I Sing of OLAF . . .

Published April 6, 2014

I have a couple of things to talk about today. First, is to announce the winner of our name the new machine contest. Second is to answer about 1,000 people’s questions regarding optical testing and adjustment.

The New Machine’s New Name

First, if you don’t known what we are naming then you can find out about it here. Second, as so often happens, I was unprepared for the number of responses. We received nearly 700 suggestions here, not to mention dozens more via Petapixel, DPReview, and the Imaging Resource.


We quickly realized that, once again, we’d started a contest without establishing any criteria for winning.

Luckily, Tom Alicoate’s post provided some good criteria for a name:

1. It must be jargon that others will find confusing.
2. It must be easy to say 50 times a day.
3. It must sound harmless to the people who hold the purse strings.

Those sounded pretty good to us. We’ve found that harmless sounding jargon that confuses, without intimidating, those holding the purse strings is a marvelous tool.

Personally, I loved the many acronyms using R.O.G.E.R.  and C.I.C.A.L.A. I pointed out that those are obviously easy to say 50 times a day since people here already say them constantly. Aaron and Darryl hated that idea, though, and pointed out that chaos that would result from saying things like, “go put that lens on R.O.G.E.R. and see how it looks.”

The second criterion eliminated my favorite acronym: Apparatus for Laser Impulse Collimated Emission, Sent in a Refractive Elements System for True Assurance of Uniform Rigorous Alignment in No Time (Alice’s Restaurant). Much as I’d love saying, ‘You can adjust any lens you want on Alice’s Restaurant.’ it would get old saying it 50 times a day.

However, creating such a complex acronym while referencing a previous blog post has to get a prize. So Frank Mee wins some lens elements, or gets a lens tested, or something similar that doesn’t cost me any money and shows how appreciative I am. Shoot me an email, Frank.

In keeping with the Alice’s Restaurant theme, we all loved the two suggestions of  The Group ‘W’ Workbench, because it’s such an accurate description of the repair department. But it loses something shortened to ‘W’, and inevitably it would be shortened.


The Group W Bench. Screen clip from the movie “Alice’s Restaurant”. I have no clue whom to credit. Although credit might not be the correct word. 


I loved the historical anagrams like SCHOTT, ANSEL, and NIEPCE, but my younger, historically challenged co-workers overruled them. Aaron liked many of the mythological names like ‘Cerberus’, while Darryl liked the science fiction based names like ‘Sauron’. The ‘easy to say 50 times a day’ and ‘not sounding intimidating’ criteria took out most of those, though. (We were a bit sad to give up ‘Cerberus’. Several people suggested it, but Marc’s description that ‘There are few things more bad-ass than a three-headed hellhound’ made it especially attractive.)

At any rate, we finally narrowed the 700 entries to a few that we liked and that also fit the Alicoate criteria:

  • Charles e: BAMBI Big-Ass Machine for Bad-Ass Inspections
  • Gough via Petapixel: LOLA Lensrentals Optical Lens Assessor
  • Brian Caldwell: MOST Mother of Star Testers
  • Tom Alicoate: LATTE Lens Alginment Testing and Tweaking Equipment (I figured his entry would meet the criteria since they’re his criteria)
  • preston: PACO Precision Aligned Collimator from Optikos
  • Warren: Test Thingy
  • Jake: OLAF Optical Lens Aberration Finder
  • misterO: Zardoz (Why? It is geeky and fun to say!)

While we liked all of these suggestions, I ruled out Latte, simply because diluting a caffeinated beverage in any way is just wrong. We also love Bambi, but it took the not-intimidating thing a bit too far. Similarly Test Thingy got shoved aside, because we already refer to 13 tools as ‘thingy’ because we’ve forgotten their names.

Sci-Fi Darryl was predictably all for Zardoz, but Darryl doesn’t get to use it so I took away his vote. Aaron liked LOLA, but trying to sound like Ray Davies saying “ell-O ell-A, Lola” with my Southern accent was an epic fail, so that was eliminated, too.

So, by the power vested in me as purchaser of the machine, I decided on OLAF. I admit that part of the reason was I had a really lame working title for this blog post. Choosing OLAF let me rip off my favorite poet, e e cummings, and use “I sing of Olaf, glad and big” for a better title. (Yes, I realize that admitting I have a favorite poet could result in my PhotoGeek Membership card being revoked. But having just bought this machine I feel my Geekiness cannot be challenged right now.)

