Archive for the ‘product reviews’ Category

“Magic Mylar” diffusion material (plus Post Update)

May 19, 2023

So there I was, working on the next epic sundial-related blog post, when I realized two things: 1) The post needs to be too long to finish before Friday; and 2) The topic probably needs to be covered in a series of posts rather than one long post. Regrettable, because WordPress site statistics shows the sundial-related blog posts are popular with readers of my blog. Anyway, please stay tuned — I hope to finish the next post by Tuesday, 23 May 2023.

In the meantime, I decided to give you a quick update on my never-ending quest for good light diffusers.

“Magic Mylar”

A friend and expert in macro photography kindly shared several sheets of diffusion material with which he is getting great results. The material is made of mylar plastic, matte on both sides.

I should have taken some shots of the same subject with- and without diffused light, but I didn’t have time to do a proper test of the new diffusion material. Qualitatively speaking, I like the look and feel of the test shots in diffused light although I concede there are specular highlights that might require either double- or triple layers of diffusion, as recommended by my friend.

Here are a few shots from a quick studio session. The subject is a highly reflective plastic toy dinosaur. I used a small LED light panel (with added diffusion to supplement the built-in diffuser on the LED) and a Godox TT685C plus a small Altura flash modifier to light the scene. The output from the LED light panel is assumed to be constant, while I slightly increased the distance between the subject and the TT685C from the first to last shot. I estimate the front of the Altura was no more than say 5″ to 7″ from the subject. My assumption is the farther the TT685 was from the subject, the more the LED was the dominant light source.




Where can I get some “Magic Mylar?”

I don’t know whether the results of my test are so impressive that you would like to order some of the “Magic Mylar” STAT. The following image shows the label from a big roll of the mylar.

Comstoc Ink Jet Plotter Media | 3 MIL Double Matte

It’s unclear whether this specific product is discontinued. One source says the art supplier Dick Blick sells sheets of similar material. I will do some research and report my findings, if any. Please comment on this post if you find a source before I do.

Tech Tips

Disclaimer: The following photos show no evidence that I’m actually a fairly good photographer.

Here are two quick-and-dirty shots (taken with my Apple iPad mini 6) that show how I used the mylar to diffuse light from a Sunpak LED 160 light panel. I simply taped an ~8.5″ x 11″ sheet of the mylar to the LED. The first photo shows the LED off; the second shows the LED on.

Sunpak LED 160 light panel. (Off.)

Sunpak LED 160 light panel. (On.)

Looks like I didn’t place the subject at the center of the circle of light. In my defense, the circle of light wasn’t as apparent to me as it is in the photo. Hey, I told you it was a quick-and-dirty test!

More later after further testing.

Post Update

I’m a scientist. No really, I am. I know it’s easier to analyze the results of an experiment that has only one variable. My last experiment included another variable that made it impossible to objectively evaluate the quality of light diffused by adding “Magic Mylar” to a small LED panel.

So I ditched the Godox TT685C external flash unit and photographed the subject using only diffused light from the LED panel.

All photos were taken using my Apple iPad mini 2. Same subject, same “stage.” Notice the subject is closer to the center of the circle of light on the background.

Next I moved the iPad closer to the subject for a better look at the specular highlights, if any.

Finally, here’s the same shot cropped for a closer look at the subject. The white balance is way off, but hey, it’s an iPad camera photo! Otherwise the light has what I would describe as a “warm glow” with fewer glaring specular highlights than the shots from the first test. Maybe now you can see why I am excited by the results of my experimentation with the new mylar diffusion material.

Perhaps you’re wondering, “Why was it necessary to use an external flash unit when you took the first test shots?” I used my Fujifilm X-T5 and 80mm macro lens to take those shots. I wanted to use the same settings that I’ve been using for studio macro focus bracketing. Problem is, the photos were underexposed. Since I didn’t want to change the camera/lens settings, my only option was to add more light. And now you know the rest of the story.

Copyright © 2023 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Thunderstorms, mesocyclones, and tornadoes. Oh my!

April 25, 2023

As a weather enthusiast, RadarScope is my go-to weather app for tracking the approach and passing of weather systems such as the line of strong thunderstorms that affected the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region on Saturday, 22 April 2023.

Animated GIF created by RadarScope app. (11:44 AM to 11:58 AM)

The following annotated screenshot shows a few basic buttons; their function is described below the graphic.

