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A question for Helicon Focus users.

 
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rcroning



Joined: 01 Oct 2009
Posts: 45

PostPosted: Thu Oct 06, 2016 9:45 pm    Post subject: A question for Helicon Focus users. Reply with quote

Helicon Focus Lite, Pro or Premium - which do you use and why? Is the Lite package a good choice for the beginner?

Thanks in advance for the help.

Ralph.
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austrokiwi1



Joined: 14 Sep 2014
Posts: 289

PostPosted: Fri Oct 07, 2016 10:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I had Helicon pro until the end of last month. I had continuing frustrations with the program( watermarks appearing in final images) to the point that that when my license expired I removed the program from my computer and switched to Zerene stacker. Helicon has a nice looking user interface and the pro-version lets you produced 3d models ( cool, but for me, not overly useful).
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rcroning



Joined: 01 Oct 2009
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 07, 2016 2:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for your input. What I find highly unusual, based on what I have heard from some, is the appearance of watermarks in a paid/licenced version of the software. Is that a glitch that you reported to them? Watermarks should only show in the demo/unpaid version.

Waiting to hear from others on this.
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ray_parkhurst



Joined: 20 Nov 2010
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Location: Santa Clara, CA, USA

PostPosted: Fri Oct 07, 2016 4:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've used the pro version for a few years now without issue, but I still use an old version. Given AK's experience I am afraid to upgrade and will just stick with what works. I use the 3D rendering function quite a bit so the pro version is best for my purposes. I also use Remote for capturing stacks, and it works well with my Canon camera over USB. I have no complaints.
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rjlittlefield
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Joined: 01 Aug 2006
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 07, 2016 5:44 pm    Post subject: Re: A question for Helicon Focus users. Reply with quote

rcroning wrote:
Helicon Focus Lite, Pro or Premium - which do you use and why? Is the Lite package a good choice for the beginner?

My license is effectively Premium, because I purchased separately Helicon Focus Pro and Helicon Remote.

HF Lite is attractive because of its low price, but it's crippled by the absence of retouching tools. If high quality is your goal, stay away from that version.

I too have had a bit of trouble lately with Helicon Focus losing track of its license key, resulting in watermarks and eventual expiration. For me recovery has been a simple matter of just re-registering on the same computer, using the same activation code they sent me at purchase back in 2008.

The 3D function of Helicon Focus works well for simple smooth geometries like the faces of Ray's coins. It works much less well for complex geometries like bristly bugs, so I don't use it much.

By the way, if you're asking in general about focus stacking software, then I'll suggest taking a look also at Zerene Stacker. (Standard disclaimer: I wrote that one so I'm biased.)

--Rik
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JH



Joined: 09 Mar 2013
Posts: 808
Location: Vallentuna, Stockholm, Sweden

PostPosted: Sat Oct 08, 2016 2:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

ray_parkhurst wrote:
I use the 3D rendering function quite a bit so the pro version is best for my purposes.

I did not have Helicon when I wanted to do 3D - but I did have Zerne Stackers Professional Edition. With that it was possible to save a Depth map file from a DMap stack and use it in Adobe PS. I did the end scenes in this video with that technique.

Photo stacking and 3D Common brimstone Gonepteryx rhamni Citronfjäril:
http://hphoto.se/portfolio/video.html or https://youtu.be/LLnxE-HUP-8

Regards Jörgen
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Cactusdave



Joined: 09 Jun 2009
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 08, 2016 4:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have both Zerene and the 'lite' version of Helicon. I have never had any problem renewing my Helicon license after loosing the program to hard drive crashes. Emails to them have always brought a swift response. I like both programs, Zerene is more powerful and the retouching facility, which is part of the basic program and not a paid for add on, is very useful. There is a lot more value in Zerene if you are prepared to 'peer under the bonnet' a little. Smile

Helicon has some positives too. The graphic interface is appealing to the newcomer and pretty intuitive, and I do like the 'filmstrip' of image thumbnails on the right of the main screen from which you can easily identify and select or deselect images for stacking. In an ideal world I'd have both. Forced to choose, and especially for insect macro stacking, where retouching is often essential, it would have to be Zerene every time.
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rcroning



Joined: 01 Oct 2009
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 08, 2016 9:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

WOW! Thanks for all the replies. But now, instead of helping make my decision easier, I have to go back to the drawing board and examine the other option.

