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12-09-2017, 08:54 AM   #1
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Focus stacking

I am looking to do some focus stacking work soon (macro and 'normal') and am looking for thoughts suggestions and considerations relating to software etc. Using 645 with 120 macro and I do have a set of extension tubes. Plus a focus rail that may be man enough for the job

I have done a little in the past and found that Photoshop did a pretty good job but am aware that other packages can offer a great deal more (ease of use, speed etc.). Two packages that always come up are Zerene Stacker and Helicon Focus. I am sure that there are more maybe even free versions ( I Like free).

Any experience and suggestions appreciated

12-09-2017, 09:31 AM - 1 Like   #2
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I personally use Zerene Stacker. It's not free but it is cost effective, and produces very, very good results even on full automatic. I evaluated both Zerene and Helicon Focus back in the day, and liked the results I can get with Zerene with less post-stack cleanup work. A caveat is that I don't do closeup work. I'm doing bigger tripod mounted scenes where I need to stack between 2 - 4 frames to get the depth of field I want for creative reasons, at the lens aperture I want to shoot for optical clarity reasons. Zerene's results with my 645D and 645Z files are excellent.
12-09-2017, 11:11 AM - 1 Like   #3
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I started looking into this also -- I tried the Zerene Stacker trial and found it significantly better than the focus stacking available in Photoshop CS6 -- however, friends using more up to date PS CC versions have told me that Adobe has improved the focus stacking function. Affinity also has a focus stacker that I tried once or twice so far and found to be better than CS6. Like Royce, though, I am only stacking 3-10 shots for landscapes and florals. For serious macro stacking I'm sure most folks will suggest you try the free trials to Helicon and Zerene and see which you like better.
12-09-2017, 02:47 PM - 1 Like   #4
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If you want free focus stacking, Enblend may help. It is also used with the Hugin stitcher.
I think there are some tutorials on how to use Enblend to do focus stacking.


12-09-2017, 05:51 PM - 1 Like   #5
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I think Zerene Stacker is great, but there is definitely a learning curve to get the most out of it. Stacks nearly always benefit from retouching, and while Zerene's retouching mode is very good, it takes some getting used to.

Edit: I should add that one advantage of Zerene is that the developer runs the forum and is very available for help with the software and with focus stacking in general.
12-09-2017, 06:04 PM - 1 Like   #6

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Did all the research and chose to try Helicon due to my computer ineptness and the promise of "easiest." It proved not only easy but finger-snap quick with results that far exceeded my picky expectations.
12-09-2017, 07:54 PM - 1 Like   #7
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For close macro work I tried both Z and Helicon. Helicon was my choice, cleaner merge with less clean up. Both have a learning curve.
12-09-2017, 08:16 PM - 1 Like   #8
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Zerene, Helicon and Photoshop seem to be the most popular stacking programs at the moment. I've used Zerene for years and it's pretty good. Usual place where it falls down is if you have a lot of complex, fine edge detail at different focal distances. For example, if you are stacking images of a fly that has a body covered by bristles, the program "thinks" that bristles presently far out of focus are actually part of the desired image, so it will save a blurred image of these bristles as well as the sharply in-focus version which creates annoying halos around them.

12-10-2017, 04:56 AM - 1 Like   #9
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I use CombineZP for macro stacks from my Canon bodies although I haven't yet tried it with 645Z files. As for a rail, I have a pair of RRS B-150's that are stable enough for the Z.

12-10-2017, 09:06 AM   #10
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Royce, thanks I will need to look at Zerene

travelswage, thank you. Last time I tried I think it was CS6 so will look again at the PS CC to see how much improvement. Had not even thought of Affinity.

Terry, thanks will have to look up Enblend as I had not heard of it before.

baro-nite, thank you I expected some learning curve, but it is good to know that the developer interested to offer help and support

Ron and Dana, thank you. Helicon on my list to try.

WPRESTO, thank you. I am not sure about how fine edges will be as the first job will be small items of jewellery.

Bob L thanks, I had totally forgotten about CombineZP (heard of it but never tried it) so I will take a look. I intend to try both focus rail and focus only methods. RRS is on the list if I find current equipment not up to it.
12-10-2017, 09:31 PM - 1 Like   #11
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I have used PS, Zerene and Helicon. My personal choice is Helicon focus. Very easy to use, great results and it allows me to stack multiple DNGs into a single DNG for processing.

In other words, I stack DNGs from the Pentax 645Z and Helicon gives me a single DNG at the end of the stacked image.

Stacked DNGs are roughly 2.5 times the size of a single DNG, so around 125 meg. It can vary between 120 megs to just under 150 megs, depending on the subject matter.
12-11-2017, 04:07 AM - 1 Like   #12
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Thanks TheDocAUS. I had made assumptions that I would be working in raw for as long as possible, so stacking multiple DNG into a single sounds like a good solution
12-11-2017, 01:28 PM   #13
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The feature is called Raw-in-DNG-out mode. You need Helicon Focus Pro version and have Adode's DNG converter installed. Full description with lots of details here.

My workflow is DNG to DNG as I set my 645Z to DNG format, rather than PEF.
12-12-2017, 03:40 AM   #14
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Thanks again for the added details.

I am certainly leaning towards anything that will allow raw import and export as raw (I guess linearised?). I dont relish the thought of converting original raw capture to TIFF and going from around 65+MB to 200+MB per image!

I intend to download the demo of Helicon first then as time allows try the others to see if my impressions of desired workflow hold up
12-12-2017, 03:46 AM   #15
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The stacked DNG was the main reason I chose Helicon, plus the stack quality is very good.

As a bonus, Helicon also has a LR Plug In, if you use LR as your raw processor.

So I select images in LR, LR opens images in Helicon, stack the images and then go back to LR with the stacked image now in LR.

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