Photoshop: Focus stacking - auto-blend layers poor quality

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  • Updated 6 months ago
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I've used Auto-Align and Auto-Blend to focus stack product images for years now, and although it was never fool-proof, the last few versions of Photoshop have done an increasingly poor job of detecting the areas of sharpest focus, particularly in images that lack a lot of detail. Where once I'd have to redo one out of ten manually, now it's more like 50/50.

I'd rather not spring for Zerene or Helicon, as my needs don't quite justify the expense. Although Affinity Photo does a much better job than PS, its batch processing capabilities are not ready for prime time (at least not intuitive enough to easily graft onto my workflow). 

I guess my question is: is this a deprecated feature? It's rare for a Photoshop function to compare so badly to the competition, and it's been like this so long I can't help wondering if it's been abandoned in favor of more popular features. Am I waiting on a fix or do I need to learn Affinity's esoteric automation protocols?
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9 Stitches Images

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Posted 8 months ago

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Pete Green, Customer Advocate

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Hi 9 Stitches Images, 

Do you have a set of images you would be able to share with us that are performing poorly with your focus stacking?

Regards
Pete
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Siegfried Wohlgemuth

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This is adobe-like: ask, ask, ask ...
Do a focus stacking job by your own and you will see the poor job of PS and compare it with helicon focus!
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9 Stitches Images

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I was just thinking of that; probably can't share something from this job, but I'll try to shoot something equivalent that responds the same. 
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Jeffrey Tranberry, Sr. Product Manager, Digital Imaging

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Sure, or if you need us to email you to get a link privately, we can arrange that, too.
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9 Stitches Images

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This is not a perfect example, but it's what I've got to hand, and it does (subtly) show the essential problem.
This is Photoshop's attempt to auto-blend three images together. Although cropped, you can still see that if auto blend is meant to poll each area and select the layer with highest contrast between adjacent pixels, it's not succeeding. At least when compared with the competitor's version which I'll include in a subsequent post. 
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9 Stitches Images

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This is Affinity Photo's merge of the same three layers. See the dust in the upper right of the rubber grip? I did confess this is a subtle example, but my problem is still evident. The absence of those dust specks in Photoshop's version, while a minor detail, indicates that however Photoshop is deciding how to break up the image is not favoring the sharpest layers for a given pixel location. Whatever fancy footwork is going on behind the scenes, it's resulting in strange artifacts, especially in fields of fairly homogenous, low-contrast texture. 

I don't think any of us would have noticed the problem in this particular image, had I not gone looking for it to prove a point, but you shouldn't need much imagination to see that it's evidence of a systemic error that could certainly produce unusable results given a different input.

Let me know if you need to see more egregious examples, or layered files.
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9 Stitches Images

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I would imagine that most people focus stacking images seriously or professionally are already using some application specific to the purpose, or in any case, few people are likely to cancel their Creative Cloud subscription over it. 
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Cristen Gillespie

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> few people are likely to cancel their Creative Cloud subscription over it. >

I agree that few people aren't likely to cancel their CC sub over this. But while many people do specialize in what they do with PS and have bought extra software—judging from the numerous other recommendations for software that I see—probably an equal number create a variety of images that are related, but don't necessarily fit into a routine. That doesn't make the work less serious.

If there's a problem with a feature such that customers think Affinity can do a better job with it than Photoshop, I expect Adobe wants to know. PS can do just about everything, but if it doesn't meet the standards of its competition, which can't do as much, people might start to wonder if what the competition can do is enough for them.

It has to be difficult for Adobe to make decisions about upgrading any given feature at any given time, but in order to stay the company to beat, it needs to listen to customers like yourself, which I think they know. I'm not saying they have to fulfill your wish list, but I am saying that you, and others, need to continue to bring quality comparisons to their attention. Without you discussing your interest in, and need for, good quality focus stacking, they might not even know there's a problem.

I read this with interest because it's exactly what I'm planning to begin doing very soon, and you know that Affinity offered the feature because there's enough interest that they judged it was worth it even in an app that is fairly new and can't offer as much as PS does. So I'm glad you brought this up. I seriously doubt this is a "deprecated" feature so much as one of many that have served well enough, with little enough complaint, that they've not been all that aware there was any noticeable lack of quality. There is simply way too much for everything to be checked out, let alone updated, without customers coming here and giving, um, feedback.<G>