When it comes to a macro focus rail there are as many opinions as there are models being produced.
Some prefer a single rail, double rail, triple rail, motorized, 2 way, 4 way, or one with a bellows.
To me aligning a macro shot is little different than pointing your finger and sighting down it – easy enough to know if you’re lined up or not with the difference being adjusting distance to focus.
Using that “technique” rarely have I found when looking through the viewfinder I have to realign.
With that being the case a rail comes in handy for the fine tuning , and that translates to a tried and true older Pentax two rail setup I have.
A worm drive rail that is very precise, will support more of a load than I routinely attach to it, locks securely, solidly built to insure longevity, and has zero creep regardless of angle.
You can find focus rails on the net for as cheap as fifteen or twenty dollars, but you’d be better advised to just stuff your money down the proverbial rat hole than purchase one.
You can also find them for hundreds of dollars, a price that to characterize as being outrageous would be understatement in my opinion.
My advice would be to search for an older model like a Pentax or Minolta – you’ll save yourself some money and or a lot of grief.
Additionally Manfroto offers a basic worm drive rail for around eighty dollars new – I’m not familiar with it but Manfroto has a good reputation and it’s a worm drive – the only way to go in my opinion.
New doesn’t necessarily translate to better anymore than new implies better than refurbished.
When it comes to refurbished I’ve read that something like sixteen percent of new products are returned for repair or replacement while the return percentage on refurbished items is around two percent.
The reason for that I assume is when an item is refurbished it is gone over with a fine toothed comb rather than coming off an assembly line.
Factor in that refurbished items as a rule cost less than new and you’re ahead of the game with less “risk”.
I understand that the mere thought of used or refurbished is disdainful for some, but we’re not talking used underwear, and in today’s world saving a few bucks is wisdom.
Paired with the Pentax rail is a Laowa 60mm f2.8 macro lens, a serious game changer in the world of macro – an all manual lens being the first ever to provide 2×1 magnification with the amazingly inexpensive street price of less than four hundred dollars.
A lens built in the old school manner of a solid metal construction and attention to detail, and yes that means it is hefty in comparison to the majority of today’s lenses.
Admittedly my macro rig could be newer and lighter but it suits me, and there’s that animism thing born of familiarity.
My good fortune to have acquired the Laowa through some bartering, and a stellar lens whether you’re shooting macro, portraits, or landscape.
Shooting macro can be a little frustrating in the beginning, a format you initially need to wend your way through learning the nuances as you go – but having gained an understanding it can be both rewarding and a doorway into another world you won’t otherwise be privileged to see.
Macro photography is just that – shooting up close, pushing the limits – what it isn’t is taking a photo at the minimum focal distance of a non macro lens and then cropping to enlarge.
The “secret” if there is one to macro is focus/photo stacking multiple exposures and then combining them to expand the depth of field – basically what that amounts to is dialing back focus incrementally to bring into focus different areas and activating the shutter each step of the way.
You could wind up with five, ten, or even twenty or thirty captures, but the results are well worth it.
A tripod is a must in my opinion, though I’ve seen more than one example of macro photos said to be handheld with a shutter speed slow enough to make me skeptical.
Additional lighting in the form of a ring flash or those new lights mounted on tentacles like those of the invaders in War of the Worlds can be advantageous as well though I don’t believe necessary in every situation.
In the final analysis it comes down to personal preference, what a person likes or is comfortable with – for me that has little to do with new as opposed to used or refurbished, nor does it have anything to do with paying more than reasonable or going for every bit of bling that comes down the road.
If you’re interested in macro then go for it, don’t be intimidated or put off by initially less than desired results or the success of others – they also had their ups and downs.