Making progress (on a steep learning curve)

OK, let me say right at the outset that using a manual focus rail like my new-ish NiSi NM-200 to create a 328-photo focus stack is insane! So I regrouped, made a new plan, and conducted some tests.

I discovered, albeit too late, that I needed to shoot a lot of  photos for my last focus stack because I chose to use an aperture of f/8 and the “safe step size” for f/8 (at 1x magnification) is 40 µm (micrometers, or microns) — a relatively small step size.

In contrast, at 1x magnification the safe step size for f/11 is 800 µm — during limited testing that seems to be the sweet spot for creating focus stacks that look fairly good using fewer photos.

Canon EOD 5D Mark II DSLR camera plus Canon EF 100mm macro lens (1x, f/11)

The following composite image was created from 20 photos.

The background is the non-reflective side of a piece of black plastic. It’s textured surface appears to be a bad fit for macro photography — notice lots of little white specks on the background. Not good.

f/11 | 1/200 s | ISO 100 | Manual WB (Flash)

But wait, there’s one more thing. Did you notice the copper penny hiding underneath the quarter? Well, it was supposed to be hiding. I borrowed the idea from another photographer whose name I can’t remember. The point is to create some visual relief for the coin in the photo. The plan might have turned out OK if I’d noticed the misalignment of the penny before I did the focus bracketing.

Fujifilm X-T5 mirrorless digital camera plus Fujinon 80mm macro lens (1x, f/11)

The following composite image was created from 26 photos.

For the background, I used the white reference card from a Vello White Balance Card Set (Small). I set the white balance for AUTO WHITE PRIORITY WBW — a new setting (at least new to me) that’s supposed to result in whiter whites.

f/11 | 1/250 s | ISO 125 | WBW

The subject is in focus from back-to-front, and I like the white background. I think this is the best composite image I’ve created so far, but as always, you be the judge.

Fujifilm X-T5 mirrorless digital camera plus Fujinon 80mm macro lens (1x, f/11)

The following composite image was created from 21 photos.

For the background, I used the black reference card from a Vello White Balance Card Set (Small). I think it looks better than the textured black plastic background in the first photo, although I think the white background looks best.

f/11 | 1/250 s | ISO 125 | WBW

Pixel-peepers will notice the far end of the nickel isn’t as sharp as the rest of the coin. That’s because a man-caused disaster forced me to leave out the first two photos in the set. I hope the man responsible for this sloppy work will be held accountable for his actions!

Tech Tips

I think it’s worth noting that all three composite images were created using unedited JPGs straight out of the camera. All of the composite images could have been improved by making a few edits to the RAW files such as adjusting exposure, increasing contrast, and adding a little sharpening, to name a few.

In these test cases, I was looking for focus banding caused by using a step size that’s too big and glitches caused by Helicon Focus, the focus stacking software I used. As far as I can see, no problems.

My NiSi NM-200 is mounted on a Manfrotto 405 3-Way, Geared Pan-and-Tilt Head. The camera line of sight was inclined at a 45° angle relative to the staging surface. That’s less important in this case and more important for an upcoming review of the NiSi NM-200 focus rail.

Both cameras were set for manual exposure. Both lenses were set for manual focus; the combination of manual focus and back-button [auto]focus gives me the best of both worlds.

I use single point focus nearly all the time. I moved the focus point to the farthest point of each subject, then used back-button focus to autofocus on the subject and shoot a photo. Without changing focus from the first photo, I used the focus rail to move across the subject from back-to-front in 800 µm increments (eight numbered increments on the NiSi larger adjustment knob), taking a photo at each step.

More light is required for proper exposure at f/11 than f/8. I used one Sunpak LED-160, one Godox TT685C external flash unit (plus Altura flash modifier), and one Godox MF-12 external flash to light the first subject (Virginia quarter). Two Sunpak-160s and two Godox TT685C external flash units (using Altura and Lastolite flash modifiers) were used to light the last two subjects (quarter and nickel coins).

Related Resources

Copyright © 2023 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.


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