5+ best software for focus stacking and macro editing

Tashreef Shareef
by Tashreef Shareef
Windows & Software Expert
Tashreef Shareef is a software developer turned tech writer. He discovered his interest in technology after reading a tech magazine accidentally. Now he writes about everything tech from Windows to iOS and streaming services... Read more
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  • Focus stacking software is ideal for combining different images in order to create a sharp photo.
  • They are also called photo stacking software because the effect is achieved by superimposing the images.
  • The best focus stacking software on our list comes from Adobe, a great tool for advanced users.
  • You should check all the software from our selection as you will also find free focus stacking software.
 
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Every photographer knows the importance of an image that shows all the details of a captured scene. This becomes particularly difficult while taking close-range shots (macro photography) using a camera.

If you have come across some impossible looking macro photography work for product placement, you would be wondering how did it happen?

This particular trick is called Focus Stacking. Focus Stacking is a process of using multiple images of the same object with different focus points and merging them into one single image to get an extremely sharp image.

The concept of Focus Stacking is like magic in the hands of a photographer, and Focus Stacking software is the wand that you need to get it done.

Now if you are looking around for the best wand a.k.a. Focus Stacking software, we have a made the search easier for you.

In this article, we take a look at the best free and paid software for focus stacking to help you showcase every inch of your image in details to your audience.


What is the best software for focus stacking?

inPixio Photo Studio Pro 11

inPixio is not only a great tool for focus stacking but it also has an impressive array of features that you only meet in more expensive software out there.

For instance, if you want to remove any element from a photo like an object or a person, you can do that by roughly highlighting that element in the picture and clicking a button.

You don’t need to have any advanced editing skills even for apparently complicated procedures like removing some unwanted imperfections on a portrait or restoring an old photo.

It’s also an easy job to make cutouts in any photo without having to be very precise on the edges. The buit-in special algorithms will automatically follow the right edge even if you didn’t do it exactly.

Actually, all the procedures on inPixio are extremely simple to do and the user interface makes that the software even easier to master.

Photo Studio Pro 11

Photo Studio Pro 11

Do your photo stacking and any other photo editing in just a few clicks by using this awesome tool.

Adobe Photoshop

Photoshop CC 2020 - Focus stacking software

Adobe Photoshop is a very powerful app and one of the best stacking software of the moment. It can be used in a variety of fields, from game-character designs to car models creations, and beyond.

Its versatility is well known across the globe, and it also allows you to create beautifully deep and clear Focus Stacking images.

The incredibly diverse and powerful tools contained in this software will allow people with minimal image editing skills to produce incredible results.

The best feature that can be applied in Focus Stacking is the ability to control the depth of the blur for the underling images, and also customize how the layering is performed.

Another great characteristic is the raster-based image editing and splicing that allows you to produce professional results.

In addition, with this software, you can take full advantage of an easy to use and customizable interface that allows the fast-changing of tools and properties.

You’ll love the wide range of presets that include patterns, swatches, layers, and styles. This feature will definitely help you enhance your visual product.

The Transform Warp feature gives you the power to easily divide images with a customizable grid. With the Content-Aware Fill feature the process of cutting and splicing images is simplified, thus saving you more time.

With Adobe you get an almost unlimited amount of photo effects and filters, so you should definitely check out this tool.

Adobe Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop

Make the bet of your photography process with a prolific software that helps you create amazing images!

Free trialVisit website

CombineZP

CombineZP is free software that is designed to manage, process and organize digital images that are identical in dimension.

One interesting bit about CombineZP is that it was originally developed to be used with Microscopes; however, the software is reasonably capable of handling focus stacking as well.

The software is fairly easy to use for basic focus stacking task. However, for advanced users, you can tweak the advanced menu to get more out of the software.

CombineZP is easy for basic stuff and may feel daunting for some advanced uses; however, there are a good number of tutorials from the likes of Lord V explaining the use of CombineZP.

After launching CombineZP, you either jump into the editing board and start stacking your images or reach through the instructions for different use cases provided in the software.

CombineZP does not offer too many options like its premium counterparts, but it is an excellent tool for increasing Depth-of-field in your macro shots and if you don’t want to spend a fortune buying a premium software.

Download CombineZP


PICOLAY

PICOLAY is another freeware portable software for focus stacking. Similar to CombineZP, PICOLAY was also developed to work with the microscope.

However, the software is capable of image processing, slide shows, animated gif images, focus stacking, etc.

PICOLAY can be installed on your hard drive or USB flash drive and use it on any computer as it does not require installation. If you prefer installation, PICOLAY also offers an installer on the official website.

Using the software does require some getting used to – although there aren’t too many features to explore, it still warrants some time to give good results.

You can add multiple images of the same size and dimension from the same folder.

To edit the images, you can use Enhance feature to tweak light and color contrast, color saturation, rotate and flip and other properties of an image.

You can also use the Mouse tools that offer Paintbrush, blur, clean background, clone and more tools for image enhancement.

After loading the images, run the program to get a stacked image. The final result can be saved in multiple formats including bitmap, jpeg, png, and gif format.

Download Picolay


Helicon Focus

Helicon Focus is a focus stacking software that allows you to create eye-catching images using multiple images taken at different focus distances and stacking them together.

