Olympus introduced a very interesting feature to its flagship camera OM-D EM-1 with the Firmware-update 4.0: Focus stacking. This feature allows you to take sharp pictures of a whole subject with the smooth background of a big aperture. Normally the depth of field of an image taken at F 2.8 is very shallow. Therefore you have to stop down to a higher aperture to get it sharp which in turn also results in a sharper background. I managed to get an OM-D EM-1 for some hours (thanks to Photostore Werkgarner) and took a look at this feature – and I can say, that I am impressed!
Focus Stacking of the OM-D EM-1 – How it works
First of all, I recommend the use of a tripod to avoid any misalignment of the pictures. You also have to be aware that the picture you will get is a bit magnified. So keep that in mind when you compose your shot.
Setting up the feature is simple: Go to the second camera menu, select “on” in the bracketing menu and press the right button on the control pad to get deeper into the menu. There you find the new menu option focus bracketing. Activate it and enter per right button the menu to set up the focus bracketing. You have two options: Focus stacking “on” and “off”. When the stacking is set to “off”, you are in the focus bracketing mode where you can set up how many shots the camera should take (1 to 999). In bracketing mode you have to merge the images yourself with appropriate software (I will provide a focus bracketing sample after the focus stacking samples).
Now to the interesting part: Activate focus stacking. Then you can set the focus difference from 1 (short) to 10 (wide). The higher the number, the bigger the image you want to be in focus can be. When all is set up confirm everything with the ok button on the control pad until you are in the first menu. Then half press the shutter to get out of the menu, set the focus point and press the shutter. The camera will now make 8 pictures with different focus settings (front to the back, front = your focus point) completely silent with the electronic shutter.
At the time i tested it, focus stacking was only possible with the Olympus 12-40 F2.8 Pro, Olympus 40-150 F2.8 Pro and Olympus 60 F2.8 macro.
Normal shot and focus stacking shot with the Olympus 60mm Macro @ F2.8
Here I want to show you sequences of eight pictures and the final picture.
Focus bracketing sample
And here you find a sample of focus bracketing with 12 pictures merged together in Helicon Focus 6 demo version.
It is really impressing how Olympus developed their OM-D line. Every firmware update enhances the cameras. With focus stacking (and bracketing), Olympus adds a really useful new feature for all macro photographers. It makes creating stunning detail shots very easy with the subject totally in focus in combination with a nice blurry F2.8 background. Sadly, only the OM-D EM-1 gets this feature, but I hope Olympus will add it to other cameras in the future. The micro four thirds system was always a very good system for macro and with the EM-1 this feature gets even better!
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