Zerene vs Helicon

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OzRay
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Zerene vs Helicon

Post by OzRay »

I just did my first microscope shot (not really good enough to put up here) of something that looked like a really wee crustacean from our fish pond. I made 48 images just using the fine tune knob on the focus mechanism at one step intevals with the EP-1 and remote cable.

I then concerted the RAW files into JPG in Lightroom and used Zerene to stack the JPGs together. I did some minor adjustments in Photoshop after that and the result was overall pretty good, even if the image itself was lacklustre. Zerene was very easy to use and pretty intuitive for a simple auto stack.

I then downloaded Helicon Focus, to see how that worked and, to be quite honest, I found it very unintuitive and I wasn't sure what I was doing. I did get some sort of result, but not sure about it at all.

What I'm trying to figure out is which program is really the one worth getting, aka paying for a license? Zerene was easy to use, but Helicon may just need a bit of learning to understand and could be a better program overall.

So what do those who have experience of both really think? I've seen great results from both programs, but most seem to use Zerene. Is that a clue?

Cheers

Ray

rjlittlefield
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Post by rjlittlefield »

For what it's worth...

I'm the fellow who wrote Zerene Stacker. It took a lot of time and effort to do that, and quite frankly the only reason I bothered was that after several years I got tired of trying to wrestle CombineZ* and Helicon Focus into producing results that had the quality I wanted.

CZP and HF are fine tools for lots of stacks. There are even a few stacks where they do better than Zerene. But HF does not work so well on deep stacks shot with wide aperture lenses, particularly if the subjects are transparent/multilayered or hairy/bristly. It suffers from halo and from "stacking mush" in which low contrast regions lose detail altogether. I have some examples that look so bad in HF I've never had the courage to display them lest I be accused of slander, but they render just fine in Zerene. CZP includes some methods that do not have those problems, but the corresponding methods in Zerene are a bit more sophisticated: better alignment, less noise, less contrast buildup.

For the most troublesome stacks, every tool requires some manual assistance in the form of retouching. The stacking and retouching tools in Zerene are specifically designed to work well with deep stacks. For examples: the depth navigation tool for selecting the proper source frame is an order of magnitude faster in ZS than in the other tools; there is a click-to-flash mechanism that allows overlaying source and destination frames so you can quickly identify what parts are better in each image; you can use other outputs as source frames for retouching; and there is a simple to use "stack selected" mechanism for processing substacks to efficiently work around the common problem of "transparent foreground" with subjects that are supposed to be opaque.

Since you're doing microscopy, you might eventually be interested in the synthetic stereo mechanism that generates a stereo pair from a single stack. Unlike HF's 3D capability which for practical purposes is limited to simple surfaces, Zerene's synthetic stereo works even for subjects that are transparent, hairy/bristly, or have complex geometry.

Other than that, they're pretty much the same. :wink:

But I'm biased. You should wait to hear what other people think.

--Rik

Edited to add: see also "An image comparison of Zerene Stacker and Helicon Focus", which illustrates the effects described here.
Last edited by rjlittlefield on Sat May 21, 2011 7:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.

OzRay
Posts: 198
Joined: Thu Aug 13, 2009 11:32 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia
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Post by OzRay »

I think you've just answered my question. It's a no-brainer now. :D

Cheers

Ray

OzRay
Posts: 198
Joined: Thu Aug 13, 2009 11:32 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia
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Post by OzRay »

rjlittlefield wrote:For what it's worth...

I'm the fellow who wrote Zerene Stacker.
--Rik
Check your piggy bank tomorrow. :D

Cheers

Ray

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