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Just bought myself a macro lens (Nikon 105mm) and I'm having a lot of trouble getting the whole image into focus (e.g. Billbergia flower). I understand the issues with depth of field but playing with the aperture isn't really fixing the problem.

It occurred to me that focus stacking might be part of the solution. Right now I'm using Photoshop Elements 2018 and for 90% of what I want to do that is more than sufficient. I really don't want to spend a lot more money for something like Lightroom when I won't use most of the functionality.

So can anyone suggest a decent software product that I could use for focus stacking alongside Elements.

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Focus stacking is not part of the solution, it is the solution.  Besides a sturdy tripod and a remote release or 2 sec. delay obviously I strongly recommend to look into Affinity photo. It is gre

Dunno whether this is of interest: I came across it a few days ago on our equivalent of eBay/Craig's List. MVE auto stacking rails. I think they're made in Belgium but they may, of course, just b

Look up "Focus breathing"  

Posted Images

Focus stacking is not part of the solution, it is the solution.  Besides a sturdy tripod and a remote release or 2 sec. delay obviously

I strongly recommend to look into Affinity photo. It is great software and much much better than Elements. In some aspects even better than Photoshop and Focus stacking is one of those aspects. Few clicks and it is all done for you. (the other thing is  Fast Fourier Transform - FFT to get rid of patterns in scans)

I use Affinity and Photoshop and although most plug-ins work with Affinity,  I use a couple of extensions (panels, not plug ins) that only work with Photoshop otherwise I would use Affinity full time.

Learn Affinity, which is not hard, a lot is the same, and you will never use elements again

Right now it is only $24.99 , incl. updates and future versions. Can't beat that even if you would only use it for focus stacking

https://affinity.serif.com/en-us/photo/#buy

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Dunno whether this is of interest: I came across it a few days ago on our equivalent of eBay/Craig's List.

MVE auto stacking rails. I think they're made in Belgium but they may, of course, just be importers. Prices seem reasonable for what's on offer but I'm no expert.

Disclaimer: I have no connection whatever with the vendors.

 

Quote

AUTOMATED MOTORIZED FOCUS STACKING MACRO RAIL SLIDER

Compact motorized focus stacking rail
Camera carriage moves the programmed distance and releases the camera shutter automatic when the carriage is in stop position

RAIL WITH STEPPERMOTOR
Removeable feet adjustable in height with surface protectors
Rail with quick release mounting plate with1/4 and 3/8 threads to mount the rail on a tripod
Carriage with quick release plate clamp adapter to mount the camera on the rail
Cable to connect motor to remote control box
Maximum travel 45 or 90 mm
Weight 1,2 kg

DIGITAL REMOTE CONTROLLER
Easy to program settings of the stacking rail
Adjustable in moving steps from minimum: 0,025 or 0,05 mm
0,025 mm or 40 steps per mm with a maximum travel of 45 mm
0,050 mm or 20 steps per mm with a maximum travel of 90 mm
Rail comes with the desired setting and can later be converted to the second setting by a simple operation
Timer pause settings from 1 til 999 seconds
Adjustable number of shutter releases
Settings are exactly repeatable

COMPLETE SET COMES WITH:
220V power supply with EU plug
Cable to connect to a 12V source with clamps
DSLR shutter cable
Extension shutter cable 200 cm
English manual
Removable feet adjustable in height with surface protectors
Tripod mounting plate with 1/4 and 3/8 threads

SHUTTERCABLES AVAILABLE FOR:
Canon
Contax
Fuji
Kodak
Konica
Leica
Minolta
Nikon
Panasonic / Lumix
Pentax
Samsung
Sigma
Sony

If you want to purchase this article please let us knowwhich item (0,05 or 0,025 mm minimum step) you want and for which camera brand and type you want the shutter cable

Also available with:
Quick focussing rail for 25 Euro extra (see photo 2)
Also available with 0,005 minimum step incl. quick focussig rail for 250 Euro See photo 3 and 4

https://sonyalpha.blog/2020/08/31/mve-automated-focus-stacking-rail/
https://www.marktplaats.nl/u/mve/12610669/

