Archive for the ‘CamRanger’ Category

Focus-stacking with CamRanger

January 7, 2019

This blog post reports the result of more experimentation with completely automated focus stacking using CamRanger.

25 photos were used to create this focus-stacked composite image of an Eastern Least Clubtail dragonfly (Stylogomphus albistylus) exuvia from an odonate nymph that Bob Perkins collected and reared.

I own two Canon macro lenses: a Canon MP-E 65mm Macro lens; and a Canon EF100mm f/2.8L Macro lens.

The MP-E 65mm macro is manual focus only, and cannot be used with CamRanger to create automated focus-stacked composite images.

In contrast, the EF100mm macro can be used with CamRanger to create automated focus stacks. In order to increase the magnification of the EF100mm macro, I used the lens in combination with three Kenko macro automatic extension tubes: 12mm; 20mm; and 36mm.

Pros and Cons

My goal was to create a tight close-up showing the face-head only. On one hand I failed to achieve my goal due to less maximum magnification using the combination of EF100mm macro lens and extension tubes rather than the MP-E 65mm macro lens.

On the other hand I shot 25 photos in a little more than four minutes*, with the focus plane shifted in small increments from front to back along the subject — all without touching the camera after setting the initial focus point. That’s what I call success!

Related Resources

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot all of the photographs for the focus-stacked composite image of the exuvia: CamRanger hardware, and iOS app running on my iPad mini (with retina display); Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital camera, in manual mode; Kenko macro automatic extension tubes (12mm, 20mm, and 36mm)Canon EF100mm f/2.8L Macro lens (set for manual focus); and Canon MT-26EX-RT Macro Twin Lite set for “Master” mode, and several external flashes set for “Slave” mode including Canon 580 EX- and Canon 580EX II Speedlites and a Godox TT685C Thinklite TTL Flash fitted with a Lastolite Ezybox Speed-Lite 2 flash modifier.

Auto power-off was disabled for the camera and all external flash units. CamRanger was set for a *10-second delay between shots in order to allow sufficient time for the lens to change focus automatically, the camera rig to settle, and the flash units to power-cycle.

Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to create the focus-stacked composite image, as well as spot-heal and sharpen the final output.

More Related Resources

Copyright © 2019 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

More focus stacking with CamRanger

April 10, 2017

When I started experimenting with completely automated focus stacking using CamRanger, I couldn’t tell what, if anything, was happening. In fact, I wasn’t sure the process was working as advertised. So I devised a plan to photograph a simple subject (a six-inch ruler in this case) and use “focus peaking” to track what happened. By the way, it’s worth noting that my Canon EOS 5D Mark II DSLR camera doesn’t feature focus peaking, but the CamRanger app does!

During initial testing, I shot several small focus stacks. The following screen capture shows the display on my iPad mini (with retina display) running the CamRanger app; the focal plane of the lens is highlighted by red focus peaking.

Here’s a screen capture from another test, showing the final location of the focal plane (highlighted in red).

I made a movie that demonstrates what happens when CamRanger creates a focus stack. It was fun to watch the focal plane advance along the ruler as CamRanger captured the shots automatically!

The movie begins with a small focus stack using a “Large” step size (the largest increment of three options). When focus stacking is active, notice that most of the screen is covered by a translucent gray layer that prevents the user from changing settings accidentally. I cancelled the focus stack after two shots. Next I changed the step size to “Medium” and started a new stack. Notice that the focal plane of the lens begins where the last focus stack ended. The new step size is noticeably smaller.

Automated focus stacking using CamRanger (2:12)

As shown in the right side bar of the CamRanger app, I set the camera to shoot RAW plus small JPG. Both file types are recorded on the memory card in the camera; thumbnail versions of the JPG files are displayed at the top of the iPad screen. Although I usually shoot RAW only, JPG files can be transferred via WiFi faster than RAW files!

I set the CamRanger app to wait 10 seconds between shots, in order to allow adequate time for the camera to write the image files to the memory card, transfer the JPG thumbnail from the camera to the app, rack the lens to the next focal plane, and for the external flash units to power cycle.

My first finished automated focus stacks

I created a 30-layer focus stack using a medium increment. The following photo shows the JPG version of the first layer.

