Helicon Focus or Zerene Stacker?

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Once I begin making series of focus-bracketed images (Nikon calls it focus shifting), I plan on licensing either Helicon Focus or Zerene Stacker to stack the images when Photoshop CC's stacking capability isn't sufficient. I spent several hours today trying all three for the first time and got the impression I probably can't go wrong with Helicon or Zerene. So, please tell me what you like best and dislike the most about one or the other. Especially please mention any deficiencies, problem-causing characteristics, or attributes that one application has the other one doesn't have.

Please don't try to talk me into purchasing a camera body that has focus stacking (in addition to focus bracketing) built into it. I've evaluated eight camera bodies made by four manufacturers and have narrowed my next system down to either a Nikon Z6 or D780 (despite that I will have to give up having a vertical grip).

Looking forward to an enjoyable, informative thread! Thanks in advance for participating.
 
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Hi Mike,

I like both Helicon and Zerene, I tend to go a bit towards Zerene, but not for any reason I can articulate. Adobe Photoshop just does not do a good job....

As for camera bodies, I agree no body has the processing power to merge a number of images based on focus area. I like the Nikon D850 focus shift cause it does what it says it does it shifts the focus.....

Cheers,
alexis an Georgie Beagle

"mom, you do realize "focus shift" is a term for lens defect where the plane of focus shifts as the lens stops down" - Georgie Beagle
 
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I've always been happy with PSCC but maybe I'm missing something. I'll be lurking here to see what's up. I think you'll be happy with either a Z6 or a D780 Mike. I just have a feeling Nikon will be releasing their next generation of ML cameras soon. The Z6 is certainly a step up from your current camera though.
 
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Colorado Springs, Colorado
Once I begin making series of focus-bracketed images (Nikon calls it focus shifting), I plan on licensing either Helicon Focus or Zerene Stacker to stack the images when Photoshop CC's stacking capability isn't sufficient. I spent several hours today trying all three for the first time and got the impression I probably can't go wrong with Helicon or Zerene. So, please tell me what you like best and dislike the most about one or the other. Especially please mention any deficiencies, problem-causing characteristics, or attributes that one application has the other one doesn't have.

Please don't try to talk me into purchasing a camera body that has focus stacking (in addition to focus bracketing) built into it. I've evaluated eight camera bodies made by four manufacturers and have narrowed my next system down to either a Nikon Z6 or D780 (despite that I will have to give up having a vertical grip).

Looking forward to an enjoyable, informative thread! Thanks in advance for participating.
I am embarked on the same evaluation exercise between these two programs. I'll share what I learn.
 
Joined
May 3, 2007
Messages
6,676
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Colorado Springs, Colorado
Hi Mike,

I like both Helicon and Zerene, I tend to go a bit towards Zerene, but not for any reason I can articulate. Adobe Photoshop just does not do a good job....

As for camera bodies, I agree no body has the processing power to merge a number of images based on focus area. I like the Nikon D850 focus shift cause it does what it says it does it shifts the focus.....

Cheers,
alexis an Georgie Beagle

"mom, you do realize "focus shift" is a term for lens defect where the plane of focus shifts as the lens stops down" - Georgie Beagle
The OM-D E-M1X can stack and merge up to 15 images into a final merged image.
 
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Chris
Mike I think the Z6 offers a better ceiling, especially when it comes to lens quality. That being said, make sure the lens costs and current availability suit your needs but I would sway you toward the Z6 for the lenses alone.
 
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I preferred the editing capabilites offered by Zerene when I originally evaluated both Zircon and Zerene (several years ago) so I bought Zerene and have been very happy with the results.
I do have Focus Stacker but I have also used the stacking offered by CamRanger (via an iPad or computer) for larger products or on location.
 