1846694631_NickPic1192021-02-0216_51_57.jpg.f9192d8a130515ddd3254b7e92bfb90c.jpg782994607_NickPic1202021-02-0216_54_40.jpg.2cda30d2aaeb753e08ab61d408803e6b.jpg

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On 2/2/2021 at 10:07 AM, Rudy Umans said:

Focus stacking is not part of the solution, it is the solution.  Besides a sturdy tripod and a remote release or 2 sec. delay obviously

I strongly recommend to look into Affinity photo. It is great software and much much better than Elements. In some aspects even better than Photoshop and Focus stacking is one of those aspects. Few clicks and it is all done for you. (the other thing is  Fast Fourier Transform - FFT to get rid of patterns in scans)

I use Affinity and Photoshop and although most plug-ins work with Affinity,  I use a couple of extensions (panels, not plug ins) that only work with Photoshop otherwise I would use Affinity full time.

Learn Affinity, which is not hard, a lot is the same, and you will never use elements again

Right now it is only $24.99 , incl. updates and future versions. Can't beat that even if you would only use it for focus stacking

https://affinity.serif.com/en-us/photo/#buy

Okay ... after some research, I bought Affinity. It is really easy to use for focus stacking so I ran a test. This is a Concrete Anchor screw. It's probably about an inch long. I took five shots of it with adjusting the focus along its length. This is shot #1

DSC_0926.jpg

I then merged the five shots in Affinity, exported the finished product as a PSD and cleaned it up in Elements. This is the completed shot. 

 

Concrete anchor-2.jpg

I know I could probably have cleaned it up in Affinity but I haven't learned that bit of it yet.

 

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Thanks for the review. Looks pretty good. So you used focus change, not moving the camera or moving the subject, the other two options.

What lens, what aperture? Camera on a tripod? Lighting?

Officially if I do any tests, I'll also start with screws or screwed as the subject. 😉

 

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11 minutes ago, HodagMedia said:

Thanks for the review. Looks pretty good. So you used focus change, not moving the camera or moving the subject, the other two options.

What lens, what aperture? Camera on a tripod? Lighting?

Officially if I do any tests, I'll also start with screws or screwed as the subject. 😉

 

Yes, just focus change. The camera was on a tripod and using a cable release. I didn't move the object or the camera.

Nikkor 105mm lens, f/8, 1/6 second, ISO 100. Just standard room lighting. 

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4 hours ago, Charles Lewis said:

Yes, just focus change. The camera was on a tripod and using a cable release. I didn't move the object or the camera.

Nikkor 105mm lens, f/8, 1/6 second, ISO 100. Just standard room lighting. 

Looks good, and room to move into more interesting subjects.

 

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7 hours ago, Charles Lewis said:

Okay ... after some research, I bought Affinity. It is really easy to use for focus stacking so I ran a test. This is a Concrete Anchor screw. It's probably about an inch long. I took five shots of it with adjusting the focus along its length.

 

Looks good Charles

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8 hours ago, stevemart said:

Looks great Charles.

Question to the experts: Which shooting technique is preferable for stacking? Focus change or camera displacement with a macro rail slider?

Not an Expert! But someone who does good (or great?) work and is successful advised me, move the camera. His reasoning was, because the lighting stays the same. If you move the subject, then everything changes. But he's doing super macros, like bugs faces. All macro isn't the same.

My opinion would be, no matter what someone does, controlling the lighting is important as is, everything mounted, camera on a tripod or a mount and the subject firmly set on something. Otherwise you are introducing all kinds of alignment issues.

I have one of these, $22 on eBay. It's a start. Basic LED ring flash, which is also continuous.

s-l1600.jpg

Of course not good for everything, but for some situations, nice and easy. Macro, not necessarily stacking, because the camera and subject move. But if someone is doing focus stacking... then it's the same distance?

Or the problem with moving the camera is, every time, it moves, the camera can shift left or right, up and down. Even on a rail, unless it's an expensive rail.

Moving the subject, the lighting changes. I suppose you could mount the subject and lights on some kind of mini dolly setup?

