What Light for Handheld Focus Bracketing Outdoors???

Started Nov 25, 2019 | Discussions thread
gardenersassistant Veteran Member • Posts: 8,763
Re: Use a flash

John K wrote:

I don't think you're gonna get anywhere close to hand holding for a focus stack using any constant light source. Shooting in harsh sun is just gonna give you harsh specular highlights, little contrast, and muted colors. All of the macro shooters that I know who shoot hand held and focus stack are using a flash.

Note: I'm answering your question based on you using the word "macro" and my strict definition that you're actually shooting at 1x or higher mag. If you're really just taking closeups well below 1x then there might be a few constant light sources that would work.

I'd go along with John here.

Capturing a series of macro scale shots using focus bracketing hand-held is difficult, irrespective of lighting issues.

I just did an experiment. Using an LED light with a micro four thirds G9 camera with an Olympus 60mm macro lens, at 1:1 using f/2.8 I was able to get a fast enough shutter speed to get sharp images. I used 1/640 sec at ISO 200, which is base ISO for the G9. I set it up to capture 200 images. I used JPEG because with raw the buffer fills at around 45 images and it then gets very slow. Even so, hand-holding at 1:1 (equivalent to 2:1 on full frame) while 200 images were captured at around 4.5 per second was taxing. And I started with the focus too far away from the front of the subject and by the time it had finished the 200 shots it still had not got to the far side of the subject. What I got after stacking 158 of the images in Helicon Filter, adjustments in Lightroom and sharpening in Topaz Sharpen AI was this.

If I had started the sequence nearer to the subject the coverage of the subject would have been better. If I had used a smaller aperture I could have got greater coverage front to back for the same number of shots. However, as the aperture got smaller the shutter speed would have got slower. And I could have used more shots, but of course that would have taken even longer to do the capturing.

So the process is difficult to execute hand-held, and it is time-consuming, sufficient that your subject or parts of it may have moved, or it may have moved away completely before the images were captured. And of course you have a lot of images to manage and the stacking process might be a bit involved and time-consuming.

I tried another approach, this time using Panasonic's post focus to capture a video with the focus racked from front to back as the video is captured. This is much quicker to do as the capture rate is 30 per second. When I extracted and stacked 268 JPEGs from the video I got this (Helicon Focus > Lightroom > Topaz Sharpen AI as before).

The coverage front to back is much greater, but there are out of focus areas where the software could not deal with the variation caused by my hand movement. Although this method is faster to do the capturing, it is still slow enough for a subject to move or move away.  Panasonic's post focus makes this very easy to execute. It can be done manually with ordinary video with fixed focus, moving the camera.

I then tried a single shot using flash. I had forgotten that I had set the camera to shoot JPEG for the focus bracket captures, so I captured the single shot as JPEG rather than RAW, which is what I usually use. This is what I got after processing the JPEG with DXO PhotoLab, Lightroom and Sharpen AI.

I use stacking for hand-held natural light close-ups of botanical subjects. I have experimented with stacking at macro scale out in the field hand-held using natural light and LED lights, but thus far have come to the conclusion that I can do better at macro scale using single captures. Quite apart from the inherent execution time and difficulty issues for hand-held stacking at macro scale, out in the field with jumpy subjects there are distinct advantages to a technique which is quick and easy to execute.

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