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Questions on beginner software for small stacks.
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Chris S.
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Joined: 05 Apr 2009
Posts: 2814
Location: Ohio, USA

PostPosted: Sun Jul 16, 2017 8:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

MacroLens wrote:
. . . my patience with tinkering has worn thin. I would be willing to give Combine ZP a try. But not a very long one if it continuously crashes on me.

(Another fellow named "Chris" responding:)

CombineZP, in its day, was stable (I used it quite a bit before Zerene Stacker came along). But it has not been maintained in quite some time. Meanwhile, computer hardware, operating systems, and such have rapidly evolved, and CombineZP seems to have poorly-understood compatibility issues with current systems. When Deanimator first reported his crashing issue, I re-installed CombineZP and tried to replicate his problem. I was able to tweak things so that CombineZP worked reliably on my system, but my solution did not work for Deanimator. For this reason, I'm not confident that Deanimator's settings will necessarily work for you.

As your time has value and your patience with tinkering is understandably thin, I'd suggest you pay $89 for the personal edition of Zerene Stacker. (The personal edition is powerful, and should you eventually need the additional features of the pro editions, upgrading has no financial penalty.) Then watch some of the tutorials at the Zerene Stacker Website, and get stacking.

I'd note that the fellow who wrote and supports Zerene Stacker was the first person to reply to your thread. He's speedy in responding to support requests, too.

--Chris S.
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MacroLens



Joined: 06 Jul 2017
Posts: 46

PostPosted: Mon Jul 17, 2017 6:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chris S. wrote:
MacroLens wrote:
. . . my patience with tinkering has worn thin. I would be willing to give Combine ZP a try. But not a very long one if it continuously crashes on me.

(Another fellow named "Chris" responding:)

CombineZP, in its day, was stable (I used it quite a bit before Zerene Stacker came along). But it has not been maintained in quite some time. Meanwhile, computer hardware, operating systems, and such have rapidly evolved, and CombineZP seems to have poorly-understood compatibility issues with current systems. When Deanimator first reported his crashing issue, I re-installed CombineZP and tried to replicate his problem. I was able to tweak things so that CombineZP worked reliably on my system, but my solution did not work for Deanimator. For this reason, I'm not confident that Deanimator's settings will necessarily work for you.

As your time has value and your patience with tinkering is understandably thin, I'd suggest you pay $89 for the personal edition of Zerene Stacker. (The personal edition is powerful, and should you eventually need the additional features of the pro editions, upgrading has no financial penalty.) Then watch some of the tutorials at the Zerene Stacker Website, and get stacking.

I'd note that the fellow who wrote and supports Zerene Stacker was the first person to reply to your thread. He's speedy in responding to support requests, too.

--Chris S.

Thanks Chris S. I am considering Zerene strongy. I don't think I need the best results for pixel peeping. I like full size shots of flowers, leaves, vibrant looking ground cover, and foliage. The most important thing for me concerning stacking is the lack of noise which I detest. Then processing them before and/or after stacking to make sure I get the color and contrast I like. I am not even sure on a workflow once I do incorporate stacking.

Good color and contrast being the only two things more important to me than a lack of noise. Sharpness is probably in 4th place.
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Chris S.
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PostPosted: Mon Jul 17, 2017 11:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

MacroLens wrote:
I don't think I need the best results for pixel peeping. I like full size shots of flowers, leaves, vibrant looking ground cover, and foliage. The most important thing for me concerning stacking is the lack of noise which I detest. Then processing them before and/or after stacking to make sure I get the color and contrast I like. I am not even sure on a workflow once I do incorporate stacking.

Good color and contrast being the only two things more important to me than a lack of noise. Sharpness is probably in 4th place.

MacroLens,

There is no reason you can't have good color and contrast, lack of noise, and high sharpness all at once. Also, your choice of stacking software shouldn't effect any of these very much. One's choice of stacking software is mostly about convenience, retouching capability, artifacts produced, support, and cost. Any competent stacking program will let you retain good color, contrast, and sharpness, and leave accumulation of noise within your control.

