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  • Ed Dozier

Make a 3D Focus Stack Movie

Helicon Focus is of course known for its software for stacking photos. How about making a movie of a stack? Huh?

This is really cool. And pretty easy.

First things first. I use my Nikon D850 to get photos to combine into a focus stack by using its “focus shift shooting” feature. I use this mostly for macro photography, using my Micro Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 AF-S lens.

I grew tired of always setting up a tripod for focus-stack shooting. I discovered that I could make a rig that made shooting these stacks pretty easy and “good enough”. My focus-stacking software is good at aligning my photos, and it automatically corrects for any of my “wiggle” when shooting.

A typical video made from a focus stack

Helicon Focus has found a way to combine the photo slice depth information into a 3D model, and then convert it into an MP4 movie.

What’s so cool is that the video has everything in focus all the time. Any conventional video would have paper-thin focus. I could imagine doctors, for instance, finding it really valuable to have videos of small structures totally in focus. Seeing something from even slightly different angles is much more informative than a single shot.

Home made camera gun stock

The rig shown above lets me get pretty steady macro focus stacks by leaning against stuff or pivoting on its little monopod. The D850 can very rapidly do a bunch of focus-shifted shots, which limits the shot-to-shot wiggle.

There are lots of examples on the web to show you how to make or obtain a rifle stock to hold your camera.

Neewer LED ring light on Micro Nikkor 105mm

If the light gets too dim, I have an LED ring light powered by AA batteries that screws onto my lens filter threads. It’s very portable and pretty light (no pun intended). I did have to modify this light by painting its inner diameter with black paint to control glare.

Once I get the (raw-format) shots, I just mouse-drag them into Helicon Focus to make a focus stack. When I click on the “Saving” tab, there’s an option to “Export 3D model”.

Use “Export 3D model”

Helicon 3D Viewer

The “Export 3D model” starts up the Helicon 3D Viewer. You get to see a movie of your focus stack!

You can alter things like the rotation angle, which lets you view it from a different angle. You can also change lighting and zoom in.

I select “Save video”, and I can save this movie in my desired resolution and fps. The number of rotations around your subject can also be configured. The movie format is H.264-MP4.

I think that you’ll prefer to have a black background for your subject, or else zoom in prior to saving the movie.

The finished video

A video after using the Helicon zoom feature



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