Review: SunwayFoto MFR-150 Macro Rail

A macro rail is obviously required when you are doing a bit more than casual macro photography, and recently I have been doing more macro focus stacking than usual. I find that trying to manually change focus on a subject, or use tethered software such as Helicon Focus a little tedious. It doesn’t give me a lot of flexibility when out in the field.

Once my mind was set on a rail, first brand on my mind was Really Right Stuff, but then I found that RRS has stopped selling their macro rail and the next best in my short research was the subject of this review.

Comes in a simple box with QC stamp on it.

Lets dive right into the product. There are two tools included in the package, a small torx screwdriver and a small hex wrench. There is a small piece of paper that has a QC stamp on it and it just says “Quality Certificate”. There is no manual, but I assume they’re available online. Besides I don’t keep paper manuals nowadays anyway. These tools are most definitely for adjustments.

Included toolkits
Adjusting lever release tension through a small torx screw

First up is the lever release. At first touch, the lever release is quite loose. you just have to tighten the torx screw and test it out with an arca-swiss compatible plate to get the right tension so that the plate stays snug and tight. Too much tension and the lever release will not even lock. I’m used to RRS’ lever release and I’d say the one on this SunwayFoto is several grades below RRS. Kinda expected as the price is also a lot lower. First of all RRS is precise and gives you 3 positions. You have the locked position, fully open position and a middle position where the plate can move for adjustments but still slides around. RRS levers are sure about what it wants to be and there’s no “maybes”. On this SunwayFoto release, there’s the locked position where depending on your torx screw adjustment, may still be a little loose, or its fully open and the plate can be removed. Nothing in between. There is also some vertical play on the lever release.

MFR-150 upside-down

However the rail mechanism feels more sure than the lever release. I tried to slide the camera plate by hand and it doesn’t budge. The only way I can get it to move is through the two knobs.

Now on the two knobs, visually you can already tell the the one with the crank is for fast rotations – when you need to adjust large distances and the smaller knurled knob is for smaller adjustments. I like the fact that the knurl is done in such a way that it is possible to discern like 1/4 of a turn or so for precise intervals – likely very useful for focus stacking. 1 turn of the knob feel likes the rail moves 1mm physically. There is a pin on one side of the rail to see how much distance it has moved. This pin barely touches the rail to minimize parallax.

Rail pin says it is currently at 75mm.

On the side of the camera mounting plate, there is a smaller knob that adjusts the tension of the slide – basically to cut out plays and to make the focus knob more precise. I tested it and it seems to work, and at least takes out the anxiety that the weight of the crank arm may affect the regularity of the focus spacing.

Overall I like the quality of the focus rail. However the camera plate mount and lever release could be better. I double I could swap the top part with a spare RRS lever release that I have. If I could order the item again, I might have gone with the knob release rather than lever quick release.

Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan, Mexico

dsc4593-pano

Maybe this title is misleading. I always thought of the whole complex is called simply: Pyramid of the Sun. It sure is the main draw, in the sense that it is the largest thing in the whole park, but maybe Teotihuacan is more correct term of this place.

IMG_4159
One of the better panoramas I took at the park

What you get there is an old pre-Columbus city filled with pyramids built around a main walkway called the Avenue of the Dead. Dead only by name. It is a nice 1 hour bus ride to the northwest of Mexico City, and takes about half a day for a nice and easy trip. Budget 2-3 hours for the transport (return trip), and another 2-3 hours for for Teotihuacan itself. 

Before we start, please remember that the altitude at Teotihuacan is 2300m above sea level (measured on my GPS), so unless you’re from Quito, Ecuador, it is most likely you will tire a lot more easily than back home. So bring water, walk, rest, climb a bit and rest even more. 

IMG_4103
Tom Bihn Packing Cube. I love their goods. 

During the trip, I packed a Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45 Packing Cube backpack which is light and has this nice bottom compartment that fits a 1.5L bottle of water easily. Tom Bihn makes great stuff. Other than that, I had my camera, sketchpad, portable battery and a down jacket in the bag. 

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CDMX/Mexico City, Mexico

Welcome to Mexico City

When I was a kid, I was introduced to Mexico by this game on the Apple ][ called Montezuma’s Revenge. Apart from this, and the tex-mex style “Mexican” food, there’s not really much that people from Asia know about Mexico, apart from the drug-thing in the news. I was sure that there’s more to it… Mexico is so far from Asia, it is not one of those places that we make up our mind to go for a holiday. It is far…

And now here I am, in the part of the world I never expected to be. Thus I cannot miss the chance to visit Mexico City, what they call CDMX, and find out more about Aztec history and Mexican food. It’s just too bad that the reputation of CDMX is not really that great with all that is in the news, but I figured that if I stick to the right part of the city, I will be fine. 

