NJ5J Software Corp

Product Reviews

Helicon Focus - Superior Focus Stacking Software - With DUST Map!

Helicon Focus - What is it, why do I need it and where can I buy it?

What is Helicon Focus? Helicon Focus is a superior, easy to use software product that allows the photographer to create macro photographic images with extreme depth of field using any F/Stop you desire.
Why do I need to use Helicon Focus? Photographers who need extreme depth of field in their images and sharp results are the photographers who need Helicon Focus the most. Product Photographers know this well and use it every day to produce the images their clients will pay for.
Other uses are landscapes where you are focusing close and want the entire image sharp from foreground to background.
There are other uses for other applications such as photographing automobiles, architecture, garden photography, etc.
Why don't I just use a small aperture? You can use a small aperture but you have two problems to deal with.
First, the closer you are to your subject the more limited depth of field you encounter. That is just the laws of physics.
Second, beyond a certain aperture diffraction limits the sharpness of your images.
For example, while photographing the Chess pieces (click on "Helicon Focus - Chess Focus Stacking Example" below) I discovered that my 85mm F/2 AIS Nikkor lens was sharpest (at macro distances) at F/11 and F/16. When I made images at F/22 I could see a loss of definition while enlarging in LightRoom.
Each lens will have an optimal aperture (varies with focus distance) beyond which diffraction starts taking a toll on image sharpness.
Also, even at very small apertures, depth of field is very narrow at close distances. It is at that point that you have to use Helicon Focus to extend your depth of field AND sharpness. I was a bit surprised to see the images created by HF were visibly sharper that the originals. That was not what I expected but it is what I encountered. Very impressive software - and very easy to use (see how-to example below).
When I photographed the Chess pieces, I squeezed them all together and the bases were actually touching. Even at F/22 I did not have enough depth of field.
What do I need to be aware of? Any special tricks or insights? Of course, as with everything in life.
First, you must use a tripod, a STURDY tripod.
Second, your subject AND the background should not MOVE! If anything moves, you will get weird artifacts. Remember, your time from the first exposure to the last will be at least several seconds, and in my shooting, several minutes; ergo, nothing must move!
Third, you must be able to lock up your mirror. On my Nikon D750 it has an even better option (since you have to adjust focus between shots) - the Nikon D750 has the option of delaying the exposure from one to three seconds AFTER the mirror flips up out of the way. This eliminates mirror vibrations and is particularly important since your exposure times for each shot are going to be long (2.5 seconds, 1/3 second, 1/15 second, etc) so the mirror has to be locked up or delayed as in the case of the Nikon D750.
Fourth, if you will examine the final image of the watch in the how-to section you will notice there are MULTIPLE second hand images. I did NOT pause the watch so as I took each image the second hand moved and you see the results. Like I said, nothing can move, not even part of the product you are photographing.
Fifth, if you have the ability to shoot in RAW format (NEF for Nikon users) DO IT. The folks at Helicon Focus really extract lots of data from those RAW files and the resultant images are a bit better than TIFF of JPG as input sources.
Sixth, make a DUST MAP (image) of your sensor! This allows spots to be identified and removed in the rendering process - very KEWL! Note that when in LightRoom any changes you make are stored in the LR Catalog, NOT the image; ergo, any LightRoom changes are NOT used when importing into HF.
My workflow has now become:
   Shoot an out of focus image of a white sheet of paper using your smallest aperture. This becomes your DUST MAP for Helicon Focus.
   Shoot images with the focus changed for each image. Start at the closest focus point, make a shot, focus further into the product, make a shot, etc. This gives you your "Stack" of images that HF will combine.
   Load into LightRoom.
   Then decide which images to use.
   Write them down on a piece of paper.
   Load Helicon Focus.
   Set your Dust Map. (optional)
   Load all differently focused images.
   Process the RAW images through ALL 3 methods.
   Save the results into physical files as TIFF files.
   Go back into LightRoom.
   Import the three HF images.
   Spot touch up ONE of the images (usually the Method C image).
   Then do White Balance and other touchups.
   Then "Copy Settings" from that image.
   Select the other two images and "Paste Settings".
   This makes it much easier to touchup.
   Then, lastly export those three images as JPGs for posting to the internet or printing.
Lastly, experiment with different F/Stops and lenses. Keep detailed records (from LightRoom processing) so you know which series of images to load into Helicon Focus.
Where can I buy Helicon Focus? Helicon Focus can be purchased at the Helicon Focus website: HeliconSoft

Helicon Focus - Chess Focus Stacking Example

Original image 85mm at F/11 - Notice Bishops and Rooks are out of focus. HF 18 images 85mm at F/11 - Notice Bishops & Rooks sharp.

Helicon Focus - How to Focus Stack

01) Launch the software. This is the first screen you see.
01a (optional)) Set your Dust Map.
02) Click "Open Images" from Menu.
03) Select multiple differently focused images from your system.
04) Helicon Focus starts loading images.
05) Images Loaded and Ready to Process.
06) Select one of the three Rendering Methods.
07) Click the Render button.
08) Watch the Progress bar to know when Rendering is complete.
09) Progress bar reveals Rendering is now complete.
10) Click on "Saving" tab.
11) Click on "Save" button.
12) Select the file type to save to.
13) For JPG extension, select the quality.
14) Your Multiple Images have been Processed into a single Sharp Image with extended depth of field.

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