Helicon Focus is a premium tool and comes in 3 versions. You can use the demo version of the tool for evaluation.  Being a premium tool, Helicon Focus offers tons of features for pro users.

The latest version of the software comes with Run Benchmark tool that allows you to evaluate your hardware performance and Folder Monitor features to assess and process the stack automatically.

The software processes the images with 16-bit precision to preserve all the hues and details offering an excellent rendition of colors.

It is also capable of handling RAW files and offers adjustable development tools along with built-in and manufacturer’s codec to satisfy even the most demanding users.

Some of the notable features offered by Helicon Focus include RAW-in-DNG out mode, smart retouching, helping grid, scientific scale to add a scale bar to the resulting, image and more.

Helicon Focus is capable of rendering hundreds of high-resolution images to create a stack without requiring top of the line hardware for image processing.

Professional workflow tools in the software allow you to split and enqueue stacks.

Use the command line to streamline workflow, smooth integration with Lightroom, and a bunch of add-ons including Helicon remote for capturing images remotely.

Helicon 3D viewer helps in the reconstruction of the natural 3D view of the short subject and the ability to create a micro panorama using short captured with your microscope or DSLR and create a panorama image.

Helicon Focus offers a professional grade tool with all the nuts and bolts allowing the photographer to take their focus stacking game a stack higher.

However, Helicon Focus offers more than one version of the tool, and for average users, the Lite version is more than enough.

Helicon

Helicon

Enhance your creative process with an editing software that challenges your imagination!

Free trialVisit website

Zerene Stacker

Zerene Stacker is a premium focus stacking software designed for macro photography to create rich-in-detail images using the focus stacking technique.

As mentioned earlier, Zerene Stacker is a premium product and comes in four versions.

The cheapest of all is the student version, and the license is valid until your graduate from the accredited institute so you need to purchase the personal or pro version to continue the use.

Other versions are directed at users who do casual photography or professionals using it for commercial use.  All the license except Student edition is perpetual and comes with unlimited free upgrades.

Zerene Stacker is optimized to create high-quality images in less time using the Focus Stacking technique.

It also offers unlimited stack dept from 2 to 1000 frames, can handle large images up to 200 megapixels, full control of all stacking parameters, automatic alignment and scale correction, and advanced algorithms.

For Lightroom users, Zerene Stacker offers an optional Lightroom plugin making the integration process simpler.

You can also generate stereo and 3D rocking animations from a single stack of images irrespective of the difficulty of the subjects.

From Hasselblad to Nikon, the software is compatible with images taken on all kind of digital cameras. It also supports multiple methods of focusing including camera and subject movements.

It is also a multiple-platform software, so you can use it on Windows, MacOS and Linux computers.

While the software is fully compatible with both 32-bit and 64-bit machines, the 32-bit is limited by the resources and won’t be able to take full advantage of the software.

Download Zerene Stacker


Affinity Photo

Affinity Photos is a premium image editing software that also comes with the Focus Stacking feature. When compared to Photoshop, the process of focus stacking feels a lot easier on Affinity Photos.

To use the focus stacking feature, open Affinity Photos, click on File > New Focus Merge. Now select all the images that you want to use and click OK.

That’s it. The software will do the rest of the job and automatically complete the process of focus stacking using all the given images while showing its progress on the screen.

If the final results have any error, you can edit the layers to correct the mistakes. Affinity Photo does an excellent job of focus stacking provided that the images are of sufficient quality to create a perfect stack.

In addition, Affinity Photos also offers features like Raw editing, HDR merge, Panorama stitching, professional retouching, batch processing, PSD editing, digital painting, 360-degree image editing, and more.

Affinity Photos is a multi-purpose premium image editing software with a built-in Focus stacking feature and is an excellent choice if you want a software with straightforward focus stacking elements.

Download Affinity Photo


When you want to click an image of a product for the client, the client demands to have a focus on the complete product. This is where focus stacking comes into play.

The technique makes it easy for the photographer to deal with macro shots without having to compromise on the focus. With the right stack focusing software,  the process becomes much easier.

All the software listed in this article support focus stacking. If you are looking for free software, PICOLAY and CombineZP offer just enough to get you started and also get great results when you are ready to go through the learning curve.

While the premium options like Helicon Focus and Zerene Stacker are industry standard when it comes to stack focusing, Affinity Photos offers a straightforward one-click solution to create stunning images from focus stacking.

We’d like to hear more from you on this subject so drop us a comment in the comment section below.

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Avatar Christian Eggenberger

Can you tell me which of the mentioned software runs on Linux and provides APIs for example to Phython?

Avatar John Simpson

Hello. I appreciate the comments you made about Combine ZP. One question does come to mind: Does CombineZP work with .orf files? Thank you.

Avatar Mauro Gonzaga

Does this focus stacking software process files in RAW format?

Avatar A photographer

…”the final result of your focus stacking operation will not only have a sharper focus, but a higher resolution, and a reduced noise level, as well”… — none of the statements are true:
• You will not have sharper focus. You will have a larger depth-of-field
• There is no way to increase the resolution via focus stacking
• Focus stacking doesn’t reduce the noise. Focus stacking isn’t a noise reduction process.