Pick Your Poison. 🥺 How much do you want to spend?

Here's my rail. Home made, uses Arduino to run the stepper motor, public domain software. Shoot, move, pause to settle, shoot, move... Oh I should mention, LED light panels are nice and easy to set up and align. The scissors platform is also very useful, as I could adjust the subject to where I wanted it. Otherwise I end up using boxes and things, stacked up, until I guess the right height.

the-rail-test-jan-2020.jpg

Like many things "me" I did some shots, didn't get the stacking quite right, lost interest and put it on the side... started on some new project.

That's a 100mm Canon macro lens with extension tube(s)

If Affinity does as well as reported, I'll get the rail out again. Could be good Winter fun?

Tried this as well.

microscope-on-lens-2020.jpg

Microscope objective, mounted on a lens, and then mounted by itself on an adapter. Both worked.

Happy that @Charles Lewis brought this up and that @Rudy Umans has some experience with Affinity. I was using Picolay which works, just that I hadn't learned how to use it properly. I have assorted Adobe software, hadn't tried those. I need something for my level.

microdummy.jpg

Easy, get a set of photos, click "Stack" and get the results. If I have to read a bunch of complicated, step by step and make adjustments for things I don't understand, it's just not going to work? I wasn't going to spend a bunch on some special software.

So keep em coming everyone.

First one to get accepted and get a download, gets a dime. 😉 Maybe more?

 

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So far, I have the subject in a fixed position and the camera fixed on the tripod using a cable release to minimize movement. The only thing that moves is the focus point. I haven't used any special lighting so far. I know it can get a lot more complicated and especially when doing handheld but I'm not there yet. Baby steps and all that.

I photographed this pine cone using one shot for every focus point on my camera. So 55 Raw files of around 50Mb each. It took between 20-25 minutes in Affinity to do the focus stacking.

 

image.png.2f67a4a9bef0c9c4c89d9910eb257537.png

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6 minutes ago, Charles Lewis said:

So far, I have the subject in a fixed position and the camera fixed on the tripod using a cable release to minimize movement. The only thing that moves is the focus point. I haven't used any special lighting so far. I know it can get a lot more complicated and especially when doing handheld but I'm not there yet. Baby steps and all that.

I photographed this pine cone using one shot for every focus point on my camera. So 55 Raw files of around 50Mb each. It took between 20-25 minutes in Affinity to do the focus stacking.

 

image.png.2f67a4a9bef0c9c4c89d9910eb257537.png

How did you select every focus point on your camera without moving anything? Or is Affinity that good at matching and alignment?

 

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9 hours ago, stevemart said:

Looks great Charles.

Question to the experts: Which shooting technique is preferable for stacking? Focus change or camera displacement with a macro rail slider?

both ways have problems

If you change the focus on a lens, you effectively change the focal length (Focal length to subject) of the lens each time. With that, you also change the magnification. If you move the camera/lens combo, you change the focal plane to subject distance, but not the magnification.

Although professional Focus Stacking apps are perfectly capable to handle and correct both situations, moving the camera seems to be less problematic 

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50 minutes ago, HodagMedia said:

Happy that @Charles Lewis brought this up and that @Rudy Umans has some experience with Affinity. I was using Picolay which works, just that I hadn't learned how to use it properly. I have assorted Adobe software, hadn't tried those. I need something for my level.

 

I have been using Affinity from day one a number of years ago (4?) until about a year ago. As said, the only reason I use PS is because of some 3rd party software that doesn't work with Affinity because they are extensions and not normal plug-ins. My PS UI doesn't look like the regular user interface most of the time

One is Canon's print module and some 3rd party luminosity mask and B/W conversion software. If it wasn't for this software, I would still be using Affinity Photo. (I still use Affinity Publisher though)

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17 minutes ago, HodagMedia said:

How did you select every focus point on your camera without moving anything? Or is Affinity that good at matching and alignment?

 

Just by moving the little box (focus point) across the viewfinder using the 'joystick' on the back of the camera. So where I am focusing changes but the focal length doesn't move because the camera and the subject haven't moved.

