Macro Focus Stacking

Started Apr 8, 2013 | Discussions
KEVZPHOTOS
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Re: Macro Focus Stacking
In reply to Duncan C, Apr 8, 2013

Here's my short blog on stacking if you are interested:

Focus Stacking

and here's the link to a few of my stacked images

http://kvincentphotography.ca/stackedimages

YOU definitely need to use a rail system....and NOT touch/turn the lens itself.

KEV

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Robin Casady
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Re: Macro Focus Stacking
In reply to John4, Apr 8, 2013

John4 wrote:

I've recently been toying with doing the same thing.  However it seems as if there is another factor which should be considered.  As you change the focus, you are also changing the magnification.

Is this a real problem or only an imagined one?  Do Helicon or CS6 correct for this?

I've mostly used ZereneStacker, but have also used CS6, and Helicon Focus. Zerene is better at eliminating problems than CS6. I haven't used Helicon enough to evaluate it.

Yes, software deals with the magnification change.

For macro, the best way to change focus is to keep the lens to subject distance fixed and move the camera body. This can only be done with bellows.

Second best is to keep the camera at the same focus and move the camera to subject distance.

Changing lens focus is good for more distant subjects, however, it will work with macro.

ZereneStacker, D800E, Nikon 70-180mm Micro @ 85mm

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Robin Casady
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Re: Remote shutter release, tripods and heads.
In reply to Duncan C, Apr 8, 2013

Duncan C wrote:

digital ed wrote:

Bob from Plymouth wrote:

Nice write up Duncan. I too have a D600 and recently bought the Tamron 90mm macro lens.

I've been using Adobe CS with some success for focus stacked images. Just two simple steps, firstly to Auto Align all the layers then Auto Blend.

I like the D600 live view for macro work as you can zoom the screen and shift the autofocus point or critically focus in manual mode.

A really firm camera mount is crucial and I've been using a very sturdy video tripod but I've just bought a Three Legged Thing to try. Also the self timer is useful to let things settle if you don't have the means of remote shutter release.

I use a D800 and the shutter delay is critical for optimum sharpness. I use the 3 second delay for my camera even when on a sturdy tripod.

As far as remote shutter release, Nikon Camera Control handles that. I hook my camera to my laptop, put it in live view mode, get my focus set, then click the "Shutter" button. Camera Control also has the option to change the focus in very small, set increments, which is really useful.

Is this working with Live View running to the computer? If not, be sure to use Mirror-up, or the 3 sec. delay after raising mirror.

I think I need a better tripod head for macros. I was working in our rec room, with the flowers on top of our (very heavy) pool table, with my tripod next to the table. The floors are maple hardwood, and quite solid.

Unless the floor is on a concrete slab, it might be the floor that is transferring movement. If I put a telescope on a second story balcony, I can see movement from a washing machine (also second story) at the other end of the house. Floors are not as rigid as we might imagine.

Your tripod could be exacerbating the problem. The Arca-Swiss dovetail L-brackets from Kirk and RRS are the best way to do portrait orientation when the lens does not have a foot.

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jbart1
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Re: Macro Focus Stacking
In reply to Duncan C, Apr 8, 2013

Cool shots - I have just become interested in focus stacking as well and was discouraged by the high price of the rail systems.  So I made my own . it is a little crude but I think with a a little practice it might work.  My +3 diopter is coming in tomorrow so hope to update with some real macro shots soon.

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rgolub
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Re: Macro Focus Stacking
In reply to Duncan C, Apr 9, 2013

Duncan C wrote:

rgolub wrote:

Purists will tell you to use a focus rail instead of the focus ring.  It does make a difference at time - mostly with 'larger' shots (big flowers, more closeups than true macro) or if you rig the shot to use lots of slices.

What is better about moving the camera? Less optical changes to the image?

Yes, as you move the focus, the magnification changes slightly.  That, of course, changes the image size. Depending on the lens and the size of the subject, it might make a difference.  Bigger objects and higher focal length lenses are where you notice it.

