Tuesday, August 21, 2007

MR-14EX verses the MT-24EX

One of the reasons why I started this blog was to answer common questions, and one of them is “What’s the difference between the MR-14EX and the MT-24EX?”. I’m no expert, but I own both of those macro flashes so here is my .02 on their strengths and weaknesses and what really separates them. In a nutshell I could say that the MT-24EX allows greater freedom in where the flash heads are placed and call it a day. But things are never quite that easy are they… ;)

MR-14EX

The MR-14EX has two semi-circular flash heads built into a circular ring that clips directly on to Canon’s EF-S 60mm, MPE-65mm, and 100mm macro lenses, and it will also clip on to Canon’s 180mm macro lens (or any other macro lens) with a macrolite adapter. Canon makes adapters for 52mm, 58mm, and 72mm lenses. The adapter just supplies a groove for the flash head to clip on to. The flash heads are fixed in the ring and cannot be moved, but you can turn the entire assembly to move the position of the flash heads (I normally shoot with one flash head at the top of the lens and the other flash head at the bottom).

The diffuser plastic on the flash heads is a milky white color and produces light that is “warm” –colors really “pop”. The light is not flat as long as you enable ratio control on the flash controller. I had mine set to a 4:1 ratio so that the “A” flash head was brighter than the “B” flash head and I placed the “A” flash head toward the top of the lens by rotating the flash assembly 90 degrease (which also places the “B” flash head at the bottom of the lens since the flash heads cannot be independently moved). You can also turn one flash head completely off and just use the other one.

Bee at twice life size series 1-2

Reflections from shiny surfaces are a problem for any flash, but it’s particularly bad for the MR-14EX. Some people like the “half moon” flash reflection that the flash heads produce, and some don’t. Also since the flash heads are longer than the MT-24EX’s the reflections can be a lot more difficult to edit out of an image. In my opinion reflections are not a huge problem for the MR-14EX, but you do need to be aware of it.

The MR-14EX has two modeling lights located between the flashes to help you focus by illuminating the scene for 20 seconds or until you fully press the shutter release, and they are bright and well diffused so they cover a wide area. But you have to press a button on the controller to activate them which means taking your eye off of the viewfinder. After you take a photo the modeling lights turn off, so you have to reach up and turn them on for the next shot –dumb…

Bottom line: Set the ratio control from 2:1 to 4:1, attach the flash to your lens, and take pictures –the MR-14EX is really that easy to use. The quality of the light is extremely good, and E-TTL flash metering is very accurate. It’s an excellent choice if you don’t need more diversity in the placement of the flash heads and you don’t want to spend a lot of time experimenting with diffusers. Very, very, easy to use…

MT-24EX

I’ve had a “love / hate thing” with the MT-24EX. The light that it produces is harsh, since the diffuser plastic is clear (what a stupid idea!). So I tried various ways to lessen the glare and most of them didn’t work very well. I finally settled on a home made diffuser for the flash that’s giving me good light quality –comparable to what I was getting with the MR-14EX.

The MT-24EX has two flash heads that connect to a lens mount. The heads are shorter than the MR-14EX’s flash heads and they extend out from the lens about an extra centimeter. You can place the MT-24EX’s flash heads anywhere on the lens mount, or remove them and place them anywhere you want. Several third party manufacturers make lens mounts for the MT-24EX –I own a Really Right Stuff mount and can recommend it (more on why I like it later on in this article). Edit 30 November 2011: I no longer use a Really Right Stuff flash bracket with my MT-24EX (I just use the flash mount that comes with the flash). Being able to place the flash heads in a wide variety of configurations is a plus, but in my opinion it’s not a big deal since the further you get the flash heads from the subject the harsher the light becomes, and the flash duration increases (so freezing motion becomes more difficult). Just because you can separate the flash heads over a meter apart doesn’t mean that you should…

Ratio control is available, but now I hardly use it on the MT-24EX. I normally have the flash heads set about 90 degrees apart so I can get shadows without using ratio control, or I have one flash head pointed at the subject and the other pointed out toward the background. Being able to use one flash head to illuminate the background in a scene is one of the best features of the MT-24EX.

