Have I seen this before?
Yesterday, Datacolor announced a new addition to its “Spyder” line of calibration tools: the Spyder LensCal. In many ways, it’s a spitting image of the LensAlign Pro I briefly reviewed here earlier this summer, and significantly less expensive at a suggested price of $59.00 (the LensAlign Pro sells for $180, while lensAlign Lite goes for $80).
While the design of the two systems is uncannily similar–an autofocus target with a ruler to the right–there is a significant difference between them: I see no way to confirm that the camera and the focus target are perfectly square to one another with the SpyderLensCal. This is a significant advantage for the LensAlign, and in fact begs the question of just how accurate the Datacolor product could be if it is not feasible to make the target and camera square. If they are skewed, so too will the out-of-focus areas, and the reliability of the product comes into question.
Furthermore, the SpyderLensCal offers no advice about the distance that should separate the camera from the target (only that it be “a fixed distance”), nor do they offer any clues about how much depth of field should be expected to be in front or fall behind the “0″ point of the ruler. (While the depth of field for many lenses is pretty much 49% in front of where you focus, and 51% behind it, with extremely wide focal lengths, such as 16mm, the depth-of-field shifts to become 40% in front and 60% behind the point of focus.) I can already envision many of Datacolor’s customers having to rely upon LensAlign’s Web site for their online “Distance Tool.”
Of course, it will be interesting to see how these models really stack up once they can be compared side-by-side. The SpyderLensCal will begin shipping in about three weeks, during Photokina.