Focus Stacking with 100-400

This article shares some in-camera focus stacking test images captured handheld with an M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS zoom lens. I really didn’t know what to expect using my E-M1X’s in-camera focus stacking capability with this particular lens. In the past I most often used the M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 zoom or the M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro with in-camera focus stacking.

The 100-400 does have a reasonably short minimum focusing distance of 1.3 metres, so I thought this test was worth a try. These test photographs fall under the ‘let’s see what happens’ category.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 218 mm, efov 436 mm, f/6, 1/250, ISO-3200, handheld in-camera focus stacking, cropped to 4806 pixels on the width, subject distance 1.3 metres

All of the images in this article were captured during a visit to the Niagara Butterfly Conservatory at the end of May. I created photographs of both butterflies and flowers/foliage to use a variety of test subjects.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 314 mm, efov 628 mm, f/6.3, 1/250, ISO-2500, handheld in-camera focus stacking, cropped to 4877 pixels on the width, subject distance 1.8 metres

As you review the EXIF data you’ll notice that I used a shutter speed of 1/250. It is possible that I could have used a slower speed successfully.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 342 mm, efov 684 mm, f/6.3, 1/250, ISO-2500, handheld in-camera focus stacking, full frame capture, subject distance 2.3 metres

Since this was my first attempt using in-camera focusing stacking with the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm lens I gave myself a bit more latitude with shutter speed. Especially since I had my E-M1X set to 10 in-camera focus stacked images per run and I was using longer focal lengths.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 328 mm, efov 656 mm, f/6.3, 1/250, ISO-2500, handheld in-camera focus stacking, full frame capture, subject distance 2 metres

It was quite busy at the facility during the day that I did these test images. This made it more difficult to find perched butterflies. Both the children and adults were trying to encourage the butterflies to perch on their fingers. More often than not all that was accomplished was scaring the butterflies into flight.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 261 mm, efov 522 mm, f/6.1, 1/250, ISO-400, handheld in-camera focus stacking, cropped to 4585 pixels on the width, subject distance 1.9 metres

As it turned out using a longer focal length zoom lens actually came in handy during this particular visit to the Niagara Butterfly Conservatory.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/250, ISO-1250, handheld in-camera focus stacking, full frame capture, subject distance 2 metres

As is my standard practice I had the in-lens IS turned off. When using the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS zoom at a reasonable shutter speed I find that the IBIS of my E-M1X does a very good job and I don’t bother with the in-lens IS.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/5.7, 1/250, ISO-500, handheld in-camera focus stacking, full frame capture, subject distance 1.3 metres

The lighting at the Niagara Butterfly Conservatory was variable, ranging from dark shade to direct sunlight. As a result my ISO values ranged from ISO-160 all the way up to ISO-6400.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 138 mm, efov 276 mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-400, handheld in-camera focus stacking, full frame capture, subject distance 1.3 metres

Doing this kind of test provides a practical benefit. Often when I’m out with my M.Zuiko 100-400 zoom it is the only lens in my bag along with my MC-14 and MC-20 teleconverters. It is good to know that the handheld in-camera focusing stacking technology works very competently with this zoom lens as I may come across subject matter where this capability would come in handy.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 227 mm, efov 554 mm, f/6, 1/250, ISO-800, handheld in-camera focus stacking, full frame capture, subject distance 1.4 metres

For example, it is more difficult to get in close to wild butterflies that are perched, as compared to those that reside in a facility like the Niagara Butterfly Conservatory.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 169 mm, efov 338 mm, f/5.8, 1/250, ISO-2500, handheld in-camera focus stacking, full frame capture, subject distance 1.5 metres

When hiking along forest trails it is common to come across flowers, foliage or other subject matter that is in challenging light. In those situations it could be beneficial to use in-camera focus stacking to get the desired depth-of-field, rather than stopping the 100-400 mm zoom lens down, and losing some of the available light.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 285 mm, efov 570 mm, f/6.2, 1/250, ISO-160, handheld in-camera focus stacking, full frame capture, subject distance 1.3 metres

I often use handheld in-camera focus stacking with a focus differential of 3. Longer focal lengths lenses like the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm zoom provide shallower depth-of-field at any given aperture when compared to a lens like my M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro. So, I adjusted my focus differential and used 4 or 5 for the images in this article.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 269 mm, efov 538 mm, f/6.2, 1/250, ISO-1000, handheld in-camera focus stacking, full frame capture, subject distance 1.4 metres

This change in focus differential setting worked quite well for butterflies, flowers and foliage subject matter.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/250, ISO-160, handheld in-camera focus stacking, full frame capture, subject distance 1.4 metres

