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Macro photography focusing rails? Any opinion on this?

Discussion in 'General Equipment Chat & Advice' started by rockymonkey, Dec 20, 2013.

  1. rockymonkey

    rockymonkey Member

    Hi Folks,

    I am thinking about going into macro photography world this Christmas. There is not so much struggling about lenses and flashes as along as you tick the boxes of what in need and what they are offering, e.g. I would want a lens with handheld ability thus have chosen lens with VR or HSM function.

    It is the camera support system I am not very sure of. With my existing camera support setup (Arca Swiss D4 on a Gitzo 1227 MKII tripod) what I have found is that they work repetitively well on the panning and tilting aspects, but failed to give a regulated Y-axis movement of the camera. It is really less desirable to displace the hole camera support system instead as it doesn't allow minute incremental adjustment. E.g. Sometimes when you are shooting at larger reproduction ratio, you really want to move the camera 1 or 2 mm along the lens axis without changing the composition, but once you start touching the tripod, as the distance to subject everything else changes.

    I have never thought of I may need extra camera support system for macro shots. But on some primary search on internet, I found the following might be helpful but I am not quite sure that will give satisfying results, any wobbling, ease of use etc.? Anyone has any inputs?




  2. PeteRob

    PeteRob Well-Known Member

    I should think this type of mount would be very useful!
  3. Learning

    Learning Ethelred the Ill-Named

    A focussing rail is essential. Many units wobble as they move. This is a difficult item to purchase on the net; you need to try them. If the unit is unlocked then it still should not wobble. Also if it has a screw drive make sure that it can be disengaged for rapid movements.
    If you are going to attempt focus stacking by moving the whole camera rather than just tweaking the focus then a screw drive is essential.
    Cheap units, and some expensive ones rely on extruded aluminium alloy sections and these are not as good as machined steel slides. I suppose that the ideal would be a recirculating ball slide but I have never seen one used for simple macro photography. They are used on machine tools and scientific instruments. The cost of a brand new slide would be prohibitive.
  4. Bob Maddison

    Bob Maddison Well-Known Member

    Unless you are using focus stacking, a good monopod can be useful too, especially for live subjects such as insects. A 'table top tripod' with the legs held together and used as a mini monopod is also useful, depending on the subject. It also helps to have good subject lighting to keep exposures short with a small aperture. A ring flash or ring light is helpful but not essential especially in good daylight.

    I have made my own macro / copy stand with an old B/W Enlarger base and column, fitting a focus slide to where the enlarger head used to be (the column height adjustment isn't very fine). I use two 20W halogen lamps and these can easily be adjusted to give very uniform lighting (measured with a precision photometer) over an area up to A4 size. With a 100mm macro lens, this lighting also works for 1:1 reproduction, but for that I prefer a Ring Flash or my home made LED Ring Light.
  5. daft_biker

    daft_biker Action Man!

    Looks like a straight copy of the RRS focus rail? The RRS one has an excellent reputation and is one of the few I'd consider an upgrade from my Manfrotto one.

    For 1:1 or less it's probably overkill though.....the £20 ones seem to do a decent enough job there.
  6. ChrisNewman

    ChrisNewman Well-Known Member


    I really value the VR facility on my macro lens, which I often use for subjects like butterflies, where there is rarely time to work any way other than hand-holding.

    Many years ago I picked up an “Elicar” focusing rail 2nd hand. It is a wonderful tool for macro work where you have a support for the camera, although I don’t use it as much as I should. Without something similar, positioning the camera to within millimetres is a very tedious process. But I would appreciate some controlled vertical movement. (Tripods with geared centre columns do not seem well designed for positioning a camera exactly where you want it for a macro shot, unless you have some sort of extending arm - I use a Benbo Trekker, and the Gitzo Explorer seems to offer similar flexibility). My Elicar focusing rail looks as though it was made for use indoors rather than out in the field. It is much wider to carry, with nasty sharp corners, compared to the one you show. I don’t need the greater lateral adjustment, though.

    But I would advise you to buy your lens first, and get a feel for what you want to do with it, before adding a focusing rail.

  7. rockymonkey

    rockymonkey Member

    Okay, hopefully I can give some sort of review when I buy one.
  8. rockymonkey

    rockymonkey Member

    I tend to work on large ratios for still objects. I think a screw driven platform is quite useful. And according to its listing, there is a "quick" mode for the platform.

    Good points on the production method, it is difficult to tell from the picture about how is made though.

    You mean ball screw? I have never seen it happening in photographic equipment but will be thrilled to see one.
  9. rockymonkey

    rockymonkey Member

    I hope it is a good copy as RRS price plus HMRC tax is probably a bit prohibitive for me. I am probably taking the dive for this one.

    I have tried a 20ish one from a friend. It goes forth and back fine but having a serious wobbling problem, may register 10 degrees deviation.
  10. rockymonkey

    rockymonkey Member

    Thanks for the copy stand DIY heads up and light settings! Some vertical movement is really useful as well!
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2013
  11. rockymonkey

    rockymonkey Member

    A bit off topic to discuss lenses in this thread but I am using a Sigma 105 HSM lens I really appreciate its ability to use with human hand "platform". My only gripe is that it either have a focus problem for longer distance or simply doesn't perform well for further subjects. I haven't explored this further but from what I have observed till now it won't make a very good portrait lens.

    I googled the Elicar rails, they seem built like a tank! must be very steady. That said, I would occasionally taking the setup to the field as well. Weight is an issue. Looking to shooting some interesting moss plants in the highlands. Would probably need to pack the system and trek for a while for some special types. But I think Elicar rails can make a very good studio setup!
  12. daft_biker

    daft_biker Action Man!

    That's the reverse of what it should be......or at least every other infinity-1:1 macro lens I've tried. They're sharpest at infinity focus and get softer as you focus closer.

    Do you have a filter on it?
  13. Malcolm_Stewart

    Malcolm_Stewart Well-Known Member

    Sounds familiar, I'm afraid. My Sigma 150mm macro requires +20 AF-MA and 0 AF-MA for the two opposite ends of its focussing travel. It was even worse before Sigma UK had it in for adjustment under warranty. Possibly a feature of its "internal" focus feature.
  14. daft_biker

    daft_biker Action Man!

    I wasn't thinking about AF earlier :eek: The AF being varying degrees of off at different focal lengths and focus distance would seem fairly typical of the few Sigma lenses I've used.

    One £2000 lens was bad enough that I didn't even want it for free!

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