Outdoor Photography Tips 34- Stacking the Deck - Helicon FB Tube Quick Intro Review


I spend an appreciable amount of time in the field. Sifting through camera catalogs and perusing the web sites in search of new equipment is low priority for me. With that thought in mind, I can say there are exceptions. I was reading a post in the Ugly Hedgehog Photography forum, when I ran across a post that interested me. Someone mentioned a new piece of equipment that they heard about, but hadn’t seen anything produced or review written on this product.

If you have followed my recent posts, I covered the process of image stacking and one of them addressed stacking in the field in particular. It is usually a slow and difficult process to acquire the right techniques for a decent capture. It also required much time in a studio or inside environment where you can control the subject and camera parameters.

One of the difficulties to overcome in stacking is that many things in nature move and change in a constant sea of motion. Stacking, on the other hand, requires that subjects remain motionless, or as close to it for a specific duration in time while several, or over 100 images can be captured at different focus planes in the image. Stacking 20 images may take a minute or more to gather all the capture slices, during which everything must remain still. So you can imagine the difficulty you would have in the outdoors having to keep everything still for minutes at a time.

Along comes the Helicon FB extension tube. 12mm of computer-chipped sophistication that enables the photographer to capture the same series in just a few seconds time. The image in fig 1 was a 25 shot stack. Not only was this a compilation of 25 consecutive images, but it was all produced hand-held in the field. No tripod, special lights, etc.

While hiking, I noticed an adult killdeer with its chicks wandering about freely. They must have all hatched earlier that morning. As I walked past one of the juvenile birds, it froze in the grass - a safety response to any arrival of a predator. It blended quite well with its surroundings. I stooped down, focused the lens on the nearest part of the scene I wanted to have sharp, and depressed the shutter release button. In burst mode, the camera was capturing each frame and subsequent frame with the preset distance for the f-stop I was using. DONE! Five seconds later I had the stack which would have otherwise taken me a minute or two.

For $200 US, this device is well worth the investment. I think of the amount of time I would have had to take with setting up a focusing rail, making sure each step in the series was the same distance apart, etc. very slow, and very time consuming. Not the kind of time you have when shooting natural history subjects at the local pond, woodland or rock outcrop. You need to move in fast, acquire the shot, and be either into another series of captures, or moving on to another target.

How does this thing Work? Very simple. The extension tube is mounted between the camera body and the lens. I have the Nikon 105mm macro, but the tube is also compatible with Canon equipment as well. You can go to their web site and obtain a list of compatible lens/camera bodies there. You are also able to use it with an auto extension tube as well.

Once the tube is in place, the camera settings entered, the tube will automatically refocus the lens the correct distance for each subsequent shot. Switch the camera to continuous burst mode, and the lens will be focused for you in fractions of a second.

The camera body I have will shoot a burst rate of approximately 6 frames/sec. For images that are close-up and not at the macro level, your capture time will be a couple of seconds or less, instead of minutes.

I will be adding another blog soon discussing a new piece of DIY homemade equipment I have made for holding subjects still while shooting these stacks in the field. So don’t miss it.

Here are some sample shots I have taken in the past couple of days. If you want more info on the unit itself, just click HERE. They have the information you need stacked neatly for you. And always, Happy Shooting

Fig 1

Fig 2

Fig 3

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