If you're serious about macro, then you need to get a set of rails anyway just to play with.  They are also useful for fine adjustment of composition (unless you are using an Arca-Swiss C1).

.

I just have a middle-of-the-road Manfrotto aluminum tripod with telescoping legs and and extendible center shaft. I had a pistol-grip head, but found it drooped, so I replaced it with a head with 3 axis adjustments and handles that I cinch down to lock it in place.

The pod and head aren't bargain basement gear, but it's also not a $1000 carbon fiber Gitzo pod, Kirk ball-head and plate, and Wimberly Sidekick either. Somehow I can't justify spending $2000 on  a tripod rig.

What kind of head do you recommend? I've asked for macro rails for my birthday, which is next month.

The To Die For head is the Arca-Swiss C1 (does someone really like you?).  I typically use an AcraTech Ultimate .  As long as it's solid it's fine.  I have an RRS BH-15 which is also built like a tank (and weighs in like one) but I usually use the AcraTech in the field since it's light and holds a D800 with the 200 f/4 perfectly well.

Also, can you talk about the Helicon workflow? Ideally, comparing it to PS?

Actually easier - you just drag the files (NEFs, TIFFs or JPEGs) onto the program and hit "Render".  If you like the defaults, you're done.  If you don't you can adjust a couple of parameters to get rid of or at least minimize the edge artifacts that you noticed in your earlier attempts.  Of course, getting everything correct in terms of camera setup / shot distance / f stop is the key to avoiding the artifacts, but the software can correct for more slop than Photoshop can.

It took me a number of trial attempts to set the parameters to where I get repeatedly good results on my typical subjects (muskeg / forest floor lichens, mosses and insects).  Now it's load and go.

Then you bring the TIFF (or JPEG should you be of that particular persuasion) into PS or whatever editor you use, adjust to your liking and your done.

Typically what I do is to work on the NEFs with ACR, get them to where I like them in terms of color and vibrance, do a bit of sharpening (not much), make sure that the lighting is even (HF doesn't like major lighting changes) and save the files as 16 bit TIFFs and load those into HF.

One advantage of HF is that you can unclick an image and then run the render and compare it to other compositions.  It's not so easy to figure out which image slice to end a stacked photo with.  Sometimes the addition or subtraction of a single slice makes a huge difference in the end result.

When shooting, I typically take a f/32-40 image for comparison and then back up a mm or so from the closest point of the subject then blindly take pictures at given movements of the focus ring until I've gone past the subject area.  The exact amount is determined by experience if I'm controlling the lens manually or via the software if I;m using the CamRanger.  The Helicon Focus Remote program that runs on OS X actually tries to figure out the best DOF and number of slices to shoot, but I find it hopelessly obsessive-compulsive.  It wants to shoot dozens of slices at narrow f stops.

I typically shoot at just below the diffraction limit of the camera, f/10 on a D800 is typical.  That should push the image into a tad of diffraction artifact but I can't really see it and I want to use as few images as possible - faster to shoot, fewer steps to screw up.

With an iPad mini and a , I've got a 600 gram device that does hands off focus stacking in the field with incredible results.

With an iPad mini and a comma? Huh? What word is missing there?

The dog ate my CamRanger - a cute little device that lets you control the camera with an iPad. Costs about as much as a good set of rails (well a set of x and y rails anyway).

Just the jostling of the system as you manually turn the lens can cause image degradation.  Doing it hands off is much better from a number of angles.  Less movement, less mud on the clothes, less back strain from hunching down.  Using an automatic system by controlling the focus ring also allows you to create software that controls the rest of the camera simultaneously (like the Helicon Focus Andriod app and the CamRanger) - very slick.

Yup. I found the same thing. Is Helicon's mobile app Andriod only? I'm a Mac/iPhone/iPad user and developer.

Yes, I think Helicon mobile is Android.  I haven't checked recently but they were making noises about an iThingy app.  If you are a iDevice developer, then don't you think you need to get a Nexus 10 and a Nexus 7 to keep up on what the competition is doing?