My location, radar sites, and warnings. (12:01 PM)

  1. My location. (See blue reticle, center screen.)
  2. Radar sites. (KWLX, located in Sterling, Virginia, is the National Weather Service radar site nearest to my location.
  3. Warnings. (Two warnings were in effect when this screenshot was captured.)

A fly-out panel appears when you click on the Warnings button. As you can see, there were two Severe Thunderstorm Warnings in effect at the time of the screenshot. If you click on one of the warnings then RadarScope automatically takes you to a zoomed-in view of the warning area. Click on the button for “My location” to return to your home location.

Warnings. (11:58 AM)

Tornado Warning

Soon afterward, a Tornado Warning was issued for Culpeper- and Madison Counties in Virginia, as indicated by the red polygon. Notice the red polygon is nested inside a yellow polygon that outlines an area where a Severe Thunderstorm Warning was issued.

Tornado Warning (red polygon). (12:30 PM)

Click on the red polygon for more information about the Tornado Warning.

Tornado Warning (information). (12:30 PM)

The next screenshot shows the “Super-Res Reflectivity” radar product, zoomed in on the Tornado Warning area. With a lot of imagination, you can almost see something that looks a little like the classic “hook echo” associated with tornadoes. Almost, but not quite.

Super-Res Reflectivity. (12:30 PM)

Time to switch to the Storm Relative Velocity radar product, shown below. This is where Doppler weather radar really shines. Greens indicate radar echoes moving toward the KWLX radar site; reds indicate radar echoes moving away from the radar site (like brake lights on a car driving away from you).

The following image shows the thunderstorm cell is rotating counterclockwise — this is known as a mesocyclone and is the reason for the Tornado Warning.

Storm Relative Velocity. (12:27 PM)

Within the broader area of counterclockwise circulation there is a tighter area of greens and reds, as shown more clearly in the Super-Res Storm Relative Velocity radar product.

Super-Res Storm Relative Velocity. (12:32 PM)

It’s important to note that the orientation of side-by-side greens and reds typical of rotating thunderstorm cells varies depending upon the location of the storm cell relative to the weather radar site. In the example shown above the greens are on the right and the reds are on the left because the warning area is located to the southwest of KWLX. In contrast, if the warning area were located to the northeast of the radar site, then the reds would be on the right and the greens on the left.

As it turns out, there were’nt any official Tornado Reports for Virginia. Later the same day, a small F0 tornado touched down briefly in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Related Resources

The following resources from the National Weather Service provide excellent background information about Doppler weather radar.

More RadarScope-specific resources are available from the creators of the app.

Copyright © 2023 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

I love it when a plan comes together!

April 21, 2023

Do you remember The A-Team, a classic 1980s TV show? One of Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith’s catch phrases was “I love it when a plan comes together!” So do I.

In my last blog post, I wrote the following …

Look closely and you should notice a few places that appear to be artifacts resulting from the focus stacking process. (Look around the borderline between the toy dinosaur and NSTA plastic ruler.) … I must admit this is cause for concern. Source Credit: More testing, AUTO FOCUS BKT, by Walter Sanford.

Could you tell I was more than a little discouraged by the discovery of artifacts in my focus-stacked composite images? I was. So I devised a plan for isolating the cause of the problem and finding a solution.

The plan

First I looked at the source images for the composite images. I didn’t see the same artifacts in any of the JPG files used to create the focus stacks, so I knew that in-camera focus bracketing was working properly in my Fujifilm X-T5.

Next I re-rendered (is that a word?) the source images using Helicon Focus Method A and Method C. My hypothesis, based upon limited experience and knowledge gained by following the “Focus stacking – Helicon Focus” Facebook group, was that rendering Method C would work without creating artifacts.

Turns out I was right. Look closely at the full-size version of the following focus-stacked composite image and you should see the artifacts are gone. And that’s a good thing, because as far as I can tell using the retouching tools in Helicon Focus means “you’re entering a world of pain.” (Source Credit: John Goodman as Walter Sobchak in “The Big Lebowski.”)

Toy dinosaur focus stack: two flashes; 74 frames; rendering Method C.

Buoyed by my success with re-rendering the source images for the composite image of a toy dinosaur, I used Method C to re-render the source images for the composite image of a toy lizard. Same result: Artifact problem solved!

Toy lizard focus stack: one flash; 96 frames; rendering Method C.

So now both composite images are tack-sharp from front-to-back and artifact-free. Yep, I love it when a plan comes together! And looking at the bigger picture, now I know for sure that Fujifilm in-camera AUTO FOCUS BKT works as I hoped and works well. That’s a win-win!

