In just about every macro-photographers camera bag you’ll find a macro lens, but most of them also carry a macro rail with them. A macro rail may not be the most sexy photography accessory, but for macro photography it is an almost indispensable one. If you are looking to buy a macro rail you could go for the go-to brand used by a lot of well-known photographers: Really Right Stuff. But a RRS rail costs more than € 400. Luckily Sunwayfoto has got a nice alternative that they think is comparable in quality to the expensive RRS. In this review I’ll look at the Sunway macro rail MFR-150. At about € 150 the Sunway is about 1/3th of the price of a RRS rail.
The Sunwayfoto MFR-150 is available in two different models, the MFR-150 I’m reviewing here and the MFR-150S. The difference between the two is small. The MFR-150 has got an arca-swiss compatible clamp that is locked with a large lever. The MFR-150S has got the same arca-swiss clamp, but it is locked with a locking screw instead of the handle. What works best for you is a matter of personal taste. The lever-lock is quicker, but you also have a bigger risk of accidently unlocking it. Luckily it locks in place with enough resistance to give you a secure feeling. If you prefer safety over speed the MFR-150S is the one for you.
The Sunwayfoto MFR-150 is built on a 160mm long rail , that has got an acra-swiss compatible profile over it whole length. With that you can easily attach it to a tripod with an arca-swiss compatible head. On the bottom the rail also has two standard tripod screw holes, so you can also use it on tripods that aren’t arca-swiss compatible.
On both sides of the rails Sunwayfoto you’ll find a clearly readable index-marking on the rail helping you with adjustments. On both ends the rail has got a knob to adjust the rail. One of the knobs has got a little handle to make adjusting it easier, the other has got a ribbed finish to give you more grip. The Sunwayfoto MFR-150 uses a long worm gear to make adjusting smooth and precise. Adjustment is very smooth and has just the right amount of resistance right out of the box. But I love that you can also adjust the resistance to you preference using two small screws on the rail. The screwdriver you need to do that is supplied in the box by Sunwayfoto, a nice little extra.
All parts of the Sunwayfoto MFR-150 are made of metal, which makes the rail very durable. Sunwayfoto has used 6061 aluminium, an alloy of aluminium, magnesium and silicon. That is both lightweight, durable and stiff. The whole rail just ways 273 grams. The surface is anodized, making it tough enough for intensive, professional use.
The Sunwayfoto MFR-150 has got a compact head. It has got a small cursor on one side making reading the index easier. The head has got an arca-swiss compatible clamp that is locked with a big lever. If the camera isn’t stable with the lever locked you can adjust it with a little screw to make it fit tighter. The arca-swiss clamp also has a white index to help you position your camera. On the side the head has got a small locking-screw to lock the head in place making sure you don’t accidently adjust it.
Like I said in the introduction a macro rail is an almost indispensable accessory for macro photography. You can use it to focus with great precision. That helps because of the extremely small depth of field you get when you focus very close with an macro lens. Adjusting your focus with an macro rail is much more precise than using the focus ring on your lens. Even a high-end macro lens like the Nikon AF-S 105mm VR Micro lens I’ve used in this review is a lot less precise than the Sunwayfoto MFR-150. One full rotation of the adjustment knob on the rail moves the camera forwards by just 1.25mm. Having such precise control over your focus makes macro photography much easier.
Even under heavy load the Sunwayfoto MFR-150 remains smooth in operation. I have used the MFR-150 with my Nikon D800 and the Nikon AF-S 105mm VR Micro lens, both camera and lens are quite heavy. That isn’t a problem for the MFR-150, there is no difference in operation with or without a camera mounted.
The Sunwayfoto MFR-150 gives you adjustment in one direction (forwards and backwards or left and right), just like the expensive RRS rail by the way. If you need adjustment in two directions (forwards, backwards and left and right) you can combine two rails on top of each other. Two Sunwayfoto MFR-150 rails are still cheaper than one Really Right Stuff rail!
While a macro rail is a great help for focusing, it can really shine when you want to use focus stacking. Focus stacking is a technique that helps creating more depth of field in macro photos by combining different photos with the focus adjusted between each photo. You stack the different photos in Photoshop to create one new image with extra depth of field. Without a macro rail using this technique is a lot harder, or even almost impossible.
Below you can see an example of a macro photo I’ve made using focus stacking. Because of the season and weather I couldn’t find any small bugs or pretty flowers that were willing to model for me. So I had to use a small model car that is about 10 cm long. On the left you can see how the image looks with one single photo made with the aperture set to 14. On the right you see the stacked image in which about 15 different photos are combined.
The Sunwayfoto MFR-150 is a very durable, high-end macro rail. The build quality is very good and Sunwayfoto has used high quality materials, making sure the MFR-150 can handle years of intensive use without a problem. Sunwayfoto reckons the MFR-150 is at least just as good as the more expensive alternatives. Since I haven’t tested them side by side I can’t confirm that, but I do know that the Sunwayfoto MFR-150 does everything it is supposed to and does it well. I wouldn’t know what a more expensive rail could add to the experience the MFR-150 gives you that would account for the higher prices. That is why I can’t see why someone would pay more for a RRS or other high-end rail. The Sunwayfoto MFR-150 is a very good and affordable alternative for both demanding amateur photographers or even professionals.
Interested? Buy the Sunwayfoto macro rail using my affiliate link at: CameraNU.nl in the Netherlands: Sunway MFR-150 bij CameraNu.nl