Minimizing noise happens mostly during image acquisition, and you likely know the drill: Shoot at base ISO whenever possible; expose to the right side of each color channel's histogram, checking that no channel is burned out (if not familiar with this, search on "ETTR"--exposure to the right); if dynamic range in a scene exceeds what a jpeg or tiff can handle, shoot raw and pull highlights and shadows into range during raw conversion.

Once you've captured low-noise images, choice of stacking algorithm influences accumulation of noise. Pyramid approaches (such as Zerene Stacker's PMax) tend to accumulate noise, while depth-map approaches (such as Zerene Stacker's DMap) tend not to. Combine ZM offers both approaches, as does Helicon Focus; I've no idea about Picolay. This said, in your work as you've described it--shallow stacks at 1x or so--it doesn't seem likely to me that either approach should accumulate much noise, given carefully-made input images.

As a third element in noise control, one can do noise suppression during raw conversion, prior to stacking. While I've found the need to do this occasionally, I wouldn't recommend it as standard procedure for someone doing shallow stacks at 1x or thereabouts. I find this only occasionally useful for subjects that have very low histogram values in a particular color channel--something that happens to me mostly at higher magnifications.

As for color and contrast, my sense is that if you keep your stack input images and stack outputs within the dynamic range available in your choice of formats, you will find it easy to tweak color and contrast in Photoshop (or whatever pixel editor you prefer). Pyramid stacking algorithms are generally considered to mess with color and contrast more than depth map algorithms. This said, I've found bother approaches workable in very deep, difficult stacks.

Does any of this help?

--Chris S.
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MacroLens



Joined: 06 Jul 2017
Posts: 46

PostPosted: Tue Jul 18, 2017 3:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chris S. wrote:
MacroLens wrote:
I don't think I need the best results for pixel peeping. I like full size shots of flowers, leaves, vibrant looking ground cover, and foliage. The most important thing for me concerning stacking is the lack of noise which I detest. Then processing them before and/or after stacking to make sure I get the color and contrast I like. I am not even sure on a workflow once I do incorporate stacking.

Good color and contrast being the only two things more important to me than a lack of noise. Sharpness is probably in 4th place.

MacroLens,

There is no reason you can't have good color and contrast, lack of noise, and high sharpness all at once. Also, your choice of stacking software shouldn't effect any of these very much. One's choice of stacking software is mostly about convenience, retouching capability, artifacts produced, support, and cost. Any competent stacking program will let you retain good color, contrast, and sharpness, and leave accumulation of noise within your control.

Minimizing noise happens mostly during image acquisition, and you likely know the drill: Shoot at base ISO whenever possible; expose to the right side of each color channel's histogram, checking that no channel is burned out (if not familiar with this, search on "ETTR"--exposure to the right); if dynamic range in a scene exceeds what a jpeg or tiff can handle, shoot raw and pull highlights and shadows into range during raw conversion.

Once you've captured low-noise images, choice of stacking algorithm influences accumulation of noise. Pyramid approaches (such as Zerene Stacker's PMax) tend to accumulate noise, while depth-map approaches (such as Zerene Stacker's DMap) tend not to. Combine ZM offers both approaches, as does Helicon Focus; I've no idea about Picolay. This said, in your work as you've described it--shallow stacks at 1x or so--it doesn't seem likely to me that either approach should accumulate much noise, given carefully-made input images.

As a third element in noise control, one can do noise suppression during raw conversion, prior to stacking. While I've found the need to do this occasionally, I wouldn't recommend it as standard procedure for someone doing shallow stacks at 1x or thereabouts. I find this only occasionally useful for subjects that have very low histogram values in a particular color channel--something that happens to me mostly at higher magnifications.

As for color and contrast, my sense is that if you keep your stack input images and stack outputs within the dynamic range available in your choice of formats, you will find it easy to tweak color and contrast in Photoshop (or whatever pixel editor you prefer). Pyramid stacking algorithms are generally considered to mess with color and contrast more than depth map algorithms. This said, I've found bother approaches workable in very deep, difficult stacks.

