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02-20-2017, 07:46 PM   #1
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Focusing Rail

I have seen some really incredibly well done macro shots since I have been a part of the forum family. I have taken some decent shots but none that compare to many of the photo's I have seen on here. My question is if the "focusing rail' is a requirement or nice to have for really good macro shots?

02-20-2017, 08:11 PM   #2
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I think the type of shot matters. And the expectations you have.











None of these used a focusing rail.
02-20-2017, 08:30 PM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by UncleVanya Quote
I think the type of shot matters. And the expectations you have.











None of these used a focusing rail.
Well...that answered my question.
02-20-2017, 08:31 PM   #4
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Another user on the site directed me to this video from our friends over at B&H a few weeks ago:


It does a great job of explaining some basic techniques -- some of which I used immediately.

You can decide whether a rail is your answer, but more likely you'll get some tips that you can try now.


Last edited by NoCo Pentaxian; 02-20-2017 at 08:35 PM. Reason: Busted Link
02-20-2017, 08:33 PM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by UncleVanya Quote
I think the type of shot matters. And the expectations you have.











None of these used a focusing rail.
And thanks Uncle for taking the time and effort. More talent and method and practice.

---------- Post added 02-20-17 at 09:35 PM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by NoCo Pentaxian Quote
Another user on the site directed me to this video from our friends over at B&H a few weeks ago:

An Introduction to Macro Photography | B&H Videos

It does a great job of explaining some basic techniques -- some of which I used immediately.

You can decide whether a rail is your answer, but more likely you'll get some tips that you can try now.
Thanks for the information. I will check it out.
02-20-2017, 08:36 PM - 2 Likes   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by Mr. Ed Quote
Well...that answered my question.
At least one of those was handheld. At something like 1/5 of a second.
I'm also cheating a bit as none of those may be true Macro (1:1 or higher magnification). I think most were between 1/2 life size and 1:1. The higher the magnification the more focus stacking becomes needed to deliver anything but a thin slice of depth of field. So a focusing rail may be essential for 2x or 3x magnification shots or even of bugs depending on the framing and points of interest. An automated focusing rail may be needed for really high magnification to avoid losing your mind. And then a BIG CPU and lots of memory to stack all those shots.

---------- Post added 02-20-17 at 10:38 PM ----------

One more bit of advice. Throw diffraction worries out of the window and try higher f/stops. The depth of field will outweigh (in many cases) the loss of sharpness. The terribly thin depth of field sometimes just needs the extra depth more than the extra sharpness. That's something it took me a long time to come to terms with.

---------- Post added 02-20-17 at 10:42 PM ----------

QuoteOriginally posted by Mr. Ed Quote
And thanks Uncle for taking the time and effort. More talent and method and practice.[COLOR="Silver"]
You are very kind. I have been fascinated with macro my whole life. I have had many bellows and other means that I have used over the years and I don't think I am all that skilled at it compared to the folks who really master it.
02-20-2017, 09:17 PM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by Mr. Ed Quote
My question is if the "focusing rail' is a requirement or nice to have for really good macro shots?
It depends on your kit and intent.
  • If you use a macro lens up to 1:1 reproduction ratio regular focus using the lens focus ring will probably work fine, unless it doesn't. It is very apparent when it is not working.
  • If you need a fixed reproduction ratio for documentation purposes, a focus rail is required
  • Fine control of both framing and focus above 1:2 often requires fine control of both camera position and magnification...change one and you have to adjust the other
  • Some setups (e.g. single lens reversed on extension tube) require a focus rail
Note: I have used the term "focus rail" rather loosely. Basically, it is any means to change the camera-subject distance with relative precsion to attain focus. This may be done with the lower rail of an over/under bellows, a dedicated focus rail, a long tripod plate (!), or even a nodal rail normally used for panorama uses. I don't own a focus rail, but when I work at 1:1 or higher magnifications, I wish I had one.


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02-20-2017, 11:12 PM   #8
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If you're doing focus stacking rails are somewhat essential.

And depending on the setup and the object(s) being photographed you can always move the subject to change focus.

02-21-2017, 07:21 AM   #9
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I think before you invest in a focus rail, try this:

1. Sufficient Flash Setup
2. Stop it DOWN

My thoughts on macro completely changed when I bought a small flash to use off-camera on-cord:
AF-201fg with the Vello cord. I put the flash on-cord attached to a mini ballhead and connect that to a long plate from my camera mount.

The flash can swivel, slide up and down the plate and tilt in any direction I want.
Stopped down to F16, I can shoot 1/180 at 1/4 power on the flash and get some incredibly deep macro shots.

Unless you're shooting in a controlled environment with lighting setup and subject propped with no wind/interference...
There's something to be said for a single hand-holdable macro setup.

And if it's any consolation - My main macro setup is the DFA100 + 1.4xTC.
So I guess technically that's beyond 1:1 macro.
02-21-2017, 07:56 AM   #10
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Depends on the results you want to achieve...You should put links to images that you like so people would understand what you are talking about - Is it insects, outdoor flora, indoor crazy stuff?

Generally focus stacking can be applied in different scenarios - not just in case when you have very shallow DOF due to extreme magnification. For example if you have a busy background (environment) and you want to focus only on one detail in it...you have to open up your aperture - you will loose the background but also your subject will suffer - solution - do a focus stack. I would say that focusing rail becomes useful when you shoot indoors or you have rather static subjects - I suppose it is already next level.

I think what makes the biggest difference is light - how you light your subject. Flashes, reflectors, High CRI LED Torches...you name it!
02-21-2017, 09:45 AM - 1 Like   #11
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For focus stacking with small subjects, they are terrific and I'm glad I now have one as an option. There are a few (imo a little crazy) people who do impressively deep high magnification focus stacks handheld, but they are the exception. If you want to get into focus stacking, then I'd say definitely get one (or something that can perform the same task of precisely altering your subject-camera distance).

Years of ... slightly nudging my tripod forward, or back, then a little more forward, oops too far, a smidge back, perfect... showed me they aren't necessary for any single frame image. However, they are a great convenience and reduce the imprecise nudging time and increase my sanity, especially as image magnification go up. As above, there may be other macro widgets that would be a better use of funds (especially lighting), but it's really subjective and highly dependent on what and how you want to shoot.

Good luck
02-21-2017, 12:50 PM   #12
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If you are shooting from a tripod focusing rails will make life a whole lot easier. Of course as I said earlier depending on the setup and the subject you can always move the subject.
02-22-2017, 06:29 AM - 1 Like   #13
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Out in the field, no. I shoot hand-held most of the time and as User above notes, light and f-stop are your key tools. Set shots and focus stacking is where the focus rail movement really is required.
02-25-2017, 01:18 PM - 1 Like   #14
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I use my body as a focusing rail. I set the lens at the distance I want on the lens, then using catch in focus I lean/move my body in or out while holding the shutter button down and trying to get the focus square at the precise point I want main focus. I never touch the focus ring.
03-04-2017, 05:51 PM   #15
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Focus rails , for image stacking , possibly better light control ( Bla bla )

Focus rails certainly have there place and uses ..
For commercial photography or for just when you need the perfect focus and every mm counts .. ( Fantastic )
A precision tool for when you need to be precise ...

Out in the field , I would describe it as a PITA ! Just something else to complicate a situation .. ( My 5c )
Though some folks revel in the technical , and I am not going to harsh that buzz . Do what makes you happy , if it works = Kudos to you ! ( that's whats important )
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