February 23, 2012

Fotomate LP-01 Geared Macro Rail Review

Fotomate LP-01 Geared Macro Rail pair + QAL-500 clamp overview
A little before getting into a completely Arca Swiss® compatible rail system I was experimenting with the use of Fotomate LP-01 Geared Macro Rails both as a macro rail and as a nodal slide.
However, I continue to see interest and questions about this rail in many fora discussions and, as I consider it a very economical solution for macro work with entry level DSLRs, I decided to write a more detailed review for reference.

The Rail
Fotomate LP-01 is a low priced solution for macro shooting, allowing primarily a back and forth movement of the camera by 10cm (3.94") based on an open Rack & Pinion mechanism. With a little search on the net, you can find it around USD 16.00 shipped. It does not follow any standard in the rail dimensions or the base plate attachment except for the 1/4"-20 standard captive screws.

Fotomate LP-01 Geared Macro Rail packaging
The rail comes shipped in a retail blister pack, with only a gray card insert which mentions its dimension on the front.
Length 160 mm, Width 93 mm (including the knobs), Height 24 mm (including the screws), Weight 225 gr and movement distance 100 mm.
Fotomate LP-01 Geared Macro Rail unpacked
There are also some descriptions of the scale, pointer knobs etc on the back, but in Chinese.
Another piece of information missing though, is the weight bearing capacity of this construction. After communicating with the seller and the manufacturers, I was informed that they rate the rail for a 3 kg load.
Fotomate LP-01 Geared Macro Rail top detail
The rail width is 49,62 mm at the bottom and 44,10 mm at the top, covered with a 36 mm wide by 3 mm thick rubber tape. (The quality of the rubber proved good through time as it is soft enough not permitting attached equipment to twist but hard enough not to deform under continuous pressure). There are two 1/4"-20 captive screws protruding on top. One is resided 30 mm from the side while the other moves within a 85 mm long captive slot.
The front section of the rail is trapezoid, holding it within a V cut in the base front and has a shiny black strip embedded in a recess with a decimal scale engraved on it. The scale is 11 cm long with markings every 2 mm numbered from 0 to 10 every cm. The triangle Δ next to the FOTOMATE(R) logo on the base is the pointer. The scale incrementation by 2 mm designates that the precision of the movement is not very high, which is actually true as it takes one full rotation of the knob to move the rail by 1,8 cm.
Fotomate LP-01 Geared Macro Rail bottom detail
The bottom view reveals the Rack teeth machined on one side under the rail, the two 1/4"-20 captive screws and the 63,5mm X 50,3 mm aluminum base plate with one threaded 1/4"-20 hole in the center. Both 1/4"-20 screws have a wide round head with a slot for screwdriver, wide enough for a coin, as well as a D ring to help tightening by hand.
The two control knobs are made of the same alloy and have a diamond CNC machined pattern for better grip. The larger and longer one controls the Pinion gear while the smaller one controls the friction up to a lock.
A closer look will also reveal the existence of two tiny holes for two screws holding the rail in place by a groove on its cross section. Inside the cross section groove there is a thin Teflon insert smoothing the movement.

Combining Two Macro rails
Fotomate LP-01 Geared Macro Rail pair aside There are many ways this rail can be utilized, by attaching photo gear in the front, the back or horizontally on the rail according to the task.

However, the idea of combining a pair of LP-01 rails attached at a 90o angle between each other will add a second dimension and permit a "precise" motion of 10 cm (3.94") both back-forth and right-left..



Attaching a Quick Release clamp

Fotomate LP-01 Geared Macro Rail pair + Fotopro QAL-500 clamp
Although Fotomate LP-01 can be attached by its 1/4-20 captive screws on a camera/lens, my usual suggestion is to use a quick release clamp like the low priced Fotoporo QAL-500 for quick mounting/dismounting and easy alignment of camera bodies already equipped with an Arca Swiss® compatible base plate. Fotopro QAL-500's width matches exactly the with of Fotomate LP-01 plates. The included with QAL-500, 1/4"-20 to 3/8"-16 thread conversion bushing should be utilized as well in this case.
Fotomate LP-01 Geared Macro Rail pair + Fotopro QAL-500 clamp installed
The quick release clamp should be attached on the side of the rail with the captive slot , and tightened very well with the 1/4"-20 captive screw. The rubber surface of the rail will prevent the clamp from twisting even with heavier loads.
Fotomate LP-01 Geared Macro Rail pair crossed w/ Fotopro QAL-500 clamp
Obviously the rail with the QR clamp should go on top and screwed tightly with the second fixed 1/4"-20 screw that exists on the lower rail.
Fotomate LP-01 Geared Macro Rail pair crossed bottom view
This placement of the rails permits the unobtrusive access of all knobs and captive screws for easier control.
The base of the lower rail can be screwed now directly on a tripod head via an 1/4"-20 screw.



Mounting on a 3-way head
Macro work is more demanding of movement precision, therefore I consider a 3-way head or even better a geared 3-way head (if someone can afford it) far more precise than a ball head as the base for the setup.
A combination of two geared rails offer a far more versatile movement when macro focusing is performed, but on the other hand set the base of the camera and the center of gravity away from the pan head pivoting points. As a result we may have increased torque since the mass of the camera/lens combination is multiplied by the distance it is moved out. Therefore, a more sturdy head should be chosen as the infrastructure for a macro setup, and by sturdy I mean a head that can bear twice or three times more weight than our camera/lens combination to be on the safe side.