Why do we focus stack?

The composite image of the toy dinosaur, shown above, was created using 74 unedited JPGs straight out of my Fujifilm X-T5 digital camera. All of the photos were shot using an aperture of f/11.

The following slideshow was created using the first, middle, and last photos in the set (frames 01, 37, and 74). The focus point moves from the tip of the head, to somewhere along the body of the toy dino, and to the tip of its tail. In each of the photos, notice how little of the toy and ruler are acceptably in focus — even at a relatively small aperture of f/11. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we focus stack!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2023 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

AUTO FOCUS BKT (plus Post Update)

April 14, 2023

Let me say at the outset I love my Fujifilm X-T3 digital camera. That being said, I bought the Fujifilm X-T5 almost as soon as it was released.

There are many reasons I decided to buy the Fujifilm X-T5 but the number one reason is the X-T5 features both Auto- and Manual mode focus bracketing while the X-T3 is Manual only.

At some point I’ll revisit MANUAL mode focus bracketing, but this post will focus on AUTO FOCUS BKT. Using AUTO FOCUS BKT, the photographer sets the beginning and ending focus points and the camera selects the step size and number of frames automatically.

Sample output

The following composite image was created using Helicon Focus to focus stack 96 JPG photos taken automatically using my Fujifilm X-T5 set for AUTO FOCUS BKT. The composite image was created using unedited JPGs straight out of the camera.

Toy lizard plus NSTA plastic ruler.

As you can see, both the toy lizard and NSTA plastic ruler are in focus from front-to-back without any focus banding. The process worked surprisingly well and could be a game-changer for creating focus stacks of relatively larger macro subjects.

Step-by-step instructions

The next two images are screenshots from  the online version of the Fujifilm X-T5 Owner’s Manual. From the Table of Contents, click on “Shooting Menus”; from the sub-menu that appears on screen, click on “Shooting Setting (Still Photography).” Click on Drive Setting; navigate to the section entitled “FOCUS BKT SETTING” and look for “AUTO.”

Steps 1-3 …

Steps 4-5 …

Here’s my interpretation of the preceding outtakes from the Fujifilm X-T5 Owner’s Manual. I suggest you follow the set of step-by-step directions that makes more sense to you, although I think they are complementary.

First, a few words of caution about something that can and probably will trip you up the first time you try focus bracketing, using either MANUAL- or AUTO mode. (That’s the voice of experience talking.) You need to make settings in several places including one setting on the camera itself and two MENU settings. All of those settings are highlighted in boldface red text.

  1. Set the “Drive dial” [physical dial located under “Sensitivity dial” (ISO)] for BKT.
  2. Press MENU/OK. [press left trackpad button] Select Drive Setting (camera icon) > [press right trackpad button]
  3. BKT SETTING > [press right trackpad button]
  4. BKT SELECT > [press right trackpad button] FOCUS BKT [press OK]
  5. [bottom trackpad button] Select FOCUS BKT > [press right trackpad button] AUTO > [press right trackpad button] INTERVAL [set for 10 s [press OK]
  6. SET POINT A – Use the “Focus stick (focus lever)” to move the focus point to your desired location. Press the button for back-button focus [AF ON button, by default]. [press OK]
  7. SET POINT B – Relocate the focus point. Press the button for back-button focus [AF ON button, by default]. [DO NOT press OK!]
  8. BACK, END – Press the DISP/BACK button one time until you see the menu screen where you choose either “MANUAL or AUTO.” [This step seems a little counterintuitive to me, but it works.]
  9. Press the “Shutter button.” I recommend a 10 s timer; there is a countdown for the first shot only.

When you are setting focus for Point A and Point B, you can use any method that works for you including simply turning the focus ring on the camera lens. I prefer to use back-button focus. When the camera is set for Manual focus mode (M) the “AF ON” button is used for back-button focus by default. Try it — I think you’ll like it and it just works right out of the box.

I set Point A for the tip of the lizard’s nose and Point B for the tip of its tail.

Tech Tips

X-T5 camera/lens settings: f/11; ISO 200; 1/250 s. White balance set for AUTO WHITE PRIORITY WBW. Single point focus. Number of Focus Points set for 425. “Focus mode selector” set for “M” (Manual focus).

Off-camera lighting:
  • Godox XProF flash trigger
  • Godox MF12: Modeling light = 10/10; flash power ratio = 1/8.

