August 26, 2013

Hejnar PHOTO MS-3_8 Linear Motion Macro Focusing Stage Review

Hejnar PHOTO MS-3 Geared Macro Focusing Rail
Hejnar PHOTO MS-3_8 Linear Motion Macro Focusing Stage is a lead screw (worm drive) focusing rail which features an Arca-Swiss® compatible dovetail. The slider is also equipped with an Arca-Swiss® type quick release clamp able to be reoriented by 90° increments.

This Macro Focusing rail belongs to the higher-end class of focusing rails, since the Camera to Subject distance can be adjusted in fine increments.
The travel is 1.06 mm (0.0417") per one rotation of the knobs.

Fast positioning of the slider is also provided, just by pressing a slider release lever. Besides its precise positioning for Macro photo stacking it may as well be used as a very precise nodal slide.

In the process of preparing my macro rig setup, I was looking for a versatile solution for precise focusing, that would prove stable enough to bear heavy loads steeply inclined or even in vertical position, but also remain transportable.
The proposal from Hejnar PHOTO to evaluate their MS-3_8 Geared Macro Focusing Stage came in very convenient since I would have the chance to test it before spending quite a sum of money. In this review, I'm transferring my hands-on experience with the MS-3 stage to you as a basic component and eventually conclude on it with results in the presentation of the Create a Transportable Super Macro Rig article coming next.

Packaging & Contents

Hejnar PHOTO MS-3 GMFR +tools + manual
The Hejnar Photo MS-03_8 Macro Focusing Stage came in a padded package inside a large zip-lock bag, sealed (stapled) by a folded card with the Hejnar PHOTO logos on one side and a product label on the other. The stage was accompanied by a folded manual and a smaller zip-lock bag containing the necessary Allen hex keys for the clamp and safety stop screws.
Hejnar PHOTO MS-3 GMFR manual
The single sheet Macro Stage - Instruction Manual is plain and straight forward with an introduction to the Arca system, a description of the stage parts and functions and maintenance instructions. It is mostly addressed to the knowledgeable professional or serious amateur, who is aware of the concept (Click to enlarge).

The Macro Focusing Stage

Manufacturer Specification:
Model:MS-3 Macro Stage
Drive / 1 full Lead Screw Revolution:1.06 mm (0.0417")
Lead Screw Adjustment Range:12 cm (4.72")
Base Rail Length:8" (20.32 cm)
Total Length with Knobs:10.5" (26.67 cm)
Height :1.4" (3.55 cm)
Height with QR Clamp:2.0" (5.08 cm)
Base Rail Thickness:5/8" (1.60 cm)
Maximum Load:20 lb (9 kg)
Color:Black hard coat anodized
Macro Stage & Knobs Material:6061-T6 Aluminum
Hardware:Stainless-steel
Weight:0.94 lb (425 gr)
Total Weight with QR Clamp:1.18 lb (538 gr)

Hejnar PHOTO MS-3 GMFR + Allen keys
As all Hejnar Photo products, all parts -except for the screws- of the MS-03_8 are machined from 6061-T6 Aluminium and are black hard coat anodized. The base rail has an engraved metric scale from 0 to 17 cm with marks in 1 mm increments. The base rail dimensions are 8" (20,32 cm ) long by 1.5" (3,8 cm) wide by 5/8" (1,58 cm) thick. All screws are made of stainless steel. The long Lead Screw runs through the base rail, held in place by two brass bearings and is controlled by two large knobs, one at each side, making operation more convenient. The massive slider, slides on the top dovetail of the base rail and is topped by the Hejnar Photo F62Ab Quick Release Clamp (review) with a short black screw knob which was my choice. MS-3_8 usually comes with the F62 clamp with a long knob as standard. However, as the QR clamp is separate from the macro slide, not only it may be reoriented, but the end user may also chose the version of clamp he wants when ordering. I.e. short or long knob, or even a larger QR clamp like the F63.
Hejnar PHOTO MS-3 GMFR top view
The top view shows the skeleton design of the base rail, where any excess material is removed. Total length with knobs reaches 10.5" (26.67 cm).
Hejnar PHOTO MS-3 GMFR bottom view
The bottom view shows the base rail structure with two braces and a glimpse of the threaded brass shaft which together with the lead screw complements the worm drive mechanism.
Hejnar PHOTO MS-3 GMFR worm drive detail
A closer view reveals the details of the worm drive mechanism as well as the Slider Lock Clamp (top) and the Slider Release Lever (bottom).
There are also two 1/4"-20 threaded holes and two M4 threaded holes on the rail braces. The 1/4"-20 holes permit the direct mounting of the macro stage on a tripod or monopod, while the smaller ones are intended for the stacking of two macro stages via an adapter plate as we shall see later.
Hejnar PHOTO MS-3 GMFR slider lock clamp
The Slider Lock Clamp is 1.5" wide with a smaller screw knob. Its job is to fix the slider in place whenever utmost stability is required. Most advisable when the stage is tilted steeply.

