Using Helicon Focus to Best Advantage: Refining your technique

Dr. Martin N. Abelson

Use a dedicated macro lens if at all possible. It will give you maximum flexibility for image framing and focusing range.

An Arca Swiss type ball head fitted with a lever type release will allow you to set up as quickly as possible. (Fig 1) The quick release lever allows you to open the clamp at right angles to the clamp body instantly, select your working distance, and immediately fix the position.

Select a long focusing plate with stop screws and an Arca Swiss clamp that can be rotated. (Fig2) shows the Kirk plate. The long focusing plate is preferable to a gear type focusing rail because it sets up much more quickly. The rotating clamp feature is valuable if switching from a camera body mount to a lens tripod collar mount. You do not need a vernier adjustment as you will change focusing levels with the lens helical, not by moving the camera body.

Once your camera is mounted on the focusing rail and the rail installed in the ball head on your tripod, you are ready to work.

Set your focusing distance at the center (forward/backward) of your focusing range for the subject. Take a meter reading at f8 and set the camera to manual with a shutter speed to match f8. (F8 is preferable to smaller lens openings because all lenses resolve better at f8 than at smaller apertures. Remember, we will build depth of field using the Helicon Focus software.)

Next, go to the top or bottom of your desired focus range and take your first exposure using a remote release. Adjust the focus (up or down) a few millimeters and repeat the process. Continue doing this until you have covered the desired focusing range.

If you require a aid which indicates how far you have rotated your lens collar between exposures when you are focusing, try looping a piece of self sticking velcro around your lens to form an indicator tab. For only occasional use, common masking tape is fine too.

Download your images and process using Helicon Focus, and Voila, your image is completed.