So Jake, send me an email to arrange collecting your priceless (and I mean that in every sense of the word) prize.

Answering Some Practical Questions

A lot of people have already asked if we would optically calibrate their lens. Unfortunately it’s just not possible right now. Our small repair department is hard pressed to just keep up with Lensrentals’ repairs and quality control. But there have been so many requests and questions that I thought it worth discussing here, rather than answering 200 emails individually.

Optical Testing

We’ll take delivery next month of a Trioptics Imagemaster MTF bench, which is the current gold standard for optical testing. We’ll spend most of the summer establishing standards with our new equipment and test enough lenses so that I’m comfortable that we can be absolutely accurate.

If everything goes as well as I hope, by the end of summer we’ll be offering an optical testing service at a reasonable price. Most of you don’t realize what a big deal that is. Today if you want to have a lens optically tested the cost is several hundred dollars. I think it can be done accurately and profitably for a small fraction of that amount. If I’m correct we’ll offer that service.

What’s a reasonable price? I can’t say with absolute certainty yet, but for a prime lens probably about $35-$45. A zoom will probably be about twice that price  since they have to be checked at several focal lengths.

Who would want it? Some people who just have questions about their equipment, or are arguing with factory service about whether their lens is ‘in spec’ or not. Others might want to document the optical condition of an expensive lens that they are going to sell. Even some manufacturers who are interested in an outside source of quality control have expressed some interest.

It could be that nobody will want it. I’m fine with that, too. Truth be told, I do this because I can and it fascinates me. I’m probably the luckiest guy on the planet; I have the resources to explore the hobby I love as deeply as I want to.

Optical Adjustments

We’ve spent several years learning about optically testing lenses, and a couple of years learning to optically adjust them. Optical adjustment is a totally different matter than optical testing. Testing is the same for any lens. Some lenses are simple to optically adjust and only a part or two needs to be removed to make adjustments.

Some have to be completely disassembled, partially reassembled, adjusted at over dozen locations, then reassembled for final testing. This kind of lens requires 3 to 4 hours of labor even with all of our new toys. We always give the factory service center first chance on these lenses. They don’t always get the optics corrected, but when they do the cost is generally less than what we would charge for the amount of time involved.

There are a number of reasons for this:

1. Some lenses are optically bad because there are broken parts inside. We don’t always have the parts needed (some brands don’t sell parts) but the service center does.

2. The service center technicians are better and faster than we are at disassembling and reassembling lenses. That’s just logical. One of their lens technicians may have to master 20 or 30 lenses. We have to work on those, plus all the other brands, plus cameras, tripods, lighting, etc.

3. Factory service centers have in-depth repair manuals that tell exactly how to do things (and keep those manuals as secret as CIA documents). We try to reverse engineer things as best we can.

So why do we still need to adjust lenses? Simply because some service centers don’t do a very good job with certain lenses. Every service center is 99% accurate when it comes to things like replacing a mount or aperture unit. A few are 95% accurate at optically adjusting certain lenses. There are other lenses where almost 50% return to us optically horrid — and the service center either can’t correct it, or isn’t willing to spend the amount of time it takes to correct it. These lenses we have to fix in house; we have no choice. It’s expensive, but otherwise we’d own an expensive paperweight.

Some Speculation

So if we’re not going to adjust lenses, does this machine matter to you? I hope that it will for a couple of reasons.

First, for those who ask if the factory service center has this, or a similar piece of equipment, the answer is sometimes. Zeiss, Nikon, and Leica certainly do. But the equipment they have is large and incredibly expensive (what I’ve been told ranges from $300,000 to $500,000), so they don’t have it everywhere. I can’t say for certain (and the company isn’t saying at all), but I’ve been told that Nikon has it at one of their factory service centers in the U. S. but not the other (again, that’s second-hand information that I can’t guarantee is accurate). Zeiss and Leica have them in Germany. I don’t have any information on other companies.

I don’t know of any authorized repair shop that has anything more accurate than a center-testing collimator or lens-test projector, which I can assure you aren’t sufficient to accurately adjust optics. Most have nothing more than a test chart, and those are often small test charts at that.

While $80,000 and 300 pounds sounds big and expensive, OLAF is a lot smaller and cheaper than the kind of equipment discussed in the first paragraph. Not to mention this is a prototype device. After working with it I’ve already gotten a couple of ideas that would make it less expensive and more capable. That’s what prototypes are for. The person who first suggested it, Brian Caldwell, is going to come see it in a week or two, I’m sure he’ll have even more ideas for improving it.