From what reviews I have read, I lean towards the Helicon interface as it is a lot more intuitive/user friendly. Being a photographer first, I'd rather be behind a camera than in front of a monitor.

Zerene, I have read elsewhere and here, is more powerful/versatile but has a steeper learning curve. Are there any links to good user tutorials?

Ralph.
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rjlittlefield
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Joined: 01 Aug 2006
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Location: Richland, Washington State, USA

PostPosted: Sat Oct 08, 2016 10:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

rcroning wrote:
Are there any links to good user tutorials?

Take a look at http://zerenesystems.com/cms/stacker/docs/tutorials/tutorialsindex . That's the page reached via Tutorials in the navigation panel on every page of the website.

All the tutorials are intended to be read, except for the two video tutorials on retouching. Those I did as videos because that seemed to be the only way to effectively teach the techniques.

There is also a basic "How To Use Zerene Stacker" page, at http://zerenesystems.com/cms/stacker/docs/howtouseit . That one serves as an overview of things you can do with it. It also provides a sort of "quick-start recipe":
Quote:
Getting started with Zerene Stacker is easy:

  • Start the program.
  • Add source images to the list of Input Files. You can do this either with drag-and-drop from Windows Explorer or the Macintosh Finder, or with File > Add File(s) in the Zerene Stacker menus.
  • Make a stacked image with Stack > Align & Stack All (PMax).
  • Save the result with File > Save Output Image.

I usually recommend doing the "How To..." page and the first 6 tutorials, down through Tips For Retouching. Then look through the list of other tutorials to see if anything looks relevant.

It's important to realize that most of the controls are accessed via Options > Preferences, rather than being continuously exposed in the user interface. And helpful to know, most of the controls have tooltips that appear if you hover the mouse cursor over them.

--Rik
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rcroning



Joined: 01 Oct 2009
Posts: 45

PostPosted: Sat Oct 08, 2016 11:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for all the info and links Rik! Will do a bit of reading and then decide which one to choose. I like the fact that a Zerene licence does not expire once purchased.

Ralph.
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pierre



Joined: 04 Jan 2010
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Location: France, Var, Toulon

PostPosted: Sat Oct 08, 2016 12:45 pm    Post subject: A question for Helicon Focus users. Reply with quote

Helicon Pro using since years, and never have licence trouble.
Sometimes, with Windows big patch like the last anniversary version, the license "pop" but you just have to use the key received and that's it.

It can generate 3D model with PRO version.
From my point of view, easy to use, even for retouching and with results, very similar to ZS but so much faster...
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Chris S.
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 08, 2016 9:49 pm    Post subject: Re: A question for Helicon Focus users. Reply with quote

Ralph,

A few years ago, I tried then-current versions of all the stacking applications I could find, and chose Zerene Stacker. I've been happy with it ever since, though I can't fairly comment on current versions of its competitors. I didn't find the learning curve for Zerene Stacker to be steep, particularly given the excellent tutorials that Rik linked you to. However, the feature set is pretty deep, and every time I watch a tutorial again, I learn or get reminded of some hotkey or nuance that speeds up my work.

Another nice thing about Zerene Stacker is its robust batch utility, in which most of the application's capabilities are available for anyone to automate for various purposes. All it takes is minor ability to build and edit macros. This capability has permitted several of us to write--and make available to others--utilities for slabbing (also called "sub-stacking"). Slabbing makes retouching difficult subjects easier. A slabbing utility I wrote, and share freely, is called SlabberJockey. More recent, and more refined, is Bugslabber. There are other slabbing programs, easily found in a search. To my mind, one measure of a software application's prominence is the ecosystem of complementary software that evolves around it.

pierre wrote:
Helicon Pro using since years. . . . From my point of view, easy to use, even for retouching and with results, very similar to ZS but so much faster. . . .

Pierre, would you mind elaborating on how you find Helicon Pro to be faster? Is it faster for you to navigate the user interface? Faster to process retouching? Faster when performing stacking operations? Or something else?