Helicon Focus stack of 11 images

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digital ed
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Re: Macro Focus Stacking
In reply to rgolub, Apr 9, 2013

rgolub wrote:

Duncan C wrote:

rgolub wrote:

Purists will tell you to use a focus rail instead of the focus ring.  It does make a difference at time - mostly with 'larger' shots (big flowers, more closeups than true macro) or if you rig the shot to use lots of slices.

What is better about moving the camera? Less optical changes to the image?

Yes, as you move the focus, the magnification changes slightly.  That, of course, changes the image size. Depending on the lens and the size of the subject, it might make a difference.  Bigger objects and higher focal length lenses are where you notice it.

If you're serious about macro, then you need to get a set of rails anyway just to play with.  They are also useful for fine adjustment of composition (unless you are using an Arca-Swiss C1).

.

I just have a middle-of-the-road Manfrotto aluminum tripod with telescoping legs and and extendible center shaft. I had a pistol-grip head, but found it drooped, so I replaced it with a head with 3 axis adjustments and handles that I cinch down to lock it in place.

The pod and head aren't bargain basement gear, but it's also not a $1000 carbon fiber Gitzo pod, Kirk ball-head and plate, and Wimberly Sidekick either. Somehow I can't justify spending $2000 on  a tripod rig.

What kind of head do you recommend? I've asked for macro rails for my birthday, which is next month.

The To Die For head is the Arca-Swiss C1 (does someone really like you?).  I typically use an AcraTech Ultimate .  As long as it's solid it's fine.  I have an RRS BH-15 which is also built like a tank (and weighs in like one) but I usually use the AcraTech in the field since it's light and holds a D800 with the 200 f/4 perfectly well.

Also, can you talk about the Helicon workflow? Ideally, comparing it to PS?

Actually easier - you just drag the files (NEFs, TIFFs or JPEGs) onto the program and hit "Render".  If you like the defaults, you're done.  If you don't you can adjust a couple of parameters to get rid of or at least minimize the edge artifacts that you noticed in your earlier attempts.  Of course, getting everything correct in terms of camera setup / shot distance / f stop is the key to avoiding the artifacts, but the software can correct for more slop than Photoshop can.

It took me a number of trial attempts to set the parameters to where I get repeatedly good results on my typical subjects (muskeg / forest floor lichens, mosses and insects).  Now it's load and go.

Then you bring the TIFF (or JPEG should you be of that particular persuasion) into PS or whatever editor you use, adjust to your liking and your done.

Typically what I do is to work on the NEFs with ACR, get them to where I like them in terms of color and vibrance, do a bit of sharpening (not much), make sure that the lighting is even (HF doesn't like major lighting changes) and save the files as 16 bit TIFFs and load those into HF.

One advantage of HF is that you can unclick an image and then run the render and compare it to other compositions.  It's not so easy to figure out which image slice to end a stacked photo with.  Sometimes the addition or subtraction of a single slice makes a huge difference in the end result.

When shooting, I typically take a f/32-40 image for comparison and then back up a mm or so from the closest point of the subject then blindly take pictures at given movements of the focus ring until I've gone past the subject area.  The exact amount is determined by experience if I'm controlling the lens manually or via the software if I;m using the CamRanger.  The Helicon Focus Remote program that runs on OS X actually tries to figure out the best DOF and number of slices to shoot, but I find it hopelessly obsessive-compulsive.  It wants to shoot dozens of slices at narrow f stops.

I typically shoot at just below the diffraction limit of the camera, f/10 on a D800 is typical.  That should push the image into a tad of diffraction artifact but I can't really see it and I want to use as few images as possible - faster to shoot, fewer steps to screw up.

With an iPad mini and a , I've got a 600 gram device that does hands off focus stacking in the field with incredible results.

With an iPad mini and a comma? Huh? What word is missing there?

The dog ate my CamRanger - a cute little device that lets you control the camera with an iPad. Costs about as much as a good set of rails (well a set of x and y rails anyway).

