Image stacking – CS4 versus Helicon Focus

Let’s start with some disclaimers. I am only using HF on a 30 day trial so I am not a whiz on this software and I am not a power user of CS4 so this is an experiment. It is not a test to see which is better for you.

I downloaded Helicon Focus because it gets very good reviews and I had a failure with CS4. It simply refused to align one of my images no matter how many times I tried.

My first effort with HF was disappointing. I found the output, even after some intensive retouching, less than pleasing. So I decided to give it a second go and here are the results.

Lichen stack 1

Lichen stack 2

I processed both images as close to identically as I could for sharpening and resizing. Stack 2 needed some brightness adding and Stack 1 needed some highlights pulled in.

When I looked  at stack 1 I was gutted at what I thought was extensive ghosting. Looking at the source images however it is clear that this is in fact out of focus bark / foliage behind the deepest plane of focus. I confirmed this by checking with my “insurance shot”, one I took at F11 in case the stacking failed. The ghosting effect is also evident in Stack 2 but HF has arguably handled this a fraction better.

In both shots the there are some soft areas in the top left quadrant where I guess I should have taken more input images.

In my view there is little to choose between them and the HF stack is perhaps a shade better here and the shortcomings are user error.

Here is the insurance shot:

Lichen F11

And herein lies the problem. I find the background on the left intrusive and the foreground is not crisp and sharp. So I would have needed to stop down further or maybe altered the focus point and focused further forward.

In some ways this is fantastic progress for me. I find myself thinking much more critically about my images and what and what is not acceptable. In the field I think a lot more about a) composition and b) what is the depth of field I want and where are the real front and rear planes? Here I got it wrong but learned from the experience. The old saying is that a bad workman blames his tools – not here. Mea culpa.

My general feel for Helicon Focus is still “the jury’s out”. It may be a useful add-on – it is certainly faster than CS4 – and I need to think about the cost-benefit of having this versus plugging away with CS4 and the incredibly slow speed at which it works for DoF extension stacks. maybe the tortoise does beat the hare.

Here, to close, is one I also took this morning and it did work – CS4 processed.

Underside of bracket fungus

Isn’t this grand?

Well, I understand this is my 102nd post so the century is already up. The “followers” are growing – thank you. You seem to prefer “straight” to “comedy” and birds to bugs but, hey, its my blog and I’ll post what I want to. I don’t do parties and I don’t cry (although I may have made an exception if Wales had not won the Triple Crown on Saturday afternoon). There may well be an interlude of a week or so as I am off to sunny Karachi on a business trip. Be patient 🙂

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4 thoughts on “Image stacking – CS4 versus Helicon Focus

  1. Business trip??? I thought you were basking in blissful retirement:)
    Anyway I love the straight and I love the comedy as well. And I really loved the b&w images you uploaded to pbase…v nice!

    • My last one before I stand down from the board, Kaushal. Sunny Karachi! Glad you liked the B&W. I will do more ‘street’ when the heat and humidity rise and nature photography becomes too tiring.

  2. This is a really interesting post to me, as I recently purchased HF for many of the same reasons you outlined about CS4. My initial thoughts are also the same as yours. I guess it is indeed another tool in the shed, so to speak…

    Congratulations on your growing readership. There is a lot of valuable information here, from usefulness to humor. I’m sorry I don’t get around as often as I’d like…

    -Greg

    • Thanks Greg. I will be home on Tuesday and keen to experiment further with both options. I will post again if I see any startling results.

I'd be delighted to hear what you think

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