PetaPixel

Testing Out Sigma’s Lens Calibration USB Dock and Optimization Pro Software

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“Commerce makes progress. Fortune passes everywhere.” – Frank Herbert

A few years ago I was accused of being a Sigma hater. (For the record, I did hate their quality control and so-called repair service at that time, and I didn’t hesitate to say so.) For the third or fourth time in the last year, I’m about to be accused of being a Sigma fanboy.

I’m pretty certain I haven’t gone soft over the last 4 years. I am certain, though, that Sigma Photo, Inc. has changed a lot in that time. Truth is, they’ve been making serious waves in the photo industry these last few years. They’ve improved their repair service and quality assurance. They’ve released some world-class lenses at way less than world-class prices lately. And now they’ve released their USB dock and Optimization Pro software.

I spent the past weekend playing with it. Partly because I really think this is a revolutionary product and I wanted to see how it worked. Partly because I desperately need a ‘Honey, I’ve really got to do this for work’ excuse or I’d have been restaining the deck.

My conclusion, as usual, first: if anything is going to get the attention of those who like to disable features in firmware, overprice lenses, and limit our ability to customize, this might be it. I did some adjustments this weekend, in about 10 minutes, which would have required a trip to factory service on a Canon or Nikon lens. And let me stop the Fanboy stuff before it starts: you may never have needed to make this adjustment on your 10 or 20 Canon or Nikon lenses, but I’ve sent dozens of them to factory service adjustments for exactly the issue I’m going to demonstrate today.

Quick Overview of the USB Dock and Optimization Pro Software

The directions are pretty simple:

  1. Make sure you buy the dock in the proper mount (Canon, Nikon, or Sigma).
  2. Download the Optimization Pro Software HERE. It’s about 3.4 Mb in a zip file, available for Windows or Mac.
  3. Open the software, put the lens in the USB dock, and plug the USB port in your computer.

Once you hook things up the program the program opens to a nice, straightforward main page.

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The firmware update button reads the lens’ firmware and lets you know if you need a firmware update. Push yes and it updates in about 20 seconds.

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Adjusting a Lens

First of all, here’s a nice 10-minute video that Sigma made that shows you the use of the device very clearly:

If you’re like me, though, you might prefer a 30 second blog read. It really is that simple. Actually, 10 minutes is more time than it took me to do my first adjustment on the 35mm f/1.4 (of course, without reading any manuals).

I should be clear, I don’t do a full-ballistic, OCD, 600-shot microfocus adjustment. I’m too aware that phase detection AF is a shotgun, not a sniper’s rifle. I’ll take nearly perfect in 10 minutes rather than perfect in 4 hours every time. Plus, like I said, I’ve got a deck to stain. Unless I can put it off so long that my wife gets frustrated and does it herself.

I chose a lens that is perfect for this software. This copy of the 35mm f/1.4 is perfect on my Canon 6D at close and intermediate distances, but at long distances it backfocuses badly. I can do a microfocus adjustment to correct long-distance focus, but then the lens is frontfocusing at near distances. Without the Sigma dock and software, the only option was a trip to the factory service center to change the lens parameters.

Since I was at home instead of the office, I didn’t have Focal, LensAlign charts, or any of the other things that seem to be considered necessary tools for autofocus adjustment these days. So I made do with a placemat and my back yard.

Since I plan on using this lens outdoors in daylight I wanted to adjust it in daylight (autofocus can change slightly in different lighting conditions, if you aren’t aware). I started with a placemat set in front of a picture window.

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Spot focusing on the tip of the green leaf, I took several shots each at minimum focusing distance, 3 feet, and 6 feet. They all showed focus was accurate, as in the samples below.

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Focusing at longer distances, however, showed the lens backfocused quite dramatically. In this image the focus point was on the small yellow leaf in the foreground (I’ve cropped the image to show the area behind the focus point):

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Opening up the Sigma adjustment window shows I can make adjustments at 4 distances. With the 35mm, 3 of those are close: roughly 0.3, 0.4 and 0.7 meters. The other is infinity:

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I left the close adjustments at zero and gave infinity adjustment a -12. You just click on the area you want to adjust, move the slider the amount you want adjusted, and then click the “Rewriting” button. (The “Rewriting” button is the only part of the software that isn’t totally intuitive; it isn’t highlighted until after you click on it.)