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I preferred the editing capabilites offered by Zerene when I originally evaluated both Zircon and Zerene (several years ago) so I bought Zerene and have been very happy with the results.
I do have Focus Stacker but I have also used the stacking offered by CamRanger (via an iPad or computer) for larger products or on location.
Does Zerene support RAW files now? The last reviews I saw said no.
 
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Auburn, Washington USA
I went with Helicon Focus many years ago. Recently updated it, pleasantly surprised that the update was free, my initial purchase was maybe 10 years ago. I think I originally purchased Helicon since it handled Nikon raw files, Zerene only took jpg and TIFF. Could be wrong on that last part however.
 
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Does Zerene support RAW files now?
It depends on what you mean by the term, support. The long answer to your question shown below is from their website's FAQ.

Does Zerene Stacker handle raw files?

To process any format of raw files, including DNG, takes two separate steps. First you convert the raw files to some standard RGB format, typically TIFF, and then you stack the TIFF files.
For highest quality, we recommend converting raw files to 16-bit TIFF using your favorite raw converter and whatever settings make it work the best. After stacking the 16-bit TIFFs, tell Zerene Stacker to save its output also as 16-bit TIFF.

Because 16-bit TIFF files are lossless and have more bits per pixel than are captured by current cameras, this process retains all of the image quality intrinsic to the raw formats.
Zerene Systems does not provide raw converters. You can download those separately, or use software provided by your camera manufacturer.

If you use Lightroom, then be aware that there's a Lightroom plugin for Zerene Stacker that handles raw conversion automatically. When using Lightroom with the plugin, processing raw files is just a matter of selecting them and doing an Export to Zerene Stacker. See Working with Lightroom for more details about this "Pro-only" feature.

A longer explanation is that no stacking software really works directly with raw files.

The structure of data in a typical raw image file, one value per photosite with color implied by a mosaic Bayer filter pattern, is fundamentally incompatible with the image alignment process that is required for stacking.

Some stacking software from other companies deals with this aspect by accepting raw files at the level of the user interface, then converting them to some RGB format, typically TIFF, in a background process that is easy to overlook and may be difficult to optimize.

Zerene Stacker goes the other route, exposing the conversion process and encouraging users to deal with it as what we think it really is: a key part of the overall workflow that deserves some attention in order to get best results.

http://zerenesystems.com/cms/stacker/docs/faqlist#what_kinds_of_image_files_will_zerene_stacker_handle
 

Growltiger

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Does Zerene support RAW files now? The last reviews I saw said no.
It is logically impossible to focus stack raw files, you need the images. Programs that support raw files simply put them through a basic raw converter first. So you are probably better off using the JPGs from the camera, or ideally doing the raw conversions yourself where you have full control over the processing.
 
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Winter Haven, florida
I have been using helicon focus with great success. I looked at zerene. I did NOT do extensive comparison testing. I found the helicon focus interface easier to use, and when I tried it, it just worked. Still happy with the software. It is easy to use and fits into my workflow with tiff's bulk processed in capture one, moving to helicon focus, then to photoshop. As an old fart, I try to keep this stuff simple.
Gary
 
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Some stacking software from other companies deals with this aspect by accepting raw files at the level of the user interface, then converting them to some RGB format, typically TIFF, in a background process that is easy to overlook and may be difficult to optimize.
That must be what Helicon Focus does because I just drag the raw files onto the HF window and it takes over from there. Output is a TIFF, though I think you can save a jpeg. I prefer to do the jpeg conversion in DxO PhotoLab.
 
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I use Helicon, Zerene, plus Franzis Focus. They each have their strengths, and Zerene has great personal support.

As I tend to focus stack a variety of subjects, having the flexibility saves me a lot of time.

I also convert my RAW files prior to processing the stacks. I prefer to have control and set the parameters which I feel are important to me.
 
Joined
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I also convert my RAW files prior to processing the stacks.
I would think that would be especially helpful considering that you use three different stacking programs and might want all three to be using the same source files.

After converting the raw files, what file format do you use for output to your stacking programs and why?
 

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