What I hope happens is that OLAF’s offspring are relatively inexpensive tools that will allow existing service centers to do excellent optical adjustments cost effectively. The hundreds of emails I’ve gotten, and the hundreds of complaints some of the service centers have gotten, certainly show there’s a market for these capabilities. Heck, I’d love to not ever do optical adjustments here at Lensrentals and would happily send them off to someone else who could do them. That’s a fairly big market by itself.

A couple of independent service centers and one manufacturer have expressed interest in coming to look at OLAF and we’re happy to share anything we know with them. Hopefully that will lead to something. Optical adjustment of lenses for the public (as opposed to in-house repairs) simply requires more resources and expertise than we have.

Roger Cicala

April, 2014

Author: Roger Cicala

I’m Roger and I am the founder of Hailed as one of the optic nerds here, I enjoy shooting collimated light through 30X microscope objectives in my spare time. When I do take real pictures I like using something different: a Medium format, or Pentax K1, or a Sony RX1R.

Posted in Equipment
  • I think one reason people are so keen on the idea on Roger/LensRentals lens testing that they don’t really trust the manufacturer either at point of purchase or for servicing, and they don’t have faith in their own ability to test (I don’t).

    Copy-to-copy variation is high, and there are so many possible issues it’s hard for end users to know if they’ve bought a lemon. Paying even £100 on a £1000 lens for peace of mind would be attractive.

    Perhaps if manufacturers start getting a lot of purchases returned with the comment “failed Lensrentals testing on X, Y, Z” they might invest a bit more in quality control.

  • Grant

    Enough talk, time to upload some lens tests! 🙂

  • Someone


    How often do you think damage is due to shipping and not the customer? If damage during shipping is a big enough percentage then sending in my lens(es) for testing might mean they are worse upon return. :*(

    Additionally, though the price sounds great, what would it cost a regular person to send in a $2400 lens, including insurance? Shipping might cost more than the service itself (speaking against them, not you). And then you would make recommendations as to a courier (and admonitions against others), correct?

  • What about a video of Roger singing “O-ell A-eff, OLAF”? 😉

    By the way, don’t you all think that “Optikos” sounds rather greeky?

  • Max Berlin

    Can Olaf optimize an Otus ?

  • Grant

    I can’t believe I didn’t win the UPLET! 🙁


  • Mike Earussi

    You know Rodger, with all the nice equipment you now have and with the (mostly)horrible repair jobs that the manufactures do at their service centers, you could easily find that testing and optimizing lenses makes you more money that renting does. Several t9imes I’ve sent it badly decentered lenses to be fixed only to be told that they were within spects. Well, they weren’t within MY spects. So I’d love to know there’s a repair service that will actually do the job right without giving me a load on official BS in place of a functioning lens.

  • Roger Cicala

    Fernando, OLAF was set up using laser collimators to calibrate each of the laser collimators, first separately and then installed. It’s shimmed to proper adjustment, but just in case it gets out of line a bit we have adjustment knobs on the collimator mirrors to realign things (within limits) without disassembling and realigning.

  • Fernando Grau

    Hi Roger,
    Just a question: how to make sure that OLAF itself is well adjusted, is it self calibrated? Does it require fine-tuning maintenance?
    Great name, Optikos should give you a discount on mkii ! “OLAF by Optikos” sounds amazing.

  • Jorma

    Congrats for OLAF!
    I would actually be interested in his bigger/smaller sister/brother: Trioptics Imagemaster MTF bench.
    What is the specific model of it? Some model in the Research line or Universal line ?
    I value highly your project. Finally we can have a second opinion on the manufactures MTF data. It seems that those are often drawn by the marketing dpts.
    Found some information on the Trioptic beasts:

  • Roger,
    Why are you having so much trouble with lenses getting out of adjustment? Damage in shipping? Damage by customers? Or do lenses have some sort of built in tendency toward decentering?

  • Mike

    As frisky and far-ranging as the Vikings were, I’m pretty sure anyone of European origin has some Norwegian blood . . . 😉

  • Aaron

    Wow! That would be a fantastic service Roger! Hmmm…would you include tackling of some old vintage lenses? Or would that be a cost+ basis? Basic check included, and if it starts taking forever for adjustments (if you can even figure it out) the cost starts adding up? Probably not, at least unless you start adding staff just to handle the incoming lens checks. Which I imagine will flood in the first few months on general principal 🙂

  • CarVac

    Roger, Roger. Shirley that’ll be good enough even for the 100mm entrance pupil of the 200/2.