Wolf Spider series 1-5

The MT-24EX has modeling lights built into each flash head, and if you enable a special function on the flash you can turn them on by double half pressing the shutter release and they will stay on for 20 seconds or until you fully press the shutter release. So you can turn the modeling lights on without having to take your eye off of the view finder –cool! But the lights are yellowish in color and they are not diffused like the modeling lights on the MR-14EX so the flash heads have to be pointing almost directly at the subject or you won’t see them in the viewfinder. In one way it makes sense, because if you can see the modeling lights then you at least know that the flash is pointed toward the image frame. But the modeling lights are useless if you need them, but don’t want the flash heads pointed directly at what you are photographing…

Another annoying aspect of the MT-24EX is the cables that run between the controller and the flash heads. They are coiled, but still pretty long and they have a tendency to flop around. Not a big deal until you are right next to a critter and one (or both) of the cables move and all you’re looking at is a place where an insect use to be. I added my own cable management to solve the problem, but you’d think that Canon could have built something into the flash heads to hold the cables a little tighter.

Bottom line: If you need more control over where the flash heads are placed, and you don’t mind experimenting with diffusers, then the MT-24EX is an excellent flash! But don’t expect to take it out of the box and get good light quality with it…

10 comments:

Aaron said...

Thanks so much for sharing your observations comparing both the MR-14 and the MT-24. I'm *really* eager to start using a macro flash unit for insect photography with my Canon 100mm macro lens, and have had an order queued up on Amazon for a week now...but I can't decide between the MR-14 and the MT-24!!

A big concern for me is ease of use and portability. I'm often hiking long distances, and shooting with a pack on my back and various things dangling from my neck (binoc's, hand-lens, in addition to camera). I'd like to avoid more bulk & clutter and the MR-14 seems more compact and maneuverable. I'm afraid I may find the MT-24 heavier and clunkier for both carrying and shooting, and if that's the case I may end up leaving it at home! I also wonder if having two protuberances jutting off of the lens barrel will have a significantly greater "spooking" effect than a single annular ring, when trying to approach insects more closely without provoking flight. Moreover, I'm often shooting lying on the ground cranked up in a weird position between rocks, mud, cacti...somehow a single annular unit seems less likely to get inadvertently bashed, stuck, or dunked into dusty dirt.

Of course, ideally, I'd prefer the more versatile lighting options of the MT-24, but after reading many positive reviews of the MR-14's lighting performance (with 4:1 ratio, good built diffusion, etc.) I'm wondering if I'd really make significant use of the extra capabilities of the MT-24. I'll be using the flash for close range insect photos, and if the MR-14 provides sufficiently versatile light for that purpose, then I'd rather not deal with the extra dangling appendages of the MT-24.

So, to summarize, based on your experience w/ both units, could you comment specifically on the actual impact of the relative weight and bulk of the two flashes, in regard to usability in shooting and carrying the equipment around in the field? And also whether it's unwise to presume the lighting provided by the MR-14 will be sufficient to obtain beautifully lit fast, stopped-down, hand-held
macro photos compared to the MT-24? It's not that I'm especially lazy or not willing to work hard to get good images...it's just that I tend to buy equipment and use it for a long time...so I want to make the best decision I can here. Many thanks for you thoughts and efforts.

Dalantech said...

Wow, that's a tough one Aaron! On one hand I think that the MR-14EX would be the best choice since it's easier to setup, take down, and pack. But on the other hand if your on the ground the MT-24EX will let you get lower than the MR-14EX...

But then you did mention the one thing that would be the deal breaker -Canon's 100mm macro lens. At it's minimum working distance of 5.9" the lights from the MT-24EX and the MR-14EX are almost going to be a single light source from the subject's perspective, so you'd be better off with the MR-14EX (save some money)...

Aaron said...

Good points, D ... thanks for your thoughtful response!

