Focus Rail (slide) Recommendations?

Discussion in 'Accessories' started by krzysztof_hanusiak, May 12, 2011.

  1. Hello, any recommendations for a good reliable focus rail? I would be using Canon 5DM2 with macro 100mm lens. I need to fine tune while shooting insects and flowers. I need this for focus stacking.
  2. Velbon mag slider. Honestly, it's cheap, reliable, and accurate. Remove the lateral (short side-to-side) rail, you won't use it much, if at all, and the main rail is much more stable without the extension. About $100.
    I also am rather partial to the Novoflex Castle-L, but it does cost over $300.
    In general, I avoid the Chinese generic rails (eBay, deal Extreme, Adorama, Kirk) as too tall, not having decent bearing blocks, and overall, wobbly. Rails are like sports cars, they're stable when they're low and wide, not tall and thin.
  3. I use a long Arca-type rail from Really Right Stuff, that has a crosswise clamp at one end to hold the camera. That's good enough for government work, but you need some sort of rack and pinion or screw thread once you get near 1:1. The RRS rail also serves as a nodal point slide for shooting panoramas. It didn't cost a lot and is very portable. Arca-type clamps and rails are rigid and secure - the best choice for quick release systems.
  4. I used Velbon slider but found it difficult to balance. According to the orientation of the mounted camera/lens, the problem is either that the combo is front-heavy, or that the slider mechanism protrudes too much towards the front. Also, the slider adds too much of hight.
    I would rather look at one of the Novoflex Castel series or RRS B150-B. Both system accepts Arca-Swiss type quickshoe. Both are quite expensive, though.
  5. Joseph W, have you tried the Manfrotto rail that Brad C mentioned above? If so, how did that fare compared to the Velbon one (after removing the lateral rail)?
  6. I briely played with the Manfrotto slider. It is built very solidly, but I found its movement a little rough. Maybe it's tricy to use it especially for the focus stacking.
  7. Parv, I have two of the Manfrottos (they were originally part of a VR rig). I find the rails to be pretty sturdy (they've got that wide, low thing I was talking about) but the control placement incredibly awkward. I like them for situations when I'm shooting substantially downward at the subject.
    When you tilt a rack-and-pinion rail like a Novoflex or Velbon more than about 20-30 degrees downward, you're now "fighting" the rail, which wants to send the camera plunging into your subject every time you release the tension knob. A "worm screw" rail like the Manfrotto or the RRS that Al mentioned does not do this. It can easily work at angles all the way to having the camera pointed straight down at the subject.
    Al is also right about the ARCA clamps. I normally mount a Markins ARCA clamp on top of whatever rail I'm using (Novoflex Castle-L, Velbon Mag Slider, or Manfrotto) and a Markins plate on the bottom of the Velbon or Manfrotto. You don't need to mount a plat on the Novoflex: it's entire bottom is one long ARCA dovetail. That's very handy. You can even factor that in as a $50 "savings" when you're pricing the rails.
    So, I find that if I think I'm going to be shooting downward, I take the Manfrotto along, but generally, if I'm not shooting downward, I prefer the control placement and feel of the Novoflex or Velbon. Or the "built in" rail on the Nikon PB-4 bellows.
  8. Akira, I've found that it really helps to have the lens and camera well balanced before using it on any rail. In the case of the Canon 100mm macro, that means using a tripod mount collar on the lens.
    I don't know if you actually tried yours on a Novoflex Castel, but the Castel jams if you have too much weight making the camera pitch forward. That's what happens when you use the 100m, but mount to the camera's tripod socket instead of a lens tripod collar. I've found dual tube rails (Velbon, Nikon PB-4) to be more "jam resistant" than dovetail rails (RRS, Manfrotto, Novoflex, Nikon PB-6).
    Just another reason why I ended up keeping so many rails around.
  9. Joseph, I agree that the balancing what is mounted on the rail is important.
    I don't have any hands-on experience with Castel. I just didn't like Velbon because I found difficulty in balancing my rig regardless of the orientation of the mounted camera/lens combo. In my case I used Olympus 38/3.5 macro with some extension and PN-11 with either Nikon D40 or Panasonic G1. The whole combo itself is fairly well balanced at the tripod collar of PN-11, but not on Velbon. I didn't like the added hight either, which was the reason I was looking at Castel. Maybe I should give Velbon another try but with the lateral rail removed.
    Canon 100mm macro doesn't come with the tripod collar which is optional, so I'm not sure if Krzysztof has the collar.
  10. I second Edward Ingold's comment RRS(Really Right Stuff) B150 macro rail is hard to beat, strong, stable, high quality machining, with with indexing marks, as well as thread based adjusters + quick release of the adjuster. RRS B150 does not need the lens collar when used with the canon 100IS lens and either the 5Dmk2 or 7D body(currently my preferred rig). Make your self happy by also using the RRS dedicated L bracket for your canon body(witch allows you to shoot in either portrait or landscape mode in macro), and make sure you also use the the RRS large Arca quick release clamp(also indexed) as a part of your Macro rail. So I totally don't sound like a Really Right Stuff commercial I currently use the Acratech GP ballhead under the RRS macro rail(best compromise of weight /stability and ability to go full vertical) when shooting outdoor, nature, and motorsports macro. You will also need either a wired / wireless shutter release for doing macro work to maintain stability. In the past 40 years I have used about every macro rail in existence and one truth that I can assert is that any macro rail that does not have hard screw or rear drive will never maintain stability or adjustment and will end up in the bottom of a draw someplace a complete waste of money. There is a really good primer on macro photography set up and equipment on the Really Right Stuff website.
  11. Thanks Joseph. I have been thinking of replacing the Manfrotto plate but given your experience with the Velbon one, I would keep it for now. My problem, as stated by others, is that its (of Manfrotto plate) use is an jarring experience.
  12. Just for the archives, the Manfrotto rail (454) is sturdy and nice looking, but almost useless under certain circumstances where we expect it to work correctly. The design looks extremely logical, but the cheap manufacture makes it unwise.
    Imagine a 1:1 setup, using LiveView on your digital camera; well, the lateral play of the rail is so huge so the subject on the screen will move too much, making extremely difficult to get accurate focus. Once you get the thing in focus, you should lock the rail with the "friction control" screw; you have then a high risk of moving the frame once again. Also, the focus knob (screw) is awkward to use, not only for the location (which could be sometimes useful under certain camera positions) but for the feel by itself.
    You can try thousands of tricks to make it work, as I did in the past. Forget it. You`ll end buying another rail, with the consequent wasted money. BTW, in Europe is extremely expensive (more than 100 eur!); just add an A-S plate and a clamp for it, and will be even more expensive than the much better Novoflex Castel Q.
    I have Nikon and Novoflex rails, and I agree that are not perfect, but way more usable and of a much better manufacture.
    To make it short, I`d not recommend it.

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