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Focus Like a Pro: Luminar NEO for Photographers

by | Feb 21, 2024 | Focus stacking, Luminar NEO, Photo Software Reviews, Photography techniques | 0 comments

Focus Like A Pro with Focus Stacking – Luminar NEO tested

Focus stacking is a technique used by photographers to achieve a greater depth of field in their images. This method involves taking multiple photos of the same scene, each with a different focus point, and then combining them into a single image with sharpness throughout. I tested Luminar NEO, photo editing software that has a dedicated focus stacking tool, and here’s what I found.

What is Focus Stacking?

Focus stacking is extremely useful in macro, landscape, and product photography, where you want front-to-back sharpness. It’s a simple concept: you take up to 100 shots at different focus distances and then blend the sharp parts of each photo together in software to create one image that is in focus from the nearest point to the furthest point.

This technique has these limitations:

  • The scene needs to be static to achieve the best results. If something moves in the scene between shots, the focus stacking software may not accurately focus that element.
  • A steady tripod is essential. Don’t even think about hand holding for this technique.
  • Determining the right number of shots to take requires trial and error.

If your camera doesn’t support automatic focus stacking, you’ll have to adjust the focus between frames. That is intricate, time consuming, and error prone.

How to Perform Focus Stacking in Luminar NEO

Luminar NEO has recently introduced a focus stacking AI module. Here’s how I tested it:

  1. I set up a scene using a book as the subject, with the camera on a sturdy tripod.
  2. Using my trusty 45mm Tilt-Shift lens at F/11, I took a control shot. The tilt feature of the lens enabled me to get the book in perfect focus with a single shot.
  3. I set up a Canon EOS M6 MKII with Canon’s EF 50MM F/1.4 USM lens at F/11, using the EF lens adaptor to make it fit the camera.
  4. I programmed the M6 to use its focus stacking feature with the minimum focus step between each shot. After experimenting, I found that nine images were enough to cover the full focus range.
  5. I then processed the images, using DXO Photo Lab 7, outputting a 16-bit TIF file for each image. I did this to ensure I was testing just Luminar’s and Affinity’s focus stacking modules. I didn’t want differences in how they process RAW photos (which they both do well) to affect the outcome. Also, nothing beats DXO’s basic RAW converter for quality…
  6. I processed the resulting TIFF files both in Luminar NEO and Affinity Photo 2. Both programs feature focus stacking and I have used Affinity for this in the past, with good results.
    1. In Affinity, select File->Focus stack
    2. In Luminar, drag the images to be stacked from its browser to the Focus Stacking module
    3. Let the software do its stuff, which takes several minutes
  7. I ended up with three accurately focused images.
    1. The Tilt-Shift lens has perfect focus from one image
    2. Luminar produced its result from the nine images
    3. Affinity produced its result from the nine images

The results

The Tilt-Shift lens produced an excellent result, which is not surprising.

Affinity produced a good result, as expected.

Luminar NEO’s result blew me away. Look at the comparison images! It is significantly sharper than Affinity’s. I wasn’t expecting that. Luminar’s result exceeds the sharpness of the Tilt-Shift lens, which may be influenced by two factors: the EF 50MM f/1.4 USM lens is an exceptionally sharp optic, and DXO has a lens softness correction module for it, but not for the Tilt-Shift lens. But the level of extra sharpness in Lumina’s result makes me think that its superior AI processing is the main reason for the excellence of the result.

Luminar doesn’t offer post-stacking adjustments. For this stack, it did not need any.

Conclusion

This one is a simple decision. Luminar NEO produced a perfect result. You can’t beat that. This application has become my preferred choice for focus stacking.

Pros and Cons of Using Luminar NEO for Focus Stacking

Pros:

  • Ease of use: As easy to use as possible
  • Results: Perfect results
  • It’s more than a focus stacker! You also own Luminar, with its excellent image processing.

Cons:

  • Time-Consuming: It takes time to set up and execute focus stacking. But this is always the case, whatever software you use.

Focus stacking is not for everyone, of course. If you shoot macro or product shots, it is the best way to get sharpness throughout the image. The alternative is to spend £2,000/$2,000 or more on a tilt-shift lens.

Focus stacking has a particular application for landscape photographers. Of course, using a wide-angle lens and stopping down to f/8 or f/11 usually yields sufficient depth of field. But wide-angle lenses can cause the background to look too remote and even tiny. However, switching to a standard or short telephoto would prevent getting the desired edge-to-edge sharpness, because of insufficient depth of field. Focus stacking is an ideal option in these circumstances. Unlike macro photography, where the depth of field is so small that 50 or more images may need stacking, I have found three or four images suffices to make a usable focus stack.

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