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03-08-2021, 12:49 PM - 1 Like   #1
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Anyone tried focus stacking? Manual rail good enough?

I wish I had thought of this much earlier in lockdown - want to learn to do focus stacking macros

Got pretty much all the macro kit I need (except someone seems to have pinched all the Eneloops from my flashes) but suspect a proper focus rail is going to be useful

120 seems to be about the price of a rail with manual screw control (eg https://www.wexphotovideo.com/leofoto-mp-150snp-50-macro-focusing-rail-1754362/ but I dont know if thats the best thing for the job - or if there are more flexible / useful alternatives out there

03-08-2021, 01:33 PM   #2
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You should be fine with a macro focus rail until you try a very large magnification. The thinner the depth of field, the the smaller the increment you will want to move the rail. A number of folks have added marks at the screw knob (just cardboard taped or glued in place) to help the make it easier for a repetitively equal-sized move each time.

I built a stepper motor-controlled rail myself. It works a treat and I can get down to a very small slice thickness. But I must confess I did it as much for the building as for the using.

Good luck with your new project.

Don
03-08-2021, 03:08 PM   #3
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Focus stacking by the focus ring is more often the way to go, I feel. With a rail, there's the danger of by moving the camera the perspective changes. With focus stacking by adjusting the focus point, this is not a problem. However, with the magnification changing with different focus points (breathing) of some lenses (stand up and face the music, DFA 100 f2.8 macro) it can be an issue. Nevertheless, focus stacking with a static camera and post techniques is, I believe, better. When the stack's been created each image that is being composited using masks, can be inspected and the masks cleaned up to improve most imperfections.

So maybe not a rail. At least for me ...
03-08-2021, 04:30 PM   #4
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A manual rail should work fine. If you arms and wrists of steel you could even do hand-held focus stacking. Thomas Shahan does.

The focus ring on many "digital" lenses may be too "coarse" for finer increments or steps.

03-08-2021, 05:44 PM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by AggieDad Quote
I built a stepper motor-controlled rail myself. It works a treat and I can get down to a very small slice thickness. But I must confess I did it as much for the building as for the using.

Don
I'm impressed that you know this about yourself, Don. It took me YEARS before I understood this impulse in myself and certain family members. Made a lot of things click into place.
03-08-2021, 07:00 PM   #6
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I did experiment with stacking a couple years ago and used the focus ring, it worked fine. Ive only done it a few times.
03-08-2021, 08:06 PM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by PocketPixels Quote
I'm impressed that you know this about yourself, Don. It took me YEARS before I understood this impulse in myself and certain family members. Made a lot of things click into place.
Hah! After 78 years I have figured out a couple of things about myself - but not everything.

It was this same urge that had me build an automated pano system which would be wonderful if I lived in the Rockies or some other place with lots of vistas. As it is, I live suburban Houston at 40 feet above sea level.

03-09-2021, 06:20 AM   #8
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I have produced quite a few stacked macro images just using the focus ring, and through the auto-align function of Photoshop, have had a pretty good success rate of aligning up to 20 images. With either method the biggest challenge is making sure you get shots that cover every bit of what you want in focus.
03-09-2021, 11:26 PM - 1 Like   #9
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I have done some stacking, after finding a Tamron 90mm macro lens at a good price. I had enough for a basic manual operated focus rail, nothing too fancy. I cant do the focus ring finely enough, but the rail allows me to get good results. Unlike some really good macro shooters who stack hundreds of frames, I have only gone up to I think 26 for one shot. I use Focus Stacker on the Mac. I shoot inside one of those tabletop studio boxes with as much lighting as I can add (LEDs, LED desk lamps as accents, and one of those Cube lites).

Sample shot (26 frames)
03-10-2021, 01:08 PM - 3 Likes   #10
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I do quite a bit of focus stacking for depth of field control and for the ability to use my lenses at their best aperture.
And sometimes just for fun.
I admit to being pretty lazy about it. I load the images to be stacked into Photoshop and let the software deal with it.
I haven't really found any difference between moving the focus ring vs. using a focusing rail.
Obviously when doing close up work, the software has to do a bunch of resizing with either method, though more resizing is required when using the focusing ring.

As I mentioned, I take a fairly laid back route with my focus stacks, I do focus manually using Liveview with focus peaking turned on. This allows me to see where the focus is going.
My technique, such as I have, is just turning the focus ring a tiny bit between exposures, or if using a rail, to move the camera a very small amount between exposures.

I try to not overthink this stuff.


