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Thread: Flash for Macro - What to buy?

  1. #1
    ktuli's Avatar
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    Flash for Macro - What to buy?

    All,

    My favorite type of photography is macro, but my least favorite seems to be flash photography! But I'm going to force myself to change that opinion (and possibly learn that the reason flash is my least favorite is because pop-up flashes are the worst?).

    With that - and the discussion occurring over on Nasseem's macro thread - I'm going back and looking again at flash units for macro photography.

    I personally like the flexibility of the dual flash units as opposed to the single ring flash. Canon's MT-24EX seems really nice, but I swear that price just shot through the roof recently. I was also looking at this unit from Xotopro which hits a nicer price point, with those articulated arms appears like it would be more flexible (pun intended!) than the MT-24EX, but I can't find any reviews of it and so don't know if it would just be junk.

    The next level is to go with Canon's MR-14EX ring flash. I've heard both good and bad things about this one, but also wonder if it is just something that needs to in the bag anyway - along with a flash setup like the above dual units.

    And then there are always the cheaper units: DLC DRF-14 Macro Ring Flash or Flashpoint VL-48, 48-LED Macro Ring Light

    The other possibility is to get my own articulated arms and flashes too I guess, but I don't know what products to use to do something like that.

    Honestly, I really have no clue what I'm talking about here, so I'm looking to folks with experience for advice! And then I'll come back and bug you all for help working with it of course!

    If it helps, here are the things I'm shooting with:
    - Canon EOS 7D
    - Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM (recently added!)
    - Tamron 180mm f/3.5 Di LD IF Macro (will need additional adapter rings for any ring flashes)
    - Tokina AT-X M35 Pro DX AF 35mm f/2.8 Macro

    I'm looking for a setup that will still be pretty mobile as I tend to like to take photos of bugs and whatnot, and don't want to feel that I'm lugging an entire studio around with me all day.

    Thanks in advance for all the help!

    - Bill

    PS: For the sake of discussion, we'll say budget has to stay below $1000 USD. That should give plenty of options without getting into the realm of ridiculousness.

  2. #2
    mythlady's Avatar
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    Re: Flash for Macro - What to buy?

    Bill, I'll let others weigh in with advice on the flash (a step I myself have yet to make), but aren't you loving the 100mm?? I got mine a few months ago and absolutely love it. It's on my camera all the time, replacing the 50mm that up until then had been my walk-around lens. It's terrific.

  3. #3
    ktuli's Avatar
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    Re: Flash for Macro - What to buy?

    Quote Originally Posted by mythlady View Post
    Bill, I'll let others weigh in with advice on the flash (a step I myself have yet to make), but aren't you loving the 100mm?? I got mine a few months ago and absolutely love it. It's on my camera all the time, replacing the 50mm that up until then had been my walk-around lens. It's terrific.
    Elise,

    I am definitely loving the 100mm macro. It was specifically purchased for a scuba diving trip to Indonesia, and I debated back and forth between it and the 60mm EF-S macro. In the end, the 100mm won, and I don't regret it one bit. While in Wakatobi (the dive resort in Indonesia), I took a wide variety of lenses, but only dove two dives without the 100mm! I have been loving it for additional macro photography top-side as well.

    But it is definitely time to work some flash into my photography to help get those shots without having to do unholdable shutter speeds to get the depth I want.

    - Bill

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    mythlady's Avatar
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    Re: Flash for Macro - What to buy?

    Have we seen pictures from the scuba diving trip? That sounds wonderful. I think you'll never regret getting the 100mm -- from time to time I look through the viewfinder and say, oh geez, I should have brought the 50mm for what I'm trying to do . . . but then I just zoom myself backwards, where possible, and use the 100mm. Have fun with it!

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    Re: Flash for Macro - What to buy?

    What I use, Bill, is a Canon 40D with Sigma 180 macro and a Speedlite 580 flash unit. Simple, strong and easy to carry equipment.

    I did once consider macro flash units but thought they wouldn't be strong enough for the way I work; in the woods and along the cliff edges, etc, mostly shooting small insects. Also, I don't want anything which looks like large shiny eyes on the end of my lens while trying to sneak up on a nervous insect.

    With a 180 lens, I try to get around 12 ins but a lot of work has to be done at twice that distance, or more, sometimes with a 1.4x converter. Obviously a good tripod is essential.

    But the situation would be different for studio photography or careful shooting of static subjects.

