Monday, January 7, 2008
Unlimited Sharpness With Helicon Focus
Helicon Focus gives you the ability to cheat depth-of-field limitations
TOP, LEFT: The first image of the 10 used for the Helicon Focus composite above. TOP, RIGHT: The last of the 10 captures used for the above composite. BELOW: Sunflower field horizontal. A commercial field of sunflowers photographed using a Canon EOS 5D with a Canon EF 100-400mm zoom at 330mm and set to ƒ/16 and 1⁄180 sec. Nine images were required to render the whole field in sharp focus.
Though not required, you first may want to convert your RAW files in either Lightroom or Photoshop because those converters are faster, and the files can be consistently optimized before processing them in Helicon Focus. The Helicon Focus program is a stand-alone product, and you don't need any other image-processing software to use it. The interface of the basic program is simple and easy to learn, and the pro version adds a slight amount of complexity, but nothing overwhelming.
Start with your image series, either RAW or converted, in its own folder; this makes it easier to find and select the files for a particular composite. (The procedures outlined here are for the Windows version, 4.16. The Mac version, 3.5, is slightly different.)
• Open the Helicon Focus program.
• Browse for the folder that contains the series of images you want, and click on it. The images in the folder are displayed as thumbnails and selected, but you can adjust the selection with options offered by right-clicking.
• Left-click on Run to begin merging the images. Two windows appear. The left shows each image in the series as it's being processed and the right displays the composite as it's being created.
• Parameters can be adjusted for radius and smoothing, but the default settings usually give excellent results.
• If you've ordered the pro version, a retouching option is provided. You can copy a source to correct any slight errors, using an adjustable brush to transfer the information from one of the files in the image series to the composite. There's also a cloning option, but this is better accomplished in Photoshop.
• All that's left is to save the finished image. The file size of the composite will equal only one of the original files. In both the basic and pro versions, an unlimited number of images can be processed in a single series, and the program works equally well with captures from simple and high-resolution cameras. It reads RAW, 8-bit and 16-bit TIFF and JPEG files. In version 4.0+ (Windows), you can add text and a scale bar to the image, especially useful in scientific applications.
A fully functional 30-day free trial of Helicon Focus is available at www.heliconsoft.com. The basic version, Helicon Focus Lite, can be purchased for $115, or a one-year license is available for $30. Purchase the advanced version, Helicon Focus Pro, for $250 or get a one-year license for $70.
George D. Lepp, a Canon Explorer of Light and PrintMaster, is a nature photographer/educator and field editor for Outdoor Photographer and PCPhoto magazines. He and his wife Kathryn, a professional writer, have collaborated on several books and articles on photography.
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