  • Roger Cicala

    Franck, you just let me know when you come over and I’ll make sure we take good care of you! Thanks for that one, I enjoyed it immensely!


  • Roger Cicala

    CarVac, they’re 75mm clear aperture, which is pretty large. I haven’t tackled a 200 f/2 yet, but we’ve done three 70-200 f/2.8 that we hadn’t been able to get right and it was awesome with them. All 3 are back in service now.

  • Franck Mée

    Oh yeah, I made it to the front page! I KNEW Alicesrestaurant couldn’t go unnoticed! 😀

    Well, Roger, since I’m French, I won’t ask you to send me a lens elements: postal service would be worth more than the elements themselves.
    I’ll keep in mind that if I travel to the US, I should arrange to go to Memphis and have Olaf look at my Sigma 50-500 mm. After all, I had an ESTA made last summer, should still be valid. 🙂

    Thanks again anyways, now I have something to brag about to my colleagues.

  • CarVac

    Roger, I meant not only angle of view, but also entrance pupil size. If you were testing, say, a 200/2 with its massive 10 cm pupil, I suspect even the center collimator won’t be able to illuminate the edges of the aperture with collimated (parallel) light, simply because the collimator’s diameter is smaller than the tested lens.

    It would be like testing with the lens diaphragm stopped down.

    That is, unless the collimators are larger than the pictures make them look.

  • I guess OLGA was too feminine… 🙂 Perhaps if you get a second unit.

    I can see you getting a lot of yo-yo lens testing done with the new service, at least with the more particular photo enthusiasts… test with you guys using Olaf, send the lens in for repair with your test results… send lens to you for re-testing, repeat as needed.

  • The new service sounds great, if it’s able to happen. I’d definitely send in a few of my lenses. Also, I’m not sure if you remember my comment on a post way back, but sensor cleaning is another one that would be great someday in the future. Canon just can’t seem to get them clean from my experience.

  • Siegfried

    I’m probably the luckiest guy on the planet; I have the resources to explore the hobby I love as deeply as I want to.
    – damn you are, Roger!

    Good luck with your toy… I mean instrument! I’d love to place an order for a couple or trio of my primes if you decide to go world-wide with that new service.


  • Ben Botha

    If you get the bigger one you could call it Olaphant!

  • For $50 each, I’m pretty sure I’ll send at least a couple of primes to be tested.
    I suggest you request, say, four aperture values for the client to choose for testing.

  • Nqina Dlamini

    Long may he live OLAF and Roger&Inc.

  • Roger,
    Congratulations on your new family member OLAF. It is pretty exciting that we will be able to send in lenses for testing. Thank you for that and thanks for the shout out.


  • Roger Cicala


    Completely correct, although we aren’t actually calculating the PSF, simply looking at it visually. (Not requiring that software helps keep the cost down, too.)

    You are most observant about the entrance pupil, too. Very wide angle lenses (greater than 78 degree field of view) we can’t get all the way to the edge, but we’ve found that we still can see aberrations quite well, so that’s not much problem. As it’s currently set up, we lose the edge collimators after 200mm focal length. That’s one of the things we’ll possibly address in the Mark II, but I’m not certain we need to: so far we find we really don’t need anything off center with the telephoto lenses.

  • David

    It’s extraordinary to me how much difference that one motivated (and intelligent and enabled) person can make, even (or perhaps especially) in an industry of stalwarts. Thanks for staying curious.

  • CarVac

    This question would have easily gotten buried in the first article’s comments, but OLAF is basically a big device for measuring point spread functions in several locations, right? (although it doesn’t look like it can illuminate the entire entrance pupil of some lenses (think large telephotos), though)

    Secondly, OLAF is a most excellent name.

  • Roger Cicala

    Alek, oddly enough I’m mostly Italian. But OLAF just has a ring to it 🙂

  • Any chance Roger has some Norwegian blood in him that made him pre-disposed to picking OLAF?!? 😉

    Great/cool name … and yea, “Optical Lens Aberration Finder” pretty much describes what it does!

    Very cool you are doing this Roger (and fascinating to read) and it will be interesting to see if this “pressure” makes the Canon/Nikon/etc. of the world step up their game.

    Long live Olaf!

Follow on Feedly