Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Focus Stacking on Sony, Olympus, and Fujifilm cameras

Left image - f/32.  Right image: Focus Stacking.

Also in this issue:

  • Focus Stacking
  • The ethical question of photographing Amazon tribes
  • In the Pipeline

Focus stacking for Olympus, Fujifilm, and Sony cameras

If you're shooting macro images for catalogs (jewelry photography, for example), you can't just use a small f/stop and hope to get everything in focus.  Most of the time the depth-of-field won't be great enough, plus at the smallest f/stops something called diffraction kicks in, where the image actually gets a little bit fuzzier.  (That's why so many lens experts recommend shooting at the lens' "sweet spot" which is usually in the middle of it's f/stop range for sharpest results (but not the greatest depth-of-field).

Have a look at the close-up images of the top jewelry shot below: both were shot with a Minolta 100mm macro lens with the same lighting setup.  The left image was shot at f/32 (the smallest that lens can go), and the right image used a common technique called Focus Stacking.  Notice how the left image isn't all that sharp even in the area toward the front (the lens was focused 1/3rd of the way between the closest part and the furthest part, which is considered best practice for depth-of-field), whereas the right image  is sharp from the front to the back.  (Click on the image to see it larger; better yet download the original to compare them for yourself.)  

Left image - f/32.  Right image: Focus Stacking.

Focus Stacking involves taking several different images, each focused at a different part of the subject (a technique called Focus Bracketing).  Then all of the different images are merged on a computer, where only the sharpest parts of each image are composited into one really sharp, everything-is-in-focus final.

Some cameras make this process easy (like recent Olympus bodies, which does the whole process for you, including merging the sharpest parts in-camera).  Some cameras (like Sony) don't offer any tools at all and you have to do everything yourself.  Still others (Fujifilm) will do just the focus bracketing for you but you have to do the merging on your computer yourself.

So to show you how it's done, Tony Phillips (author of the Olympus and Fujifilm books (he's a busy guy!) and I have made some youtube videos showing you how it's done.  The last video shows how to merge the images from Fujifilm and Sony (the Olympus doesn't need it) in Photoshop.  Enjoy!

First, the Olympus cameras, which does Focus Bracketing and merging in-camera:

Next, the Fujfilm which does only the focus bracketing for you (See the last video for how to merge them):

Here's how to focus bracket manually using Sony (or any other camera brand).  This video also demonstrates what "Focus Breathing" is and why you need to know about it:

Finally, here's how to merge the images together using Photoshop:

(Scholarly note: If you don't have Photoshop there's another popular merging program called Helicon Focus. ) 

And there you have it!

*** UPDATE  1 ***

Reader John Campbell informed me about some software that was written for the Sony which I had actually proposed in last year's blog post which automates the process of focus bracketing with the Sony cameras while shooting tetheredly.   It's called B8Stack, you can download the windows version here and you can see a video walking you through how to use it here.  

*** UPDATE  2 ***

Yes, Sony has now introduced a Focus Bracketing feature starting with the A7R V, but in my opinion it's not very useful.  My biggest complaint about this feature is that there’s absolutely no guidance or clues provided for how to set these values. (What’s an appropriate Step Width?  How many shots are needed?)  Plus the Step Width varies with lens/focal length/aperture used so I can’t just do some tests and share with you my differential focus measurements. It's much better to use the steps outlined in the videos above - There won’t be any guesswork, you’ll get it right on the first try, and you’ll save time and disk space by not overshooting.

In the Pipeline

Olympus O-M1 is being worked on very carefully by Tony Phillips.  Send me an email (Gary at Friedman Archives dot com) to be put on the notification list!

Spanish version of Sony A7 IV book is out!  Tell the world.

Next time in Cameracraft Magazine

At first glance, Marios Forsos’ images of the Huaorani tribe from the Amazonian region of Ecuador look like idealized portraits of an indigenous people.  The light is perfect.  The poses look perfect too.  It’s almost as if the tribe collaborated with this photographer in order to craft these images, rather than the photographer just shooting in a documentary fashion.  And in fact, that’s exactly what was done.  

