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Thread: Software for focus stacking?

  1. #1

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    Software for focus stacking?

    I do macrophotography. Lately, I notice that most of what we see in magazines, in books or on line is photo-stacked. A simple good macrophoto does not seem to be good enough anymore. Furthermore, the magnification on some of the insects is huge, nearly microscope quality. My question are: what would be the best photo-stacking software and how to achieve such magnification with a 100mm macro lens?

  2. #2

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    Re: Software for focus stacking?

    Louise...I'm going send you to school by offering a couple of links to Canon sites, simply because they are where I sometimes hang out. http://photography-on-the.net/forum/...d.php?t=807056
    http://photography-on-the.net/forum/...cking+software Is a rather long debate on the values of different types of software.
    I would offer a warning in that none of them could be referred to as "plug and play".

    My personal preference for focus stacking is Photoshop. This particular image was in excess of 20 layers and several hours of repair work.

    Software for focus stacking?
    .

  3. #3
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    Re: Software for focus stacking?

    Louise,

    If you search on this site, I think you will find some extensive discussion of this in earlier posts.

    My personal preference is Zerene. It is faster than Photoshop, offers two different stacking algorithms (as well as the flexibility to combine the two), and an invaluable retouching tool. The two methods behave quite differently under different circumstances--e.g., one is faster, is better at preserving fine detail, and produces less haloing from parallax (which any stacking software will produce under some circumstances), while the other is better at preserving tonality and color saturation. Many of the macro photographers I know use Zeren. I suggest checking out the earlier posting and Zerene's website to see whether it will meet your needs.

    The shot below is 20+ images (I don't recall exactly), stacked with Zerene. I believe I used the DMap algorithm (the latter of the two above) because I find hat in most cases, it produces better results with flowers.

    Dan

    Software for focus stacking?

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    Re: Software for focus stacking?

    If you do not have the patience to work with 20 layers, you might start with Helicon Focus. For example if you have three flower buds, one in the foreground, one in the middle, and one in the background, take three photos, one with each of the buds in focus, open them in Helicon Focus, click on "Render", and in less than one minute you will have one image with all the buds in focus. You can try it on a trial basis before you buy.

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    DanK's Avatar
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    Re: Software for focus stacking?

    If you do not have the patience to work with 20 layers, you might start with Helicon Focus.
    Frank,

    The number of layers is only relevant to the choice, IMHO, if you have lots of them. If you have only a few, then the choice becomes a bit less critical because speed matters less. However, Zerene works very well, and simply, with a smaller number of layers. I only chose that image to illustrate that it works well in the more difficult case of many layers. the image below, if I remember right, is composited from three images.

    I have no connection to Zerene or its author, and I am not trying to push the product. I just wanted to point out the specific features that led me to settle on it. I also have never used Helicon, so I have no comparison, although there are some comparisons on the web.

    I think your suggestion of trying the free demos is a great one.

    Dan

    Software for focus stacking?

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    Re: Software for focus stacking?

    Dan, nice rendition of this wild flower milkweed plant favored by monarch butterfly. As it contains the seeds attached to little feather like tendrils, I would imagine you took the picture inside so nothing would mouve while to changed focus?

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    Re: Software for focus stacking?

    Dan, nice rendition of this wild flower milkweed plant favored by monarch butterfly
    Aah...you have images by three different folks using different software to PP.
    My milkweed was shot handheld, in situ...which probably explains the amount of repair work necessary.

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    Re: Software for focus stacking?

    Quote Originally Posted by chauncey View Post
    Aah...you have images by three different folks using different software to PP.
    My milkweed was shot handheld, in situ...which probably explains the amount of repair work necessary.
    I am much impress. Here it is rare that these flowers stay still long enough to take one clear focus, let alone twenty or so. And yes, there are many different software and that is why I am seaking the opinion of those using them.
    I am still puzzle about the pictures of bugs eyes seen on the net or in magazines that seem so big, how is it done, do you know?

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    Re: Software for focus stacking?

    Louise, a "traditional" macro lens will allow you up to a 1:1 image ratio. That is, the size of the image on your sensor will be the same, or in a 1:1 relationship to the size of the subject.

    In order to get a larger than life size image (larger than 1:1) you can add an extension tube or combination of extension tubes to your macro lens. You "can" achieve this with other than a macro lens and extension tubes but, the macro lens will provide the very best image quality.

    When you are working with extension tubes, there is quite a bit of light loss so it is best to add supplemental lighting. I would recommend that flash is used rather than continuous lighting because it is better in quite a few ways: more powerful, less heat and capable of stopping action when the flash is the primary light source...

    A bellows might be another option however, there are some very important problems using a bellows with modern lenses. It is difficult to stop down a lens unless here is an electrical connection between the lens and the camera. Many (most) bellows do not have this type of connection. However, you can often use an enlarging lens on a bellows for some very great image ratio images. The enlarging lens can be focused wide open and then stopped down manually. It needs no electrical connection to the camera.

  10. #10

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    Re: Software for focus stacking?

