Serif Affinity Photo (AP from now on) is marketed as a genuine and very inexpensive Photoshop alternative. My initial look at it was very positive so I thought I’d present it with a focus stacking challenge to see how it measured up in actual use. Focus stacking is a technique of taking the same scene several times with identical camera settings except that the point of ficus is different. Macro photographers use this technique to expand depth of field. Landscape photographers, particularly when using a telephoto lens, also benefit from this technique.
I selected a small plant and used the diminutive Canon ef-m 28MM macro about 24mm away from the subject. At F8, this yields a depth of field of just a few millimetres. I then took six images, each focused slightly further into the scene:
As you can see, a small part of each image is in focus but the rest is not. Will focus stacking be able to make a completely sharp image?
I then opened up AP and selected File->New Focus Merge. In the popup window I then added the six images. These were all 140MB 16bit TIFF images, thereby also testing AP’s handling of large files.
After pressing OK, I left AP to it – no further input from me was needed. AP went through several focus stacking stages, showing its progress along the way with a series of image masks and a progress bar. Whilst not necessary, there do provide the assurance that it is actually doing something…
I was very impressed with the focus stacking results – this was exactly what I was hoping for – no mistakes at all. After a bit of post processing the final result was this:
What really impressed me was the ease with which I achieved this. It can be done in Photoshop, but not so simply.
For this set of images, at least, Affinity Photo rocks! The only drawback is that the final result is a layer-free image. You cannot (easily) edit the result if any mistakes have been made. If you use Photoshop you are able to edit the layer masks, although this is far easier said than done. Of course, the quality of the original images plays a large part in this – focus stacking can only be successful if the stack of images is sufficient to render a perfect image.
CORRECTION! The layers can be edited. See this YouTube video for details…
In addition, there is absolutely nothing stopping you from opening some of the source images and placing them in layers over the resulting image and creating layer masks of your own to edit. That would be very fiddly, but not impossible.
I would say AP is as good, or better, than Photoshop for focus stacking. That alone makes it worth purchasing. Dedicated Focus Stacking products, such as Helicon Focus, do provide more options, especially when it comes to tweaking the result. However those options come at a cost money wise and AP can do far more than such tools.
The more I use Affinity Photo the more I like it.