src=" Using Focus Bracketing on the Olympus OM-D E-M10 II
In Depth

Date: 04/09/2015 | By: Heather

Using Focus Bracketing on the Olympus OM-D E-M10 II

focus bracketing e-m10 ii

Using Focus Bracketing on the Olympus OM-D E-M10 II

Update: Olympus has announced firmware updates for the E-M1 and E-M5 II that include focus bracketing and focus stacking (E-M1 only) among other things!

It seems that with every new Olympus OM-D camera, we get at least one exciting new feature. And what’s great is that these features aren’t so much “technological gimmicks” as they are a reaction to the realistic needs and interests of photographers.

The first E-M5 gave us in-body 5-axis stabilisation and Live BULB/TIME. Then came the flagship E-M1 with its efficient autofocus system that works with Zuiko 4/3 lenses. It was later followed by the E-M10 which introduced a Live Composite mode, and subsequently the E-M5 II, which gave us a High Res Shot mode.

Now, nearly three years on from the release of the original E-M5, we’ve arrived at the most recent iteration, the E-M10 II. What’s so exciting about this camera? It all comes down to one feature: the Focus Bracketing mode.

What is Focus Bracketing on the E-M10 II?

Focus stacking is a well-established technique used by photographers to extend the depth of field of their images. It involves combining multiple shots taken at different depths of field to bring a subject into focus. Although it is also used for landscapes, it is most frequently applied to macro photography because your depth of field will almost always be shallow with a macro lens, even at the slower apertures. (For an in-depth explanation about focus stacking, I suggest you visit this excellent article by Cambridge in Color.)

focus bracketing e-m10 ii
E-M10 II, 1/200, f/2.8, ISO 400
10 shots, focus differential of 10 (hand-held)
Post-processed in Helicon Focus

With the new OM-D E-M10 II, we now get a new mode called Focus Bracketing. It allows you to take up to 999 consecutive shots at focus differentials between 1 and 10 in a fast burst. The camera itself will not stack the images. Instead, you must use a stacking software such as Photoshop or Helicon Focus. (You can use either the Raw files or JPGs but keep in mind that the E-M10 II Raw files aren’t yet recognised by most post-production software programs.)

Depending on the number of subjects in the shot, your distance from the subject, how much of the subject you want to capture, and your chosen f-stop, the number of shots and the focus differential required will vary. Knowing which values to choose is really a matter of trial and error, though experimentation and experience will help you make an educated guess. Generally speaking, you’ll need more shots if:

  • there are many subjects in your composition at varying distances from the lens
  • you are very close to your subject
  • you want to cover a wide depth of field
  • you are using a fast aperture
omd em10 ii sample images
E-M10 II, 1/320, f/5.6, ISO 800
10 shots, focus differential of 5 (hand-held)
Post-processed in Helicon Focus

The focus differential is the distance between the in-focus areas in each shot. With a higher focus differential (8-10), the distance between each shot is wider, so it is more likely that you’ll end up with gaps between the in-focus areas of your image, especially if you use a very fast aperture. These will appear as out-of-focus bands in your composite image. However, you don’t want to use a focus differential that is too low (1-2) unless absolutely necessary, as you will wind up dozens of shots that barely differ from one another.

Below is an example of the difference between a focus differential of 5 and 10. (The images have not been retouched.) In the “10” example, you can clearly see some blurry banding where the focus hasn’t been captured.

The important thing is that each shot overlaps the depth of field of the previous shot. I’ve found that a focus differential of 5 tends to work well for most close-up work, but I will use lower values if there are many small details or intricate patterns in my composition that would be hard to reproduce in post production with a cloning tool.

How does the Focus Bracketing function work?

Focus bracketing, like the other bracketing options, can be activated from Shooting Menu 2. It is the final option on the list. Simply enter the menu and turn all the options to ‘on’. You will soon notice that the shooting mode has automatically shifted to High burst/silent and cannot be changed as long as focus bracketing is active.

To take a series of bracketed shots, prepare your composition and focus on the part of the subject nearest to the lens by half-pressing the shutter button. (You can also do this manually by turning the focus ring on your lens until it brings the closest element into focus.) Then, fully press the shutter button to release the burst. You’ll see a live view of the burst on the LCD screen of the E-M10 II, which will give you an idea of just how much depth of field you’ve captured.

Below you can see a quick video that demonstrates how the function works:


Since the burst is very quick, it is possible to perform focus bracketing hand-held as long as you aren’t too close to your subject and avoid moving too much during the burst. (The E-M10 II’s 5-axis in-body stabilisation, which is present on almost all OM-D cameras, also helps to this end.)