Just the jostling of the system as you manually turn the lens can cause image degradation.  Doing it hands off is much better from a number of angles.  Less movement, less mud on the clothes, less back strain from hunching down.  Using an automatic system by controlling the focus ring also allows you to create software that controls the rest of the camera simultaneously (like the Helicon Focus Andriod app and the CamRanger) - very slick.

Yup. I found the same thing. Is Helicon's mobile app Andriod only? I'm a Mac/iPhone/iPad user and developer.

Yes, I think Helicon mobile is Android.  I haven't checked recently but they were making noises about an iThingy app.  If you are a iDevice developer, then don't you think you need to get a Nexus 10 and a Nexus 7 to keep up on what the competition is doing?

Helicon Focus stack of 11 images

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RG
www.lostrange.com

Beautiful photo. Could almost be an underwater shot. I see it was done with the 105mm f2.8 G. I recently purchased that lens for macro but have not taken any photos that compare to this one.

Helicon Remote is available for Android. I have it on my Motorola Zoom tablet but no longer use it as I can run the Windows Helicon Focus on my Surface Pro.

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Robin Casady
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Re: Macro Focus Stacking
In reply to rgolub, Apr 9, 2013

rgolub wrote:

Yes, as you move the focus, the magnification changes slightly.  That, of course, changes the image size. Depending on the lens and the size of the subject, it might make a difference.  Bigger objects and higher focal length lenses are where you notice it.

Moving the camera on a rail will also change magnification, but I think it is less than changing the lens focus ring.

Yup. I found the same thing. Is Helicon's mobile app Andriod only? I'm a Mac/iPhone/iPad user and developer.

Yes, I think Helicon mobile is Android.  I haven't checked recently but they were making noises about an iThingy app.

Helicon Remote for iOS:

iPad version of Helicon Remote is under development now. We plan to release it in the summer of 2013.

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Per Baekgaard
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For shooting, the free digiCamControl might be an option on Windows
In reply to Duncan C, Apr 9, 2013

Just wanted to mention the option of using digiCamControl (formerly Nikon Camera Control or NCC) for an automated shooting sequence:

http://digicamcontrol.com/manual/complete-feature-list

I have no affiliation with this, but it is an open source release for windows and might be worth looking at for someone that wants to automate the capture part. It does other stuff too.

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Daniel Lauring
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Re: Macro Focus Stacking
In reply to Duncan C, Apr 9, 2013

Thanks for the post.  Macro stacking opens a world of possibilities.

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bigpigbig
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Re: Macro Focus Stacking
In reply to Robin Casady, Apr 9, 2013

Rob Casady wrote:

Moving the camera on a rail will also change magnification, but I think it is less than changing the lens focus ring.

I would really like to know if this is true.

I use a D800E w/ 105 Macro and Helicon Remote to capture images then Helicon Focus to stack them.

For certain scenes and lighting it works great, for others there are artifacts.

I have a Manfrotto Macro Slider I could use, but the automated process of Helicon is just SUPER fast, accurate and convenient.

For those who don't know, Helicon Remote comes with Helicon Focus. It asks you to set the near and far desired focus points and the number of steps you'd like it to capture (it will make recommendations as well depending on aperture and distance). Then, it controls the camera to capture the images and passes them seamlessly to Helicon Focus for the stacking to be done. A 40 shot stack can literally be done in less than 5 minutes.

Here is a quick and dirty example (I didn't clean up the second hand):

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BassFisher
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Re: Macro Focus Stacking
In reply to bigpigbig, Apr 9, 2013

You might like to have a look at a program called Controlmynikon

used with ZereneStacker or Heliconfocus to automate the whole process with out a rail see

http://www.controlmynikon.com/

for videos of the process and for the price is a really great program.

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BillD
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bigpigbig
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Re: Macro Focus Stacking
In reply to BassFisher, Apr 9, 2013

BassFisher wrote:

You might like to have a look at a program called Controlmynikon

used with ZereneStacker or Heliconfocus to automate the whole process with out a rail see

http://www.controlmynikon.com/

for videos of the process and for the price is a really great program.