Does any of this help?

--Chris S.


Thx Chris, every bit of information helps! The reason I am interested in stacking is due to the promise of less noise. If not for that promise, I would never have considered it. Now the drawback to that is artifacts, halos, and ghost which is why I am going to test both pieces of software and techniques before investing in either.

I am very familiar with ghost, halos, and noise having used my DP Merrill in not quite optimal conditions. I will decide in a month if I even need to use stacking for my shots; and if so which software is easiest for me to use. Pixel shift in optimal conditions may be good enough.
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Deanimator



Joined: 23 Oct 2012
Posts: 333
Location: Rocky River, Ohio, U.S.A.

PostPosted: Tue Jul 18, 2017 11:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

MacroLens wrote:
I work in IT and have for years but as I have now reached my 50s, my patience with tinkering has worn thin. If you would be willing to share some of your knowledge on making it work, I would be willing to give Combine ZP a try. But not a very long one if it continuously crashes on me.

Search on my posts. I did a very detailed running description about the steps I went through to make it work.

I can't guarantee that you'll have to do the same things, but there's a wealth of information there.
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Chris S.
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Joined: 05 Apr 2009
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Location: Ohio, USA

PostPosted: Tue Jul 18, 2017 9:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

MacroLens wrote:
The reason I am interested in stacking is due to the promise of less noise. If not for that promise, I would never have considered it.

Wait! This comment changes everything. As macro photographers, when we say "stacking," we mean "focus stacking to increase the depth of field (the area in focus)." We use focus-stacking software such as Zerene Stacker and Helicon Focus to combine sets of images in which the point of focus is changed between shots. The software takes the sharp bits and combines them. Such software is not for noise suppression, and if anything, can increase noise, as noise looks like sharp detail to some focus-stacking algorithms.

Astrophotographers, on the other hand, do stack images for noise suppression, using software applications very different from the ones discussed in this thread. A quick search on "astrophotography stacking software" brings up links such as Astronomy Deep Sky Stacking Software. Searching on "stacking for noise reduction" also brings up what look like useful links. I suspect that may be a more useful road for you to travel in your quest for noise-reduction.

--Chris S.
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MacroLens



Joined: 06 Jul 2017
Posts: 46

PostPosted: Wed Jul 19, 2017 4:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Chris S. wrote:
MacroLens wrote:
The reason I am interested in stacking is due to the promise of less noise. If not for that promise, I would never have considered it.

Wait! This comment changes everything. As macro photographers, when we say "stacking," we mean "focus stacking to increase the depth of field (the area in focus)." We use focus-stacking software such as Zerene Stacker and Helicon Focus to combine sets of images in which the point of focus is changed between shots. The software takes the sharp bits and combines them. Such software is not for noise suppression, and if anything, can increase noise, as noise looks like sharp detail to some focus-stacking algorithms.

Astrophotographers, on the other hand, do stack images for noise suppression, using software applications very different from the ones discussed in this thread. A quick search on "astrophotography stacking software" brings up links such as Astronomy Deep Sky Stacking Software. Searching on "stacking for noise reduction" also brings up what look like useful links. I suspect that may be a more useful road for you to travel in your quest for noise-reduction.

--Chris S.

I understand by focus stacking you are able to create a sharper looking image from corner to corner and increase the depth of field. That is the primary reason people do it; but for some reason I also thought it would help reduce shadow noise. And I never thought it would increase the noise in a perfectly framed flower! I will just have to keep reading. Nothing wrong with that

I have read some articles on astrophotography and did a long exposure well over a year ago with my Pentax K3 ( I have since sold it after buying the K1 ). I did it for the the fun of it and to see if the feature worked as advertised and it did. It is just not something I want to keep pictures of.
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Deanimator



Joined: 23 Oct 2012
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Location: Rocky River, Ohio, U.S.A.

PostPosted: Wed Jul 19, 2017 6:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

MacroLens wrote:
I understand by focus stacking you are able to create a sharper looking image from corner to corner and increase the depth of field.

