A Macro Stacking Rig

by Michael Reese Much

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA


Horsefly (Click image to view larger example.)

Iíve been doing focus stacking macrophotography for about a year with different jerry-rigged setups. After working out the bugs (Har!) on various setups, I fabricated a rig that I have found makes shooting focus stacks very simple with predictable results.

The rig shown below is made up of hardware from a Honeywell Repronar slide copier, a microscope stage, bellows and extension tubes, an X-Y focusing rail, a ring flash and an Olympus E-510 DSLR.

The left side of the bed is made up of the rails and standards from a Honeywell Repronar slide copier. Occasionally they pop up on eBay from $30 to $50 USD.

The left standard is slotted to hold backgrounds such as colored paper. The right standard holds the specimen stage which is fabricated from an Olympus microscope stage. This is used to orient the specimen to the lens vertically.

Mounted on the microscope stage is a Plexiglas block holding a mini-alligator clip and with holes drilled through it at different heights to accommodate positioning the specimen. Straight and bent pins are glued to the ends of pipe cleaners and the pipe cleaners are run through the holes in the Plexiglas block. The insect specimens are super-glued to the pins and then posed before the lens.

The specimen stage is on a rack-and-pinion rail from the Repronar, so this is where the movement for the focus stack is done.

My standard setup uses a Vivitar ring flash mounted on a reversed 63 mm El-Nikkor enlarging lens that is epoxyed to a Pentax extension tube. The dome provides soft wrap-around light I am able to shoot between f8 and f11, so I get to use the sweet spot in the lens resolution and pick up some depth of field at the same time, thereby enhancing the sharpness of the stack.

The camera is mounted on an X-Y focusing rail. The left and right movement is used to center the specimen. The front to back movement is used to establish enlargement and focus. The bellows is a Pentax screw mount bellows adapted to the Olympus Four-Thirds Standard with an MF-1 OM Adapter. I supplement the bellows extension with Pentax extension tubes.

If you are going to build a rig based on my setup, here are a few money-saving tips:

Bellows, extension tubes, and enlarging lenses are a bargain at www.keh.com

The X-Y focusing rail Iím using can be found on eBay from a Chinese vendor for about $40 USD.

The camera is computer-controlled using OLYMPUS Studio 2 computer camera control. It allows me to shoot simply by pressing the ENTER key on a laptop and it automatically downloads the images to a folder, from which I can do my stack using CombineZP (Thanks, Hadley). OLYMPUS Studio also enables changing the camera settings from the computer.

I have another bellows setup I can use on this rig that has an 80mm Olympus OM-Series bellows lens. I use this for larger specimens. A great thing about this setup is that I can do the focus stack by using the focusing helical of the lens rather than moving the stage. Again, the bellows extension is expanded using OM-Series extension tubes.

Since Iíve been using this rig, the most time-consuming aspect of shooting a focus stack is prepping the specimen.

Black Ant (Click image for larger example.)

Hopefully these tips will save you some time (and Money) fabricating your own stacking setup.

Michael Reese Much is a product specialist for a major manufacturer of imaging equipment.

All comments to the author Michael Much are welcomed.

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Published in the June 2009 edition of Micscape.
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