In the next issue Marios talks about the delicate balance between documenting tribal cultures properly and leaving them alone to protect them against negative western influences.  He also offers very strong opinions about what passes today for "travel photography".  In fact I'll give you a short preview: 

Let’s take, for example, the Dassanech of Ethiopia who, until recently, would adorn themselves with old watch straps, discarded coke bottle caps and various other western detritus because they would get paid based on how many pictures tourists would take of them - more pictures, more money. And sadly, none of those things were either traditional or native to the tribe - they were a direct result of tourism and fundamentally altering for the tribal culture. But hey, tourists and photographers got great pictures, right?”  

Subscribe to Cameracraft Magazine today and learn from someone who has been shooting assignments for high-end magazines for 25 years.  (Also learn why I'm recommending that wedding photographers should pivot to real estate photography.... :-) )  

Until next time,

Yours truly, Gary Friedman


  1. Thank you for sharing your knowledge about focus stacking in this blog post, I appreciate this very much. Greetings from Berlin, Germany.

  2. Thanks for the information about focus stacking, and the reference to the Cameracraft travel photography article. Great work!

  3. Thanks for the Free Tutorial!!1 Great Info

  4. Hi, when would an English version of A74 be out? Thanks

    1. It's out now! You can get your copy here: https://friedmanarchives.podia.com/the-friedman-archives-guide-to-sony-s-a7-iv

  5. Gary, long time reader first time writer ;) Great video. I've been doing focus stacking like this for a few years now, and I find that PS can be a bit difficult at times. I've never had things go perfect once. Usually I have to eliminate a photo out of the stack, change masking, or something like that. I hope PS gets better at doing it in the future.

  6. Superb video. Olympus has so many menu options that’s it a bit confusing to find out what is where. These videos are very helpful.

  7. That video is great! Sometimes you forget how much these cameras will do, if you are not using certain features often. It spurred me to go back and play with focus stacking using some subjects from my garden. Glad to have this tool back in my repertoire. Thanks, Gary!

  8. Dear Gary,

    Thank you for another interesting blog. I just wanted to add that with some Sony cameras (e.g., A7RIII) you can also do automatic focus bracketing (not stacking) using the "CamFi Pro" device. This device connects via USB-cable to the camera and uses a reverse-engineered Sony Edge protocol to do auto focus bracketing. The images can be sent to mobiles, PC, or Mac on the fly via Wifi. The device can be attached to the hot shoe and is powered by an internal rechargeable battery (or USB). Btw, the CamFi Pro can do much more. A major drawback is price though. Speed is ok (albeit no comparison to the, e.g. Fuji X-T2). It takes 2-3 seconds per shot but, that's usually faster than a manual solution (sometimes I also use a macro focusing rail or Sonys wireless RM-P1BT remote for stepwise focussing).
    There are a number of specific settings that need to be followed to make everything work. I wrote a manual for myself, which I am happy to share here:


    PS: I have no horses in the CamFi race. I got my CamFi Pro used at a pretty good price and only use it privatly.

    1. Thanks, Manfred! I had heard of the CamFi but didn't know much about it. Your instructions are quite detailed - it should help get people up to speed on the product quickly.

  9. Hi Gary,
    Good you paid attetion to the power of focus stacking. FYI, also Affinity Photo is capable to do a decent focus merge.

  10. This reminds me of my old Panasonic with built in focus stacking. I'm surprised,, (and sorry), Sony never incorporated this into their firmware., I found very useful at times, especially in. Landscapes.

  11. Hi Gary
    I bought your book for the A330 (which is now deceased), tried the A35 and A6000 but I keep going back to my old A100 with it's manky scratched viewfinder. Has to be a moral there somewhere....great tutorial.


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