This is a 57 image stack shot with the M50/1.4 on a bellows which was mounted to a focusing rail:



This is a 20 image stack done using the focusing ring using the D FA* 50/1.4:

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This is a 27 image stack, again using the focusing ring on the DFA* 50/1.4 macro.



This is a 25 image stack using the focusing ring on the FA* 200/4 macro.


Last edited by Wheatfield; 03-11-2021 at 07:08 AM.
03-13-2021, 03:31 PM   #11
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Usually I use the focus ring on my DFA 100mm macro WR due to its long focus throw.
If I need even more precise control, I use the focus control in IT2. One click is a tiny increment on the lens and barely noticeable. Tethering is pretty useful for focus stacking when possible. With live view on a larger screen you can see exactly where the focus is.
04-09-2021, 01:39 PM - 1 Like   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by LittleSkink Quote
I wish I had thought of this much earlier in lockdown - want to learn to do focus stacking macros

Got pretty much all the macro kit I need (except someone seems to have pinched all the Eneloops from my flashes) but suspect a proper focus rail is going to be useful

120 seems to be about the price of a rail with manual screw control (eg Leofoto MP-150S+NP-50 Macro Focusing Rail | Wex Photo Video but I dont know if thats the best thing for the job - or if there are more flexible / useful alternatives out there
Wow! Only a few days after the urge came over me and I see your post of only a few weeks ago. You can find my stacks elsewhere on this forum, the first few I did by moving the focus ring on my Tamron 90mm ever so slightly and then squeezing off a shot but I found that focus ring not dependable enough and ended up with fuzzy "gaps".

I splurged on one of those rails, theres a guy on Youtube (Allan Walls and his channel is https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3N1BvkmnYWqa3SSthhzReA )I can recommend on learning everything macro-stacking related. He clearly is on another level, actually a different universe, but he did a review of the Nisi NM180 rail which he really liked. Nisi had an Easter discount of 10% in NL so I ended up paying €107 incl. postage.

Enjoying the learning tremendously. For now Im using a trial version of ZereneStacker and I really like the software so Im in for a purchase later this month. I found stacking in Enfuse, Gimp or any other software really a crapshoot but with a dedicated stacking program things seem to go way better.

My first attempts are all about making the sliver of sharpness visible at different apertures by putting a subject on a piece of textile. The structure of the textile gives away where the sharpness lies and how many more shots I need to not end up with "fuzzy gaps". I hope to get that to the point where it becomes second nature and I can look at a subject and decide on a suitable aperture, nr. of shots needed and how far to advance the slider every time.

Here, as an example is Big Smurf. Despite his name, Big Smurf is only 5cm (2 inches) tall from the soles of his feet to the tippy-top of his hat. I put him on a piece of woven textile so besides looking carefully at the parts of BS that are in focus, you can also see the "bands" of sharpness in the textile weave (click to enlarge the images for a closer look). I did a series of 21 exposures, beginning at his feet and advancing the rail by some 2-3 mm (about 2 turns of the screw) every shot. Aperture was f6.3 on the Tamron 90mm macro. Distance from the front of the lens to subject 30cm.

After that I stacked variable sets of 2,3, 7 and all 21 shots to see how many exposures would be sufficient for head to toe sharpness at this subject distance and aperture. First I stacked with the first and last shot, then added the middle shot, after that every third shot and finally all of the shots. It is easy to see the banding and fuzzy gaps with the 2 and 3-shots versions. The seven exposures are near-perfect and the last one may actually be a bit overkill, so to speak.

First two shots stacked. It is clear to see feet and tip of the hat being sharp and everything between fuzzy. Also clearly visible are the two "bands of sharpness" on the textile below him.


Added the middle shot to the first and the last. You can definitely see the belly coming up sharp but there still are wide unsharp gaps.


This stack I used every third shot, 7 shots in total. Big Smurf is almost completely sharp with no apparent gaps visible. That tells me the DOF of each shot neatly borders or slightly overlaps that of the next shot - almost perfect.


And here are all 21 shots giving the full sharpness experience - maybe just a bit overkill really but 21 shots times 2-3mm indeed comes pretty close to the length of Big Smurf.
04-19-2021, 07:43 AM   #13
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Another fancy way to stack, is to use bellows. Fix the lens position (front of the bellows) and move the camera body, this method has some advantages (and of course disad) over either moving the entire rig on a rail or just the focus ring. for example, object magnification, refraction and reflections (important when taking pictures of shiny objects - gems, metal) which tend to move if a rail is used.
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