In the 3 days that I have to spend, geography-wise I doubt I will have enough time to cover the entire city. Very quickly I knew that I had to stick to the CBD area, around La Condessa and Roma Norte and perhaps make a trip to the historical center. That should allow me to visit some nice restaurants, spend some time in the museums, etc. Quick Google search tells me to avoid anything north of Tepito, if I want to keep my head intact, so my imaginary border starts north of Centro. CDMX is so big I will not run out of things to do. As for food, I had to see what the fuss is about about Tacos, I need to get deep into Moles and Mezcals. 

As for reading materials, I started reading up on “Mexico, Aztec, Spanish and Republican” Volume 1 & 2 by Brantz Meyer. Always a good thing to read up on history and visit the areas of historical interest. I am never a fan of Instagram tourism.

Got to drop this image of Cancun – on the way to Mexico City
CDMX – Roma in the background where the office buildings are

On the map, the international airport looks it is right in the city, a little to the east. Apart from the high altitude, I do know that CDMX is one of the largest cities of the world, so I was expecting a long trip to Reforma, on the  western part of the city. No disappointment there. 

Entrance to Bosque de Chapultepec
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Gongju City 공주시, Chungcheongnam-do

Why Gongju? Apart from the slight personal preoccupation with anything Baekje (read up on your Korean history) due to archaeological sites close to where I live, not much more. It is close enough to Seoul to do a day trip, and small enough to be a walking town. It is also 20th July 2017, one of the hottest day of the year, so I was expecting a bit of walk in the sun.

 East Seoul bus station at Gangbyeon East Seoul bus station at Gangbyeon

Packed with two cameras, one digital rangefinder and one film panorama camera, something sorely lacking in the digital world, I’m off on a bus from East Seoul bus terminal. There’s a bus every hour. Perhaps more frequency at Nambu bus terminal but I prefer East Seoul. Ticket cost 9,000₩ in 2017 and it takes two hours one way. Left East Seoul at 10:10am and arrived in Gongju at 12:10pm and the bus will not make a rest stop. Don’t think it needs to. I don’t know if Gongju ever gets packed with tourists, at least on this day I could just walk up to the bus station, pick any seat I want in the bus and buy the return ticket when I feel like going back. Like a private chauffeur, although next time an electric scooter to get around town may make a bit of sense.

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Suwon City Walls (수원화성) Revisit

The first time I visited the walls was right at the start of my posting to this country back in 2010. That’s 7 years ago! I remember it was a foggy cloudy day then. Suwon is close enough to Seoul it could be done within a day including walking the entire wall. In my first trip I came by metro and then local bus. This time, I’m taking bus #1007 from Jamsil Lotte World underground bus terminal right to the northern tip of the wall (장안문) where there is a ticket office. Tickets cost 1,000 won (2017) and you get a map and a round sticker that needs to be shown so that you don’t get charged more at other ticket offices around the wall.

 GPS plots from my trusty Garmin Colorado 300 GPS. Still a thing in 2017! This is the entire perimeter of the wall. Half of the wall is over hills & forest and the other half is cutting through the city - which means there's enough convenience stores to refuel. GPS plots from my trusty Garmin Colorado 300 GPS. Still a thing in 2017! This is the entire perimeter of the wall. Half of the wall is over hills & forest and the other half is cutting through the city – which means there’s enough convenience stores to refuel.

Let me try to describe the wall. The steepest part is in the east on Paldangsan, and the rest of the walls are pretty flat. There are watch towers along the perimeter and the patio type are open and makes for good resting places (for your sandwich, for naps, etc).

Instead of making this post too wordy, I’ll make it more gallery centric. Enjoy.

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Lisbon, Portugal

This is my first time to Lisbon. It was part of a business trip, so as can be expected, it is mainly airport, hotel, meetings and then back to the airport. However, I planned to have an evening out in town on the last evening before flying out. Travelled light as I was not sure about security in the city (it felt safe, but take standard precautions). Packed a Leica M2, Leica 35mm Summilux ASPH FLE as I wanted maximum sharpness at f1.4 and brought along 2 rolls of 400TX film which I will push to 800 ISO to get acceptable exposure. Walked around down town and here are the results. Another thing to add is how cheap it felt to be in Lisbon – after being used to the cost of cities like Paris. A taxi from the airport to town cost less than 10 Euros, and cocktails in bars are 3 Euros each. Makes for a case for a return visit in the future.