Being able to shoot a quick burst hand-held is one of the great advantages of the Focus Bracketing function compared to traditional manual focus bracketing. The latter requires you to manually choose your focus points, which isn’t just time-consuming but also hard to perform with moving subjects like insects. With Focus Bracketing, you can take dozens of images in mere seconds and capture your subject before it moves. Plus, since the focus differentials are pre-calculated in-camera, you’ll be less likely to miss a spot.

E-M10 II, 1/160, f/5.6, ISO 800
10 shots, focus differential of 5 (hand-held)
Post-processed in Helicon Focus

Keep in mind that hand-held focus bracketing can be quite challenging; it is much easier to perform if you are shooting at a distance than it is when you are very close to your subject. For example, the image of the large butterfly you see below was shot hand-held (15 shots with a focus differential of 5 and f-stop of 3.2). I wasn’t very close because I wanted the entire butterfly in my composition, and as such, my movements weren’t as amplified as they would have been at a closer distance.

focus bracketing e-m10 ii
E-M10 II, 1/200, f/3.2, ISO 400
15 shots, focus differential of 5 (hand-held)
Post-processed in Helicon Focus

For serious macro work, however, you’ll most certainly want to use a tripod. At close distances, any small movement caused by breathing or shaking will dramatically change your composition. Likewise, if you are dealing with living subjects, their movements will also be exaggerated, so you’ll want to start the burst when they are immobile.

e-m10 ii focus bracketing
E-M10 II, 1/125, f/5, ISO 200
30 shots, focus differential of 3 (tripod)
Post-processed in Helicon Focus and Photoshop

The image you see below was taken at nearly 3:1 magnification on a tripod with the M.Zuiko 60mm macro and the Raynox 250 adapter. The 65 shots with a focus differential of 4 and f-stop of 3.2 were enough to cover the depth of focus occupied by the spider, as well as some of the leaf in front of and behind it. The rest of the leaf was filled in using a cloning tool in Helicon Focus.

E-M10 II, 1/30, f/3.2, ISO 200
65 shots, focus differential of 4 (tripod)
Post-processed using Helicon Focus

Can you use flash?

Macro photographers will be glad to know that Focus Bracketing can be used with flash, albeit with a few limits. For instance, the flash must be attached to the hotshoe (no RC) and it only works in manual mode. What’s more, you cannot use a shutter speed faster than 1/20 of a second with flash. This is probably to avoid banding at faster shutter speeds since the camera uses the electronic shutter with this function. Unfortunately, this also means that it only makes sense to use Focus Bracketing and flash with static subjects.

It is also important to note that the camera will always wait for the flash lamp to recharge before taking the next shot. (The same thing happens with the E-M5 II and its High Res Shot mode.)

The function delivers a fast burst if your flash’s battery is fully charged. However, if your flash’s recycle time is slow, the amount of time you have to wait between each shot will increase.

We used our Nissin i40 flash along with two sheets of white paper to bounce the light to take the shot of the van below. We noticed a slight variation in illumination between shots due to the electronic shutter but it did not affect the appearance of the final composite image.

E-M10 II, 1/8, f/3.2, ISO 200
20 shots, focus differential of 5 (tripod, flash)
Post-processed using Helicon Focus

Case Studies: Focus bracketing in practice

To give you an idea of the settings you might want to use in focus bracketing mode, I’ve prepared three basic case studies below.

Case Study #1 – Hand-held shot of flower

This shot of a cosmos was taken hand-held at Bodnant Gardens in North Wales. Since it was cloudy and slightly breezy, I had to use a higher ISO (800) to maintain a shutter speed of 1/200s. (It is always better to have some noise than to wind up with blurry images that are un-stackable.) Since I wasn’t doing extreme macro work or covering a lot of depth of field, I chose to set my aperture to f/7.1, take fewer shots (10) and keep my focus differential to 5.

E-M10 II, 1/200, f/7.1, ISO 800
10 shots, focus differential of 5 (hand-held)
Post-processed in Helicon Focus

Case Study #2 – Tripod shot of spider (animate object)

Having a tripod definitely makes the macro photographer’s life easier, as it eliminates the chance of your movements affecting the sharpness of the image. Still, you have to be aware of your subject’s movements. Although the spider in this example wasn’t moving, the web it was perched on was quivering in the breeze and I was working at a very close distance (1:1 magnification). A shutter speed of 1/320 was required to keep the spider in focus. To keep my ISO at 200, I opted to use a faster aperture of f/3.5 but more shots (40 in total) with a smaller focus differential of 3 to cover the whole depth of field.

