Friday, August 31, 2007

The Bazooka part II

My current rig
Originally uploaded by Dalantech.
Here's the equipment list:
Canon Xti, MPE-65mm macro lens, and MT-24EX modified with home made diffusers and cable management.

Novoflex Chest Pod with the camera mount removed and replaced with a Really Right Stuff 25mm ball head. Shoulder strap also removed. The arm between the shoulder brace and the camera mount is adjustable and retracts about 5cm (2 inches) from what you see in the photo.

Really Right Stuff flash mount with an extender for the top most flash head. The extender is only necessary when shooting above 4x. I also have a second flash mount for the MT-24EX (since it has two flash heads) and a lens plate to mount the flash bracket to the MPE-65mm's tripod collar (note: that link is for Canon's 100mm macro lens, but it's the same tripod collar that the MPE-65mm uses). I like the Really Right Stuff flash mount because it does get the flash heads away from the lens (great when I'm trying to get the camera as low as possible). I also use the mount that Canon supplies with the MT-24EX.

It's a little heavy, but it's easy to manage and I can quickly move the camera when I'm following a subject that won't sit still. I tried using a monopod for a month (a tripod is just too slow) and I went back to the Novoflex Chest Pod...

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… ;)


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…


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…

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Photography Tip from an Engineer

Even if you don’t have your own web site, or know how to write a single line of code, you probably do have a gallery hosted by one of the many photo viewing sites on the web. You also have a first and last name –or at least you should. So you, like me, could go to a site like Network Solutions and register your first and last name. At the same time you can set up a DNS redirect so that when someone surfs to your name they get redirected to your gallery.

If you go to you’ll get my Flickr gallery –cool, no? :)

It may sound trivial, but it’s very convenient to register a domain name to use for your gallery. It’s easier for potential viewers to remember, as your photos become popular people will learn your name, and if you change your gallery to a different site in the future you can always change your DNS redirect to send people to your new gallery (it does take 24 to 48 hours for the change to propagate out to all the DNS servers).

Another advantage has to do with the signature that you use on all the forums that you post to. Since I registered my name all I have to do is use in my signature file to promote my gallery. If I change from Flickr to another gallery site I don’t have to go to all the forums I post to and change my signature –I just change the DNS redirect (and it’s very simple to do).

I’ve even registered and set up a redirect so that when you surf to you get this blog…

Monday, August 6, 2007

MT-24EX cable management

MT-24EX cable management
Originally uploaded by Dalantech.
I got tired of the cables on the MT-24EX flopping around and scaring the critters when I’m shooting from 1x to 3x so I used some Rip Tie cable managers to take up some of the slack. The Rip Ties have an adhesive on one side and they're just big enough to cover the back of the flash heads.

No more floppy cables…

I can leave the cables secure all the way up to 5x on the MPE-65, but I decided to go with a solution that I could undo if I get a longer lens.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

MPE-65 Aperture Settings

Violet Darter series 2007_8-6
Originally uploaded by Dalantech.
After some experimenting on my own, reading an excellent review on the MPE-65 at Juza Nature Photography, and more experimenting using his “In Case of Emergency” setting here are my aperture settings for the MPE-65mm macro lens:

1x and F16 –tack sharp. I’m usually at F14 just because I have a habit of changing back and forth between 1x and 2x and I don’t want to have to mess with changing the aperture.

2x and F14 –but F11 is better. If I’m shooting between 2x and 3x I’ll set the lens to F11 at 2x and leave it.

3x and F11 –sharp enough but F8 is better. I don’t mind trading a little image sharpness for a little more depth of field.

4x to 5x and F8 –but F5.6 is sharper. At F8 I’m getting acceptable image quality. The image with this post was shot at 5x and F8 and the only reason the nose is a little soft is that it’s not in the plane of sharp focus –the depth of field is just too thin at 5x. Stopping the lens down just makes the entire image uniformly soft…

Update 28 November 2007: After a productive summer of experimenting with shooting at high magnification and high Fstops it seem that the MPE-65 performs pretty good at F14 above twice life size. For some odd reason F16 is noticeably softer, and I think it might be something as simple as a focusing issue within the lens itself. Some lenses perform better at certain apertures than others, and the MPE's "sweet spot" seems to be around F11 to F14. Now I'm not saying that you won't see diffraction softening -so put down the flame thrower ;) But if you need more depth of field at high magnification then try F14. You might be pleasantly surprised...