That's not quite right either.

While focus stacking will make CRITICAL areas sharper, it often introduces artifacts around the periphery.

That's why it's recommended that images for stacking be composed so that there's enough non-critical area around the edges to allow for cropping to remove artifacts.
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MacroLens



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PostPosted: Wed Jul 19, 2017 7:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Deanimator wrote:
MacroLens wrote:
I understand by focus stacking you are able to create a sharper looking image from corner to corner and increase the depth of field.

That's not quite right either.

While focus stacking will make CRITICAL areas sharper, it often introduces artifacts around the periphery.

That's why it's recommended that images for stacking be composed so that there's enough non-critical area around the edges to allow for cropping to remove artifacts.

Thanks Deanimator! Stacking may not be for me but all is not lost. I did find great references to tripods, heads, lighting; along with other equipment and techniques since joining this forum.
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Deanimator



Joined: 23 Oct 2012
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Location: Rocky River, Ohio, U.S.A.

PostPosted: Wed Jul 19, 2017 9:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

MacroLens wrote:
Thanks Deanimator! Stacking may not be for me but all is not lost. I did find great references to tripods, heads, lighting; along with other equipment and techniques since joining this forum.

I wouldn't discount stacking out of hand.

With the right combination of hardware and software, you can get very good results, even without spending a lot of money.

You can get acceptable results with a $30 X-Y macro rail and CombineZP.

If you've got an autofocus len (either a real macro lens or prime or zoom on extension tubes with contacts), you can do automated focus stacking tethered to a PC or a tablet. I use an Android tablet and DSLR Controller. I think it's currently under $10.00 at the ap store.

After that, it's just a question of how much time and effort you want to put into it. I eventually plan to get a Stackshot or We Macro and Zerene.
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MacroLens



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PostPosted: Wed Jul 19, 2017 3:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Deanimator wrote:
MacroLens wrote:
Thanks Deanimator! Stacking may not be for me but all is not lost. I did find great references to tripods, heads, lighting; along with other equipment and techniques since joining this forum.

I wouldn't discount stacking out of hand.

With the right combination of hardware and software, you can get very good results, even without spending a lot of money.

You can get acceptable results with a $30 X-Y macro rail and CombineZP.

If you've got an autofocus len (either a real macro lens or prime or zoom on extension tubes with contacts), you can do automated focus stacking tethered to a PC or a tablet. I use an Android tablet and DSLR Controller. I think it's currently under $10.00 at the ap store.

After that, it's just a question of how much time and effort you want to put into it. I eventually plan to get a Stackshot or We Macro and Zerene.

I have a pretty good macro lens, Pentax D FA 100 Macro. Once done with tripod and ballhead I will be good to go as far as having a decent lightweight setup for walking/hiking around short trails and lakes. I've only had this lens a little less than two months and getting use to the depth of field is a new challenge.

I will keep stacking in mind but for now, I think I am going to learn the new lens, tripod, and use my software already at hand.
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genera



Joined: 05 Oct 2011
Posts: 67
Location: California, USA

PostPosted: Wed Jul 19, 2017 4:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

ChrisR wrote:
. . .

The reason I haven't got Helicon is that you really need to buy the Pro version (to get retouching capabilities) and you have to pay again every year Evil or Very Mad. (That may have changed?). ZS is a one-off payment. Albeit some of the features Helicon has, are rather nice and absent from ZS.




It must be nearly 11 years since you last looked. Razz

I purchased Helicon Pro in Nov. 2006 and have upgraded or installed on new computers a number of times since then with no additional cost.
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pierre



Joined: 04 Jan 2010
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 19, 2017 11:25 pm    Post subject: Questions on beginner software for small stacks. Reply with quote

Gene,


Refering to their website, Helicon Focus Pro can also be purchased once for all.
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Pierre
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ChrisR
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 20, 2017 10:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Oh ok thanks, I might be tempted then. It would have to be on special offer though ; ) .
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