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Railfan Technology > Focus Stacking built into a camera?

Date: 09/11/20 13:42
Focus Stacking built into a camera?
Author: railstiesballast

I have read of two cameras, from Panasonic/Lumix and from Olympus, that have the ability to focus stack and render an image internally.
From what I understand they run a short (1-2 second) video mode while stepping the focal point from near to far thus ceating a stack.
Then they can render this stack and the user only needs to download the "rendered" image.
My primary use is for model railroads.
I have been using Helicon Remote to drive my Canon SLR to get my stacks, then rendering them on a PC.
That works but is not very quick.
Attempts to capture stacks on my iPhone are inconsistent and overall have too low a success rate to do any more.
Has anyone actually used one of these focus stacking cameras?

Date: 09/17/20 21:36
Re: Focus Stacking built into a camera?
Author: wabash2800

Sounds interesting. Perhaps it will be a thing of the future as another menu item. What kind of camera do you use now, is it an SLR that you can manually focus in the macro mode for your stacked images? I note that there are some high end point-and-shoots that are pretty awesome but often can't manually focus in the macro mode.

Victor A. Baird


Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/18/20 14:58 by wabash2800.

Date: 09/18/20 21:33
Re: Focus Stacking built into a camera?
Author: railstiesballast

Here is a brief summary of the method I have learned from articles in the NMRA Magazine and from Harry Wong at RMC.
Presently I use a Canon Digital SLR that has the ability to control the focus distance for any exposure through the screen, it came that way, it is not by any means a high-end camera and lens set.
After owning it for some years I found that Helicon Focus, who sells the focus stacking software, also has Helicon Remote, which can run the camera through a USB cable to a laptop.
I have a laptop iwth both programs running, on which I see the image, and can step the focus to the nearest point and tell the program to start there, then focus on the most distant point and tell the program to end there.
Then I select the number of images and the computer drives the focus ring of the camera between each exposure, stepping through the stack until it is done.  Each shot and the move to the next stop takes maybe 5 seconds.
Then that stack of images can be saved, or moved immediately into Helicon Focus to "render". If I get a good image (about 80% success rate?) I discard the stack right then.  The rendered image can be saved in dual mode, jpeg and TIFF.  I usually keep the TIFF "for the future" and work with the jpeg for my own amusement and sharing with friends.
Getting the camera and tripod and the laptop (either on a small stand or on a shelf under the layout, plus often a floodlight in and out of aisles, makes an awkward and a little slow process.
Now I have heard that Olympus and Panasonic/Lumix both have cameras that will self-select the near and far focus point and in under a second use their high def movie mode to take the whole stack and them render it in a few more seconds.  Reportedly it is so quick and has such good image stabilization that with a little care one does not need a tripod.
There is at least one smart phone app to take a stack of stepped focus images for export to Helicon focus but I found it had too low a success rate to continue with.  The problems were two: the user has to select each focus point by touching the image on the screen (which moves the camera between exposures unless it is firmly anchored as on a tripod) and the stack of images comes out with wildly random file numbers which makes them very hard to select and put in front-to-rear order for the stacking software.  A "Selfie Stick" obstructs the screen where I often had to tap to tell it a focus point and it is not a solid as a tripod.
Full disclosure:  I still use my iPhone for a lot of acceptable photos, especially in that I cannot be bothered to submit articles for publication.

Date: 09/24/20 15:05
Re: Focus Stacking built into a camera?
Author: wabash2800

Thanks much for the detailed information. I will be doing something like that in the future but have some other projects right now to get out of the way.

Victor A. Baird

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/30/20 08:00 by wabash2800.

Date: 09/27/20 13:26
Re: Focus Stacking built into a camera?
Author: tracktime

The current best practice that I have found for using focus stacking is to mount your camera (even if it is a smartphone) on a tripod or other immovable mounting point before making exposures for each composition. This is critical..  
Once my smart phone is mounted onto the tripod with the composition of the final photo I want to have, it is a simple matter of using your finger to point at the focus point I want, take the shot, and repeat the procedure until your subject or entire image s sufficiently covered with exposures at different focus points from front to back, top to bottom. Download these images onto your computer, and have Helicon Focus do the rest of the work by combining the best (most in-focus) parts of each of the exposures all together for a final image that is tack sharp from front to back.  

I'm curious about the new cameras you speak of too, sounds promising!


Date: 09/27/20 16:51
Re: Focus Stacking built into a camera?
Author: schaffner

The Nikon D850 can do this too.

Date: 09/27/20 20:09
Re: Focus Stacking built into a camera?
Author: railstiesballast

Thank you for your suggestions.

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