Bear in mind I didn’t really worry about lighting the subjects properly. I chose to use one external flash unit that I knew from experience would work reliably at 1/8 power. I’m pleased to report there weren’t any “dropped frames” due to flash failure.

Interval: 5 s ← Note: The built-in camera timer doesn’t work when using focus bracketing (except for the first photo) so I recommend you increase the  Interval to 10 s in order to give your camera time to settle between shots and plenty of time for your external flash units to power-cycle.

Subject: Toy lizard plus NSTA ruler = 96 frames (selected by camera automatically).

Background/”stage”: White reference card from a Vello White Balance Card Set (Small), and NSTA plastic ruler.

What are the take-aways?

My goal was to test the Fujifilm in-camera photo bracketing process using “AUTO” mode.  Zoom in to look at the full-size image — the detail is impressive! I’d say the test was a complete success. Well, mostly successful. For details, see “More testing…” under Related Resources.

Related Resources

Post Update

Chris Lee, also known as “pal2tech,” released a related YouTube video after I published my blog post: “Why I LOVE This Fujifim Lens! (30mm Macro),” by pal2tech (11:26). Although the main theme of the video is a detailed review of the macro lens, there is an embedded segment related to how to use AUTO FOCUS BKT and Helicon Focus beginning at the 05:05 minute mark and ending at ~07:47: “How To Focus Stack With Fujifilm Macro Lens.” Well done, Chris!

It’s worth noting I disagree with Chris’s recommendation of the Fujifilm XF30mm F2.8 R LM WR Macro lens. Regular readers of my blog know I’m all about macro photography and don’t need much of an excuse to buy more gear. I considered this lens carefully when it was announced and rejected it as a bad fit for my needs.

Chris has valid reasons for liking the lens and I have valid reasons for disliking it — we just disagree, that’s all. For example, Chris raves about how close you can get to the subject with this lens. Sounds good, but the reality is a small working distance makes it much more challenging to light the subject properly. And Chris readily concedes the lens isn’t perfect, optically speaking.

Bottom line: I strongly recommend the tutorial segment of Chris’s video while cautioning my readers to carefully consider whether this lens would be a good fit for your macro photography needs.

Copyright © 2023 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

How to shoot time-lapse videos on Apple iOS devices

April 4, 2023

Regular readers of my photoblog might remember when I experimented with using my GoPro HERO4 Black to record time-lapse videos. The process I used is simple and straightforward and works fairly well.

Did you know the Apple “Camera” app can record time-lapse videos on iOS devices? I didn’t. (More about that in “Tech Tips,” below.) As it turns out, the process is simpler than using my GoPro.

How to shoot time-lapse videos on Apple iOS devices

How to shoot TIMELAPSES on iPhone (7:15), by Matthew Vandeputte, time-lapse guru, is a helpful how-to video that provides step-by-step instructions for shooting time-lapse videos using the “Camera” app on an iPhone. The same process works for Apple tablets too.

Testing 1, 2, 3 …

I devised a simple test for Matthew’s directions using my Apple iPad mini 6 and my older iPad mini 2. I used the “Camera” app on my iPad mini 6 to record a time-lapse video of the real-time display of the “Alarm Clock” app on my iPad mini 2. Clever, huh?

The following time-lapse video shows approximately five (5) minutes of elapsed time compressed into 23 seconds of video (0:23).

As you can see, the process works and works surprisingly well. Exactly how it works is almost magical. Matthew Vandeputte’s video provides an overview of research done by Dan Provost. For more details, be sure to refer to Dan’s article.

Tech Tips

User interface

The following image shows the default screen for the Apple iOS “Camera” app. The camera lens is covered in order to help the viewer focus on the user interface for the app.

Three options for setting the camera appear along the lower-right sidebar (from top to bottom): Video; Photo; and Square. Is there any indication there are more options for setting the camera? In a word, no. I suggest this might be a good place for a scroll bar.

Apple iOS “Camera” app (default screen).

If you scroll down, then you should see “Pano” …

Apple iOS “Camera” app (scroll down).

… and if you scroll up you should see “Slo-Mo” and “Time-Lapse.”

Apple iOS “Camera” app (scroll up).

Who knew all of these options are available? Not me. I realize Apple has fallen in love with “clean” user interfaces but when form impairs function it’s time for a reality check. I’m just saying, in case Apple is actually listening.

“Camera” app video settings

By default, the Apple iOS “Camera” app is set for “High Efficiency.” High Efficiency Video Encoding (HEVC), also known as the H.265 video compression standard, might be the standard of the future but is currently incompatible with some social media platforms.

