At £0.00 CombineZP represents excellent value but having played with Helicon Focus in the past, I wanted to get some idea of how well it worked by comparison. I had forgotten that you can get a month’s free trial of Helicon. When I remembered my experiments of a year or two ago, I guessed that it might not be possible to download another month’s free trial. However, thanks perhaps to a new portable, it turned out to be OK and I now have Helicon Focus installed. Helicon has several interesting features. For example, it is has a very user friendly interface, it is fast and makes use of the multiple core processors, and it has some options for 3D output. Playing with 3D was my primary reason for downloading it. I note that there is an option to pay $30 for a year’s use of the basic version – not too expensive then but still a lot more than CombineZP.
In use Helicon is very simple to use. You load a stack, choose one of three methods of combining the images, and press ‘render’. It quickly parses your images and produces a result which you can view side-by-side with any of the images in the stack that it was made from. You can play with ‘radius’ and ‘smoothing’ to improve the output. The opportunity to play are legion and playing is encouraged by the speed at which Helicon processes the images – a fifty stack image at full resolution (12MP) was parsed in about 60 seconds on my Dell XPS 13 core i7! There are tools that allow you to identify the image in the stack from which the pixels that make up the output come from. You can press F9 and up pops that image – copy, clone and erase brushes let you fix errors that result from the stacking process. There are options to create and export a 3D model, and produce an animated movie of the stack.
By comparison with CombineZP, Helicon is fast and easy to use. The images it produces are of much the same quality but the options to ‘fix’ them using the tools Helicon provides appear useful. The 3D output could be seen as a bit gimmicky but it is interesting and fun. The one difference I noticed in the image quality was that with CombineZP, all the methods produce an edge region that is distorted and you have to crop away – that doesn’t happen with Helicon.
Since one of my aims is to produce some 3D macro shots, I used the Helicon 3D option to create a 3D movie. Unfortunately, WordPress won’t let me embed the movie on this page but here is one picture produced using Helicon along with a Helicon parallel stereo and and a red/green anaglyph.The last two photos are an first attempt at creating a true stereo pair by creating two stacks, one head on and the other after rotating the object through a few degrees. The rotation was done by guesswork and it is a wonder that it works at all – but it does and that is encouraging where future experimentation is concerned. StereoPhotoMaker was used to produce the stereo pair and the red/green anaglyph. Like CombineZP, SPM is freeware and it too works very well. The possibility of creating stereo pairs through rotating the object makes for a cheap and simple way of creating 3D pictures with a single camera. However, it requires a means of accurately rotating something that is quite small. My plan is to create a rotating stage using a small stepping motor – microstepping should enable one to achieve a fair degree of accuracy in obtaining the required stereo angle.