THE MISSING PIECE
Long Ruler Comes to LensAlign MkII
By MIKE PASINI
The Imaging Resource Digital Photography Newsletter
Review Date: December 2011
As 2011 comes to a close, Michael Tapes Design has released a compact Long Ruler Kit for his LensAlign MkII that eclipses the older LensAlign Pro design with its own two-piece long ruler.
We reviewed the original $79.95 LensAlign MkII when it came out. Tapes has packaged a LensAlign MkII, the new long ruler plus expanded focus target and the standard ruler as the $164.95 LensAlign MkII Plus. You can also get just the long ruler and an expanded focus target with the $85 Long Ruler Kit if you already own a LensAlign MkII. Through Jan. 5, 2012, the Ruler Kit is $70 and the Plus is $149.95.
So why would you want a long ruler anyway?
As Tapes explains, it provides "the capability to measure camera/lens combinations with Depth of Field values exceeding the capabilities of the standard LensAlign ruler. Specifically, when testing lenses at longer distances (30x to 50x focal length) and when testing super-telephoto lenses with and without teleconverters."
So with the Long Ruler on the LensAlign MkII, you can test at longer distances and with slower lenses, both of which help evaluate focus on super telephoto lenses and teleconverters.
And because you're going to be some distance from the LensAlign when you shoot your test shots, Tapes includes an expanded focus target with a big white cross on it and an opening for the patent-pending True Parallel Alignment sighting system target.
We took some test shots at 17 feet with a 200mm lens and can attest to the helpfulness of the new target. It simply slips on the two tabs that protrude from the front of the LensAlign MkII.
Sunlight can make life a little difficult on location. You want to make sure the red target on the back panel of the LensAlign MkII is in sunlight so you can see it clearly in your alignment shots. It can also be hard to see the LCD in the sun. Magnifying the image helps, as we explain below.
But, as Tapes explained, "We do not recommend testing in bright sunlight because of the glare, LCD issues and the strain on your eyes. An outdoor overcast day is OK. But we prefer a more controlled lighting environment such as flash, strobe or artificial continuous lighting."
Since we last reported on this device, Tapes has added a helpful LensAlign Distance Tool to his site. The form asks for the camera's focal length factor, the actual focal length of the lens, the aperture and lets you specify either the minimum distance (25x the focal length) or the maximum (50x). It computes the camera to LensAlign distance for you or you can enter your own desired test distance.
The tool displays the depth of field and also recommends either the Standard Ruler or the Long Ruler in a small report to the right side of the form fields. So if you're wondering whether or not you need the Long Ruler, this is a real easy way to find out.
When Tapes redesigned his LensAlign focus calibration system to ship flat using lighter materials, the new MkII version shipped with the standard ruler, which is just shy of a foot long. The whole thing could be broken down flat and taken along in a briefcase or camera bag.
But the long ruler available then required the LensAlign Pro, now discontinued. The long ruler did break down into two parts, but each was nearly two feet long. So the MkII design cried out for a portable long ruler solution of its own.
And that's exactly what Tapes has delivered in three sections that stack into a 12-inch bundle but expand into a 32-inch ruler kept rigid with small but very strong magnets.
The ruler itself is made of rigid vinyl, Tapes told us, which he chose over aluminum. In testing, the aluminum corners dented and the material itself wasn't flexibile enough to allow the ruler to be installed or removed from the stand.
The carbon fiber support bars provide the rigidity of the vinyl ruler. It simply does not sag.
And to make it easier to focus at longer distances, he was also able to add a Large Focus Target that simply slips onto the front of the LensAlign MkII.
To assemble the new long ruler, Tapes recommends you start with the LensAlign MkII, bending the middle section of the ruler so it pops into the outside slots of the LensAlign, just as you do with the standard ruler.
From there, you simply align the edges of Top section to the Middle with the two support bars crossing underneath and flatten the top. On the bottom of the ruler sections there's a large white arrow and text to show you exactly what aligns to what. But it's just as clear from the top side of the ruler.
Then you do the same thing for the Bottom section, aligning it to the Middle and flattening it into position.
Because the sections are held in position with magnets (very strong little ones), you can nudge them left or right so the numbers align perfectly.
Then you can slip the Large Focus Target onto the front of the LensAlign MkII and you're ready to go.
We set up the LensAlign on a light stand about 16 feet from our tripod-mounted dSLR with a zoom set a 200mm.
We used the procedure outlined in our LensAlign MkII review to align the two, first sighting the camera from the back of the LensAlign, then finding the red dot through the front sighting plate's ports. We set the aperture wide open and took a shot.
Then we thought we'd try the same thing with a Nikon V1. Mirrorless cameras like the V1 don't have a microadjustment for focus but you can test any autofocus system with the LensAlign.
Tapes sent a long ruler to the lab, too, where Luke Smith gave it a workout. We asked Luke what he thought about the new design after he had a chance to work with it a few days.
He tested it with a 60mm macro at about 15 fee on a Samsung NX200 with a good LCD.
"The long ruler with bolder markings is easier to see directly on the LCD without taking a picture," he said. "Maybe not the intended use, or the most accurate, but useful for real-world testing. You can wiggle the camera a hair and clearly see the moire patterns where it's sharp.
"After taking a picture, you can magnify it on the LCD and see what you have without dumping it to a computer. Again, not the absolute most accurate use, but well within useful range."
And in fact that's what we did, magnifying the image in Playback mode to confirm we had aligned the red dot in the front sighting port. Although we hasten to point out that the preferred situation is under more controlled conditions than bright sunlight outdoors. But if you're on location, you can manage.
Luke liked the new Large Focus Target, too. "The new focus target with one big, bold cross is easier to 'focus the focus' on," he noted. "You can more easily be sure of exactly what the focus point is without including stuff in the background. This can be half the battle, as I frequently see in the lab."
Tapes has delivered an elegant compact ruler to complete the portable new design of the LensAlign MkII. Once assembled on the LensAlign MkII, it's rigid and reliable, with enough length to show depth of field at very long focal lengths as easily as the standard ruler shows it for more conventional focal lengths.
And in typical Tapes fashion, the ruler also includes a Large Focus Target to make it easier to focus on the LensAlign at greater distances. He thought of everything.