    With regard to settings. I usually prefer manual camera controls and choose whatever settings best suit the scene. For example, 1/200 F14 ISO 200, then adjust the flash compensation to give something which works. It takes a bit of trial and error to get the initial settings but once you become more experienced with this method you can usually get fairy close to the desired level just by assessing the scene.

    When you move to a different light scene you will need to reset the compensation level. Originally, I tried using the Tv or Av settings but eventually found I could get more reliable results manually.

    I have successfully used the camera pop up flash with this method, but usually remove the lens hood if it might cause shadow problems.

  6. #6
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    Re: Flash for Macro - What to buy?

    I have been using the Metz 15 MS-1 ringflash for about a year and I absolutely love it. It works through the wireless setting on my camera's popup flash, so no wires. It has aimable reflectors on either side and you can set the ratio between the flashes from one side to the other (1:1, 1:2, 1:4, 1:8, and vice versa), so it has a lot of the versatility of a dual flash system. Of course, it works with the camera's through the lens metering system, so exposure is very good. I will sometimes set the EV to a lower number (-0.7, -1.0) when working with small subjects. I take a lot of insect and flower photos. The flash is handy in the woods. I most frequently use it with a 50mm macro. It also works well with a 100mm macro lens.

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    Re: Flash for Macro - What to buy?

    I agree with Geoff F. I use an older Canon 550EX flash on a Siegelite bracket with a Lumiquest mini softbox.

    Flash for Macro - What to buy?

    The Siegelite is no longer produced but can usually be found on eBay for less than ten U.S. Dollars (http://cgi.ebay.com/SIEGELITE-13-23-...item2562469de3 - however, I don't think that this off camera flash cord is for a Canon DSLR - you will need a Canon type cord).

    I modify the light with a Lumiquest mini softbox. Chinese knock-offs can be had for about five U.S. Dollars.

    http://cgi.ebay.com/Flash-Diffuser-S...item43a60bafb4

    Flash for Macro - What to buy?

  8. #8
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    Re: Flash for Macro - What to buy?

    The articulated arms are a great idea and I would go with the Votopro. The only caveat is how firmly the arms will hold the flash in position once set up. I suspect pretty well as similar articulated plastic arms are used for the Wimberly Plamp and gorilla tripod; both of which hold light stuff pretty firmly. I use the Wimberly macro flash arm set up and am pretty happy with it however the Votopro may be even more flexible and easy to set up.

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    ktuli's Avatar
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    Re: Flash for Macro - What to buy?

    Thanks for all the pointers! Very very helpful. Now I just really need to nail down my budget on this and pull the trigger.

    Richard: thank you for the specific product listings.

    - Bill

  10. #10
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    Re: Flash for Macro - What to buy?

    Hi Bill,

    Have a look at this I have got one and it works OK, ETTL, 14 Guide Number and you can't beat the price. You could also search ebay for "Ring Flash" there are other options

    Steve

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    Re: Flash for Macro - What to buy?

    I use a Canon MT-24EX outside which I like, but have used twin flash units on articulated arms which worked very well but they got heavy to carry as I got older. Indoors these days I use two flash units on separate tripods.

  12. #12

    Re: Flash for Macro - What to buy?

    Quote Originally Posted by ktuli View Post
    The next level is to go with Canon's MR-14EX ring flash. I've heard both good and bad things about this one, but also wonder if it is just something that needs to in the bag anyway - along with a flash setup like the above dual units.
    Aye, you need all of them

    I tend to use my MR-14 with my 100mm and MP-E but only use the MT-24 with the MP-E. A 550ex comes in handy sometimes too.

    With the 180mm I'd probably go for a couple of 580ex's on brackets and some diffusers the size of dinner plates.

  13. #13
    ktuli's Avatar
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    Re: Flash for Macro - What to buy?

    Richard (or anyone else willing to chime in),

    I've pulled the trigger on the 580EX II, and now I'm looking to figure out the flash bracket. I've been watching eBay for one of those Siegelite brackets like you suggested, but there have not been any available.

    I've been looking at other options, but everything seems to be designed with a rigid angle at the top corner. What I mean is that it bends the bracket back out over the camera - putting the flash above the camera - instead of being able to bend forward to be the flash out over the flash like your example.

    Here are a couple examples of what I've been seeing:
    http://www.adorama.com/BG233B.html
    http://www.adorama.com/SB310635KITC.html

    Do you have any recommendations of brands to look at that would provide the more flexible setup like it looks like you have? Or am I just looking at these things the wrong way?

