Zerene Stacker

I’ve not been posting as much as I would normally like, but I’ve been fiddling with a lot of photography in my spare moments.  I’m trying to get a Zenfolio site up and running, and I’ve also been looking at supplies for macro photography.

Recently I was researching how to get good focus on close up subjects.  On flowers that have a lot of distance between the stamen and the petals, this is really difficult, or impossible.  While I like Bokeh in the background, and as part of the flower, I sometimes wish I could get good focus on something like a hibiscus, or an orchid.  But other than a side view, you are pretty much out of luck because of the depth.  Unless you have something like Zerene Stacker.

Zerene Stacker is macro focus stacking  software, and the solution to macro shots with a large depth of field.  The way it works is, you take successive photos with different planes of focus throughout the shot and load them into Zerene Stacker where the magic happens.  The software is designed to align the photos one on top of the other with the part that is in focus for each shot showing in the final product, so that everything is in focus once they are put together.

Below is a picture of a dark pink Guara Belleza blossom.  The stamen are in a different plane of focus than the petals, as is the place where all the stamen merge together.  I took four shots, and used Zerene Stacker to get this photo:

What a handy little piece of software!  I tried Lightroom Enfuse, but wasn’t nearly as happy with it, as the images didn’t align properly, and the end results were not very good.  I suspect that this would be better also, if I had taken a few more photos.  Z Stacker can handle over a 100 photos stacked to get an image, which is pretty impressive.  They will also give you a 30 day free trial.  It is very user-friendly (I did this without any tutorials–and I’m no genius when it comes to the computer), but the computation does take the computer a good amount of  time to complete (the above flower took about 20 minutes).

The price for the professional version is a little high at 289.00.  Personal edition is 89.00, and student edition is a very reasonable 39.00.

There are several stacking programs out there.  Some are more expensive, some are less. I picked the one that would work with Macs, and was user friendly.  Laurie Knight Photography does a great review of  Z Stacker and some other programs for those who are interested.

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19 Responses to Zerene Stacker

  1. danbohmer says:

    that is very cool…what were your thoughts on the D800?

    • Hey Dan! I rented both from lensrentals.com. At that point I was a Nikon user, but not heavily vested with lenses. I rented the D800 for a week first. I really thought I would love it but didn’t. I had a lot of trouble with noise, even at ISO’s of 400. I was really disappointed truthfully. I thought I’d give the Canon 5D Mark III a try, just to be fair, although I didn’t want to like it at all, because it was 500.00 more. But not only did I like it, I Loved it-from the moment of the first photo. It is so, so user friendly, and the sensor is amazing. I rarely get noise in my photos, even at crazy ISO’s like 20,000. There is no flash, but you don’t really need one–not when the ISO and sensor are so efficient. The menu’s are extensive, but very well laid out and easy to use. I’d say the most complex thing on it is the focusing–there are 61 points of focus. Now to be fair, it may have been operator error with the Nikon. Maybe I just didn’t know what I was doing. The reviews have been glowing for the D800, and I read just a few days ago that it edged out the Canon (but barely) as the better camera. B&H photo gave me a deal on the canon together with a 100mm macro L series lens, and I got 350.00 off for the two packaged together. (Note this wasn’t listed on their website–I just called and said that was what I wanted, could they give me a deal). Hope that helps! The other reason I jumped to canon was lenses. I knew I would be wanting a Tilt shift lens in the future, and Canon does make the better Tilt Shift lens.

      • danbohmer says:

        thanks…I am not sure what to do. When I bought my first DSLR it was based 100% on how it ‘felt’ in my hand – I just like the Nikon better than the Canon. Now of course I have a ton of lenses & it would be an expensive switch, although I hear a lot of great things about the 5D3. I may stick with my D7000 for a bit longer, but I do want a full frame camera…Thanks for the info!

      • Yes, it may have been a different story for me if I’d had a lot of Nikon lenses. As it was, I only had two. Now I’m thinking I will convert it to an IR dedicated camera for fun…

      • Dan, I just was thinking about our conversation about cameras, and realized that I should have mentioned that when you go to a full frame camera, the lenses from med formats aren’t generally compatible. So you would need to figure out whether or not any of the lenses you have would actually work on the D800. When I rented the Nikon, they actually sent the wrong lense, and while I could put it on the camera and use it, when I put the camera in full frame mode (the Nikon D800 can shoot full frame or med frame) the pictures all showed a dark circle as though looking through a small tube, effectively cutting out the full frame. On the canon, the medium frame lenses won’t physically go on the camera, but the old canon film camera lenses will (because the film size is the same as large format). With Nikon it was hard to tell, with canon the efs lenses were med format, the ef lenses large format. I think you can look up which of your existing lenses would work though with the large format.

      • danbohmer says:

        thanks, I have some DX & some FX lenses. I bought the FX lenses thinking I would move to full frame some day…

      • Well that’s good then, because you can utilize them both! Very smart thinking to look ahead. I would have never thought of that…

  2. Wow..what a piece of equipment and picture.. Good for people like you who take such detailed pictures..Diane

  3. The software you discuss is a bit outside my experience… I’m used to software more like PluralEyes, to sync externally recorded audio with DSLR video.
    It sounds interesting.

    • It really is interesting. They also make an exposure stacker, for those times when part of the frame is overexposed and part is underexposed. Those work well too. But I find the focus stacking really impressive. Especially the more photos you load into one. Some amazing algorithms. I imagine video is a whole other world too.

      • It certainly is. And it changes depending on whether you’re using a consumer camcorder, a prosumer model, a still camera with video, a DSLR, the frame rate, the resolution, progressive or interlaced fields (two fields make a frame in interlaced video), and many other things. Compared to all that, stills are easier. (Not easy, but easier.)

      • I didn’t know that. Is there different software written for each one of those methods?

  4. The software you use depends on how high-end you’re looking to go… the upper end ones for video editing are Adobe Premiere Pro, Apple’s Final Cut Pro, and Avid. Avid was the original high-end offline NLE (Non-Linear Editing) solution; you didn’t have to run things linearly (from the head of the tape to the tail), and could access parts of the footage randomly, placing piece A wherever you desired, much like you could do with film.
    Apple came up with Final Cut, and improved it on the Mac platform up until the latest version, Final Cut Pro X. Many professional users said that the whole editing concept of FCPX was nothing more than a glorified iMovie interface, and went over to Premiere Pro, whether it was on the Mac or on the Wintel (Windows+Intel) architecture.
    The concepts used in any of those camera types I mentioned can carry over to ones further up the “pro spectrum”, but the main thing is how much control you have over how the image is made, and how it’s used in the end. You’re not going to make a digital release print of a feature using Windows Movie Maker or iMovie, no matter what you shoot it on… and even if you’re doing a full edit/color correction/sound mix and layback with Avid, it’s not going to look great if it was shot on a $69 point-and-shoot video camera. (Usually, anyway… generalizations like that can get you in trouble.)
    Clear like mud?
    Al B.

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