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2 minutes ago, Charles Lewis said:

Just by moving the little box (focus point) across the viewfinder using the 'joystick' on the back of the camera. So where I am focusing changes but the focal length doesn't move because the camera and the subject haven't moved.

You do change the focal length that way. It's the other way around

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1 hour ago, Charles Lewis said:

Just by moving the little box (focus point) across the viewfinder using the 'joystick' on the back of the camera. So where I am focusing changes but the focal length doesn't move because the camera and the subject haven't moved.

It doesn't?

1 hour ago, Rudy Umans said:

You do change the focal length that way. It's the other way around

It  does?

Now you guys have me totally confused. If I have a lens with internal focusing, does that change how the lens distance is the same and the focal length doesn't change according to focus point. Or  doesn't matter because the point of focus changes the focal length?

I'm watching you two!  😁

ps changing the f/stop changes the depth of field, which is just one more problem that could enter. So I'd say, focus manual and exposure as well? But adjusting the shutter speed should be a good way to compensate for variable lighting.

Now someone explain, does the focal length change or not or it depends on the lens?

 

 

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14 minutes ago, HodagMedia said:

It doesn't?

It  does?

Now you guys have me totally confused. If I have a lens with internal focusing, does that change how the lens distance is the same and the focal length doesn't change according to focus point. Or  doesn't matter because the point of focus changes the focal length?

I'm watching you two!  😁

ps changing the f/stop changes the depth of field, which is just one more problem that could enter. So I'd say, focus manual and exposure as well? But adjusting the shutter speed should be a good way to compensate for variable lighting.

Now someone explain, does the focal length change or not or it depends on the lens?

 

 

Look up "Focus breathing"

 

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2 hours ago, Charles Lewis said:

Maybe I'm missing something here. 

If I'm using a 105mm prime lens then the focal length is 105mm and that is fixed. It doesn't change.

https://shuttermuse.com/glossary/focus-breathing/#:~:text=Focus breathing is term that is used to,appears to zoom in or out very slightly.

If you focus manually in a number of steps from front to back and you would simply manually try to blend these images, you will encounter a small difference in magnification. Even with prime lenses. The combined image will be blurry obviously.  Focus stacking software takes care of this so you don't have to worry about it

If you move the camera/lens combo without touching the lens, you don't have that magnification problem and with extreme macro that might make a difference

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While I hate to divulge my photographic secrets, most of the Olympus cameras (definitely all of their pro models) have what they refer to as "focus bracketing" where the camera adjusts the focus based upon setting you make in the camera for the number of shots and the focus interval (how much the focus is changed).  I then load these images (usually 16 or more) into Photoshop which stacks these images to make the final focus stacked image. 

This has worked fairly well but I often have to go back and make some adjustments in the final image due to "ghosting" on some part of the image.  While not perfect, the Olympus "focus bracketing" feature (and Photoshop) does the focusing change in camera and simplifies the whole process considerably.  Olympus also can do the complete focus stacking process in camera but I'm not overly happy with the results   

Thanks to Olympus' IS capability, I can often hand hold the camera (anything over 1/100th of a second) while it takes and refocus' each shot .  This has been a game changer in my photography as I can take focus stacked shots whenever I want without the hassles of a slider and all the time it takes to operate.  I now stand back with a 400mm (800mm equivalent) lens and take focus stacked insect images, hand held. 

I wish I could claim some form of photographic superiority given all of the focus stacked images in my portfolio but I'm just another "photo hack", using the latest technology.            

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Thanks guys/gals for all the answers/info. As I don't do real micro with bugs and insects etc, I'm probably OK with focus adjustment. Here's a recent one for a client with focus adjustment even with a tilt/shift 45mm. Three shots blended in PS plus a little post PS where it wasn't quite right.

3-Stack.jpg

 

Apparently, if you have the cash to buy a Phase One medium format camera....you only have to input the extremities of focus and the camera calculates the rest for you and then carries it out. If it needs 50 shots, then that's what it does....automatically....if you have $30K in your pocket! 😄

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