For my part, I find Zerene Stacker to be quite fast--and I run stacks of over 1,500 images, at 24 megapixels per image.

Cheers,

--Chris S.
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pierre



Joined: 04 Jan 2010
Posts: 226
Location: France, Var, Toulon

PostPosted: Mon Oct 10, 2016 2:34 pm    Post subject: A question for Helicon Focus users. Reply with quote

Chris,

OK, I will.

To be frank, both program have greatly improved since last year.
ZS is even faster and HF improve the retouch capabilities by allowing to include both frames or stacking results + the addition of the "slab" and the capability to stack from video. No doubts ZS have some nice option in his sleeves. Results seems quite similar, maybe a bit better for hairy subjects. ZS was written in Java so it is very flexible and works even on linux while HF is more specialized, with gain of the speed. I do not compare both since a few month so, to be fair, I wil download the last version for this run.

Unfortunately, I don't have a ZS Pro license yet, so the test will only be performed on a "license expired" version with hope the speed will not be affected. For the test: both in "standard" parameters a compilation of 145 pictures with Dmap / Method B (both aligned).

Running on a Laptop Asus G55VW i7, 8Go.

Time on ZS : 688.052 seconds
Time on HF : 187.6 seconds
HF is faster.

Of course, speed is not all since the only criteria in the end is the result so guess I will end up having both to work with, using ZS for difficult subjects.
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rjlittlefield
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 10, 2016 4:05 pm    Post subject: Re: A question for Helicon Focus users. Reply with quote

pierre wrote:
Unfortunately, I don't have a ZS Pro license yet, so the test will only be performed on a "license expired" version with hope the speed will not be affected.

The lack of license probably will affect performance. There are several options settings that default differently for trial versus Pro licenses. The main one that affects performance is Options > Preferences > Multiprocessing > "Overlap I/O with computation if possible", which defaults to be on with Pro but off with trial and Personal. To be effective, that option may also require larger than default memory allocation.

In addition, there are several other settings that can significantly performance for Zerene Stacker. Those are described in the thread at http://www.photomacrography.net/forum/viewtopic.php?p=141699#141699 and continuing on the 2nd page.

However, at this time no amount of tuning will make Zerene Stacker run as fast as Helicon Focus. In the last test that I ran (using all defaults, but with a Pro license, on 100 megapixel 16-bit TIFF images, doing PMax + DMap versus Method C + B), the total time was about 1.8:1 in favor of Helicon Focus.

I don't have really good data, but I suspect that ZS competes on the basis of human time to best results, not computer time to fully automated result.

At best that criterion is subjective because it depends on relative levels of skill in using both products. What I know objectively is that a) for the last several years there have been more Nikon Small World awards won using Zerene Stacker than all other stacking software combined, b) there are currently about 2.5 times more images on Flickr that are tagged with Zerene Stacker versus Helicon Focus, and c) several of the users that Helicon still references to promote their product (at http://www.heliconsoft.com/helicon-focus-gallery/ and http://www.heliconsoft.com/links/) now use Zerene Stacker either exclusively or predominantly. I take (a) and (b) as indicating something about the preferences of a large and diverse group of people, and (c) is just an observation. It makes me uncomfortable to say these things, but staying quiet about them is not comfortable either.

None of this is to say that Zerene Stacker is the better tool for all users or all situations. Even for users who are expert with both, sometimes one is better but sometimes the other. A good approach is to try both and see how they work for your own applications. If budget is not a limiting factor, then an even better approach is to get both of them, develop some feel for what situations are handled better by each, then use each one at the appropriate times.

--Rik
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pierre



Joined: 04 Jan 2010
Posts: 226
Location: France, Var, Toulon

PostPosted: Mon Oct 10, 2016 11:06 pm    Post subject: A question for Helicon Focus users. Reply with quote

Thanks Rik for this feedback.

I suspected you had work hard on this speed matter.
Well. Seing your tests, using optimized parameters, the speed difference is not so discriminent.

For precision, the "slabbing" capability of HF is far from ZS:
The batch process, cuts the main stack in sub stacks and generate a file for each one. This is quite basic.
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