E-M10 II, 1/320, f/3.5, ISO 200
40 shots, focus differential of 3 (tripod)
Post-processed in Helicon Focus

Case Study #3 – Tripod shot of ring (inanimate object)

When you are photographing an inanimate object in a studio environment on a tripod, movement is taken out of the equation. This means you can use any shutter speed, aperture or ISO you want. Ideally, you’ll want to keep your ISO as low as possible and use the aperture that delivers the best sharpness. Since the M.Zuiko 60mm macro‘s sharpness peaks between f/5.6 and f/8, I decided to use f/8 to cover as much depth of field as possible (the ring and table) with the least number of shots. After some trial and error, I settled on 25 shots and a focus differential of 5.

focus bracketing om-d e-m10 ii
E-M10 II, 1/6, f/8, ISO 200
25 shots, focus differential of 5 (tripod)
Post-processed in Helicon Focus

Are there downsides to Focus Bracketing?

While the focus bracketing function works very well overall, there is one major bug that I hope Olympus will work out with a firmware update. After a burst (particularly one consisting of many shots), the camera occasionally won’t let you change any of your settings. This includes the focus point, shutter speed, aperture, access to the menu, and pretty much everything else. The only way to resolve the issue is to turn off the camera and turn it back on after a few seconds. Unfortunately, this software bug caused me to miss some good shots of insects who weren’t willing to wait around while I fiddled with the camera.

What’s more, you cannot set a 2-second timer before a burst. This can be problematic at slower shutter speeds since pressing the shutter button can cause micro movements.

The other disadvantages are those associated with all electronic shutters.

Some energy saving fluorescent lightbulbs can also cause banding when you use an electronic shutter. The only solution is to use “safe” shutter speeds that match the fluctuations of the electric current in your country. These are usually shutter speeds divisible by 50Hz in Europe (1/50, 1/25, etc.) and 60Hz in the US (1/30, 1/15, etc.).

Also be aware of rolling shutter issues if you take your shots hand-held. It becomes more problematic the closer you get to your subject. Below is an example of rolling shutter in two shots taken hand-held at nearly 1:1 magnification.


Finally, the function chews up battery life like nobody’s business, so make sure you have at least one spare!


At first glance, focus stacking may seem like more trouble than it’s worth, but for anyone who is serious about macro photography, it is an invaluable way to gain more creative control over your images.

Though it has always been possible to stack images by manually selecting various focus points and combining the shots in a post-production software program, the technique has mostly been used for static subjects. This is because the process of taking all the images necessary for the composite is too long and meticulous to be useful for active subjects.

The E-M10 II‘s Focus Bracketing function has made the whole process faster, easier and more accurate. Yes, you still have to stack the images in post-production, but because the camera takes multiple shots in a very quick burst, hand-held shooting is now an option, as is photographing moving subjects that only settle for a brief period of time.

There are a few pitfalls such as rolling shutter, banding in artificial light, and not being able to use a timer but these can all be overcome by shooting in well-lit conditions on a tripod (or at the very least, with a very steady hand).

To see some more images taken using the Focus Bracketing function on the OM-D E-M10 II, be sure to check out our SmugMug gallery. As always, if you have any questions about this function or the camera, don’t hesitate to leave us a comment below!

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About the author: Heather Broster

Heather Broster was born in Canada, has lived in Japan and Italy but currently calls Wales home. She is a full-time gear tester at MirrorLessons. You can follow her on Google+, Twitter or Facebook!

  • cryssy

    wow. I have expected to be 8 or 8.5 fps like the E-M10 II frame rate when autofocus single shot is used.
    from the video it seems to me that M10II is slower that the E1 but maybe it was because M10II had a bigger focus differential for that demo (with the sponge stone) so probably had been take more for the focus motor to spin.

  • Mathieu

    Same speed: 11fps.

  • cryssy

    I have a question. What frame rate speed has E10-II when using focus bracketing?? On the E-M1 firmware 4 review Mathieu Gasquet said E-M1 will shot with 11fps.

  • Heather Broster

    Thanks for the information, Norman! I didn’t realise that was the issue.

  • Norman Thurston

    Hi Heather.
    Great Photgraphs and a very instructive review.
    I note with interest your comment that your copy of the camera locked out when using focus bracketing.
    My first e-m10 ii did exactly the same after being set up as per Robin Wong blog this was changed the replacement camera worked fine until it was set up, to get to the point in my case it was the Rec View in the spanner section being set to off that caused the problem.
    Hope this helps until Olympus get round to issuing an update
    Best Regards

  • David Barwick

    Thanks for your response, better late than never!

    I understand the new Lumix GX80 also has a focus bracketing function ( in addition to post focus, as per G7) mentioned on the Panasonic UK site, but no details, as the user manual is not yet available to download.

    Look forward with interest on your experience with the minaxsoft app.


  • Heather Broster

    Sorry for the very late response, David. I only just saw your comment now. We will be reviewing the app shortly!

  • Heather Broster

    Thank you!

  • Ken Cameron

    This is correct with focus bracketing. With focus stacking, it seems to take (at least) one photo focussed in front of the initial focus point. This is confirmed both by the in-camera instructions and by my testing.

  • Viktor Gabyshev

    Beautiful photos, and informative review! Thank you!