    Thanks!

    - Bill

  14. #14
    Jim B.'s Avatar
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    Re: Flash for Macro - What to buy?

    I use a Wimberly F-2 macro flash bracket.It has a nice range of movement.I just added a mini ball head to it for more flexibility.
    Flash for Macro - What to buy?

  15. #15
    ktuli's Avatar
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    Re: Flash for Macro - What to buy?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim B. View Post
    I use a Wimberly F-2 macro flash bracket.It has a nice range of movement.I just added a mini ball head to it for more flexibility.
    Flash for Macro - What to buy?
    Wow! That is definitely a nice batch of kit right there. I don't even want to start totalling up that price tag.

    I will take a look for that Wimberly bracket, though I do expect it to be pricey.

    Thanks for the pointer.

    - Bill

  16. #16
    Jim B.'s Avatar
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    Re: Flash for Macro - What to buy?

    Bill,
    The F-2 is $170,I think.Do a search for DIY macro flash setups.Some good examples out there.I'm just not a DIY person.What I like about my setup,I grasp the bracket with my left hand and it really helps with stability.

  17. #17
    maloufn's Avatar
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    Re: Flash for Macro - What to buy?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim B. View Post
    I use a Wimberly F-2 macro flash bracket.It has a nice range of movement.I just added a mini ball head to it for more flexibility.
    Flash for Macro - What to buy?
    Jim That is a great setup. My setup is very similar but my grip that I got recently is not as solid and flexible
    as the Wimberly seems to be. Mine cost around $30 from Hong Kong. I just got my sync cord and am
    getting remote flash trigger and receiver. My flash (580 EX2) sits above the lens and extension tubes
    but not as vertical as your setup. Is that really crucial for good lighting?? If I ever take a shot of my setup Ill
    upload it for Ktuli and the others to have a look at. Thanks for sharing the info.

    Nasseem

  18. #18
    Jim B.'s Avatar
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    Re: Flash for Macro - What to buy?

    Hi Nasseem,
    It doesn't matter much how you get there,but you need to get the flash as close to the front of the lens as you can.I typically shoot no wider than f/11 and am usually at f/16 for most shots.You need a good bit of light on your subject at those apertures.
    What I struggle with most is diffusion and flash power.I haven't been using flash for very long,so I'm still on the learning curve.The 1st 2 years I did only natural light macro.Flash takes macro to another level.

  19. #19
    maloufn's Avatar
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    Re: Flash for Macro - What to buy?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim B. View Post
    Hi Nasseem,
    It doesn't matter much how you get there,but you need to get the flash as close to the front of the lens as you can.I typically shoot no wider than f/11 and am usually at f/16 for most shots.You need a good bit of light on your subject at those apertures.
    What I struggle with most is diffusion and flash power.I haven't been using flash for very long,so I'm still on the learning curve.The 1st 2 years I did only natural light macro.Flash takes macro to another level.
    Yes that is where I am at also. Thanks to you I now use a f16 but am experimenting with my 580ex2. So
    far it has been on the camera and am looking forward to using it upfront over my lens. Have not tried yet. How much flash is what I struggle with. Do you use ETTL or manual mode on your flash?

    Then do you just check your exposure thru your histogram to adjust flash compensation??

    Thanks Jim

    Nasseem

  20. #20

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    Re: Flash for Macro - What to buy?

    Nasseem, if shooting live subjects in the wild amongst brambles, twigs, and assorted greenery, keep everything simple. To start with just use the flash directly attached to the camera and forget about brackets, diffusers, etc. You don't want to scare the target with loads of paraphernalia.

    For 'tame' or dead subjects, including flowers, you can experiment with improving the flash angles etc.

    With regard to flash settings. I have found that the best strategy is to set the camera manually then adjust the flash output to suit.

    For example, I normally select; shutter speed around 1/200; aperture between F11 and F14; ISO 100 or 200. All on the M setting. Then a few flash test shots are required.

    Then, as you said, I check the results (digital cameras are wonderful) and adjust the flash compensation to suit. Usually I find that -2/3 works well but it depends on the conditions. After some experience, you should be able to get it correct straight away.

    And yes, I usually prefer TTL flash metering. Manual can be useful for difficult conditions but it will take a lot of experimentation to get it correct. Normally, substantial minus settings are required.

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