Woe is me. I have no camera! Cameraless. Bereft of camera. Okay, it’s not quite that bad, but when you have something ever at the ready, you keenly feel its absence when it is no longer so ready! Even before the camera went in for service, my EF 17 – 40 f/4L went in for calibration giving me a mere taste of what was to come.
What happened was I bought the EF 85mm f/1.8 lens. It was startlingly sharp. The sharpest lens I’ve ever used … though I freely admit I haven’t used the EF 135mm f/2 or the EF 200mm f/1.8. Still, the lens is a bargain and to see such image quality was wonderful. But you know the story doesn’t end there, right? It was sharp as all get-out when it was in focus, but it was rarely in focus. With a six-foot shooting distance, it suffered a back-focus of six inches. By this I mean perfect focus was actually six inches behind the object I focused on. Shooting the pine trees at the far end of the parking lot left the pines out of focus, but the trees a block behind them were in focus! So back it went.
I was very pleased that my sales guy was understanding and gave me no trouble. He ordered me another one and it came in three days. Lovely! But not so lovely, because this one suffered from a far worse problem than simple back-focus. The image was fairly good in the lower right part of the frame, and got progressively softer as you looked up and to the left. Messed up! I began to wish I had kept the first one and simply sent it in for a calibration. Optically it was terrific, unlike this second copy. So back it went.
I had high hopes for the third, but quickly discovered it also suffered a back-focusing problem. This one was not nearly so bad at just a bit less than two inches. Of course I did these tests with the lens at its maximum aperture of f/1.8 so any misfocus is obvious because of the shallow depth of field. Was I cursed? Or was something else going on?
I started to wonder and tried something else. I rigged up my trusty EF 50mm f/1.8 and tried the same test. I’ve known my copy of the 50mm is soft at maximum aperture, but it would serve quite nicely. Imagine my surprise when it also showed a back-focus if a little less than two inches! It wasn’t the lens at all, but the camera body. So back it went for warranty service, thank you very much.
Now let me make two things clear here. Assuming my 50mm and 85mm lenses aren’t coincidentally back-focusing by exactly the same amount, the camera is at fault. How did I not notice this in seventeen months? Simple, the widest aperture my workhorse lenses are capable of is f/4, which produces a much larger depth of field. Since there’s a larger area in focus, the camera’s misfocus is effectively hidden. I’m not blind. This said, I have noticed the 70 – 200 f/4L occasionally deliver a zoomed-in close-up at maximum aperture portrait where the person’s ears are in perfect focus, but their eyes are not … and the eyes are where I focus. I figured it was just a matter of subject movement or the odd fluke. I should’ve realised there was almost never any instances of front-focus.
The second thing is the first two copies of the 85mm lenses were not just fine with my camera being the problem. No, those two were some kind of buggered, especially the second one. It had some significant optical misalignment. I briefly wondered whether to return the 85mm because I really couldn’t test it properly. Given that it performed exactly as my 50mm, and I was not eager to be known as the guy who returns everything at my camera store of choice, I kept it. If the body comes back and the lens is buggered, it too can go in for calibration under warranty.
This is actually good because I was thinking about getting the 70 – 200 f/4L calibrated to fix the back-focus I thought it suffered from. Since it’s long out of warranty, it would cost about $200, assuming nothing else more serious wasn’t the culprit. This is not necessary because the camera itself is the problem. I didn’t think I’d ever be pleased my camera has a problem!
This said, it has only been gone for two weeks, and I’m told it’ll be a month at minimum. According to the terms of the extended warranty agreement, if it takes more than sixty days, they’ll be giving me a new camera. It would be sweet to kick in some money and upgrade to an EOS – 30D, but I can’t imagine a focus calibration will take longer than two months! The downside to this eventual good fortune would be not having a camera for the peak months of summer. Oh screw it, any two months would be just as bad.
In the meantime, I suffer. Okay, not exactly … but you get the idea.