I prefer to set the “Camera” app so that it will record movies using the H.264 video compression standard, also known as .MP4, one of two video formats recommended by Facebook and YouTube.

Video settings: Apple iPad mini 6

Navigate to “Settings,” select “Camera,” then select “Formats.” Change the default setting from “High Efficiency” to “Most Compatible,” as shown below. Note: “High Efficiency” is the default setting.

Set “Record Video” for “1080p at 30 fps.”

Video settings: Apple iPad mini 2

The following screen capture shows the camera settings for my Apple iPad mini 2. As you can see, the default settings for “Record Video” just work.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2023 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

L-bracket for Fujifilm X-T5

March 28, 2023

In a recent blog post, I said …

l use Arca Swiss L-brackets for all of my cameras. Good L-brackets are designed so the bracket doesn’t block any camera doors or ports. But I don’t have one for the [Fujifilm] X-T5 because it’s new enough that the selection of compatible L-brackets is poor. Source Credit: Walter Sanford, Comedy of Errors.

My urgent need for an L-bracket trumped my anxiety about ordering one from AliExpress in China. I decided to buy an L-bracket for my X-T5 from the “GoGlory Store.” US $27.55 plus free shipping helped to incentivize me. I placed my order on 12 March 2023; it was delivered on 20 March. Shipment from China to the east coast of the United States in eight (8) days was a pleasant surprise!

The L-bracket is well-made and fits my Fujifilm X-T5 perfectly without extending the vertical rail (as shown in the top photo, below).

Photo Credit: “GoGlory Store.”

The bracket comes with two Allen wrenches: a larger wrench (shown above); and a smaller one. The “GoGlory Store” Web page says the Allen wrenches are magnetic; they aren’t. Look closely at the full-size version of the preceding photos. Notice two small silver circles on the bottom of the horizontal rail — those are magnets in a groove that fits the larger Allen wrench.

The larger wrench is used to tighten/un-tighten a larger bolt that connects the L-bracket to the 1/4″-20 threaded tripod socket of your camera. The same bolt has a groove for a flat-head screwdriver.

The larger Allen wrench is also used to tighten/un-tighten a slightly smaller bolt that enables you to extend/contract the length of the L-bracket. That bolt does not have a groove for a screwdriver.

The smaller Allen wrench is used for two small bolts that enable you to remove the vertical rail completely.

Battery-chamber door

The following photo shows the L-bracket mounted on my Fujifilm X-T5; the opening in the horizontal rail enables the camera battery-chamber door to open/close freely without removing the L-bracket.

L-bracket, showing opening for camera battery-chamber door.

Camera Connectors (side doors)

The next photo shows the vertical rail of the L-bracket and the left side of my camera. The large cut-out in the L-bracket enables easy access to two small doors on the left side of the camera, and doesn’t block the built-in speaker. Both doors to the camera connectors are open in the following photo.

L-bracket, showing cut-out for camera connectors (side doors).

The vertical rail features four 1/4″-20 threaded sockets (taps) for mounting camera accessories.

What are the take-aways?

During limited testing, I am completely satisfied with the L-bracket I bought from AliExpress. Really, how often do you hear me say that about camera gear? A well-made product that does what it’s supposed to do, all for a good price plus free shipping — what’s not to like?

Copyright © 2023 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Proof of concept: NiSi NM-200 manual focus rail (plus Post Update)

January 24, 2023

The following focus stacked composite image was created using a Fujifilm X-T3 mirrorless digital camera and Laowa 25mm Ultra Macro lens mounted on a NiSi NM-200 manual focus rail.

Toy dinosaur at 2.5x magnification.

The Laowa lens was set for 2.5x magnification and an aperture of f/4, the “sweet spot” for that lens.

The subject is a small toy dinosaur, viewed from above the anterior end of the dino. The toy is approximately 3.2 cm long (~32 mm).

The carriage of the focus rail was moved 200 µm (micrometers, also known as microns) per step, equal to 20 increments on the NiSi NM-200. A total of 28 photos were taken. A little back of the envelope math shows the carriage moved a total of 5.6 mm from beginning to end.

200 microns x 28 = 5,600 microns

5,600 microns x 1 mm/1,000 microns = 5.6 mm

The camera was set to record JPG plus RAF files. For simplicity the composite image was focus stacked in Adobe Photoshop using the JPG files straight out of the camera. The final output was slightly cropped and sharpened.

