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Studio stacking of small objects

For many years I have been interested in macro photography of really small objects. The main challenge is that when using a bellows or macro tubes you suffer radically reduced depth of field. Compensating this with stopping down to the largest f-stop will lead you to long shutter times and diffraction. Using Digicameracontrol and stacker software to stack pictures solves all of these issues.

One way of totally removing these problems is to use stacking. Simply put: you move the object (or the camera) a small (constant) distance between every shot from where the front of the object is sharp until the part of the object farthest away is sharp in the viewfinder. These shots now becomes your "stack". This stack is imported into a computer program that combines the sharp parts of every frame in the stack into a new picture.

Stacking can be done manually with a good macro lens. One person did it this way: set the camera in a shoe box and slide it manually towards the object a fraction of a millimeter for each shot. With a normal 1:1 macro-lens and good lighting (you need to soften the light to avoid sharp reflections) you can get really nice results.

I am interested in larger magnifications. I am using a Raynox M250 (2x) and M202 (4x) in front of my Tamron SP Di 90 mm macro lens. Depending on f-stop, each picture needs to be moved 10 to 300 micrometers and depending on the object size the stack can be between 40 to 300 shots. Below you see a picture of my setup (stacsystem.jpg). I can control the system using a simple visual basic program that takes care of all movements.

Digicameracontrol is perfect to plan, check, test and set all camera parameters. When working with a setup like mine it is impossible to use the viewfinder, and even liveview has a limited utility. The Digicameracontrol makes all that easy. Also being able to handle different shutter modes from the software is great for reducing vibrations.

I have enclose two samples showing a single fram in the stack and the final stacked output. The first is the inside of an old manual ladies watch (total size 1 cm) and the other a trout fishing fly (a nymph) hook size 14 (less than 1 cm).

As spring and summer comes along I will be out in the early morning to photograph insects using this technique.

A couple of links: I use Zerene stacker (http://zerenesystems.com/) for stacking. I also attended training courses in Stockholm. You can find more information about those courses at Makrofokus (http://makrofokus.se/ only in Swedish I am afraid).

Happy stacking, Jon-Sverre