Macro photography, unlike other forms of photography, is quite technology based. To take a macro photo you’ll need a lens that has a short minimal focusing distance and, if possible, a magnification ratio that is close to 1:1 (or a tool like a magnification filter) so that your subject is as big as possible in your photo. If you have such a lens and you start taking macro photos you’ll soon find that you have a very shallow depth of field. And if you have a bigger sensor in your camera that effect will only be stronger. All of that means that getting the focus point just right is quite hard. When you search the web you’ll also find loads of macro images that do have a deep depth of field, that you can’t seem to recreate. How do they do that?
Well there are some tools that can help you. You can use a tripod. With the shallow depth of field moving just a few millimetres forward or backwards can move your focus point enough to ruin your photo. But even when using a tripod you may be limited. If you want to control your focus and want use other techniques you might need a tool called a macro rail.
A macro rail is a great tool that helps you focus and makes it possible to use a technique called focus stacking. A macro rail is used in combination with a tripod. In this review I’ll tell you about the Velbon Super Mag Slider macro rail, made by the tripod specialist Velbon. I’ve used the Super Mag Slider in combination with the Velbon UT53D tripod, my Sony A7, a Kipon Nikon F to Sony E mount adapter and a Micro Nikkor 105 mm AF-D 2.8 lens.
Velbon Super Mag Slider
Earlier I’ve reviewed the Velbon UT53D tripod (review here). Besides the small size the UT53D the Velbon really impressed me with its build quality. With the Super Mag Slider Velbon has used the same high quality standard as they did with the UT53D. This means the slider oozes quality. It’s made of a light, but very durable magnesium alloy. Despite the impressive construction and used materials the slider weighs just 490 grams (about one pound).
The Super Mag Slider has got a large baseplate with the tripod mount on the bottom. Velbon has added two sizes mounts (1/4e inch and 3/8e inch) so you can mount it to almost every tripod. On the left of the baseplate you’ll find a large knob to adjust the slider from left to right. The knob is made of a grippy rubber material and it has got two rings, one is hexagonal so you can make larger adjustments. The other one is smaller and rounded for smaller and precise adjustments.
On top of the baseplate is the slider itself with arms for the forward and backwards movement. The whole slider is moved left to right with the knob I’ve told you about before. Moving the slider forwards and backwards is done with a similar knob as you use for the left and right adjustment, with the same dual design (with the round and hexagonal rings). The Super Mag Slider uses a worm gear for both adjustments in both directions. The worm gear makes the movement very precise and smooth. For moving forwards and backwards the Super Mag Slider uses three arms. Two for stability and one with the toothing for the worm gear. Because of the three arms the slider is very sturdy. That means it doesn’t bend, even when you use a heavy camera and lens, and the adjustments keep going smooth even under heavy load. De slider has got a range of 6 centimetres front to back and 3 centimetres from left to right.
The camera is mounted to a large plate, that supports the camera very well, with a standard tripod mount screw. The screw has got a large knob that gives you lots of grip so you can easily mount it without any tools. The mounting plate has got a very nice cork finish, that looks luxurious but also protects your camera from scratches. Besides that the overall fit and finish of the Super Mag Slider is superb. The magnesium alloy is very durable and has got a tough black coating. The manufacturers- and product name are only painted on the left side in a subtle grey colour, besides that there are no markings on the Super Mag Slider.
Velbon Super Mag Slider review
A good slider is a tool that helps you take macro images. Because the Super Mag Slider uses a worm gear for the adjustments the motion is very smooth and precise. That helps to compose your images, but a macro rail is especially useful for focusing. Because of the precise adjustments that are possible with the worm gear it is easier to focus, and even easier that using the manual focus on your lens. I’ve used an adapted Micro Nikkor 105mm 2.8 AF-D on my Sony A7. And while this is a great macro lens, if you turn the focus ring the focus point is moved a lot faster than when you use the worm gear driven Super Mag Slider. The following photo was shot using the macro rail to focus. That made it easy to put the focus point just where I wanted it to be.
Another option that is easier with a macro slider is focus stacking. With focus stacking you take several photos of the same subject and move focus point a little with each photo. In post processing you ‘stack’ those images in Photoshop (or similar software) to create an image that is sharp from front to back. It is possible to use focus stacking by moving the focus point by turning the ring on your lens, but that also moves the internals of your lens which may change the perspective and can change the look of your image (distortion etc.). That can make stacking harder, or create more errors. When you use a slider you do change the distance to you subject, but that is more easily corrected by Photoshop.
The following photos are taken using the Super Mag Slider and focus stacking. In the first image of the strawberry you can see the difference between a single shot (top) and the stacked image. The second image of the strawberry is made by stacking 8 photos. The image of the rose is made by stacking 12 individual images.
The Super Mag Slider is very stable, even when using a heavy lens like the Micro Nikkor on an adapter and extending the slider to the max. This also means the slider keeps moving very smooth even under heavy load. You do have to make sure that the tripod you use has enough capacity to carry your camera, lens and the slider. Because the slider moves the weight of the camera away from the centre of the tripod the load on your tripod and head increases exponentially. As said before I’ve used the Velbon UT53D tripod in combination with the Super Mag Slider. The UT53D has a maximum load capacity of 4 kilogrammes, and it could take the Sony, Nikkor lens and adapter and the slider (combined weight of roughly 2 kilogrammes) with ease.
I can only think of two small negative points for the Super Mag Slider. Both of the wheels for adjusting the slider are mounted on one side of the slider and are quite close to each other. If you have big hands it can be a little hard to reach them, and it would be better if the wheels were on different sides of the slider. The second point is that there isn’t a scale printed on the slider. That would have made it easier to move the slider over the same distance between each image when you want to stack the images.
Besides those two small points I think the Super Mag Slider is a great tool for everyone who’s in to macro photography. The Super Mag Slider is built like you can expect from Velbon, with high quality materials and sturdy engineering. In daily use the Super Mag Slider is a pleasure to use and can really help you with your macro images.