Handheld Focus Stacked Macro Butterfly Images

During a recent visit to the Niagara Butterfly Conservatory I concentrated on capturing some handheld focus stacked macro butterfly images, using an Olympus E-M1X and the M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro lens. This article features a selection of handheld focus stacked macro butterfly images and discusses some practical considerations when using this Olympus in-camera feature.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/2.8, 1/250, ISO-320, subject distance 265 mm, handheld focus stacking used, out-of-camera jpeg adjusted in post

When deciding to use the in-camera focus stacking feature handheld with macro subject matter, it is important to consider lighting, composition, subject movement, and photographer handheld skill level.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/2.8, 1/250, ISO-1000, subject distance 235 mm, handheld focus stacking used, out-of-camera jpeg adjusted in post

As we would expect, photographs with lighter backgrounds and those shot at lower ISO values are less affected by noise. This is important to keep in mind since the output from the Olympus in-camera focus stacking feature is a jpeg. I am hopeful that future OM-D E-M1X firmware updates will allow for the creation of a blended RAW file when the focus stacking function is used.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/5, 1/250, ISO-1600, subject distance 210 mm, handheld focus stacking used, out-of-camera jpeg adjusted in post

When photographing butterflies it is important to select individual subjects that are sitting completely motionless. Even slight movements with antennae or the proboscis can make a focus stacking image unuseable for many photographers.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/2.8, 1/250, ISO-3200, subject distance 260 mm, handheld focus stacking used, out-of-camera jpeg adjusted in post

You can see some slight antennae movement in the photograph above.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/5, 1/320, ISO-5000, subject distance 235 mm, handheld focus stacking used, out-of-camera jpeg adjusted in post

If you examine the image above you’ll see some slight artifacts on the outside edge of the proboscis. These were caused by slight movement while the focus stacking image capturing process was underway.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/5, 1/250, ISO-6400, subject distance 185 mm, handheld focus stacking used, out-of-camera jpeg adjusted in post

As photographers we all have our individual tolerance for noise. The image above was captured at ISO-6400. If you choose to use in-camera focusing stacking with your Olympus camera you will likely need to do some work in post with your jpeg output.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/5, 1/320, ISO-3200, subject distance 200 mm, handheld focus stacking used, out-of-camera jpeg adjusted in post

We can see a very unusual dual butterfly composition. I moved in very close to the subject butterflies to capture this handheld focus stacked image. Although I am very pleased with the overall composition and its visual impact, the very noticeable artifacts around the butterfly’s antennae basically kill this image. If I wouldn’t have been working on in-camera focus stacking photographs for this article, I would have chosen to capture the image above using the E-M1X’s Handheld Hi Res Mode instead.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/5, 1/320, ISO-3200, subject distance 245 mm, handheld focus stacking used, out-of-camera jpeg adjusted in post

When I captured my first image of this pair of butterflies, I was aware that the extreme close up, coupled with my level of handheld skill, may result in some artifacts appearing in the final in-camera focus stacked jpeg image. So, I pulled back a bit and captured a second image illustrated above. You can see that this change in shooting position really helped to reduce the risk of artifacts appearing.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-3200, subject distance 260 mm, handheld focus stacking used, out-of-camera jpeg adjusted in post

Even with some of the challenges presented by the final output being a jpeg file, the Olympus in-camera focus stacking function is capable of producing some quite pleasing images.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/2.8, 1/250, ISO-6400, subject distance 235 mm, handheld focus stacking used, out-of-camera jpeg adjusted in post

Individual photographers will need to decide for themselves whether using higher ISO values result in accepted image quality or not.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/250, ISO-5000, subject distance 240 mm, handheld focus stacking used, out-of-camera jpeg adjusted in post

From the perspective of simply having a lot of creative fun, the in-camera focus stacking feature is a great function with which to experiment.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/5, 1/250, ISO-2000, subject distance 200 mm, handheld focus stacking used, out-of-camera jpeg adjusted in post

Every photographer makes decisions about how they want to create a photograph and their related camera settings. These are based on their specific photographic objectives, image quality expectations and their personal skill set. The Olympus in-camera focus stacking feature is another innovative tool that they have at their disposal.

Technical Note:
Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/8, 1/250, ISO-4000, subject distance 280 mm, handheld focus stacking used, out-of-camera jpeg adjusted in post

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