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Reader Comment: Focus Stacking a Necessity

My focus stacking software of choice is Zerene Stacker. Zerene Stacker is not as fast as Helicon Focus, but in my testing, Zerene Stacker produces superior results, and the support is superb.

Reader Dr S writes:

If one is going to adopt the Fujifilm GFx 100s (or 50S) as one's goto landscape camera, focus stacking, especially with images that contain near to far subjects, will be mandatory, especially if one wishes everything to be sharp with no diffraction.

Having used the kit for nearly 3 months it became apparent for my static photography, a tripod or a monopod would be a requirement to take advantage of the resolution of the 100s.

Having read your most recent reviews and frustration with total image sharpness having to stop down to a point where diffraction enters in, combined with what I have observed, convinces me of the necessity to add a few more images with focus points at various distances. Or just use Auto Focus Bracketing no matter what. It will require more post processing time but the results will be much more pleasing.

DIGLLOYD: many a fine image can be made handheld without focus stacking, but these will not be images that depend on depth of field. And there are some images that can have adequate depth of field at f/5.6 or f/8. But f/11 is wholly inadequate for many situations and it dulls the image considerably from diffraction. So stopping down is not only a clumsy solution, it is all too often not a solution at all.

Unless restricting images to distance scenes (and excluding subjects which naturally benefit from a juxtaposition of sharpness and unsharpness), focus stacking is an essential skill to master. Anything else is just carrying 100-megapixel pretending.

The foregoing actually holds for 35mm format cameras too particularly in the 50-60MP range where the demands are nearly as high.

John M writes:

I see you are getting increasing amount of interest over focus stacking. My own attempts at it have had very mixed results due primarily to breeze  caused movement. The amount of post processing I have seen other people do to mitigate this seems like too much work to me.

I last used a view camera in the early seventies (a Sinar system) and if I remember correctly you were using a Linhoff more recently, up to the point you switched to digital. I cannot find any of my landscapes from back then since I was mostly using the view camera for product photography. Were the standard movements sufficient to give us near to infinity sharpness back then (within the limits of fill grain and optics of the time)? Would current day equivalent equipment, e.g. Cambo Actus, Alpa, Arca Swiss, etc., provide that capability?

DIGLLOYD: wind is a serious impediment for focus stacking, ditto for a strong near/far overlap (eg branches 10 feet away, mountain behind). It has its limits. But often you can at least do just 2 frames (say at f/9 or f/11), for a considerable increase in DoF.

View cameras with tilt and swing were only applicable a fraction of the time—all too often there will be something like a tree that projects up and out of the Scheimpflug plane and/or more than one plane (bottom and side of a canyon, for example). The “solution” for some was to just not make images that were “hard” that way, leading to the same kind of compositions over and over. Or to stop way the heck down and let diffraction take its toll.

Dr S writes:

After much experimentation with the menu system and logic of the GFx100S  "Focus Stacking function.....again I wholeheartedly agree with your comment:  "Shooting a focus stack is tough under these conditions what with the tediously slow and confusing setup in the Fujifilm GFX100S,.."

What I am experimenting with now is what the minimum number of single images manually focused (or auto-focused) on near, medium, and far objects in the frame are required to get everything as sharp as possible.....of course when indicated.  Your Bristlecones at dawn don't really need it but underscores the need to develop a quick "mental" method knowing when and how to efficiently determine when to consider stacking.

One item that maybe you could answer is whether or not a focus stacked image (of 5 or 10 images) will carry the same visual impact as a single image as you have displayed.  Perhaps an unnecessary question but a curiosity nonetheless.

Now that my MacBook Pro (brand new) has recharged completely I am going to load my 7 single-image focused images (not auto) and do a focus stack as further experimentation continues.  Retirement is wonderful to allow me to do so!

DIGLLOYD: the Fujifilm GFX100S/100 make focus stacking as tedious and confusing as possible. I don’t know how they could design it so badly. Designed by Klingons and written in FORTRAN.

Manually focusing for stacking can be done, but it carries big risks with it: (1) “gapping” frames which leaves blurry areas, (2) change in lighting, (3) takes too long, moment lost, etc.

Visual impact is a multi-factorial thing. One aspect of that is the juxtaposition of sharp vs unsharp. Focus stacking need not make everything sharp; you can do a “short stack” of just the key things—see Large Aspen Trunk, Close View.


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