Shrub Rose

A 16 image focus stack in Helicon Focus. I have used HF in the past and was disappointed somewhat in the amount of detail I could render from a focus stack, plus it was difficult to edit with. I am pleased there has been some improvement. The editing has improved, although it still depends on the source images for correction. Zerene, as my software of choice, is still ahead and much easier to use. Perhaps it is because I have used it for so long that I actually know where and how editing needs are found, and the quickest way to correct them. I intend to give HF some room this time and try to get some insight into the editing process. Also, HF has come out with an electronic tube for Nikons and Canons which supposedly allows one to set the focus intervals automatically. I will let that one be until I have reacquainted myself better with the software.

What technical feedback would you like if any?

What makes or breaks focus stacks, especially outdoor floral focus stacks, is the ability to eyeball the intervals, to avoid as much as possible any subject movement, to avoid as much as possible any noise and camera caused movement. Look if you will for any skips in coverage in the large image especially. Look also for any edge anomalies. Check the OOF areas for any funky looking stuff. Let me know what you find and I will try to correct.

What artistic feedback would you like if any?

The purpose of focus stacking is to control the DOF of the subject and a smooth absence of detail everywhere else. Do you feel this has been accomplished for this image?

Any pertinent technical details:

Camera Info: Nikon D750, tripod, remote release
Lens: VR 180mm f/2.8G
Focal Length: 180mm
Focus Mode: Manual
AF-Area Mode: Single
Aperture: f/5
Shutter Speed: 1/125s
Exposure Mode: Aperture Priority
Exposure Comp.: 0EV
Metering: Matrix
ISO Sensitivity: ISO 200
93% of full frame
PP in LR/PS CC 2018, Helicon Focus Premium, Camera Raw filter, TK sharpen for web @ 25%

Allow other members to download your photo to demonstrate processing examples only?

Only with permission

Here is the same series of photos done in Zerene Stacker Pro. The inner detail looks equal with Helicon Focus (from further detailing in Topaz Studio of the HF image). The Zerene image has crisper edges and smoother background. More stacking artifacts were created in HF than in Zerene. In all fairness, I have seen some terrible artifacts and anomalies created in Zerene, so one image is not a valid test.

The default file created in HF is a compressed *.tif file. You have the option of saving as a *.jpg file if you so choose, but the choice has to be made each time. In Zerene the choice is made in the preferences and stays that way unless you change it. The file save for this (the working file used in Photoshop) is 126 mb from HF and 12.6 mb in Zerene. Quite a difference in hd storage!

Looking at the WB between the two, I had lowered the WB in the HF image about 10%. I forgot to do the same in the Zerene image, so the color shift is due to my forgetfulness and not the programs.

Phil, the rose looks good and the details are exactly what you’d expect from a stack. The color mix of red, green and turquoise background is very pleasing. You’ve clearly cleaned up the background as both Helicon and Zerena add lots of “noise” to the oof parts. In the super large view, I see subtle touches of “ghosting” along some of the petal and leaf edges. I’ve mostly used Helicon but done extensive testing with Zerene. I find Helicon’s tools slow to respond and hard to use, but the ability to fix the final image directly from the stack seems better. As mentioned above, my major complaint with either is all of the extra noise added in the background. That means that I completely replace the background from a few of the original shots. I find that Zerene compresses the dynamic range during the stack, while Helicon expands the dynamic range, especially when you use Helicon’s Method C. That expansion really creates problems if you have any blown highlights (white spots) in the images.

If you bring in RAW files, you have the option of getting a DNG as the output. My experience with Zerene was not successful and I now just use Helicon. I think both options have pros and cons. Your original post has some odd stacking artifacts in the green stem near the bottom. I’ll bet just changing the stacking method with the default parameters will solve the issue. Most of the time I use method C, but it is image dependent which method works best. The good news is even with a 20 image stack (my standard amount), generating another version with a different stacking method is only about a 30 second investment in time.

If you bring in RAW files, you have the option of getting a DNG as the output.

Thanks, Keith. I finally figured out how to do that. The instructions were not exactly intuitive.

Such a flower is a nice subject for a stack especially with the water droplets on the petals. I guess you chose aperture based on the unsharpness of the background. I like it when the background is still a bit lively and here the overall green contrasts greatly with the rose. Comparing HF and ZS I see a spot on the lower right petal that HF missed and overlapping petals in the middle where HF went wrong. There is a tip of a petal, with another petal in the background, that both HF and ZS missed. It seems you (intentionally?) missed the tip of the closest petal which is almost perpendicular to the image plane, These are easily overlooked in my experience. For deep stacks I mostly use Helicon remote controlling the camera with a smartphone. A few years ago when comparing HF and ZS it seemed that ZS is slightly better at handling overlapping details like crossing hairs. A draw back of focus stacking, in my opinion, is that the more dof the less depth in the image. So at the moment I try to restrict dof to a minimal region that needs attention. I am not there yet… In this case I prefer the ZS stack over the HF stack. Well, I like it as is but as a minor comment I only wish the flower was placed a bit more eccentric.


I think its lovely like all your focus stacks. I keep meaning to learn this technique but have not had the time. Question, is it necessary to use a focusing rail? I did try to take a series of images on a tripod. I kept the aperture the same but the size of the lily I was trying to stack changed as I went through my sequential photos. I was using a prime lens so the mm stayed the same.

So a basic question for Phil and the rest of you folks who do focus stacking?


Kathy, it isn’t necessary to use a rail. You just have to be careful not to leave gaps in the coverage. A tripod is necessary. A program is necessary. If it is in an outdoor setting, no wind is necessary. Low ISO is good as well.

Kathy, The subject size changes as you adjust your focus, but good stacking software takes care of that. I’ve made dozens of stacks where there’s subject movement. Both Zerene and Helicon Focus allow for some motion between frames. When there’s movement (either camera or subject) you can still get a good stack, but a lot more “fixing” is needed in completing the stack. I have on very rare occasions succeeded when hand holding, but that’s not a good way to go. Especially if you’re doing macro, using a cable release is important to minimize camera motion. It’s also helpful to use a small aperture. The more dof in each shot, the fewer shots needed, which translates into more successful stacks.

Hi Kathy:

If you look at any of my focus stack images, they are all done on my Olympus system (either my EM5-II or my EM1-II. That system allows me to specify the number images to take, specify a focus step size and press the shutter (or release) once and in milliseconds I have all of the images in the entire stack with exact precision between steps. You have the option if desired to use flash and specify an interval between frames to allow the flash to recycle. I prefer not to use flash, so don’t use that option very often. No rails, no muss, no fuss, just a whole series of images. The limit is something like 999… What a hoot. The max I think I’ve ever done is 40.

Thanks Mark


Thanks. I have debated whether to upgrade my Nikon 800 to an 850 . One of the reasons is the focus stacking feature.

I also want a new kitchen :thinking::cry:

Thanks Phil.