Joe and Mary Ann McDonald's

Wildlife Photography

September 2004

Tip of the Month

Geared Focusing Rail for Macro Work

If you read last month's Tip, Seize the Moment, you may suspect that I've been doing a lot of macro work this summer. I have.

Our gardens are filled with praying mantids, cerphid flies, wasps, spiders --- it's sometimes hard to get anything done with the distractions (subjects) in our yard. Tough, I know.

For my macro work I've been using two lenses -- the 100 macro and the 180 macro, selecting which lens depending upon several factors -- how close the subject will allow me to approach, whether a background will be visible, and what flash duration I might need.

For wary subjects -- butterflies, mantids, etc. I often use the 180mm macro lens. The restricted angle of view of that lens also helps with these subjects because these subjects are often perched on top of flowers and, from my shooting perspective, backgrounds could be a problem. But with a narrow angle of view these are minimized.

Using TTL flash, you probably know that the flash duration decreases as the flash-to-subject distance decreases, so if I'm hand-holding (RARE!) or if I'm shooting a subject that might be moving quickly (a bee flying in to a flower for example), I have a greater chance of stopping the action.

With real closeups, however, getting the camera into just the right position can be a real headache, and that's where the Really Right Stuff geared focusing rail (the B150) really comes in handy. The rail is a two-part system, with the horizontal axis controlled by unlocking a quick-release lever and sliding the camera system left or right. The slider is slick, so it's easy to move in tiny increments, and, in truth, left-right movements aren't needed too often.

Illustrated is one of my favorite setups, using the 100mm macro and Canon's Macro Twin light 24EX flash system. I'm using a RRS L-shaped camera bracket, which is allowing me to mount the camera vertically or horizontally when a RRS B16 converter clamp or a Wimberley SS-080 Module 8 Perpendicular Plate.
Lens equipped with a tripod mount (like my 180) mount directly onto the geared rail

I'm not a fan of the Canon 60mm 6:1 macro lens, but I've used it on occasions. I've found it very difficult to use at magnifications greater than 3X, mainly because I have trouble finding my subject! Since the subject must be in the center of the lens, precisely locating a subject there is tough. I wouldn't attempt to use that lens these days without using a geared rail to help align the subject.

The four extremes of movement that the geared rail has are illustrated below. On the left, I've racked the geared rail as far forward as I could, while shifting the slider as far to the left as possible. On the right, I've done the reverse, shifting to the Right and racking the geared rail as far back as possible. In both cases you can see the aluminum quick release clamp that, when snapped open, permits the left-right movement.

Here's another view of the rig, showing the knurled knob used for racking the system forward and back, and the quick-release lever for left-right movement. Note that there is a quick-release clamp on top of the block that's designed for lenses with tripod collars (ie forward directed plates), but a camera body will attach to this via the RRS B16 bracket or the Wimberley Module 8 perpendicular plate.

As is all of the RRS equipment, this is heavy-duty well built. Recently, at one of our Complete Nature Photo Courses, one of our students had a competitive rig -- Adorama's, I believe. While it worked, it was rickety and awkward, and I wasn't tempted to call anyone's attention to that system.

Admittedly, there's only so much gear one can carry about, and you might question your need for a geared rail. That's valid, and if you're not a macro shooter you probably won't see very much of a need. However, if you are a macro shooter, or if you live in a target-rich environment for macro like we do, then I think you'd find a lot of use for this precision piece of equipment. In fact, sometimes having a neat piece of gear pushes a photographer into doing new things, trying new shots, or just using the equipment he purchased. I'm like that -- I swear, every time I carry my T/S lenses afield I make it a point to use them! I'm sure you'll find yourself pushing your creative envelope with the geared rail, too, as it truly makes fine-tuning a macro composition so much easier!


Our Past Photo Tips of the Month:


  DIGITAL- Digital Birding

 DIGITAL -Shoot for the Future

DIGITAL-Shoot for the Future, Part II

 DIGITAL Photographing scenes with extreme exposure values

 NPN- Nature Photography Network - a digital forum for nature photography

 Digital Pro Image Management Software

 Watch Your Backgrounds
The potential of composites or shooting in RAW format

 A Great Website for Information - the Singapore Nature Photography Society

 Save Your Equipment from Crashing!

 Ask Questions
Before You Go

 Seize the Moment!

 Protecting your long lens from SAND, the pleasures of beach photography

 How do we protect our gear from dust, and carry our gear when on safari

 The Ultimate Flash Bracket
Padding Your Wimberley
Tripod Head

  Specular highlights and the flashing frog
 Using TTL flash with Hummingbirds  Testing your Flash's Aim
Maximum Depth of Field and Hyperfocal Distance - they're not the same thing!  If you see it, it's too late -- a lesson in anticipation  How do you shoot the Moon?
  Low level tripod work  A great depth of field guide  Wimberley 400 and 600mm IS plate

 Sigma's 120-300mm F2.8 APO HSM zoom lens

 Using The Wimberley Gimbal head with a camera body

 Sigma's 120-300 f2.8 APO
zoom telephoto lens

 Custom Function 4-1 for Nikon and Canon shooters

 Sighting in a very, very long lens
 The Nature Photography Network - a super website for images and information
  Take a Workshop First   Luck, what is it?  Don't take in baby wild animals

  Airline Carry-On Luggage -Let your concerns be heard!

 Disconnect -- travel precautions

Photograph America Newsletter
 Wildlife Portraiture

 Obey the Rules
The Ti Chi Stalk
Photographing Critically Endangered Sites Bushnell Night Vision Optics  Adobe Photoshop 7 for $300

 The Sibley Bird Guides

 Removing Cactus Spines

 Drying out boots with newspaper

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