Your advice is well-reasoned, but I may have given the wrong impression about primarily using the 100mm. I'm also ordering the 60mm macro and extension tubes...hoping to use that combo to get close to 2:1 magnification for certain situations. I presume that would result in quite a short working distance. (I've loved my Canon 50mm macro for years---favorite lens: super sharp, light, and compact! The newer 60mm is not much bigger, has amazing MTF's, and goes all the way to 1:1! Can't wait to work with it :-) What's more, I'll probably end up getting an MP-E 65 in the not too distant future. So over the lifetime of whatever flash I get I'll likely be working at close enough range to resolve the impact of the two flash sources of an MT-24.

Nevertheless, I think your advice is right on. The reason I've loved my 50mm macro all these years is because its "portability w/ quality". And through reading numerous reviews, I've gotten the impression the MR-14 is also a "quality" flash, and (although not petite) is the better option for the portability and ease of use category here. Understand that while I love beauty as much as the next guy---and strive to take the most aesthetic photos I can---my main drive in photography is to document (preferably in depth and detail), to study, and to share the diversity of natural phenomena I seek out and discover in two areas of passionate personal interest: botany and entomology. I often travel far and hike long distances in rugged terrain, and need to be able to shoot a rare or unusual plant or insect find quickly, while the brief opportunity is at hand. So that's why I'm so concerned with portability and ease of use.

The issue of the MT-24 allowing you to get lower on the ground is a significant one for me (you're the second person I've heard make that easily overlooked point). But I think my best bet may be to give the MR-14 a try, and if eventually I find I can really benefit from using the MT-24, just buy that flash too. (It's only money, though I hate to be a resource hog :-)

At any rate, thanks again for your your very helpful posts and feedback!

funshui said...

Thanks for clarifying the performance between these units. I am interested in using the Canon 100mm macro for 3 different clinical situations; 1) photographing varicose veins from ~5-8 ft., 2) photographing faces from ~ the same distance, and this may be the rub, 3) photographing skin lesions with as much close-up detail as possible.

My question is, which of these would offer the best performance and where are the tradeoffs? From what you have posted, it would seem the MR-14EX would be the best but I am not clear on its outer distance range, and the quality at the end range (say it the vein shots of entire legs needed to be at 8ft.

Any help is greatly appreciated!
Thanks.

Dalantech said...

@ funshui: You could use the MR-14EX for all three, or a standard camera flash on a bracket. IMHO the MT-24EX is best suited for shorter working distances when you need a lot of control over the light.

Dpearson8833 said...

Thanks so much for your help... your pictures and your articles are amazing. I am new to macro photography... and I buy equipment as I can afford it. I shoot with a 5d mark II and for macro I use the mpe-65. I have been saving up for a flash unit and, after going through your articles, still cant decide between the two. As a beginner, do you think it is better for me to start out with the mr-14 because of its ease of use? Or will I quickly outgrow that and wish I had gone with the mt-24ex because of its versatility? As with most photographers, I am a perfectionist. So, in your opinion- will I be satisfied long term with the performance of the mr-14? Or am I better off spending the extra money and putting in the work with the mt-24?

Dalantech said...

The light from the MR-14EX is pretty flat, and ratio control doesn't help that much. The MT-24EX is brutally harsh out of the box and none of the commercial diffusers work very well, so you'll be building your own. It's tough for me to recommend the MT-24EX for a beginner, and I really think you'd be better off using a standard camera flash on a bracket (with an off camera cord) while you're still getting the hang of shooting macro. Skip the MR-14EX and apply that money to a future MT-24EX purchase if you choose to shoot hand held (otherwise just continue to use the standard flash).

Unknown said...

I really like the info in your site. I would like to ask you to read one of your full articles on the black background and then try to look at another site. The white text on the black background is extremely hard on the eyes and I find my self navigating away from your blog rather than continuing to another page. Maybe you could choose a lighter background color for the text heave areas.

Sarah Diehl said...

I'm looking at the MR-14 ad MT-24 for dental photography. What would you suggest?

John Kimbler said...

Hey Sarah,
For dental photography I'd recommend the MR-14EX.