Rhododendron Blooms, Hand Held Focus Stacking
Photo Gear,  Software

Handheld Focus Stacking on the Olympus OM-D E-M1X

Olympus OM-D; and some Olympus PEN cameras have the ability to do in camera focus stacking. With its 7 stops of image stabilization the Olympus OM-D E-M1X, has the ability to make handheld focus stacking in camera a reality.

First some definitions of focus stacking and focus bracketing used by Olympus.

Focus Bracketing – Takes multiple images at different focus distances.  Focus stacking will allow you to take up to 999 images.

Focus Stacking – Combines the multiple images taking during focus bracketing and combines them into a single stacked image in camera.  Focus stacking will allow you to take up to 15 images.

Focus stacking is located in Shooting Menu 2 –>Bracketing –> Focus Bracketing.  You can choose Focus Bracketing or Focus Stacking in the menu item.  If you choose Focus Stacking on, the computer will stack the images.  If you choose Focus Stacking Off, you will get the selections for Focus Bracketing and will have to merge the images yourself using Photoshop or other software.

With focus stacking, you can take up to 15 shots with a focus differential from 1 to 10 with 10 having the biggest difference in the focus distance between shots.

Focus stacking will output a single stacked jpeg image plus all of the images taken during focus bracketing.  If the camera software cannot successfully stack the images, it will give you an error and still write the source files to the SD card in case you want to stack them manually.

In my tests, handheld focus stacking wasn’t success every time, but the camera had a pretty good success rate. The most full proof method for in camera focus stacking is on a tripod. However you may not always have a tripod with you, and would like to stack macro images.  It doesn’t hurt to try, you still get all the individual images written to the SD cards.

Hand Held In Camera Focus Stacking Tips

  • If you can, make sure you are in a brightly lit area.  In a dimly lit area, it difficult to focus stack without a tripod even with the image stabilization of the Olympus OM-D E-M1X.
  • Place your focus point on the middle part of the subject. Focus Stacking will take images on both sides of that middle point.
  • Don’t open up your aperture all the way to f/1.8 or f/2.8.  Try around f/3.2 or f/4 to start.
  • For flatter subjects, start with a differential of around 2.  For subjects with more depth, a 4 or 5 might be a good starting point.

Written by Martin Belan

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Long Exposure Photography Using the Olympus OM-D E-M1
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is now my Go To Camera for Landscape Photography


  • Tony Enticknap

    An observation, if I may Martin, but the in-camera focus stacking facility takes the initial shot at the chosen focus point and then takes the remaining shots half in front and half behind. Consequently, it’s best to focus around 40% into your subject for best results (particularly on insects) rather than “on part of the subject that is closest to the lens”.

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