Look closely at the full size version of the composite image. I don’t see any glaring “focus banding” so the 200 micron step size seems to have worked. [See Post Update, at the end of this blog post.] As always, a sample size of one proves nothing. That said, I feel confident the NiSi NM-200 works as expected and will be a useful aid for creating macro focus stacked composite images.

Tech Tips

i used a step size of 200 microns — much larger than the 10 micron precision limit of the NiSi NM-200. My goal was to choose the largest step size that wouldn’t show “focus banding.” I’m not sure what the maximum “safe step size” is, given the settings for my photo gear, but it appears 200 microns doesn’t exceed that value.

Related Resource:Toy dinosaur” includes a photo (shown below) that shows the entire toy. 2.5x magnification is more than it seems!

08 DEC 2020 |  BoG Photo Studio | toy dinosaur

Post Update

In the preceding post I wrote “Look closely at the full size version of the composite image. I don’t see any glaring “focus banding” so the 200 micron step size seems to have worked.”

Well, someone with more experience than me in creating focus stacked composite images actually looked closely at my image, and here’s what he saw.

Annotated image used with permission from Rik Littlefield.

Rik Littlefield, creator of Zerene Stacker, noticed there is in fact a problem with focus banding in my composite image. Rik highlighted the focus bands with a series of black dots.

My decision to use a “safe step size” of 200 microns was based upon the output from a depth of field – step size calculator that I now realize is fatally flawed. Honestly I can’t remember which calculator I used, but I can tell you this — after using Rik Littlefield’s DOF Calculator to determine the safe step size for the same macro rig is 58.038 microns, I knew 200 microns must not have worked as well as I thought. And as you can see in Rik’s annotated image, a step size of 200 microns is too big. Sincere thanks to Rik for his feedback!

Copyright © 2023 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Focus rails: Useful or useless?

January 17, 2023

For the purpose of this blog post, let’s establish there are two types of focus rails: manual; and automatic. This blog post will focus on manual focus rails only.

Manual focus rails are useful for positioning your camera more easily when it’s mounted on a tripod. But most manual focus rails are essentially useless as an aid for creating macro focus stacked composite images. The issue is lack of precision. More about that later in this post. For now, let’s review a brief history of manual focus rails that I own and have tested.


The Neewer Pro 4-Way Macro Focusing Focus Rail is the first focus rail that I bought and is still available for $39.99 from Amazon. Trust me when I tell you this focus rail is anything but “Pro” but the price was right (given what I was willing spend for a focus rail at the time) and turned out to be a relatively inexpensive way to gain experience using a focus rail.

The rulers on each rail are marked in centimeters; the finest increments are in millimeters.

Photo Credit: Amazon.


My next focus rail — the Novoflex Castel-L Focusing Rack — was a significant step up in price. The same model is still available for $279.00 from B&H Photo — overpriced like all products made by Novoflex, in the opinion of this author. This is one of only a few pieces of photography gear that I really regret buying.

Although the focus rail is beautifully engineered and operates smoothly it is no more precise than the much less expensive Neewer focus rail: the ruler on the rail is marked in centimeters; the finest increments are in millimeters.

Photo Credit: B&H Photo.


I recently bought a NiSi Macro Focusing Rail NM-200 for $199.95 from B&H Photo. At that price point, the NiSi focus rail is five times more expensive than the Neewer focus rail, and nearly $80 less than the Novoflex focus rail.

Notice the ruler on the rail is still marked in centimeters and millimeters. So why would I waste more money on another focus rail that is no more precise than the other two? Because it turns out it is more precise than the other two!

Photo Credit: B&H Photo.

Look closely at the larger adjustment knob shown below. One full rotation of the knob moves the carriage one millimeter, or 1,000 micrometers (microns). The knob is marked in 100 increments, so each increment on the knob is 10 microns. Now we’re getting somewhere!

Photo Credit: B&H Photo.

Thanks to Andy Astbury for verifying the math using a digital caliper. (As part of my due diligence, I watched Andy’s video before deciding to buy the NiSi NM-200.)

Screen capture from YouTube video by Andy Astbury.

Do you need a focus rail with 10 micron precision?

In a word, yes!

According to Allan Walls, macro photography guru extraordinaire, the following list shows the “safe step sizes” for different macro lenses. Remember, the goal is to move the camera with 30% overlap between steps.