A repeat shot outside showed -12 was way too much adjustment so I went back and reset the infinity adjustment to -8. That was spot on as shown in the image below. I rechecked AF at closer distances and it had not changed a bit:

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Total elapsed time for firmware update, focus checks, focus adjustments, and final check was just about 10 minutes. Obviously a zoom lens, which can be adjusted both at different focal lengths for different focusing distances at each focal length, will take longer.

Conclusion

For the even slightly gear-head amongst us, this is an awesome tool, giving us the ability to fine-tune autofocus adjustment much more completely than simple camera microfocus adjustment. At $59, I consider it an amazing bargain for anyone who owns one of the Sigma Art, Contemporary, or Sports lenses (it does not work on older lenses).

I’ve already heard a couple of people complain that it should be included with the lenses but I disagree. First, the price is very reasonable and the software is free. Why would they include it with each lens (which probably means each lens costs $59 more) when you only need one for all of your lenses? Not to mention half the people who buy it would never use it.

I’ve heard others state that only Sigma lenses need such a device. I’ll meet them part way: I think there is probably a more frequent need for such adjustment on third-party lenses, but I can absolutely guarantee you that the big-boy’s lenses do indeed have this same kind of problem, at least occasionally.

Whether they need it more frequently or not, now Sigma DOES have such a device. Which means, for example (just pulling a random lens out of my hat), the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 is now not only sharper and less expensive, but also more accurately adjustable than the manufacturer’s 35mm f/1.4. I wonder if anyone is hearing footsteps*?


* For non-U. S. readers, hearing footsteps is a term used to describe an American football player, who, thinking he is wide open and about to catch a pass, unexpectedly hears the footsteps of an unseen opposing player about to crush him.


About the author: Roger Cicala is the founder of LensRentals. This article was originally published here.


 
  • http://www.vincentmorretinophotography.zenfolio.com/ fast eddie

    Nikon and Canon have a built-in AF fine tune adjustment feature in the menus of their DSLRs from at least 2008, no other hardware or software is needed. Wouldn’t it work with the Sigma lens? I honestly don’t know.

    I have a Nikkor 28-70mm f/2.8 AF-S that front focuses a bit between 28mm
    & 35mm and again right around 70mm. I turn on the profile I made
    only when I need narrow depth of field at those focal lengths, and leave
    it off the rest of the time. So, I do understand the need for AF fine
    tuning, but I think this device is kind of an insult to the consumer.

    By selling this device, Sigma is acknowledging, and pretty much expecting, that the vast majority (OK, maybe an exaggeration) of their products will need adjustment and not only expects the consumer to do the adjustment themselves (which is a given), but pay more money for the device.

  • http://www.thomaslawn.net/ Thomas Lawn

    If you go back and read through the article, your concerns are mentioned specifically as the author states his lens backfocuses at long distances only, and is spot on at near distances. Using the AF fine tune adjusts the entire focus range of the lens, so it would change his lens to be accurate at long distances and inaccurate at near distances. This gets even more problematic with zoom lenses and wide apertures.

    Instead of sending the lens back to Canon, or Nikon, this device is capable of adjusting the lens yourself. You, indeed, have the same problem in your 28-70. Your workaround with adjusting the lens profile is pretty cumbersome, and, at least Canon would fix the problem for free.

    However, if you owned a Sigma lens, you would be able to fix your problem and have a lens that worked properly at all zoom lengths. For $59, you could just do it and not have to bother sending lenses back and forth to the factory and being without them for weeks at a time. If that isn’t for you, I don’t know what to say. Don’t buy it. Don’t buy a Sigma lens.

    But for the rest of us, that want to keep our lenses around, I can’t wait for more devices like this. I’d love to be able to adjust my Canon lenses at home instead of sending them to New York (or NJ) for adjustment. This is certainly not an insult to the customer; it is a godsend.

  • http://www.vincentmorretinophotography.zenfolio.com/ fast eddie

    My workaround is not cumbersome. 7 seconds in the menu to enable the lens profile and 7 seconds again to shut it off is no bother at all.

