June 19, 2017

Create a Transportable Super Macro Rig


Although the idea for this Transportable Macro Rig initiated back in early 2014 based on the sturdy Hejnar PHOTO MS-3_8 Linear Motion Macro Focusing Stage (review) some recent updates and price drops made me update, enrich and republish the original article as the solution might be suitable to many macro photographers.

Having spent quite some time with the Hejnar Macro Stage mentioned above, I was tempted to introduce my idea of a Macro Rig that I had assembled for my own use, including testing of the macro stage as well some product photography for plate finishing as we shall see at the end of the article.
Versatility and transportability were of major concern when building this Rig, while Arca-Swiss® dovetail compatibility on all parts played also a primary role in order to make it easy to assemble and disassemble and adaptable. Not to mention value for money which is always one of my goals.

Some glimpses of the Transportable Super Macro Rig have been already published and discussed in older articles, like the Hejnar MS3_8 review, the Sunwayfoto DRH-77 Adjustable Focusing Handle Review and the Create a Versatile O-Shape Macro Flash Bracket article.

Selection of Components


Each component presented in this article has already been tested and individually reviewed so you may find one or more links to the relevant and thorough articles below each part. In this way the article is simplified and trimmed, containing only the highlights so as not to tire the reader.
Nevertheless, individual reviews are always there as a reference for those who would like to know more of why each and every part was chosen.

The Lens

Canon EF-S 17-85 mm f/4.0-5.6 IS USM Lens Reference



The Macro Bellows

Macro Bellows for Canon EF Mount



The Reverse Mounting Lens Adapter Ring

Reverse Mount Lens Adapter Rings for Canon EF Mount Review


The Macro Focusing Stage

Hejnar PHOTO MS-3_8 Linear Motion Macro Focusing Stage (Review) 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 in 90° increments.

This latter feature proves very useful because you can either mount your macro lens and camera equipped with an Arca style base plate or L bracket, directly on the focusing stage or use a Macro bellows instead which would require a different orientation of the QR clamp.

Hejnar PHOTO MS-3 Geared Macro Focusing Rail
Hejnar PHOTO MS-3_8 lead screw Macro Focusing Rail


The Adjustable Focusing Handle

Speaking of focusing at very high magnification ratios, we forget auto focusing and go manual which requires minute adjustments. What better than a Focusing Handle like the Sunwayfoto DRH-77 Adjustable Focusing Handle (Review) which aids handling of the lens focusing ring very precisely.


The O-Shape Flash Bracket

The inclusion of a removable and versatile Flash Bracket solution in this Transportable Super Macro Rig was very significant.
So I came up to Create a Versatile O-Shape Macro Flash Bracket details of which are extensively discussed in the mentioned article as how to gather and assemble the parts.
In turn my idea for an economical Macro Flash Bracket in O-shape, dates back in 2011 when I first acquired one Baling C-Shape Flash Bracket.

O-shaped bracket complete w/ 2 x Swivel Flash bracket C
O-shaped Flash bracket complete with 2 x Swivel Flash bracket C heads.

The Off-Camera Shoe Cord

Meike OC-E3 Off-Camera Shoe Cord for Canon

Meike OC-E3 off-camera shoe cord
Meike OC-E3 off-camera shoe cord

Alternative solution
Speedlite Transmitter

Canon Speedlite Transmitter ST-E2 Reference 

Canon Speedlite Transmitter ST-E2
Canon Speedlite Transmitter ST-E2


The Flashes

Canon Speedlite 580EX Reference
Canon Speedlite 580EX II Reference

Canon Speedlite 580EX II and 580EX side by side
Canon Speedlite 580EX II and Speedlite 580EX standing side by side.

The Flash Reflectors / Diffusers

Flash Bounce Diffuser for Hot Shoe Flashes
Flash Bounce Diffuser for Hot Shoe Flashes


The Remote Shutter Release

Aputure AP-TR3C (TC-80N3 compatible) Timer Remote Controller for Canon

Aputure AP-TR3C Timer Remote Controller for Canon
Aputure AP-TR3C Timer Remote Controller for Canon

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Setting up the Super Macro Rig

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 yet it will take another article and a few hundred dollars more to discuss about it.

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.
Benro A-298 EX w/ counter balance weight
Benro A-298 EX w/ counter balance weight

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 photo above).

Mounting the Macro Focusing Stage

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.

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.

Mounting the Macro Bellows

For the record, as mentioned in the Bellows reference article 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.




Preparing the Lens with Reverse Mounting Ring

My setup requires the reverse mounting of the lens on a macro bellows which will result at approximately 7.5 X magnification.



Attaching the Lens on the Bellows

, 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.

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.

Mounting the Macro Flash Bracket on the Macro Bellows


Mounting the Camera and Remote Shutter Release


Adding the Off-Camera Shoe Cord



Adding the Macro Focusing Handle



Mounting the Speedlights

SCV Transportable Macro Rig w/ Hejnar MS-3 macros stage -macro flash bracket & Sunwayfoto DRH-77 focusing handle

Adding the Reflectors / Diffusers




Using the Macro Focusing Stage

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.

Sample Photos


I hope you found the article and ideas useful, thank you for viewing.
All Photos & Photosynths: © 2013-2018 S.C.Vlachos

Price & Availability:
The Hejnar Photo MS3_8 Macro Focusing rail sells currently at US$ 299.00, while the A30-70 Multipurpose Rail costs about US$ 45.00. Both are available from the Hejnar Photo online store.

If you are interested in the product, then do check the Recommended Sellers page for a valid Hejnar Photo discount coupon, before ordering.

OC-E3 Off-Camera Shoe Cord for Canon from Amazon or from eBay
Aputure AP-TR3C Timer Remote Controller for Canon from Amazon or from eBay
Reverse Mount Lens Adapter Rings for Canon EF Mount from Amazon, but also from eBay
Macro Bellows for Canon EF Mount from Amazon, or from eBay

Referenced Articles:

Macro Bellows for Canon EF Mount
Macro Bellows for Canon EF Mount Review
Reverse Mount Lens Adapter Rings for Canon EF
Reverse Mount Lens Adapter Rings for Canon EF Mount Review
Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Reference
Canon EF-S 17-85 mm f/4.0-5.6 IS USM Lens Reference
Hejnar Photo MS-3_8 Linear Motion Macro Focusing Rail Review
Hejnar PHOTO MS-3_8 Linear Motion Macro Focusing Stage Review
Sunwayfoto DRH-77 Adjustable Focusing Handle Review
Create a Versatile O-Shape Macro Flash Bracket
Create a Versatile O-Shape Macro Flash Bracket
Meike OC-E3 Off-Camera Shoe Cord Review
Meike OC-E3 Off-Camera Shoe Cord for Canon
Canon Speedlite Transmitter ST-E2 Reference
Canon Speedlite Transmitter ST-E2 Reference
Canon Speedlite 580EX Reference
Canon Speedlite 580EX Reference
Canon Speedlite 580EX II Reference
Aputure AP-TR3C (TC-80N3 compatible) Timer Remote Controller Review
Aputure AP-TR3C (TC-80N3 compatible) Timer Remote Controller for Canon
Benro A-289 EX (A2890F) AL-Mg Versatile Trans-functional Tripod Review
Benro A-298 EX Versatile Transformer Tripod Review
Create an Economy 5-Way Precision Head
Create an Economy 5-Way Precision Head

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