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by Bill Chambers on Fri Apr 05, 2019 10:01 am
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Bill Chambers
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Is anyone using Helicon FB and, if so, what are your thoughts?  I am currently playing with the trial version of Helicon Focus and it certainly seems to be much better than focus stacking through CS6, but I'm still not overly pleased with my results.  The issue I'm having seems to be with my focusing inconsistency, sometimes focusing too close together, sometimes focusing too far apart.  I'm thinking Helicon FB might help with my problem.  Any thoughts?

Thanks in advance.
Bill
When life deals you lemons, make lemonade; when it deals you tomatoes, make Bloody Mary's.
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Please visit my web site, Enchanted Light Photography.
Bill Chambers
Gulf Breeze, Florida
 

by E.J. Peiker on Fri Apr 05, 2019 12:00 pm
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Hi Bill, I'm a little confused with your question, Helicon FB is a hardware extension tube that focus stacks but your question talks about stacking software which is called Helicon Focus. Maybe rephrase your question and also include what camera and lens you are trying this with.
 

by Bill Chambers on Fri Apr 05, 2019 8:43 pm
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E.J. Peiker wrote:
Hi Bill, I'm a little confused with your question, Helicon FB is a hardware extension tube that focus stacks but your question talks about stacking software which is called Helicon Focus.  Maybe rephrase your question and also include what camera and lens you are trying this with.


Hi E.J.  Sorry for the confusion.  As for Helicon Focus, I'm trying the trial version currently and like it much better for focus stacking than CS6.

As for Helicon FB, I was considering purchasing that as well because I haven't been pleased with my ability to choose focus points very well, resulting to some soft spots even with focus stacking.  I was thinking the Helicon FB might do a much better job than I am doing and certainly do it much easier and quickly.  I was just checking to see if others are using FB and, if so, what are their thoughts on it.

I would be using the FB on my Nikon D810 that I purchased from you, using several lenses including the Nikkor 14-24, Tamron 24-70, Nikkor 80-400, and Tamron 180 macro.

Thanks for any thoughts.
When life deals you lemons, make lemonade; when it deals you tomatoes, make Bloody Mary's.
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Please visit my web site, Enchanted Light Photography.
Bill Chambers
Gulf Breeze, Florida
 

by E.J. Peiker on Fri Apr 05, 2019 9:21 pm
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Ah OK, glad that camera is still going strong :) I think my preference for that kind of macro work would be to use a fusing rail. That way you simply turn the rail the same amount every time to get enough focus overlap. But, at least from what I read, the Helicon FB seems like it might be a great solution. I just haven't used it nor know anyone that has. helicon is a very good company though so I would expect it to do what they say. As for the S/W - yes, it is DRAMATCALLY better than photoshop stacking :)
 

by signgrap on Sat Apr 06, 2019 8:33 am
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I totally agree with E.J. - a focusing rail is the best way to get macro focus stacks assuming your camera software doesn't do "stacks" in camera.
Dick Ludwig
 

by SantaFeJoe on Sat Apr 06, 2019 8:58 am
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signgrap wrote:
I totally agree with E.J. - a focusing rail is the best way to get macro focus stacks assuming your camera software doesn't do "stacks" in camera.

If I was doing a lot of focus stacking, I can totally see buying a camera with it built in. How much more convenient can it get! 

https://www.naturescapes.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=280838

https://photographylife.com/reviews/nikon-z7/6

https://nps.nikonimaging.com/technical_solutions/d850_tips/useful/focus_stacking/

Joe
Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.  -Pablo Picasso
 

by Ed Okie on Sat Apr 13, 2019 5:00 pm
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Bill Chambers wrote:
Is anyone using Helicon FB and, if so, what are your thoughts?  I am currently playing with the trial version of Helicon Focus and it certainly seems to be much better than focus stacking through CS6, but I'm still not overly pleased with my results.  The issue I'm having seems to be with my focusing inconsistency, sometimes focusing too close together, sometimes focusing too far apart.  I'm thinking Helicon FB might help with my problem.  Any thoughts?



