stacking and RAW

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stacking and RAW

Post by imkap »

Hi, how do you handle RAW images (.ARW in my case) with stacking programs? Do you first do the colours, WB etc. on one image and paste the settings to others in Lightroom (or similar) and then export to the focus stacking software? Or there is a better path, I'm wondering what is the best practice...

I'm thinking about buying Zerene or Helicon, not sure, they both seem good and the price is similar

I use a microscope (BHS), or a macro bellows with a Sony A7s II


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Re: stacking and RAW

Post by rjlittlefield »

Different people have different approaches.

I prefer to feed the stacking program with images that are close to what I finally want to see in the end. So I do what you suggest: using Lightroom, I adjust one image, synchronize those settings to the other images, then export to 16-bit TIFF to feed into the stacking program. As part of adjusting the image, I also tune noise reduction and sharpening so as to provide the stacking program with images that let it make the best decisions. This approach is relatively slow because the raw-to-TIFF conversion step does a lot of work on every image separately, but I think it makes the best final output.

Helicon Focus allows another option, which they call Raw-In-DNG-out. In this case the stacking program (HF) is fed unprocessed raw images. In the background, HF does minimal processing to convert the raw images to 16-bit TIFF with RGB at each pixel position ("demosaiced") but otherwise with no adjustments. Then HF stacks the RGB TIFF images and finally packages the resulting image into a DNG wrapper so that it can be color-adjusted exactly as if it were an original raw image. This approach runs very fast, partly because it skips most of the raw conversion work for the source images, and partly because HF in general is much faster than Zerene Stacker.

The choice of Zerene Stacker versus Helicon Focus depends on what you care about. Helicon Focus does all of what many people care about, and it runs very fast. Zerene Stacker adds a feature called "slabbing", which facilitates retouching with deep stacks ("deep" = lots of source images). Both programs can generate 3D stereo pairs from a single stack, but the approaches are very different so that the ZS result is much more accurate with difficult geometries such as bristly bugs. Most of my stacks are deep and I make stereo from almost everything, so for me the choice is simple in favor of ZS. People with other priorities very reasonably prefer Helicon Focus. Some people have both and use whichever is more appropriate for the task at hand.

Full disclosure: I wrote Zerene Stacker so you should be suspicious of everything I say about the comparison. But if you find that I have misstated anything, please let me know because I try hard to stay objectively accurate.


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