    Louise, you got some good suggestions/explanation from Richard about ways to increase the magnification of macro images. I will just point out that some of the most amazing of the nearly-microscopic, incredibly detailed images that you're seeing were probably taken with the Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens. That lens has no peer. It's output is incredible, with the LOWER end of its magnification, 1x, starting where most other macro lenses leave off. But it's very specialized, expensive, and learning to use it takes a lot of patience. So most people don't go that route until they are proficient with a regular macro lens, and are certain this is an area they want to pursue in depth.

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    Re: Software for focus stacking?

    Louise,

    Yes, I do many of my flower macros indoors, both to avoid motion and to have control over lighting. The software will align the images, but it can only manage very small amounts of motion.

    For more than 1:1 magnification, I rely on a set of Kenko tubes, which give me 12mm to 68mm of extension. Depending on the lens I use, that can get me to a bit over 2:1 magnification. In practice, I rarely do that much. Most of mine are limited to 36mm of extension, like the one I will post below. Quite a number of people use the Canon MP-E 65, which will provide up to 5:1 magnification.

    Stacking images of bugs is extremely difficult. I suspect that some of the extreme one you see are dead bugs. In the field, it is very hard to get images well enough aligned to allow for good stacking. I know some people who do it, but I am not steady enough and generally can't.

    Dan

    Software for focus stacking?

  12. #12
    James G's Avatar
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    Re: Software for focus stacking?

    Louise,
    I have been experimenting with focus stacking for a while now and use the following: -
    1) Camera mounted on steady tripod (pretty obvious I know)
    2) Camera (EOS 7D) with 100mm macro
    3) Nexus 7 tablet, loaded with Helicon Remote (Android app), tethered and controlling focus stepping on the camera.
    4) Photoshop CS6 to stack the image stack.

    I also have used Combine ZP (a free image stacking program) as an alternative to CS6 and had good results with it.

    The Helicon Remote app comes in a number of flavours. I use the Android version because a tablet is much easier to use in the wild. (My laptop was a bit too bulky and awkward) Additionally, the Android app can be downloaded independent of the Helicon Focus stacking software package.
    The unlicenced app is free but only allows Jpeg image capture. Licencing costs $48 and allows Raw captures. I found that stacking jpegs gave good results, though in the end I did licence my version.

    A lot of people use Zerene, and fewer use Helicon Focus to stack images I have used both as trials and Helicon is definitely the Gold Standard from my point of view. Zerene is good though.
    I stuck with CombineZP for a long while, because it is free, and more importantly, I didn't think it did a bad job in relation to Zerene.
    Now I use CS6 and have been quite happy with the results.

    Ok ,regarding capture, I have found that in general, unless you can 'immobilise' a subject for a significant period of time, it is difficult to achieve a good sequence of stacked shots with a tethered setup. Basically, I found that automated stepping is a slower process than can be achieved manually. The flip side of that issue is that precision with manual changes using a focussing rail is more difficult.

    I have considered experimenting with a (step) motorised focussing rail, but the setup is fairly expensive and I have not really been able to convince myself it's a 'must have'.

    I have used my setup for other subjects though, and achieved reasonable results. I have attached an example of raindrops on a rose stem as an example.

    The really close 'microscopic' standard shots have been beyond me, so far, since I think they rely on captive/dead subjects, which I am not keen on.

    Software for focus stacking?

    Good luck James

  13. #13
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    Re: Software for focus stacking?

    Hi Louise,

    As for stacking software CombineZp by Alan Hadley is another option.

    I disagree that an unstacked macro does not seem good enough any more as many would prefer to see a pleasing artistic representation going from sharp to creamy bokeh for such items as flowers and many bug close-ups. This is not to say there is not a place for stacking but I consider it something that is often done, simply because it can be.

    If you have a 100mm 1:1 macro here are some of the magnification ratios you can achieve with it;

    For a D300 23.6 x 15.8 mm sensor and 105 macro

    a) 105mm @ 1:1 (closest focusing distance) = 23.6mm
    b) 105mm @ 1:1 + 12mm tube = 18mm
    c) 105mm @ 1:1 + 20mm tube =17mm
    d) 105mm @1:1 + 36mm tube = 16mm
    e) 105mm @ 1:1 + 12 + 20 + 36mm tubes (68mm) = 12mm - 2:1 magnification
    f) 105mm @ 1:1 + 2 x Converter = 11mm
    g) 105mm @ 1:1 + reversed 50mm lens = 8.3mm - 3:1 magnification

    From this you can see that if you were to use a full stack of tubes (68mm) you will get a 2:1 magnification. So as an idea you could almost fill the frame with a flies body but if you are wanting to fill the frame with parts of its body you require higher magnifications. You can of course get some 'secondary' magnification by cropping and this will depend upon you pixels available.

    Grahame

  14. #14
    James G's Avatar
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    Re: Software for focus stacking?

    Hi Louise, I forgot to say that I also use an MR-14 EX macro ring light attached to the lens to add light to extreme closeups.

    James

  15. #15
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    Re: Software for focus stacking?

    A lot of focus stacked shots use preserved specimens, yes. My ones are. Live ones tend to move about. Zerene Stacker is very good for reasons amply explained above. Zerene doesn't need a pro version to retouch. One interesting thing about stacking live insects, I don't think it'll be too long before we can use the video component on cameras to extract stills to use for a stack. Lastly I hope you don't mind, a quick plug, have a look at http://extreme-macro.co.uk, it should be of appeal to folk considering questions like these.

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