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BillD
Sydney, Australia
Time is the only thing I don't have enough of.

Hi Bill,

I do not understand your reply.

If it was to me, I already own Helicon Focus and Helicon Remote. As far as I can tell, it is a much more powerful program (for focus stacking) than controlmynikon.

EDIT: Just checked, Windows only (for now). I am an OSX user.

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D Cox
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Re: Macro Focus Stacking
In reply to John4, Apr 9, 2013

John4 wrote:

I've recently been toying with doing the same thing.  However it seems as if there is another factor which should be considered.  As you change the focus, you are also changing the magnification.

Is this a real problem or only an imagined one?  Do Helicon or CS6 correct for this?

John

Check out Telecentric lenses, for instance here:

http://photomacrography.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=18323

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digital ed
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Re: Macro Focus Stacking
In reply to bigpigbig, Apr 9, 2013

bigpigbig wrote:

Rob Casady wrote:

Moving the camera on a rail will also change magnification, but I think it is less than changing the lens focus ring.

I would really like to know if this is true.

I use a D800E w/ 105 Macro and Helicon Remote to capture images then Helicon Focus to stack them.

For certain scenes and lighting it works great, for others there are artifacts.

I have a Manfrotto Macro Slider I could use, but the automated process of Helicon is just SUPER fast, accurate and convenient.

For those who don't know, Helicon Remote comes with Helicon Focus. It asks you to set the near and far desired focus points and the number of steps you'd like it to capture (it will make recommendations as well depending on aperture and distance). Then, it controls the camera to capture the images and passes them seamlessly to Helicon Focus for the stacking to be done. A 40 shot stack can literally be done in less than 5 minutes.

Here is a quick and dirty example (I didn't clean up the second hand):

For Helicon if you do not connect the StackShot rail it controls the camera focus. If you connect the rail, it controls the rail. You can do either.

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Duncan C
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A first try using Helicon Focus
In reply to Duncan C, Apr 9, 2013

I just downloaded a trial of Helicon Focus, and it certainly makes the process simple.

However, I see some of the same artifacts that I see with PS CS 6's merge layers command. It has areas where it selected pixels from the wrong layer, creating "blurry bits" that don't belong.

Here is a 100% crop of an example image:

Helicon seems to have problems with edges, where Photoshop's blurry bits are in irregularly shaped blobs that don't follow edges as much.

How would you go about correcting flaws like the above in Helicon?

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KEVZPHOTOS
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Re: A first try using Helicon Focus
In reply to Duncan C, Apr 9, 2013

Duncan C wrote:

I just downloaded a trial of Helicon Focus, and it certainly makes the process simple.

However, I see some of the same artifacts that I see with PS CS 6's merge layers command. It has areas where it selected pixels from the wrong layer, creating "blurry bits" that don't belong.

They are stack smoothies

I mention those in my stacking blog:

Focus Stacking

Here's another example of this:

http://kvincentphotography.ca/img/s1/v19/p886879223-4.jpg

(excerpt from my blog)

It is worth noting though - that it's important to make sure that each separate shot is "spaced" the same amount apart to ensure the best quality final stack. For example, let's say that I want to capture a total DOF of 10mm in ten images at a ratio of 1:1 using f/16, then in theory each shot should be taken 1mm apart (ie: forward or backward) on the rail to avoid what I call "the smoothies" which are regions of the image that after being blended show no detail...which has occurred because the frame overlap capture was not sufficient enough and hence some areas were not in focus.

This is why I still shoot at f/22 when I'm doing a macro 1:1 stack...because the DOF is so small...and one requires a certain amount of frame overlap to ensure that image detail in not lost.

Hope this helps,

KEV

"No problem can be solved at the level of consciousness which created it" - Albert Einstein

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digital ed
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Re: A first try using Helicon Focus
In reply to Duncan C, Apr 9, 2013

Duncan C wrote:

I just downloaded a trial of Helicon Focus, and it certainly makes the process simple.

