre-release versions

Thank you!

Thank you to all our users past and present who’ve used FoCal for their calibrations. An extra special thank you to everyone who’s got in touch with feedback, a lot changes are driven directly from what you tell us!

Get Reikan FoCal 3.5 Beta

Download FoCal 3.5 Beta 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 3.5 Beta is available to all users that are within their Included Updates Period as of 26th May 2022. You can get the software as below:

  • By logging in to the FoCal Account system via lms.fo-cal.co.uk.
  • Go to the About > Update Check option in the software. From here you can hit the Download button to get the software.

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.

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