Hejnar PHOTO MS-3 GMFR slider release button
On the other side the Slider Release Lever, disengages the worm drive mechanism, thus permitting the free slide of the Slider on the rail for fast relocation.
Hejnar PHOTO MS-3 GMFR safety stop screws
Safety stop screw exist at all corners of the MS-3_8 base rail. They are a little larger than the usual M3 screws commonly found under many rails. The ones on the rail top assure the Slider does not slip off if released with a heavy load on top and the bottom ones assure the whole stage does not slip off from the quick release clamp it will be attached , in case it is left open.

QR Clamp Reorientation
As mentioned in the beginning the Quick Release Clamp that comes with the MS-3_8 is removable so it can be reoriented in order to accommodate plates oriented perpendicular to the base rail axis, as a camera plate, or in parallel to the base rail axis, as most lens plates are.

Hejnar PHOTO MS-3 GMFR QR clamp disassembled
The QR clamp is retained by three screws on the slider for maximum stability and best alignment. One center 1/4"-20 flat head screw and two smaller M5 flat head screws on the sides. Using the provided Allen hex keys it is very easy to remove the QR clamp.
Hejnar PHOTO MS-3 GMFR QR slider clamp mount platform
On the other hand the Slider top is equipped with one center 1/4"-20 threaded hole and four M5 threaded side hole at 90° from each other. This enables the orientation of the QR clamp in three positions at 90°. The fourth position is not advisable, since the QR clamp screw knob would conflict with the Slider Lock knob, thus should be avoided.
Hejnar PHOTO MS-3 GMFR QR clamp reorientation
Remounting the QR clamp maintaining a correct alignment is easy. Just by following the proper sequence. The center screw should be inserted, screwed but not fully tightened. Then one of the side screws should be screwed in but not fully tightened. Finally the third screw should be screwed in and tightened, followed by the tightening of the previews screws.
Hejnar PHOTO MS-3 GMFR QR clamp at 90°
Now the QR clamp is reoriented by 90° relative to its original state, with its screw knob at the opposite site of the Slider lock knob.

Dual X-Y Axis Macro Focusing Stage Option
As an option, the addition of an extra MS-3_8 Macros stage on top of another via an adapter plate, results in an exceptionally versatile X-Y axis macro stage. It now becomes Hejnar Photot MS-3_8X8 model, which offers precise fore-aft and bi-lateral positioning while remaining very stable and sturdy.

Hejnar PHOTO MS-3_8X8 Dual Stage
Hejnar Photo MS-3_8X8 Dual Stage macro focusing rails, pictured here with the Hejnar F62b QR clamp with long black screw Knob. (preview) (Photo by courtesy of Hejnar Photo).



Setting up the Macro Focusing Stage
My old friend the Benro A-298 EX Versatile Transformer Tripod was called in duty once again, as macro work is the main reason I'm dusting it and feeding it with grease regularly. :)
As I had explained in the Create an Economy 5-Way Precision Head article in the past, I prefer a sturdy 3-way head equipped with a panoramic clamp for macro work as it permits movements in each axis independently. A geared 3D head would be the perfect solution here, but still remains in my wish list.

Benro A-298 EX w/ Benro HD-38 head and Benro PC-1 panorama clamp
Benro HD-38 3-way head equipped with a Benro PC-1 Panorama Clamp mounted on a Benro A-298 EX Versatile Transformer Tripod in the positioning and support roles.
Hejnar PHOTO MS-3 GMFR clamped on Benro PC-1 panorama clamp
Hejnar PHOTO MS-3_8 Geared Macro Focusing Stage clamped on Benro PC-1 panorama clamp, which will permit correct panning of the macro stage, independent of the position of the tripod's center column and in extension of the head's panning base.

Utilizing the 8" (~20 cm) length of the MS-3 rail dovetail, the total possible travel is actually tripled. Depending on the width of the head clamp below, it can reach up to 36 cm (~14")
Click on the above short video for an illustration of the extreme travel positions of the Hejnar MS-3_8 macro stage captured in a few frames.


Using the Macro Focusing Stage
In order to illustrate the use of the MS-3_8, I chose to present a preview of my macro rig, which is quite heavy and bulky, thus most appropriate for the evaluation of the qualities or shortcomings of the macro focusing stage.

Hejnar PHOTO MS-3 GMFR loaded w/ macro bellows and lens
My setup requires the reverse mounting of the lens on a macro bellows which will result at approximately 7.5 X magnification, but this means a very-very shallow depth of field and a very-very narrow actual aperture. In this case this versatile Hejnar PHOTO MS-3_8 Macro Stage proves an indispensable component for the precise positioning in order to take multiple shots in different depths and then photo stacked.
For the record, the bellows base is modified and equipped with a Hejnar A3-07 7" Arca-Swiss® compatible rail, then clamped on the MS-3_8 Macro stage QR clamp.
SCV Macro Rig w/ MS-3_8 evaluated in extreme positions (sequence)
After mounting to the macro bellows a quite heavy Canon EOS 7D + BG-E7 Grip and my macro flash bracket equipped with two Canon 580EX speedlites (omitted in the photos above for a better view of the rig) the whole setup reached a total weight a little above 4 kg (8.8 lb) loaded atop the Hejnar MS-3_8 macro stage.

