Spring is here and cactus blooms and spring flowers are popping. Add in some down time due to the shelter at home orders, and it’s a great time to experiment with focus stacking in the micro four-thirds format.

Two camera companies that play nice

Panasonic and Olympus came into the micro four-thirds camera systems with teamwork in mind. Unlike other camera manufacturers, they share the same lens mount. Lenses from each can be used interchangeably.

Olympus E-M1X focus stacking image
Echinopsis Cactus Bloom originating from South America and seen in Arizona. Made with 20 separate exposures.

There are a few things that are brand specific that make each manufacturer’s gear work better on their own camera bodies. For example, image stabilization is better when paired and some computational features are only available with specific camera lens combinations. Ultimately, you can pick the camera and lens combo that works for you.

Macro lens focus stacking

I used the Olympus OM-D E-M1X with the Panasonic Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm f/2.8. With a macro lens you need to increase the depth of field. Even at f/22, the area of sharpness is pretty shallow. Add to that that very small apertures tend to introduce diffraction in the image captures.

The way we fix both problems is to make multiple exposures with a larger aperture. Focus is moved through a scene then blend the sharp bits together in post-production using Adobe Photoshop.

20 layers stacked in Adobe Photoshop combined to create one sharp image deep into the cactus bloom.

Camera settings

In this case I used f/10 with a movement of one focus increment and made 25 exposures. An ISO of 800 gave me a shutter speed of 1/500s. I needed the quicker shutter speed due to photographing outdoors in a slight breeze, or I would have used the native ISO of 200.

I normally recommend exposing to the right of the histogram to get the highest quality file. In the case of focus stacking I highly recommend a slight underexposure, especially if the are very smooth or lighter tones. In processing files you need contrast for best results.

The beauty of the micro four-thirds camera system is the ability to control the capture with a single button push. You can program the E-M1X to shoot your selected number of images with an incremental move in focus. The resulting images are blended in Adobe Photoshop using the Edit Mode with the Auto-Align and Auto-Blend settings.

Get out. Get shooting. Experiment and learn new techniques. I know I’m pushing skills to new levels. How about you?

Yours in Creative Photography, Bob