  • 1x:1 = 0.7 mm (700 micrometers, a.k.a., microns) ← 70 increments on NiSi NM-200
  • 2x:1 = 0.25 mm (250 microns) ← 25 increments on NM-200
  • 4x = 0.1 mm (100 microns) ← 10 increments on NM-200

It’s somewhat unclear whether the preceding step sizes include the recommended 30% overlap. In Macro Talk #18, Allan said a step size of 60-70 microns would be better at 4x magnification (6-7 increments on the NiSi NM-200). Another macro photographer recommends a step size of 50 microns at 4x (5 increments on the NM-200). Regardless of which advice you follow, the NiSi NM-200 is capable of getting the job done.

As you can see, even at 1:1 magnification the recommended step size is less than a millimeter. The same idea expressed another way: It’s impossible to use a focus rail marked in one millimeter increments to do macro focus bracketing with right size step between images consistently. That is, unless you find a manual focus rail like the NiSi NM-200 that enables fine adjustments.

Testing 1, 2, 3 …

I just set up my new NiSi focus rail and need to do some testing. I am encouraged by the results achieved by other photographers using the same rail. Stay tuned for a follow-up blog post in the near future.

Related Resources

Copyright © 2023 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Depth of field

November 11, 2022

Once a teacher, always a teacher. I guess that’s the reason I like to create and share blog posts that relate to things I’ve learned about photography. Such as depth of field.

Depth of field, more specifically shallow depth of field, is the reason many macro photographers like to do focus bracketing and focus stacking.

In order to demonstrate shallow depth of field, I arranged the same three studio “models” (used in my last blog post) in a way that would be impossible for the camera to capture all three subjects in focus. For what it’s worth, the distance between the closest and farthest model was approximately six inches.

To add to the challenge, I changed the aperture from f/7.1 to f/5.6 — that’s closer to the “sweet spot” of f/4 for the lens in my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300, but the depth of field at f/5.6 is shallower than f/7.1. How shallow is it? (Queue Johnny Carson.) For the answer, I turned to my favorite online “Depth of Field Calculator.”

Notice I selected “Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150” as the camera. That’s because the FZ300 isn’t on the long list of cameras supported by the calculator. No problem. I own both the FZ150 and FZ300 and I can tell you they are virtually identical in every significant way.

My camera was mounted on a tripod so that the front of the lens was approximately five inches from the closest subject. The focal length (mm) of the lens was derived from the EXIF info for one of the three photos shown below.

Look at the calculator output, highlighted by the red rectangle in the preceding screen capture. Notice the total depth of field is 0.24 inches — that’s only around 1/4 inch! There’s NO WAY all three subjects can be acceptably in focus using my FZ300 and the camera settings I selected.

Post Focus

I used Panasonic “Post Focus” to capture the scene. This time, I used “Post Focus” to select different focus points after the shot was taken. During playback, I selected three focus points, one at a time, and saved the following JPG files.

For the first photo, I selected a focus point on the toy monkey. Notice the orange dinosaur in the background is clearly out of focus. Wait, did I really just say that? Yeah, go with it — you know what I mean.

Focus point on nearest subject.

For the next photo, I selected a focus point on the green dinosaur. I don’t know whether I’d call the other two subjects “acceptably in focus” but I know they aren’t tack sharp.

Focus point on middle subject.

For the last photo, I selected a focus point on the orange dinosaur. Notice the toy monkey in the foreground is out of focus.

Focus point on farthest subject.

So there it is — if you would like all three subjects to be in focus then focus bracketing / focus stacking is the only way to go.

My last blog post, entitled “Focus bracketing using Panasonic “Post Focus,” explains how Panasonic “Post Focus” can be used with Adobe Photoshop to do focus bracketing and focus stacking.

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Copyright © 2022 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

Theory into practice

November 4, 2022

What is the “neighborhood play” in baseball?

The “neighborhood play” is a colloquial term used to describe the leeway granted to middle infielders with regards to touching second base while in the process of turning a ground-ball double play. Though it is not explicitly mentioned in the rulebook, middle infielders were long able to record an out on the double-play pivot simply by being in the proximity — or neighborhood — of the second-base bag. Source Credit: Neighborhood Play, MLB Glossary.

And so it is with the 3-D printed plastic “lens” adapter I bought recently for my Fujifilm X Series cameras. The lens adapter, assembled so that it includes all three pieces (photo credit: Nicholas Sherlock Photography), puts a 4x magnification microscope objective in the neighborhood of where it should be for optimal performance.

Naturally I was curious to know exactly where the microscope objective should be mounted  and whether the “lens” actually performs better at that distance.


