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  • Andrew JK Tan

Nikon D850 - First experience with Focus Shift (Focus Stacking)

This is the first time Nikon has introduced this feature and it is in the Nikon D850 !!

I had my first experience using it today at Gardens By The Bay. Basically this feature enables the camera to capture individual images by shifting focus points automatically. The images can be then saved in a separate folder (user defined) which can then be stacked during post processing.

Once the Focus Shift setup is done, all the photographer needs to do is to activate start and the camera will automatically focus shift and capture the number of images specified.

The challenge for the photographer though is determining how many images to capture for a specific scene (per the manual a max. of 300 images can be captured) and the amount of shift (focus step width) which is basically a scale from 1 to 10.

In addition , the effectiveness of the focus shift settings would depend on the lens aperture and also the focal length of the lens used. There is no reference available so far, so trial & error is the name of the game for now.

The first image I am going to share is a day time image of the Dragon Fly lanterns decorating the Dragonfly bridge at Gardens By The Bay.

The distances of the subjects involved are as follows :

- the tail of the nearest Dragonfly lantern is approx. 6 feet

- the furthest Dragonfly lantern is about 20 feet away

My Focus Shift settings were as follows:

- No of shots : 8

- Focus step width : 5

- Interval until next shot : 0 seconds

- Exposure smoothing : OFF

Camera setup for 1st Image

- lens used Nikkor 60mm f2.8 micro

- Aperture set to f5.6 , I chose f5.6 because the 60mm performs best at f5.6/f8.0

Resulting image after stacking 7 ot the 8 images captured using Photoshop's Auto Align

The following images show screenshots of selected areas at 200% magnification to show the sharpness quality after stacking (do remember the 7 images used were captured at f5.6)

This screenshot of the furthest lantern is tack sharp after stacking !!!

The final version after stacking shows that the goal of getting all the dragonfly lanterns tack sharp were achieved.

This next series of images show the same scene being captured but this time it is from a single capture at an aperture of f20 !!!

From this series of images , you can clearly see that eventhough capturing the scene at an aperture of f20 does give much more Depth Of Field (DOF) but diffraction is clearly impacting the crispness and sharpness of the image. The stacked image is very much better than the one shot at f20 !!

This second example is a night time capture of lighted lanterns

My Focus Shift settings for this 2nd shotwere as follows:

- No of shots : 5 (requires lesser shots as wide angles have more DOF for a given f setting)

- Focus step width : 5

- Interval until next shot : 0 seconds

- Exposure smoothing : OFF

Camera setup for 2nd Image

- lens used Nikkor 20mm f1.8

- Aperture set to f5.6 , I chose f5.6 again because the 20mm performs best at f5.6/f8.0

- camera setup on tripod

This 2nd image was only created by stacking 3 images.

The same 2nd image but this time captured using an aperture of f20 !!

Focus Shift 1st Experience Summary

1. Not difficult to use but trial & error involved in the setting up process

2. In both scenarios, they clearly show that the stacked images wins hands down !! In both examples, the final stacked images were much crisper and sharper front to back.

3. The photographer now is able to take advantage of the lens performance sweet spot and still get the depth of field desired by not resorting to large f-stop numbers (f16 and larger) eliminating diffraction issues.

4. I have read from other reviews that Nikon's focus shift feature works even when the D850 is paired with other 3rd party lenses.

Next Steps

1. will continue to experiment with Focus Stacking on more varied scenarios from landscapes to macro subjects.

2. will try if possible to compile a "best" practice table on Focus Shift settings vs. lens focal length used vs. aperture vs. subject matter.

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