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DSLR Remote Pro Focus Stacking

Focus stacking is a technique for increasing the depth of field by taking a series of photographs with different focus settings and then combining them together using the areas in focus from each image. This technique is useful for macro and close-up photography, landscapes, product photography and any other image where the depth of field is critical and the subject isn't moving. The live view display in DSLR Remote Pro makes it simple to automate the process of taking a sequence of images with different focus settings by running a script. Once the pictures have been taken they can be combined using free software such as CombineZM or commercial software like Helicon Focus (the example images on this page were combined using CombineZM).

Focus stacking example (model car) Example 1 Model car
Combined image from 38 shots taken with Canon EOS 40D, 50mm f/1.8 lens @ f/5.6

Model car without focus stacking A single shot taken with Canon EOS 40D, 50mm f/1.8 lens @ f/11

How to take the photos using DSLR Remote Pro

What do you need?

  1. A Canon DSLR which supports live view e.g. EOS 40D, EOS 50D, EOS 60D, EOS 70D, EOS 77D, EOS 80D, EOS 5D Mark II, EOS 5D Mark III, EOS 5D Mark IV, EOS 5DS R, EOS 5DS, EOS 6D Mark II, EOS 6D, EOS 7D Mark II, EOS 7D, EOS 200D/Rebel SL2, EOS 100D/Rebel SL1, EOS 800D/Rebel T7i, EOS 760D/Rebel T6s, EOS 750D/Rebel T6i, EOS 700D/Rebel T5i, EOS 650D/Rebel T4i, EOS 600D/Rebel T3i, EOS 550D/Rebel T2i, EOS 500D/Rebel T1i, EOS 450D/Rebel XSi, EOS 1300D/Rebel T6, EOS 1200D/Rebel T5, EOS 1100D/Rebel T3, EOS 1000D/Rebel XS, EOS-1Ds Mark III, EOS-1D Mark IV, EOS-1D Mark III, EOS-1D C, EOS-1D X Mark II or EOS-1D X
  2. A copy of DSLR Remote Pro (you can use the free trial version for 15-days) and a USB cable connecting your camera to your computer
  3. A sturdy tripod to hold the camera steady while taking the sequence
  4. AutoHotKey - a free scripting tool which can be downloaded from http://www.autohotkey.com
  5. focus_stacking.ahk - an AutoHotKey script for taking the photos and adjusting the focus. This can be found in the DSLR Remote Pro installation folder
  6. CombineZM - a free program for combining the images (download CombineZM)

First download and install the software if it isn't already installed on your PC: DSLR Remote Pro, AutoHotKey and CombineZM. Then download the focus_stacking.zip file, unzip it and copy the focus_stacking.ahk to somewhere convenient.

Next mount the camera on the tripod, select manual exposure mode and compose the shot, roughly focusing the lens on the subject. Then connect the camera to your PC using the USB cable and run DSLR Remote Pro. Activate the live view on the PC by typing Ctrl+L and use the mouse wheel or cursor keys focus the lens on the nearest part of the subject. Finally, double click on the focus_stacking.ahk file to run the script to take the photos. DSLR Remote Pro's live view window will appear and a sequence of shots with different focus settings will be taken. Please don't touch you computer while the sequence is being taken otherwise it may not work properly.

By default the focus_stacking.ahk script will take 15 images. This can be changed either by editing the script using a text editor or by running the script from the Windows Command Prompt and specifying the number of images on the command line e.g.
C:\> focus_stacking.ahk 15

Focus stacking example (flower) Example 2 Flower
Combined image from 30 shots taken with Canon EOS 40D, 90mm macro lens @ f/4

Flower without focus stacking A single shot taken with Canon EOS 40D, 90mm macro lens @ f/8

Combining the images (or focus stack)

Run CombineZM and select "New" from the "File" menu. Locate the folder containing the images taken earlier, select all the images in the file open dialog and click "Open". CombineZM will load the images (this may take a few seconds). Then select "Do Stack" from the "Macro" menu to combine the image (this may take a few minutes). When it has finished the combined image will be displayed in CombineZM's main window. The image can be saved by selecting "Save Frame/Picture As" from the "File" menu.

Focus stacking example (model train) Example 3 Model train (OO scale)
Combined image from 35 shots taken with Canon EOS 40D, 90mm macro lens @ f/5

Model train without focus stacking A single shot taken with Canon EOS 40D, 90mm macro lens @ f/8