Helicon vs Serene: for Focus Stacking Software? (Or another suggestion?)

cayenne

EOS R6
CR Pro
Mar 28, 2012
2,648
589
Hi all,
I'm playing around with some macro and maybe even some landscape serious focus stacking....

I'm looking at:

Helicon Focus
vs
Zerene Stacker

And was wondering who here might have recommendations between the two....and why you like what you have/recommend?

I've been taking some focus stacks with my 5D3....I also have been shooing 120-150 shot medium format RAW images too (about 200+ mb each)....and when I get a R5 after the first of the year, I'm sure I'll be shooting many image large RAW focus stack series with that too.

I have a Mac Pro, so, I should have the horsepower to handle this many files with large sizes....but which is the best?

I plan to get the Pro version of which ever software I get...but was hoping some of the great folks here could give me some recommendations and anecdotal experience with one or both of them.

Thank you very much in advance!!

cayenne
 
Last edited:

Mt Spokane Photography

I post too Much on Here!!
CR Pro
Mar 25, 2011
16,697
1,663
I evaluated both, but lost interest and never bought one. Each has its points. I'd suggest making use of the free trial to see which is faster and which is better. Faster does not mean better.
 

cayenne

EOS R6
CR Pro
Mar 28, 2012
2,648
589
I evaluated both, but lost interest and never bought one. Each has its points. I'd suggest making use of the free trial to see which is faster and which is better. Faster does not mean better.


I've downloaded both of them. I"m currently generating TIFF from RAW to give Helicon first shot at a focus stack project.

I'll run the 30 day trial of Zerene on the same TIFF stack.

After that, I think I"ll delete all the TIFF intermediates...and try the Capture One Helicon plug in that supposedly makes a seamless round trip to HF and back.

But still looking for any input from anyone that's used this and has opinions of them....

Thank you in advance!!

cayenne
 

cayenne

EOS R6
CR Pro
Mar 28, 2012
2,648
589
Well so far...the Helicon Focus seems to be a bit ahead of the Zerene app for me.

However, it appears there is a LOT of info I need to delve into with Zerene to maybe learn to 'tune' some parameters. I'll keep playing with it.

So far, it appears I like Helicon's ability to work with RAW images in and export DNG (essentially "RAW") images out....I'm working right now to see how much I can push/pull the resultant DNG image in both capture one and On1 RAW.

I tried originally doing some slight sharpness, color ,etc....in Capture One first and exporting out as TIFF files...and running through both focus stacking programs.

Those small adjustments seemed to be overly amplified somewhat....so, thinking if I can get back close to a RAWimage after stacking with the Helicon app, I might like to go that way.

C1 has a Helicon plug-in that can make the roundtrip seamless...but it only seems to run it as TIFF out and TIFF in....so, not sure how that will work.

I did do that route and have several resultant images....and I didn't even yet do ALL the permutations as that HF and Zerene both have multiple algorithms you can choose for processing.

Anyway, still working the experiments....

I also need to shoot a few more varied focus stack images to try while on the trial period. HF seems to also have some editing capabilities within the focus stacking process....like if something moves, you can choose which in focus images to use in case it chooses poorly.

Anyway, that's progress so far.

If ANYONE has experience with these programs and can offer some info/insight please chime in!!

cayenne
 

Frodo

EOS RP
Nov 3, 2012
419
102
I evaluated both and ended up buying Zerene. This gives two stacking options that work better under different situations. I'm happy.
By the way, I bought a cheap focusing rail rather than rely on changing focus on my EF 100/2.8 USM. I found that this produces fewer artifacts.
 

Frodo

EOS RP
Nov 3, 2012
419
102
Here is a honey bee photo (28 images stacked with Zerene).
Bee ZS PMax.jpg
 

cayenne

EOS R6
CR Pro
Mar 28, 2012
2,648
589
So far, I'm leaning towards Helicon Focus.

My first attempts with Zerene didn't fare too well...there was some severe haloing. It appears if you do a lot of reading and all you can figure out the settings, but just running it on normal shots at default settings didn't seem to do very well for me with Zerene.

I did mine with some large stacks, one was up to like 162 images.

Can you tell me what all you had to figure out to tweak with Zerene to get excellent results like you did with the bee?

That looks amazing!!

cayenne
 

Frodo

EOS RP
Nov 3, 2012
419
102
Hi Cayenne
What lens are you using and how are you changing the focusing point? Focusing the lens or using a focusing rail?
 

cayenne

EOS R6
CR Pro
Mar 28, 2012
2,648
589
Hi Cayenne
What lens are you using and how are you changing the focusing point? Focusing the lens or using a focusing rail?

Well, the latest experiments are using a GFX100 and the Fuji GF120 macro lens.
With this set up, I've been experimenting with the auto focus bracketing that came with the latest update.

I am also experimenting with using a rail system

I have the Canon 5D3 and the 100 L macro lens too, but the GFX is my latest toy, hence it getting the current workout.

Thank you in advance,

cayenne
 

Frodo

EOS RP
Nov 3, 2012
419
102
I found that when I was adjusting my lens to vary the focus point, the relationship between the foreground and background changed more than when using a focusing rail. I think that this causes the "blooming". Click quickly through your images. Ideally, the only thing that should change should be the point of focus. If the background looms larger or smaller, you potentially have a problem.
Zerene gives two options ZMax and DMap and with DMap you have the option of changing the "threshold". There is an explanation here that addresses halos, artifacts and blooming: https://zerenesystems.com/cms/stacker/docs/tutorials/tutorial003
 

koenkooi

EOS 5D Mark IV
CR Pro
Feb 25, 2015
1,869
1,794
I found that when I was adjusting my lens to vary the focus point, the relationship between the foreground and background changed more than when using a focusing rail.[..]

Most (all?) Canon macro lenses have horrible focus breathing, the 100mms are close to 70mm at MFD.
 
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