Focus Stacking

When I saw Frank's challenge keyword, stack, I immediately thought of the focus bracketing feature of the Fuji X-T2. In macro and close-up photography, obtaining sharp results right across the image frame is challenging. Still, focus bracketing, followed by photo stacking and blending in post-production, can produce good results, with subject areas in focus.

When I bought my pre-owned Fuji X-T2 two years ago, I had just enough budget for the body and one lens, the Fujinon XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR. I wanted a macro lens, but the Fujinon XF60mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro and Fujinon XF80mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro lenses are expensive. I considered buying an extension tube for macro photography as I did with my Nikon D5100, but I remembered the challenges of doing focus stacking with the extension tubes. Last August, after I rented the XF80mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro, I decided it was best to save my money and budget for a [native Fujinon macro lens.]

With the 1.52 crop-factor of the APS-C sensors of Fujifilm X-series cameras, the Fujinon XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR has a focal length of around 24-85mm (in terms of a 35mm camera), which is similar to the well-known" "standard" zoom lenses with a 24-70mm focal range. The XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR has a minimum focus distance of roughly 30cm. The focus distance isn't as close as the 25 cm minimum focus distance of the Fujinon XF80mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro lens but is slightly closer than the 26.7cm minimum focus distance XF60mmF2.4 R Macro. The 55mm focal length is almost the same as the 60mm focal length of the XF60mmF2.4 R Macro, so why not try to create some focus stacked close-ups using the XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR?

With a quick refresher on photo stacking in Adobe Lightroom, I picked a few objects, slapped on the L-bracket, and set up my tripod to use the light from the kitchen window. On the Fuji X-T2, the focus bracketing (FOCUS BKT) setting is in the SHOOTING SETTING -> DRIVE SETTING -> BKT SETTING menu. Scroll and select FOCUS BKT. My shooting setup was FRAMES 50, STEP 5, INTERVAL 0, with my image quality set to RAW + FINE JPEG. I put the lens aperture and focal length to 2.8 and 55mm, respectively. I set the camera was to auto-focus and auto-exposure with ISO 200.

After importing the JPEG images into Adobe Lightroom, I selected the photos I wanted to stack from the Librarmomodule's filmstrip. I clicked Photo->Edit in->Open as Layers in Photoshop to open the selected photos in Adobe Photoshop from the Lightroom menu. Once in Photoshop, I selected all the layers in the Layers panel, then clicked Edit->Auto-Align Layers in the menu. I was sure to have select Auto in the Auto-Align Layers dialogue before pressing OK. The Auto-Align Layers process took over 10 minutes on my iMac (27-inch, Late 2013, 3.5 GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7,32 GB 1600 MHz DDR3, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M 4 GB). I surmised that photo stacking the JPEG images would take even longer.

I selected all the layers in the group and then clicked Edit -> Auto-Blend Layers from the Photoshop menu. In the dialogue, I selected Stack Images and clicked OK. The process consumed an additional 10 minutes. When completed, I had my focus-stacked image shown as a layer mask. The resultant image was too large to save back to Lightroom, so I flattened the layers into one.

What do you think of the results? Have you used focus stacking in your macro photography?


Sunday February 21, 2021 | FujiFilm X-T2 | XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR @ 55 mm | f/2.8 | ISO 200

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  • Reply
    Susan Gutterman
    21st February 2021 at 6:23 PM

    Nice sharp focus throughout the DOF Khürt. Focus stacking also came to mind for me. I used the in-camera feature in my Olympus camera, which was a lot easier than the many steps that you went through. WordPress won't let me add a photo to my comment, but you can see my photo in this post

    • Reply
      Khürt Williams
      21st February 2021 at 6:45 PM

      Hi Susan, it’s interesting the Olympus can produce a focus-stacked image in-camera. How many images did you stack for the shell?

      • Reply
        Susan Gutterman
        21st February 2021 at 11:13 PM

        I don’t remember. I actually made that one a while back. I’m thinking fifteen.

        • Reply
          Khürt Williams
          22nd February 2021 at 9:56 AM

          It's a very cool feature. I don't think any other camera on the market makes in-camera focus stacks. I may be wrong, but I think the CPU in the cameras are not powerful enough to stack too many images.

      • Reply
        Daniel Brinneman
        24th February 2021 at 7:01 PM

        I have a similar project in the works now. I was using single exposures to create finished edits but I had shot five per item and I had moved the focus point about. I edited five photos when I realized that I could help the focus by taking this other route. I open all RAW photos in Affinity Photo with the Focus Merge menu, which gives me the option to auto align the files, correct the sharpness with specific source layers and then edit it in the Develop persona and then export it as a flattened JPG.

        • Reply
          Khürt Williams
          26th February 2021 at 9:07 AM

          Hi Daniel, we have so many capable options for doing this. Will you share your process via a blog post?

          I’m looking for a way to combine the time-consuming Auto-Align and Auto-Blend process. Or perhaps, 50 images is too much, and half that would suffice. 🤔

    • Reply
      Khürt Williams
      21st February 2021 at 7:46 PM

      Ah. I see what the Olympus does now. According to this article, the Olympus focus stacks a few images and combines them in camera to make a JPEG. However, there are limitations and the author recommends using the same process I used; focus bracketing.

      Details vs distance. The fungus below had countless stalactite-like fingers and was about 15 cm from front to back, a fair distance for a macro shot. I attempted to use the stacking feature, which only bracketed and stacked 8 photos when using the E-M1 Mark II. After some experimenting with the focus differential settings I had to compromise. I could capture the details of the front fingers but loose the details in the back, or I could capture the entire distance, but have too much interpolation that would blur out some of the fingers. Not willing to compromise I opted to use bracketing instead.

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