When using in-camera focusing stacking with your Olympus/OM System camera that has this technology it is important to remember that some of the first images in the focus stacking run will focus in front of where the auto-focus point is placed. The ratio is approximately 1/3 in front and 2/3 behind the auto focusing point position.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/250, ISO-2500, handheld in-camera focus stacking, full frame capture, subject distance 3.8 metres

It is also important to keep in mind that there are currently 14 M.Zuiko lenses that are compatible with in-camera focus stacking.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/250, ISO-1000, handheld in-camera focus stacking, full frame capture, subject distance 2.4 metres

The M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS zoom lens provides a lot of flexibility since it can be used with teleconverters. Adding the use of handheld in-camera focus stacking further extends the functionality of the lens.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/250, ISO-6400, handheld in-camera focus stacking, full frame capture, subject distance 2.3 metres

For example using handheld in-camera focus stacking could come in very handy when photographing fairly static subjects like reptiles in both wild and captive environments.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 244 mm, efov 488 mm, f/6.1, 1/250, ISO-1000, handheld in-camera focus stacking, full frame capture, subject distance 1.4 metres

When using longer focal lengths there is a temptation to stop the lens down a bit to increase depth of field. As long as the subject is static using handheld in-camera focus stacking may be a better choice.

If you own an M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS zoom and have not yet tried using in-camera focusing stacking it may be worth a try. At this point I think there are 7 Olympus/OM System camera bodies that have this technology… the new OM-1 and the six bodies noted in the linked article.

Technical Note:

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from out-of-camera jpeg files using my standard approach in post. In-camera focusing stacking was set to 10 images with a focus differential of 4 or 5. A single, small auto-focus point was used. I had my camera set for RAW + jpeg fine. Crops are noted where appropriate. Images were resized for web use. This is the 1,178 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/250, ISO-200, handheld in-camera focus stacking, full frame capture, subject distance 2.2 metres

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OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 276 mm, efov 552 mm, f/6.2, 1/250, ISO-2000, handheld in-camera focus stacking, full frame capture, subject distance 1.3 metres

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4 thoughts on “Focus Stacking with 100-400”

  1. Hello from Toronto,

    Interesting/informative article as usual, Tom. Thank you.

    Recently, I had been planning a visit to the Butterfly Conservatory. I’ll probably go on Thursday morning to avoid the summer rush of July.

    I was wondering which lens to take. I have the 100-400 lens. Thinking it would be overkill, I was inclined to take the 40-150, perhaps with the 2x teleconverter. But upon reading your post, I’ll go with the 100-400.

    In the past, I have taken advantage of photo stacking but I would never have considered it for insects. I’ll make sure I’ll try that on butterflies.

    Thank you and Happy Clicking!

    Daniel

    1. Hi Daniel,

      Which lens to use at the Niagara Butterfly Conservatory will really depend on your style of photography, the objective of your visit, the amount of cloud cover, and the crowd that you will encounter on any particular day. The crowd is hard to predict, other than during a weekend visit.

      If you decide on the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS I’d suggest that you experiment using focus stacking with that lens in advance of your trip so you can anticipate your likely level of success. Since I live in the Niagara peninsula and I’m a member of the Niagara Butterfly Conservatory I can do experimentation there at very little cost or time commitment. It would be more challenging for you travelling in from Toronto.

      As you know the lighting at the butterfly conservatory is quite variable so your testing should be done using somewhat slower shutter speeds with the 100-400. When visiting the Niagara Butterfly Conservatory I typically take two lenses… the M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 along with MC-14 and MC-20 teleconverters, as well as the M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro along with extension tubes. I find this combination of gear gives me the most overall flexibility. The M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro is usually my ‘go to’ lens for this facility… but my typical approach is to get in close to the butterflies. On occasion I’ll sometimes use this lens with the twin macro flash. The odd time I’ll pop the TG-5 in my bag as using the Microscopic feature on this camera can be good fun.

      Tom

  2. Very informative article since I now have this lens but have not made any meaningful attempts at in camera focus stacking.
    I will start with the focus differential suggestions mentioned.
    Question – how do you obtain the subject distance information?

    1. Hi Ted,

      In-camera focus stacking takes some experimentation in terms of focus differential, aperture and focus point positioning in order to get the look one wants.

      My E-M1X estimates the distance and it is shown in the EXIF data. I store my files in Windows Explorer. After I’ve finished processing a file I right click on a completed jpeg, then left click on the Properties tab, then left click on Details, and the distance is noted

      Another option is to use EXIF software. I know one of our readers had success with this software: https://exiftool.org/gui/
      I’ve never used it so I can’t provide any personal experience with it.

      Tom

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