You have gotten a new camera or lens and you cannot wait to start shooting, but should you? When I get new equipment (wether if it is new or used), I don’t start shooting with it right a way. The first thing I do is test the piece of equipment to make sure that it is all working correctly. If it is a camera or lens, I check the exposure and the focus. I need to know the camera or lens is working according to the specifications for that piece of equipment.
So let’s start with a camera. I first compare the camera to a light meter that I know is correct. I also check it with a standard gray card. I use either a Whibal Card ( http://michaeltapesdesign.com/whibal.html) or a X-rite Passport card ( http://xritephoto.com/colorchecker-passport-photo ). The Passport card has both a gray section and a set of color patches. To check exposure use the Whibal Card or the gray section of the Passport. Fill the frame and you should get a histogram with a center spike. If spike is far off center, then I recheck the camera with a handheld light meter. If I find it is far off, the camera would go back to the place I purchased it from. If it is off a little bit, I will mark the difference on the camera to remember that it might be off by a fraction of a stop over or under exposed, whichever amount it might be. I will further test it by shooting outdoors. Paying closer attention to my exposures till I am use to what the camera will do for me.
The next step will be to check the focusing on the camera. I want to check to see that each focus sensor is focusing the lens correctly. I first check the center focus point using a 2’ x 3’ test card, with focus patterns on it. The card is mounted to a wall and the camera is setup at about 10’ away, the camera is aligned to the target. You should take a lot of time aligning the card and camera. I then take a photo (using a lens that I know is working) and check to see that the camera focused correctly. I will do this with each focus point, making sure all points are working. This can take quite a while if you have a lot of focus points. You can do just the four corners and the center. I like to know that all the focusing sensors are working (the Nikon D800 had a focus problem on the left side sensors).
So we have the camera checked out, how about lenses? I test those out with another piece of equipment. I use Lens Align ( http://michaeltapesdesign.com/lensalign.html ). I set the camera up at a specific distance, focus on it (with the lens wide open) and it will show me if the lens is front or back focusing. Not all lenses focus dead on, they are usually either in front of the point you focus on or it could be in back of the focus point. The focus should be less than an inch, usually 1/4 to 1/2” or it could be just a few millimeters. With some of the new camera, especially the higher end, you can adjust the focus point, these are micro adjustments to the focus. It is just a good thing to know where your focus point is at. Most of the time it does not matter that much since it is a small amount, but there are times when a small amount might make a difference. So it is good to know where your focus point will be.
To sum up, you should check new equipment out when you purchase it. This makes sure it is working the way it is supposed to work. Also to know what to expect when you take a photo. Another thing to remember is to check your old equipment periodically. I try to check my equipment out, during winter time. I don’t take many photos then, so during a quiet day, I will start testing out equipment, to make sure it is still working properly. It is also worth noting that every couple of years, it can be a good idea to send your camera in to be checked, cleaned and adjusted. They do need periodic adjustments to keep them working. Lenses should be check if they have been dropped or banged around a lot, so get them checked out every few years as well.
I hope this gives you an insight of what I do when I get a new piece of equipment. I like to know it is working properly and I like to know exactly how it is going work.