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What we can do with Helicon Focus

Helicon Focus is clever pieces of software, that is available in a number of versions. Its principle use is in combining together images, I call them slices, into a stack and taking the sharpest parts out of each.

All versions, including the lite version, will allow you to stack up an unlimited number of slices, and combine these to produce an image sharp through its full range. You can use just the default settings or have a variety of options.

The image below shows the split screen display when it has created an image where the individual slices can be viewed on the left and the result on the right.

Running through some of the displays - click on the small screen images to see a copy of the screen full size in new browser window.

Starting point , select the images to include.

You can just navigate to a directory and the images in it shows, you can then either click the images that you want included, or right click and select all.

From here you can press run or go to the parameters tab to set up more options.

Lets assume we press run.

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When 'run' has been pressed, the program runs through the images and as it does it shows a depth map so you can watch what's happening. The progress is shown very bottom right.

You can get a copy of the slices that were used for this display from the Slices - Coins page.

When this stage completes it shows the resulting picture either as a single picture or in split view, the selector at the top of the screen to the right of the size allows this to be selected.

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Having obtained a combined picture we can, if we choose, change the parameters and run it again. There are a choice of two methods A or B, and slides for radius and smoothing. To use method B, the default, you need to have taken the images in sequence either front to back or back to front. In some cases where we tried coming back to front we had halos, while going front to back we did not.

Clicking on one of the sources in the split view displays it against the generated  picture.

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Each of the images in the split view or the image in the single pane view have a small magnifying glass in the bottom of the frame and clicking on this brings up a navigation panel, allowing the image size to be increased or decreased and part of the display to be moved. In multiple views, movement in one pane is echoed by the same change in the other.

Split pane's can be two side by side or one over the other. The third option is not shown on my small screens as I did not have the window full size.

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With or without the navigation panel in use and in single or twin panes,  when you click on any picture area you get a  magnified view of that part, holding down the left and dragging it moves the magnifier. The magnifier strength is the next multiple of 100%, i.e. at 80% display its 100% at 120% display its 200%.

The right mouse button when pressed and the mouse dragged, moves the image display area, in both display modes.

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You have the option of a help panel that tells you more on the options in each case, this is toggled on and off using the button with a question mark on a blue background at the top right of the screen. The help panel can be resized.

When you put your mouse over things, you get help tips and if you click on titles and some other items on the screen it opens a help system to show details.

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The third tab, is the retouch screen. On this you can clone any area from one of the originals to the resulting image.

You may for example want to get rid of halos or some item that was not important to your shot. There are three brushes and a load of options. Have the help panel on to start.

On the bottom of the properties box you have a small tick box labelled show map. Clicking this allows you to see what area of each photo has been used in the creation of the final image.

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The text and scale tab allows, as you would expect from its name, for text and scales to be added to your picture.

In addition to writing in text in a number of lines, positioning and styling it, you can include information from the picture properties including date, time, filename, ISO, aperture, shutter exposure time, and camera.

There are a  variety of scales that can be resized, styled and moved about.

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The final tab has output options on, from saving to disk, emailing or printing, to creating 3D outputs and animations.

The 3D selection brings up another generated display with a variety of further options.

The animation display allows you to put in a few parameters and it creates a HTML page of complex JavaScript and resized images set to go with it.  You have a number of choices but typically it displays a series of images and the resulting image, with controls.

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Other features include the ability to create and use a dust map to output stacks and depth maps, and a lot more options  Within the 3D modelling and image capture from this in many formats as well as the exporting of 3D models.

I hope to come back to look at the 3D side in more detail later.

Getting your copy, licensing and stability

You start by downloading the FREE shareware version from www.heliconsoft.com/, this is a fully functional 30 day trial version.

There are versions for Windows and for the the Mac.

If you want to go on using it after the 30 day trial you need to select an option and licence. For each there are 4 available versions, Lite, Pro, ProX64 and Pro Multiprocessor, and for each of these two licensing options, an annual license and unlimited licence with free updates. Beyond this it can also be bundled with Helicon Filter and Helicon Photo safe.

The lite version on a yearly licence is $30 (about 20) a year, and includes all the facilities that most photographers are likely to routinely use. The exception that would be nice on occasions is perhaps the clone/retouching facility that is in the Pro version up.

Other additions in the Pro version include, you can export a 3D model, and a 3D viewer, batch mode processing, you can export animated stacks, this is the facility we used to show what is happening and accessible from each of our pages with sets of slices, and an ability to produce 2D micro panoramas. If you are a Mac user check out which of these additional facilities are available to you.

All versions read RAW, 8bit and 16bit TIFFs, JPEG, JPEG 2000, BMP and more and can write the output in 8bit and 16bit TIFFs, JPEG, JPEG 2000, BMP.

All versions will run as stand alone programs, and from the Pro version up can be run from within full versions of Photoshop (not Elements) as well, although in the lite version (and all others) is says it provides command line interface to call it from other applications, but I haven't yet investigated this.

The main software is stable, it hasn't crashed at all while we have been playing with it. The only problem I have had is with a full screen preview, that locks up on my computer, but I suspect this is because I have a multi screen setup with a non standard video board. Pressing the Windows start key allows me to get back enough control to shut down this mode.

How you use this to start

Before you process your own slices, take a look at the set of slices that comes with Helicon Focus when it is installed and also take a look at the sets we have provided as a part of the Depth of field magic  Project and other data sets to extend this.

To apply this to your own photography, you start by shooting a collection of slices, photographs that are identical except that they are focused at different points through the image. I suggest to start that you always do this from front to back, so focusing on the nearest part you want to be sharp, then stepping the focus back a bit at a time until you get to the most distant. With macro and near items keep the steps about the same, while with landscapes and the like you can increase the distance between with each step.  Label your images in a way that they naturally sort front to back.

Then using the program, from the first tab (files), point at the directory you have your images in, use right mouse and select all, then press run. This will produce an image with the default settings. You can refine this further and rerun, however in many cases you won't have to. All of the images shown in the projects, Coins, chips and Red Flower were created using the default settings.

Trying this will not take very long and you should have the program installed, run our exercises, and our own first slices through this and be delighted with the results in half a day at most. So you then have 29.5 more days to play with this and see what else you can do, plus decide if you want to use it longer term.

Essential links

Publishers website and where you can download a 30 day free trial version (shareware)

First project to get you started Depth of field magic.


By: Keith Park   Section: Key:
Page Ref: Helicon_Focus Topic: Photographic Techniques  Last Updated: 05/2009

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