The lead screw (worm drive) mechanism worked like a marvel, not showing any fatigue whatsoever in any angle or extreme off center positions where the displacement of the center of gravity is noticeable. (As in the two bottom photos above).
Even when the macro stage operates vertical to the ground (as in the top photo above) there is only a slight increase in the force required to turn the lead screw knobs in order to lift the rig upwards. That was anyway expected, however.
On the other hand the worm drive mechanism is strong enough to hold the whole rig in any position, at least for the forementioned weight, without having to tighten the lock clamp. Nevertheless, when shooting in steep angles or vertical it would be wise to tighten the lock clamp ensuring the safety of your gear as well as maximum stability.
The sturdy 5/8" thick base rail combined with the very tight tolerances of the drive mechanism offer a very stable, vibration free macro stage.
But don't get fooled by the sturdiness of the macro stage when you press the release button to re-position your gear freely on the stage. Once the worm drive mechanism is released, better pay attention and hold your gear when the stage is tilted. Thanks to the safety stop screws your gear will not fall off, but the abrupt change of the center of gravity is enough to flip your tripod over.

Somehow, not everything is perfect, as there is a small issue in relation to the bulk of this setup and the visibility of the only decimal scale on one top-side of the base rail. In cases, where bulkier gear than a camera with a macro lens is used, the laser engraved scale is somewhat obscured, not visible from all angles. Therefore, it would be very helpful if there were more decimal scales engraved on the top and/or the sides of the base rail, something common to other Hejnar Photo rails.

Note: In order to assure your equipment safety from a flip-over, such a setup requires either the tripod legs be expanded outwards at their maximum angle offering a larger base, or the center column be counter balanced with a sand bag weighing equal to or greater than your gear (as shown in the top photo above).

SCV Transportable Macro Rig w/ Hejnar MS-3 macros stage -macro flash bracket & Sunwayfoto DRH-77 focusing handle
An almost complete view of my Transportable super Macro Rig which is based on the Hejnar PHOTO MS-3 Macro Stage. The solution incorporates the Sunwayfoto DRH-77 Focusing Handle as a means of focus ring extension and my custom O-Shape Macro Flash Bracket, equipped with 2 X Canon 580EX II Speedlites.

There will be more information about the precision and functionality of the Hejnar MS-3_8 macro stage in the upcoming Create a Transportable Super Macro Rig article, where I hope to present some stacked macro shot examples.

Pros
Very nice design, machining and engineering.
Very good finishing and anodizing.
Excellent versatility and operational smoothness, with dual knob lead screw.
Excellent strength and torsional behavior.
Very good value for money.

Cons
No decimal scales present at both sides as on other Hejnar rails. *
Not affordable by everybody.

Conclusion
Once you load this macro stage with substantially heavy equipment like my macro rig setup, and feel the sturdiness, the stability and smoothness of operation in any angle, even vertically, then it is very difficult to go back using cheaper macro slide alternatives.
My only concern is the visibility of the one and only laser engraved decimal scale from any angle, especially when the stage is topped with bulky gear. However, based on past experience, I'm confident that Chris Hejnar will find a way to improve and apply more decimal scales appropriately.
Nevertheless, MS-3_8 macro stage is an excellent piece of photographic support gear!

Disclaimer: 
This review and test was run on a single product sample, using the specifically described methods. Independent of the favorable or unfavorable results of any test, a test on a single product can not be used as a rule, unless more samples of the same product are tested. Furthermore, similar comparison tests should be run with comparative capabilities products so as to reach a solid conclusion.

Note: The MS-3 8" Macro Focusing Rail presented in this article was kindly offered for evaluation and review by Hejnar Photo. Many thanks.

* Update March 2014 
An Updated revision of both the 8" and the 10" MS-3 Linear Motion Macro Stages sport decimal scales on both sides.


Hejnar PHOTO MS-3_8 Macro Stage Rev 1

I hope you found the review and ideas useful, thank you for viewing.
All Photos & Photosynths: © 2013 S.C.Vlachos

Price & Availability:
Current price for the MS3_8 Macro Focusing rail is US$ 349.00 (+Shipping where applicable), and is available from the Hejnar Photo online store.
Check the Recommended Sellers page for a valid Hejnar Photo discount coupon.

Referenced Articles:
Updated Hejnar PHOTO Quick Release Clamps Preview
Hejnar Photo Updated F62Ab Quick Release Clamp Review
Create a Transportable Super Macro Rig
Benro PC-0 and PC-1 Panorama (Panoramic) Clamps

Relevant Articles:
New 50mm Linear Motion Micrometer Macro / Micro Rail from Hejnar PHOTO
New Hejnar PHOTO Linear Motion Micrometer Macro / Micro Rail
Two New 50 mm Linear Motion Lead Screw Macro Rails from Hejnar PHOTO
New Linear Motion Lead Screw 25 mm Macro Rail from Hejnar PHOTO

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