I consulted the experts at and asked for guidance specifically for my Fujifilm X-Series mirrorless digital cameras. Thanks to Mr. Rik Littlefield for his quick reply!

First, Rik referred me to an article from the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) forum: FAQ: How can I hook a microscope objective to my camera? In this blog post, I will refer to the following annotated image — the first one in the FAQ article.

Photo Credit: Rik Littlefield.

Let me summarize Rik’s detailed answer to my question.

Microscope objectives like the two 4x magnification microscope objectives I own and the 10x objective shown in the preceding annotated image, are designed to work with microscopes featuring a mechanical tube length of 160 mm minus 10 mm for the microscope’s eyepiece. [The microscope objective forms an image at the bottom of the microscope eyepiece, according to Allan Walls in Macro Talk #17 (~8:30).]

The difference of 150 mm (160 mm – 10 mm = 150 mm) is known as the optical tube length, and in photomicrography, is the distance the microscope objective should be mounted from the plane of the camera sensor (as shown above).

Photo Credit: B&H Photo. Fujifilm X-T5 camera (body only).

Fujifilm X Series mirrorless digital cameras have a flange focal distance (FFD) of 17.7 mm, meaning the distance between the plane of the camera sensor and the face of the lens mount on the front of the camera body is 17.7 mm (as shown above). 150 mm – 17.7 mm = 132.3 mm. 132.3 mm is the ideal mounting distance between the “lens” and the outside of the camera body.

The next photograph shows the customized 4x magnification macro rig I was able to cobble together using photography gear I had on-hand already, following Rik’s recommendations. Briefly, several extension tubes were used to mount the “crop” configuration of my 3-D printed plastic lens adapter and 4x magnification microscope objective on a Fujifilm X-T3 digital camera.

My customized 4x magnification macro rig.

Remember, my goal was to move the microscope objective 132.3 mm from the face of the camera body. I combined two 16mm extension tubes and one 10mm extension tube (42 mm total) with the “crop” configuration of the plastic lens adapter (~90 mm from back to front). 42 mm + 90 mm = 132 mm. That’s “good enough for government work” as we say in Washington, D.C.

In contrast, the full size 3-D printed plastic lens adapter moves the microscope objective 142 mm from the face of the camera body — in the neighborhood but a little farther than it should be.

Gear I used

The following equipment list includes all items mounted on the Fujifilm X-T3 camera body shown in the preceding photo.

Finally, a few words about extension tubes designed for Fujifilm X Mount cameras.

Fujifilm makes two extension tubes, as of this writing: the MCEX-11; and MCEX-16. I bought both the 11mm and 16mm extension tubes, although in retrospect, the 11mm is the only one I recommend buying (based upon my usage). It’s good to have found a purpose for the MCEX-16.

When I bought my Fujifilm X-T1 camera more than 10 years ago, Fujifilm didn’t offer extension tubes for sale. “Fotasy” was the first third-party company to sell extension tubes with electronic contacts for Fujifilm X Mount cameras. I bought both sizes that were available (10mm and 16mm) and they worked well, that is until Fujifilm released their proprietary extension tubes — at that point the Fotasy extension tubes were incompatible with newer lenses sold by Fujifilm. Although my older Fotasy extension tubes don’t work with newer Fujifilm lenses, they are perfect in this case because my customized 4x magnification macro rig is all manual all the time.

Gear that could be used (instead of my rig)

What if you don’t have a “junk drawer” of old, unused camera gear like me? Rik Littlefield recommended the following items that could be used for mounting a 4x microscope objective on a Fujifilm X Series camera.

Theory into practice

My customized 4x magnification macro rig was used to photograph a small part of a dime, that is, a 10-cent coin in U.S. currency.

All three photos …

  • were shot handheld (not recommended for this camera rig). A single external flash unit was used to light each photo.
  • are “one-offs,” meaning they aren’t focus-stacked. At a magnification of 4x the depth of field is extremely shallow. The net result is relatively little of each photo appears to be acceptably in focus.
  • are “full frame” (6240 × 4160 pixels), meaning they are uncropped.

For scale, the letters “DIM” are approximately 5 mm wide on the actual coin.

A small part of a dime (10-cent coin in U.S. currency).

A small part of a dime (10-cent coin in U.S. currency).

A small part of a dime (10-cent coin in U.S. currency).

Are these photos better than the test shots I took when I first got the 3-D printed plastic lens adapter? You be the judge, but I think they are qualitatively better.

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Copyright © 2022 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved.

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