Macro, stacking, software recommendation?


I recently purchased my first macro lens and going to give it a shot. I’m curious about what most macro photographers are using to stack their images? I have Photoshop but I see Helicon coming up often. I would prefer to avoid spending more money on additional software.

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Be warned! This is addicting! I got into stacking a couple of years ago and have learned a lot. Mostly by trial and error.

Here’s a thread about Zerene and some links to resources for learning it. I think Allan also does a Zerene v. Helicon bake off as well.

Zerene’s interface is decidedly antique, but the software is the bomb. Can’t speak to Helicon, but others probably can. If you’re going to combine say more than 5 images, it’s a good idea to get a dedicated stacker. It is extra money, but believe me, it’s worth it if you want good results with an easier time to achieve them.

We also have a stacking thread going that might help you with your new obsession, ahem, I mean, technique. Yeah. that’s it.

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Hi Brett, as Kris said, stacking is addicting. Outside of the stacking capability in Adobe’s products there are two major players: Zarene Stacker and Helicon Focus. If you’re doing intense macro detailed work, Zarine may be the best tool for that, since it was developed for the scientific community.

I use Helicon Focus, which is less technical but very capable and has a simple interface. I also like that it can be used as a plugin from Lightroom and Capture One. When used that way, you select your images for stacking, right mouse click and choose “Edit with Helicon Focus.” Helicon will convert your images to a .DNG format then stack them and then save the stacked image as a .DNG in Lightroom or Capture One. So, you have a stacked Raw image to work with. That’s my favorite feature.

Good luck with your exploration of stacking. Such fun.


Thanks for chiming in about Helicon. Zerene can also be used as a plug in. I use it that way with Lightroom - it sends TIFs to Zerene and when I save an output file stack those TIFs are deleted when I close the stacker. It’s really the way to go with these dedicated stackers.


thank you! I will look at all this and weigh my options.

I’ll add the major factor here, which is that both Helicon and Zerene will FAR outperform PS then it comes to dealing with the OOF “blooming” around items well separated in distance – think of the stamen of a flower floating out in space with the petals well behind it.


Also beware that PS ALWAYS includes some oof areas in the middle of sharp areas. I showed some of these in my Stacking workshop for NPN comparing PS, Helicon and Zerene.

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@Mark_Seaver yes I started watching your presentation but haven’t finished. Seems I will have to figure it out.

Mark, I’ve been PS stacking for a year now. After reading your article I downloaded a free version of Heliconfocus and compared the results to an image that was particularly egregious. This image didn’t have abrupt depth boundaries so I expected PS to be able to handle it but upon closer inspection it was not so, particularly around the edges but even short distances from the edges. The result was amazing.

Plus Heliconfocus allows me to process my raw images in raw mode after the stacking has completed and saved by saving it into a DNG file. This is huge for me because I would process all the files in raw mode prior to stacking in PS. That was such a pain that I would put off processing my work. Anything to make the work simpler.

So … a huge thanks.


Helicon is my go-to, plus it exports and imports as a DNG in LR… super important, IMO.


@Matt_Payne I was leaning towards Helicon. does it only work as a plug-in in LR? I guess no ACR or PS?

I wouldn’t even know how to select multiple images in ACR to export… sorry I’m not of any help there. This is useful:

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I use Helicon at work and Zerene at home. Both are quite good at stacking images with minimal artifacts. I chose Zerene because it was more affordable for me at the time of purchase. Helicon has a few more bells and whistles than Zerene,. Download some of the trial versions to see what piques your interest…Jim

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Thanks @Jim_Zablotny. Have you tried the Helicon Remote to tether and automate the focus? just curious it sounds interesting if you are doing some Indoor macro.

Have not tried tethering. Our microscopes are not equipped with focusing motors so its old school all the way…Jim

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I use Helicon remote on a laptop for indoor macro with a wired connection to the camera. Works very well. For outdoor macro I sometimes use Helicon remote on a smartphone with a wifi connection to the camera. This also works quite well as long as the battery of the smartphone lasts. Sometimes setting up the wifi connection is cumbersome, but I guess the camera is to blame.

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I use Helicon. I find it very simple and easy to use and extremely good. I have never tried Zerene, so I can’t help with any comparison between the two.

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