I used Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 to create a medium-increment focus stack using the small JPGs because they can be processed faster than RAW. The resulting composite image is shown below.

Finally, here’s the resulting composite image of a five-layer focus stack created from large increment/medium JPG photos. In my opinion, the output looks almost as good as the composite image created from five times as many layers.

Lessons Learned

  • Given a choice, run the CamRanger app on the most powerful tablet you own. I use my iPad mini rather than iPad 3 (with retina display). Although the iPad 3 screen is larger than the iPad mini, it features a slower processor. That being said, the iPad 3 is perfectly suitable for using the CamRanger app for other less processor-intensive tasks.
  • Some lenses, such as my Canon EF100mm macro lens, can be set for manual focus and the CamRanger app can still rack focus automatically. It may be necessary to set other lenses for automatic focus in order to work with focus stacking in CamRanger.
  • If possible, use continuous light sources rather than external flash units. I love me some flash triggers, but they’re not 100% reliable. If you’re shooting stills and the flash fails to fire, it’s no big deal — just shoot another shot. Not so when you miss a critical focus layer. I use a combination of two small LED light sources and a Canon Speedlite tethered to the camera by a Vello flash cable; the Canon flash optically triggers a small Nissin i40 external flash (in SD mode) used for backlight.
  • Turn off “sleep mode’ for my Canon 580EX II Speedlite. (C.Fn-01 set for Disabled.)
  • It’s challenging to determine how many layers to shoot for a given focus stack, especially when using smaller step sizes. Don’t sweat it! Simply shoot more layers by starting where the focal plane is at the end of the last focus stack. Repeat as necessary until you capture as many layers as needed.

What’s next?

Going forward, my plan is to experiment with automated focus stacking using subjects that are more complex than the ruler featured in this post. Preliminary testing suggests it could be challenging to create perfect composite images of objects that are more three-dimensional than the ruler.


I used QuickTime to create the embedded movie (shown above) by tethering my iPad mini to a MacBook Air laptop computer and following the excellent directions provided in How To Display your iPad or iPhone on your Mac (9:44), a tutorial video by Terry White, Adobe Evangelist.

Related Resources

Full disclosure: There are hardware/software solutions for wireless tethering and automated focus stacking that are less expensive than CamRanger. Remember, you get what you pay for!

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Another foray into focus stacking

April 2, 2017

I used CamRanger to remotely control my Canon 5D Mark II DSLR camera with an Apple iPad 3 (with retina display). The camera was set for manual exposure and One-Shot AF. I used an aperture of f/5.6 with my Canon 100mm macro lens; I think I’ll use f/8 next time.

Apple iPad 3 (with retina display) | screenshot of CamRanger app

The CamRanger app for Apple iOS can be used to set the focus point by tapping on the iPad screen. I focused on the toy dragonfly in approximately 10 places and tapped the “Capture” button to take a photo. The following photo shows one of the resulting images, focused on the head of the dragonfly.

ISO 100 | f/5.6 | 1/200s | Manual White Balance (Flash use)

Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to create a “focus stack” composite image. As you can see, most of the toy dragonfly is in focus but there are some places that are slightly blurry/ghostly. The obvious solution: Focus on more places (that is, take more pictures), although that might be unnecessary using an aperture of f/8 or smaller.

Composite image created using Adobe Photoshop CC 2017.

Going forward, my plan is to progress from manually setting the focus point by tapping on the iPad screen to using the automated focus stacking feature in the CamRanger app. Baby steps, Bob!

Tech Tips

The following equipment was used to shoot all of the photographs in the focus stack: Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital camera, in manual mode; Canon EF100mm f/2.8L Macro lens (set for automatic focus); Canon 580EX II external flash, off-camera, in manual mode; Canon 580EX external flash, off-camera, in manual mode; and a Yongnuo YN-622C-TX E-TTL II Wireless Flash Controller for Canon plus a two-pack of Yongnuo YN-622C II E-TTL Wireless Flash Transceivers for Canon. Additional backlight was added to the scene using a Nissin i40 external flash unit (off-camera, in SF mode).

Adobe Photoshop CC 2017 was used to create the focus stack and post-process the composite image.

Copyright © 2017 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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