Ian Fenn's Blog

05 Jul 2015

Summer seminar and a “poor boy” approach to photo stacking

Summer Seminar | Ian Fenn

It's a very early Sunday morning, after a nights struggle with my body's out of sync clock. Vienna Austria is about 8-10 hours ahead of Colorado Springs so when it's time to sleep in Vienna my body, Currently on Mountain Time is telling me to wake. I only spent the second week at the summer seminar money and time did not allow me a longer visit. It was my third year in a row at Colorado Springs and perhaps my most rewarding visit so far. I wouldn't say it was the best as I plan to return if not next year, then 2017. The future I would hope would hold even better experiences. The seminar that has just finished was rewarding in no small part due to the previous years I attended.

I am a coin collector in both senses of the word "foreign". Living in Europe I am familiar, on a daily basis, with the collecting approach here. As an Expat kiwi I am also familiar with the Australasian approach to collecting. The US approach is, due to the huge size of the collecting community in the USA, is far more "all encompassing" than the others. Prior to my first summer seminar I would have never looked at Hobo nickels, I am sure I would have been somewhat concerned at the apparent vandalism in coin caving had I not been informed of the history of the art. Now I have a respect for a truly American numismatic art form that I could never have gained from a book.

Summer seminar is a numismatic reset for me. Talking to so many collectors from varied interests and backgrounds provides an overview and a real feel that I have never obtained from coin shows or club meetings. This year I realized summer seminar broadens my horizons and helps me refocus on my own collecting area. I have learnt so much about the coin I collect, the Maria Theresa Thaler, while at summer seminar. What I learn is indirect knowledge, I recall in 2013 listening to Joe Paonessa talk about swallow tailing on the coins he struck. He described his discovery of the cause of the swallow tailing and then I realized He was giving me invaluable information on features I had seen on MTT. .

This year I meet Ron Landis It was great eating lunch and talking to such an identity. Of course then there is Ken Bressett the Grandfather of contemporary American Numismatics (Am I allowed to call him that?) His long memory and innumerable contacts saw him answer a, minor but to me important question (see my blog on the palace collection catalogue). I attended a Grading US coins level one. It was a major challenge for me. I attended to gain an understanding of US grading, and to become more familiar with US coins, on both counts the course was a success. I also conducted a mini Seminar on the Maria Theresa thaler. I describe the coin as the world's most known, unknown coin. I have received some very nice feedback from participants in my seminar that feedback is greatly appreciated. I could go on but that risks getting boring. But before I stop I have to state that this year I finally meet Chris Sutter from Missouri, a few years back he had helped me with my research so it was great meeting him in person

Now on coin photography; one of my Summer Seminar found friends (can I call you that John?) describes me as a photography expert... an expert I am not but an enthusiast with the desire to experiment I most definitely am. I love photographing coins it provides a secondary means to enjoy this hobby. The problem is like coin collecting it is addictive and can become expensive. I know I have spent, through lack of knowledge, more than I needed to for some of the equipment I now regard as crucial to my coin photography. I would like to share one lesson I learned and hopefully the information will save someone money.

Stacking photos is a new technique for producing high resolution photos of coins. The technique allows one to use lenses at wide apertures. The standard technique was to close the lens down to increase depth of field works well but at the cost of resolution. With modern software and a good focusing rail it's possible to build fantastic photos using lenses wide open. 5-15 photos taken with separations of micrometres can be combined to produce detailed highly focused (sharp) pictures

When I first heard about focus stacking I tried it with a manually operated modern focusing rail made by Novoflex. That focusing rail had cost almost US$150.00 new and was unable to provide the fine control necessary to produce the evenly spaced photos necessary for effective stacking. So after the 2014 Summer Seminar I purchased the Cognisys stack shot for over US$500.00. It is a brilliant piece of Kit but also it took a lot of money that could have been spent on coins. However as good as it is it is far more than most of us need the problem is no one told me of a cheaper option till recently. The key to stacking successfully is being able to shift the focus (and therefore the depth of field) by micrometre amounts in an accurate fashion. As outlined manual focusing rails just don't have the fine control.

Microscopes have such fine focusing ability. Some macro and micro photography experts use the focusing block from a microscope to provide the necessary fine focus control some even automate the focusing block with a stepper motor. To save going into detail have a look at this link:


Recently I found a stripped down Olympus CH2 microscope. I modified it further with a dremel added some old microscope illumination arms and constructed some homemade diffusers( to which I will be adding some camera flock in a few weeks). The course and fine controls allows minute focusing movements and the microscope stage covered with camera flock is a great coin support platform. This cut down microscope is more than capable of allowing me to create stacked images. It cost well under US$100.00. the first three photos show the before and after photos



Level 5

Wow what a great experience you had! It brings out the true meaning of the program - learning!


Level 4

Very interesting! Thank you for posting. I have yet to experience any ANA event, as Colorado Springs, or the host of the World's Fair of Money or any other ANA event is usually a couple thousand miles away from where I am. Luckily, I've been able to experience some local shows/conventions/events but I can't wait to see numismatics in a national form, not just my home state.


Level 6

Great blog. Thanks!


Level 6

Interesting blog! Thanks for sharing your pictures!


Level 5

The amazing things that can be learned when a group of motivated people gather and share. Thanks.

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