However, I see some of the same artifacts that I see with PS CS 6's merge layers command. It has areas where it selected pixels from the wrong layer, creating "blurry bits" that don't belong.

Here is a 100% crop of an example image:

Helicon seems to have problems with edges, where Photoshop's blurry bits are in irregularly shaped blobs that don't follow edges as much.

How would you go about correcting flaws like the above in Helicon?

When choosing run you have three choices for the method to be used. You can try all three without changing the basic stack photos. For the photos I have taken I find Method C most often the best. You can also edit the stack filters to correct the blurs. View the videos on the subject on the Helicon website.

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rgolub
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Re: Macro Focus Stacking
In reply to digital ed, Apr 9, 2013

Thanks.  About as close to underwater as your going to get on the surface (Alaska muskeg, basically a very squishy bog).

Did you find that the Surface Pro / Helicon Focus combo better than the Android / Helicon Remote (or whatever they call it) any better?

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Duncan C
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Re: A first try using Helicon Focus
In reply to KEVZPHOTOS, Apr 9, 2013

KEVZPHOTOS wrote:

Duncan C wrote:

I just downloaded a trial of Helicon Focus, and it certainly makes the process simple.

However, I see some of the same artifacts that I see with PS CS 6's merge layers command. It has areas where it selected pixels from the wrong layer, creating "blurry bits" that don't belong.

They are stack smoothies

I mention those in my stacking blog:

Focus Stacking

Here's another example of this:

http://kvincentphotography.ca/img/s1/v19/p886879223-4.jpg

(excerpt from my blog)

It is worth noting though - that it's important to make sure that each separate shot is "spaced" the same amount apart to ensure the best quality final stack. For example, let's say that I want to capture a total DOF of 10mm in ten images at a ratio of 1:1 using f/16, then in theory each shot should be taken 1mm apart (ie: forward or backward) on the rail to avoid what I call "the smoothies" which are regions of the image that after being blended show no detail...which has occurred because the frame overlap capture was not sufficient enough and hence some areas were not in focus.

This is why I still shoot at f/22 when I'm doing a macro 1:1 stack...because the DOF is so small...and one requires a certain amount of frame overlap to ensure that image detail in not lost.

Hope this helps,

KEV

"No problem can be solved at the level of consciousness which created it" - Albert Einstein

I used Nikon Camera Control and focus fine-tuning, so I am absolutely positive that my focus spacing is even. I also don't believe that it is an issue of my steps being too great, since I got sharply focused pixels from Photoshop for some of the areas that came out blurry from Helicon Focus.

In PS, I can go back after the fact and adjust the layer masks that select the parts of each image to combine. It's tedious, but gives me very precise control over which pixels come from which layer of the image.

Overall, it looks like Helicon Focus does a better job "out of the box" than PS does, but it still isn't perfect, and I don't see a way to touch up the results by hand in Helicon.

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Robin Casady
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Rail vs. Focus
In reply to bigpigbig, Apr 9, 2013

bigpigbig wrote:

Rob Casady wrote:

Moving the camera on a rail will also change magnification, but I think it is less than changing the lens focus ring.

I would really like to know if this is true.

I'll do some tests when I get time. I'll probably start a new thread, rather than bury it here.

I can test with moving the camera on a rail, moving the camera body only with bellows, and changing the focus ring on the lens.

I use a D800E w/ 105 Macro and Helicon Remote to capture images then Helicon Focus to stack them.

I have the 105mm Micro VR, so I can test with that.

For certain scenes and lighting it works great, for others there are artifacts.

Let me know what situations give you artifacts so I can see if using a different shooting method gets rid of them.

I have a Manfrotto Macro Slider I could use, but the automated process of Helicon is just SUPER fast, accurate and convenient.

Yes, it would be interesting to know whether a stepper motor rail is worth the expense.

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Robin Casady
http://www.robincasady.com/Photo/index.html
"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts."
— Bertrand Russell

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