    My point of contention with this device, or the idea of devices like this, is that it feels like a company that offers something like this is passing the responsibility of adjusting a product that should have already had the adjustments made during quality control to the customer, and charging them for it, instead of fixing their inferior manufacturing process.

    Yes, my 28-70 has the very same issues, and it was one of the very few produced that had this issue. I can adjust it in camera on the rare occasion that I need to. Does it bother me enough to disrupt my work flow? Nope.

    Canon and Nikon probably won’t come out with a device like this because their manufacturing margin of error is considerably less than 3rd party manufacturers like Sigma and Tamron.

  • D. Wong

    You also need to understand that Canon/Nikon have smaller margins of error because they’re capable of testing their lenses with their bodies. Third party manufacturers don’t have high margin of errors because of poor manufacturing (at least not anymore), they do because of compatibility issues. It’s similar to how people needed to get their Sigma lenses re-calibrated when the new bodies came out.

    The other way to see it is that the third party lenses are made for multiple systems. Canon and Nikon don’t need to make their lenses for anyone but themselves. In order to ensure cost effectiveness, you can’t have multiple production lines to make one line of lenses. Otherwise they wouldn’t be able to provide the third party pricing.

    Your point of contention is that the manufacturer/company is passing on the responsibility. Well, they could also assume the responsibility and then charge more for the lenses. As it stands, they’re making the correct market judgement by providing a superior product at a lower cost than the competitors, and whatever limitations or faults they do have are being fixed in a cost-effective and consumer-centric way.

    Finally, the truth is that most of their products don’t need adjustments. More photographers these days are purchasing DSLR’s and not understanding anything beyond the little green box. Those people are also the same people that never use the distance scales and don’t pixel peep to check for focus accuracy. Thus, by selling a separate product, Sigma is able to guarantee that they make both types of consumers happy: a cheaper, but excellent product for amateurs, and the dock system for those who understand more.

    It’s of my opinion that you fall into a third category: the non-customers that Sigma aren’t worried about. It’s possible they may convert you eventually, but every company knows they can’t have the entire market to themselves.

    My question to you is, would you be upset if Canon/Nikon did this to you in a few years? Because business patterns dictate they may do so. Heck, Canon being open to Magic Lattern is to some extent the same thing.

  • Carson

    Hmmm.. this may be the answer to Focus shift in IR converted Cameras :)

  • Steve J

    got same problem what Op basically wrote…. but it happened the other way around.
    Perfect close to infinity but not close distance….this sigma USB dock resolved everything….it’s definitely worth to have

  • Genkakuzai

    I have a hard time seeing how this is anything but awesome. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. There’s no gun to your head. For the rest of us this is a great product as far as I’m concerned.

  • Juan Alvarez

    had anyone try it with other lenses? like Canon or Nikon?

  • Stewy

    I got mine, Canon version, in the mail on Monday but just got around to using it. I can’t believe that anyone would see this product as not being of great benefit to photographers. The mere fact that Canon and Nikon added adjustments to their camera bodies mean that they don’t expect their own lens to autofocus 100% for every camera body and lens right out the gate. Being able to adjust things on the body and the lens is a win for photographers who care about such things. Its also a one time purchase for their new lens… which already cost a lot less than the 1st party lens.

  • Jedy

    Hmm, buy Sigma lens, send off with camera body for 3 week calibration, a few years down the line buy new camera body, re-send Sigma lens and pay for calibration as it’s out of warranty. Or, buy usb dock, buy compatible lenses, re-calibrate with dock upon new camera body purchases. Tough decision!…I wait impatiently for 50mm and 85mm dock compatible lenses!

  • tedtedsen

    hai wil this Device work on my 150-500mm and 150mm 2.8 os hsm macro lens or are my lenses to old

  • tedtedsen

    hai i have this sigma dock unit and it Works well of course you can adjust af finetuning in the camera on my d800 but the dock is different It allows me to adjust the focus on four different distances on a primelens but it is only for their new series of lenses that are compatible with the dock on the 120-300mm 2.8 i can adjust 16 parameters on the lens prime lenses 4 parameters

  • Steve

    I used dot tune technique to calibrate both my 35mm and 24-105mm
    Sigma USB dock is definitely a must this to have