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Tips for Focusing for Focus Stacking

A good “stack” requires images whose choice of focus plus depth of field renders full sharpness over the desired range: “blur gaps” create big problems for the stacking process. Using aperture f/8 or f/9 (full frame) is a good starting point that works well for most images.

Use the magnified Live View feature of the camera to see what kind of focus spacing is needed for full sharpness at the chosen aperture. A good way to approach this is to focus for critical sharpness (wide open not stopped down!) on the one or two key areas, then space other frames around those “anchor points”. That way, if any focus spacing errors are made, at least the most important features will be critically sharp and blur gaps will be minimized, if any.

Determining precise focus

When in doubt of whether optimal sharpness is attained, use magnified Live View to place focus precisely at f/1.4, then examine image detail at the shooting aperture. This is well worth doing when first learning focus stacking, for the experience of validing expectations of lens performance and actual (achieved) depth of field.

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Diglloyd Making Sharp Images articulates years of best practices and how-to, painstakingly learned over a decade of camera and lens evaluation.

Save yourself those years of trial and error by jump-starting your photographic technical execution when making the image. The best lens or camera is handicapped if the photographer fails to master perfect shot discipline. High-resolution digital cameras are unforgiving of errors, at least if one wants the best possible results.

  • Eases into photographic challenges with an introductory section.
  • Covers aspects of digital sensor technology that relate to getting the best image quality.
  • Technique section discusses every aspect of making a sharp image handheld or on a tripod.
  • Depth of field and how to bypass depth of field limitations via focus stacking.
  • Optical aberrations: what they are, what they look like, and what to do about them.
  • MTF, field curvature, focus shift: insight into the limitations of lab tests and why imaging performance is far more complex than it appears.
  • Optical aberrations: what they are, what they look like, and what to do about them.
  • How to test a lens for a “bad sample”.

Intrigued? See Focusing Zeiss DSLR Lenses For Peak Performance, PART ONE: The Challenges, or (one topic of many) field curvature.

f9 @ 1/10 sec, ISO 64; 2016-06-09 06:19:31
NIKON D810 + Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4 APO-Distagon

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