Fotomate LP-01 pair crossed w/ Canon EOS400D on Benro HD-38 head
For reference I include a few photos with a setup I have used for macro or small product work. The setup consists of a pair of Fotomate LP-01 Geared Macro Rails attached together at 90o angle, the Benro HD-38 3-way head mounted on the Benro A-298 EX Versatile Tripod which is excellent for macro work.
Fotomate LP-01 pair crossed w/ Canon EOS400D on Benro HD-38 head tilted
As promised in the Benro HD-38 3-way head Review, I can justify here the reason I had chosen the Benro HD-38 3-Way head as the base for a macro setup. Apart from its load bearing capacity of 12kg (26,5lb) and very firm locking, that would withstand the torque generated by a camera hanging out of the center of gravity, it is the slight left offset positioning of its top plate that becomes beneficial when using it with macro rails. This slight offset, leverages the right offset produced by the rails, and brings the center of gravity and pivoting point closer to a point above the center of the head's panning base.
Fotomate LP-01 pair crossed w/ Canon EOS400D on Benro HD-38 head tilted bottom
Since this is a tall construction, all attachments are with 1/4"-20 captive screws without any adapters, and the rails are mounted directly on the head's top plate, keeping it as low as possible.
All except for the camera that is clamped, which helps to avoid removing the camera base plate, and this versatility interchanging between equipment is why Arca Swiss® dovetail plates and rails are becoming more and more popular.

Mounting on a ball head
As mentioned above the combination of two geared rails, set the base of the camera and the center of gravity away from the ball head pivoting point. A sturdy ball head that can anticipate increased torque, should be chosen as the infrastructure for a macro setup, and by sturdy I mean a head that can bear twice or three times more weight than our camera/lens combination, just to be on the safe side.

Fotomate LP-01 pair crossed bottom + Arca comp plate aside
With the use of a 5cm Arca Swiss® compatible quick release plate like the Marumi above, the Fotomate LP-01 Macro rails can easily be mounted on a Arca compatible Ball head.
Fotomate LP-01 pair crossed bottom w/ Arca comp plate installed
The QR plate has to be tightened securely at the bottom of the Macro rail. Use of pliers for extra strength in tightening the D ring head of the 1/4"-20 screw is recommended, in order to avoid any twisting,
Fotomate LP-01 pair crossed bottom w/ Arca comp plate on Benro B-2 ball head
The Fotomate LP-01 Geared Macro rail is shown above, mounted on a Benro B-2 ball head.

Pros
Very low price.
Little to no maintenance.
Can be used as a cheap Nodal slide for panoramas.

Cons
Not very smooth or precise movement.
May vibrate with heavier loads.
Does not operate well in steep angles with heavier gear.
Non standard rail design.

Conclusion
Considering the very low price for this rail, I can only judge it as such and cannot be very demanding.
It is true that one has to spend hundreds of $$$ for a high quality precision macro focusing rail, but there is a good reasoning in quality and design behind these price tags.
Fotomate LP-01 does a very decent job for the money though. I cannot recommend it actually for heavy cameras with heavy macro lenses as the construction is stressed if the load exceeds 2kg especially when shooting in steep angles. The mechanism that holds the rail in place cannot compensate gravity and keep the gears in contact, resulting in edgy movement.
Nevertheless, if you are the happy owner of an entry level DSLR with a kit lens you may consider it a bargain.

I Hope you found this review useful, thank you for viewing.
All Photos: © 2010-2012 S.C.Vlachos

Availability:
Fotomate LP-01 is available from Amazon.com, from Amazon.co.uk, bei Amazon.de

If you are interested in the product please consider using above link(s) to make your purchase and help support this site.

Referenced Articles:
Fotoporo QAL-500 5cm Quick Release Clamp
Benro HD-38 3-way head
Benro B-2 Ball Head
Benro A-298 EX Versatile Tripod

7 comments :

  1. I'm using these for more than a year for macro work, in one of them have attached a micrometer stage and use it for focus stacking with good results (I want to keep the tripod setup light as the photo gear). Thank you very much for the idea of the release clamp, will think about using one with the stage.

    For me the main problem is the base is not compatible with any system so there is a need to screw some base and that's one more junction point.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for commenting!

    It would be nice to have some more info about your solution with the micrometer stage. A link or maybe a photo in your blog would be useful to all readers.

    Regarding the base, it is true that you have to attach an extra plate in order to make it compatible with Arca or other standards. Except for the setup described in the article, for use with a ball head I attach an Arca compatible plate instead. If any plate is tightened well with a wrench or an Alen key there is no play or vibration. At first convenience I shall update with more relevant photos.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As promised the article has been updated with extra photos concerning the mounting on a Arca Swiss(tm)compatible ball head. Thanks.

      Delete
  3. Excellent article. Thank you.

    Factual and conclusive, especially helpful was the pros and cons.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you too for the kind comment.
      Glad you find it useful.

      Delete
  4. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=307749402679920&set=a.307749359346591.75869.239237752864419&type=3&theater

    In Sweish, but 15 pics in a step-by-step instruction.
    The first pics shows an IKEA Långås handle.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very interesting approach for adding micrometric movement on the macro rail and excellent machining skills.
      I hope it adds some extra stability to the rail as well.
      It would be very nice if you could write some instructions in English though. Then I could publish it.
      Thanks for sharing.

      Delete

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