  • David Barwick

    Have you had any experience with the play store app. minaxsoft, focus bracketing for Panasonic G cameras? eg. G7/GX8, allows full res. & raw. (costs @ 00.70p)
    obviously you would need android device for remote control.
    I am aware Panasonic are releasing (25 Nov.) firmware update for these cameras to enable “post focus” feature,
    -camera focus racks during a short burs of 4k, then you can select/extract your desired (8mp jpg.) frame via the touch screen.
    Not sure if you will be able to save the entire sequence for focus stacking (Helicon Focus)
    As a gardener, I really like the flower photos, thanks for the vey interesting article.

  • Mathieu

    It wouldn’t work because with focus bracketing the camera changes the focus distance. With the Brenizer method you must not change your focus distance.

  • Ed

    I guess what i meant was could you use Focus Bracketing at a distance and the camera will take the shots in a “Brenizer Method” style instead of actually moving the camera and shooting from left to right down right to left down left to right.

  • Mathieu

    Not really because in this case the goal is to have more depth of field while with the Brenizer method the goal is to have less depth of field.

  • Ed

    is this the same concept as the brenizer method

  • Heather Broster

    Thank you! I tried it with the iPhone app and there doesn’t seem to be an option.

  • Alexander

    Really nice review!
    I would like to know if the focus bracketing is usable with the Ipad app?

  • Camaman

    Thanks for replying personally.

  • Heather Broster

    Yes, that’s right. Withs some practise, it wasn’t difficult to perform. You simply have to visualise the composition and the elements you want in focus before taking the shot.

  • Heather Broster

    You can use Photoshop but I find that the most effective program is Helicon Focus, and it’s really easy to use.

  • Martin Cohen

    What software can be used with the e-m10 ii to merge the pictures?

  • Camaman

    Thanks for the answer Heather.
    So it works its way back, meaning you must focus on the closest thing to the camera focus.
    Could be tricky to pull of on some subjects. But I guess if it bracketed front and back it would be equally hard for other subjects.

  • Heather Broster

    It starts from the focus point and works back. :)

  • Camaman

    Does this feature capturee frames in front and in back of the initial focus point or in just one direction?

    I missed where this was mentioned, sorry if it was.

  • Boston C

    Now EM1 with the new firmware can process in camera for certain lenses. It should be done this way.
    We now start seeing a divergence of sort between Panasonic and Olympus: P focuses on capturing the fleeting objects through its 4k capability, while Oly puts more into capturing static objects well, by introducing first the High Resolution mode now the Focus stacking, both depending on multi-shots of static objects.

  • Kay Fisher

    I stand corrected. Thanks for correcting me.
    Kay Fisher

  • Mathieu

    Today Olympus announced the firmware 4 for the E-M1 and it includes focus stacking :)

  • Kay Fisher

    No – you only get focus bracketing. You have to do the stacking in Photoshop. On the TG-3 you get both bracketing and stacking in camera.

  • Mathieu

    It will come to the E-M5II and E-M1. It has been announced today.

  • Mathieu

    Well now we will get focus stacking also on the E-M1.

  • Mathieu

    Today Olympus announced the firmware update but only for the E-M5 II and E-M1.

  • Jorge Talkowski

    Thank you Header. My omd5 is only 3 years old.:)

  • Heather Broster

    I wish I knew, Jorge. It’s always possible but it would be more likely that they’d upgrade the more recent models.

  • Jorge Talkowski

    The is any chance to upgrade de omd-5 via firmware to add focus bracketing?

  • Kay Fisher

    In camera focus stacking has been in the Olympus TG-3, and is now still in the TG-4. You can have the camera do the math or just create a bracketed set – your choice. If you do select the focus bracketed set you can do all the software work in Photoshop with Layers/Auto Blend Layers/Stack Images.

  • Heather Broster

    Yes, I find it odd that other reviewers haven’t paid the function much attention. It’s the best thing about the camera! Hopefully, it will come to the other OM-Ds via a firmware update.

  • Heather Broster

    Yes, sorry, it’s 46-52mm. I’ve edited the original comment. :)

  • WGHalvorsen

    The filter diameter on the Oly 60mm lens is 46mm, so I guess it was a 46-52mm step-up ring that you bought, rather than a 49-52mm?

  • Heather Broster

    Not sure, but they were able to update the E-M1 with the Live Composite feature. I don’t see why they shouldn’t be able to do the same with Focus Bracketing.

  • Heather Broster

    Thanks, Fred! You’ll need a step-up ring. I picked a very cheap one (49mm-52mm) from eBay and it works a charm.

  • Fred Tedsen

    This is a wonderful article, Heather. Thank you very much. My question is how do you connect the Raynox 250 to the Olympus 60mm?

  • Vic

    Will Olympus give other models this feature through firmware update??? Is it possible???

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