Macro Focus Stacking

Started Apr 8, 2013 | Discussions thread
digital ed
digital ed Veteran Member • Posts: 3,539
Re: Macro Focus Stacking

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

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.

 digital ed's gear list:digital ed's gear list
Olympus E-1 Olympus E-3 Nikon 1 V2 Nikon D810 Nikon AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED +15 more
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