Bill,  I'm going to assume your intent is macro-work, i.e., flowers, insects, miniature objects, etc. But few people realize focus stacking is also applicable to landscape work. Same technique, only the subject is different (and fewer frames required with landscapes).
   I've done extensive marco work across years and have used Helicon Focus since it was introduced a decade ago. It is a top-notch product. Ease of use a huge asset, functioning speed, along with direct integration to Adobe Lightroom.
   I was not aware of their new "FB" adapter-ring automation product.
   Do note that Helicon Focus also offers Helicon Remote which is automated software for doing the same controlled stacking (fully automated). Downside: it requires carrying a laptop wired to the camera - not ideal, cumbersome when working outdoors.
   I recommend neither as a starting point, Remote nor the FB adapter ring (I have not used the latter).
   Another "No" for a focusing rail, two drawbacks: good rails are expensive, the hardware bulky, more stuff-to-carry.
   Approach focus-stacking with a KISS mindset: Keep It Simple, Stupid!
   Back to old-school basics, the manual method, keying in on technique. Once learned... it'll last a lifetime, you're ready to shoot wherever you go without carrying anything extra.
   Adapter rings (I have a MetaBones IV for Canon-to-Sony a7r3 lens use. I'm not enamored with any adapter ring. A great idea... but! It's the reason I hesitate to suggest Helicon's new FB ring, bias on my part.)
   Start with a rock-solid tripod. Add spiked feet - that will double the stability. Two-second shooting timer - always; hands off the camera entirely.
   A Wimberly II head is the gold standard for ease of adjustments, stability. Downside: bulky and heft, works superbly if your lens has a built in ring rotation mount.
   Ball heads do work, but they leave much to be desired in terms of small adjustments during macro-work.
   Next suggestion: Avoid zoom lenses when focus stacking. You're asking for trouble. Unknowingly bump the zoom ring during a stacking sequence is a disaster.
   A Prime lens can not be beat, in function plus inherent sharpness - better than a zoom.
   For closeup work logic suggests "use a numerically high f/stop" (greater depth of field).
   Do the opposite: work on the other end of the f/stop scale. f/5.6 is my most used value, sometimes as low as f/4, never above f/7.1 
   Insider's tip: with macro work the out of focus background is the key to success; the fuzzier the backdrop the better the results.
   Pick subjects partially based on open space - behind - the subject (for the sake of automatically creating blurry backdrops... it makes the foreground subject pop.
   Backdrop (texture, coloration, light values) is almost as important as the chosen subject itself.
   Work early in the morning starting prior to dawn when the least (or no) breeze is present, even gentle thermals as sun rays strike earth cause leaf and petal movement.
   Never drop below 1/100 shutter speed, 1/250 is better.  Open the  f/stop if required; don't hesitate to boost the ISO. (With the Sony a7r3 and Zeiss lenses I go as high as ISO 3200 (with a software fix at the end during post processing). No regrets whatsoever. Yes, it's contrary to logic that says ISO 100 is a must. It's not!  640 to 1600 is my most common ISO range during early morning or cloudy conditions.
   With the Zeiss Batis 135mm lens I use a 10mm Kenko-to Sony E mount extension tube; also available (seldom needed) a 16mm ring.

   And now the focus-stack shooting secret. It's simple, reliable, a no-cost item:
   On the fixed portion of the lens place a 1/4" strip of blue painter's tape parallel to the lens-axis. Approximately the 11 O'Clock position, the tape ends directly next to the focus ring.
   The lens is initially focused using Live View magnified on the LCD panel, focus is on the subject part nearest the lens (a critical must-do).
   Shooting from the left side of the camera, left hand grips the ring... tip of finger nail is placed - in line with - the tape's right edge, focus ring rotated counter-clockwise until the finger nail tip is now - in line with - the tape's opposite edge (A rotational distance of approximately 1/4"). Spacing is predictable, consistent; easily adjustable. 2-second shutter timer, hands off the camera. Within 40-60 seconds I can shoot a stack sequence. I rarely, if ever, look at the LCD panel.

   I also have a Canon 180mm f/3.5 macro (very big and heavy), along with a Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS macro. Neither is well suited to focus-stacking work because the focus ring (thread pitch/ring rotation) is scant (frame to frame). Uniform spacing between frames is challenging (the 100mm lens worst of all, a 1/32" movement).
   The Zeiss Batis 135mm is an entirely different animal, not made for macro work per se. It is an electric "focus by wire" silent and motorized system, not mechanical focusing linkage.
   The huge advantage of the Zeiss: focus ring movement is more than 1/4" surface rotation per frame (at f/5.6). Easy to accomplish. Whereas, the same focus jump with the Canon 180mm is barely 1/16th of an inch!

   Post processing. Overall sequence: Adobe Lightroom to Helicon Focus to Lightroom to Topaz Studio to Lightroom. 
   Lightroom workflow:  Color balance and tweak focus-stacked images suited to taste.
   I apply - zero - sharpness in LR. 
   1 Star is placed on the first frame (not necessarily the first image shot, often several while getting the correct exposure),
   2 Stars on the final frame required. The group is sent to HF using Lightroom: "Export/Helicon Focus". There might be 6-16 frames within a given stack, 8-12 is common. "More" isn't necessarily better.
   Helicon Focus: is set at Method A, Radius 5, and Smoothness 2 (8 and 4 is HF default and an excellent choice); I'm seeking greater sharpness and image detail - pushing the limits.
   If occasional "halos" appear (leaf or petal movement), change Radius to 12 or 16, Smoothness to 4. (Method A vs B, I generally find smoother backgrounds rendered with A).
   Occasionally a ghosted image can be corrected by going through the stack and deleting a single frame.
   "Save" the HF processed image as a Tiff; closing the HF program places the stacked image directly into LR within the same series of raw files.  Mark the HF stacked image with 3 Stars.
   The image now goes to Topaz Studio; IA Clear is used only for sharpening. "Remove Noise" is set at "Auto," "Enhance Sharpness" set to "High". "Save" and the image returns directly back to Lightroom (with an "Edit" name added).
   Those occasional ISO 3200 files... remarkably, IA Clear clears up the image with superb results!
   With the IA Clear sharpened file now residing in LR), I mark it with 4 Stars. The latter becomes the Master Image. Export to wherever desired as a Jpeg, or leave in LR. I now have critical files marked with 1, 2, 3, and 4 Stars - easily identifiable. Once you become confident you can go back and delete ALL files except 3 and 4 Stars. Space-saving is enormous.
 

by Bill Chambers on Mon Apr 15, 2019 8:35 am
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Thanks Ed. A lot of very useful and practical information here - thanks much!

Bill
When life deals you lemons, make lemonade; when it deals you tomatoes, make Bloody Mary's.
Unattributed

Please visit my web site, Enchanted Light Photography.
Bill Chambers
Gulf Breeze, Florida
 

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