 Marques de Pombal Metro Station Marques de Pombal Metro Station  Baixa-Chiado Station Baixa-Chiado Station  Chiado at night Chiado at night  Small town square in front of National Theatre of São Carlos Small town square in front of National Theatre of São Carlos

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Absolutely the wrong time to go to Jeonju

4 May 2014

This weekend, there’s the quadruple coincidence of Labour day, the weekend, Children’s day and Buddha’s birthday this weekend giving most people two weeks of vacation. And in conjunction with an annual Jeonju Film Festival, the whole country seems to converge on a small little town. 

There’s no secret that I love Jeonju. The town is small enough, people seem nice but all cars on the street are driven by descendants of Schumacher and the food is just lovely. Not overbearing, and just enough ingredients and the food seems to be made still the artisanal way by uncompromising and luddite old ladies. Sure, charge me a little more for the hand made goodness and 12,000Won bibimbaps, and since I travelled all the way to try something nice, don’t skimp on it. 

Taking the bus on this busy weekend. Most parts of major highways in Korea has a dedicated lane for buses and large passenger vans. This will shave some tens of minutes off the trip compared to driving your own little stinky and crammed car smelling synthetic ester-fueled air “fragrance” for 3 hours. Since this is no where like Malaysia, no mid-sized 4 wheel car tries to reason silently that it is a full-fledged express bus. 

There are two types of buses that ply the route. There seems to be a bus leaving every 5 minutes at the peak times of early afternoon from Seoul Express Bus Terminal. Most of them are 3-a-row “business-class” buses, and then there’s the odd 4-a-row bus that’s cheaper (12,800W this time, compared to 20,500W – I swear the price has gone up year-on-year). For me I can’t tell the difference between the two, except for the fact that you’re squashed closer to the stranger to the right. If you’re taking the bus on a date, perhaps it is a plus. 

The first problem came around on arrival. It was 6pm. My favourite bibimbap restaurant Seungmidang (성미당: 전라북도 전주시 완산구 전라감영5길 19-9) had a long queue outside and they had to cut it short because they ran out of stock. Damn tourists. 

Luckily there was the last batch of bibimbap at 가족회관 (전주시 완산구 중앙동3가 80 2층) just behind Seungmidang. 

But it all was downhill from then on. All hotels and B&B were full for the night, even the small ones. No accommodation, the only other option was spa but even then there was no guarantee it will not be filled. And it was raining, and making walking around a bad experience. 

So. No food. Long queues. Rain. No accommodation. Plenty of people. There was only one thing to do. Since everyone is leaving Seoul, perhaps Seoul is the best place to be for this long holiday. 

And so it was, I took the 10:45pm bus back to Seoul. Arrival was at 2am, but it was great to be sleeping in my own bed again. Home sweet home, as they say. 

Tractors in Muui-do, South Korea

First specimen was located close to the CU convenience store in the main town area. This one is a Daedong tractor. It has a logo that looks like it came from Star Trek. You know the arrow head that points up. It’s a faded red. A workhorse. This one has what looks like the key to the tractor tied to the left handle. Tempted but I didn’t take it for a joy ride.

 Specimen 1: Daedong Specimen 1: Daedong  Handlebars and control console Handlebars and control console

Second specimen was located parked next to a hut next to the dry pond where some boats are stranded. There is no model but it does look similar to the first to I supposed it’s also a Daedong. In fact I did see the brand on the front lights but this one surely didn’t have the Star Trek logo embellished everywhere like no. 1. I’m guessing this is before Daedong was confident about their brand.

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Wondaeri Forest, Inje, Gangwon-do, South Korea

 Wondaeri White Birch Forest, Inje-gun.
Wondaeri White Birch Forest, Inje-gun.

This is another one of those destinations that has been on my to-do list in Korea for at least a year. I first heard about it while reading another one Korean Airlines magazine article and I had it snapped and saved on to Evernote. It just says 자작나무 숲을 and thats about it. I know that it is somewhere in Gangwon-do and close to Inje town but there was no map and nothing in the English internet that could point me in the way. 

An adventure into the Korean internet showed a few blog posts with GPS points that are all over the place. Back in 2012, I hatched a plan to take a bus to Inje, and then running about 20km to survey the place to look for this white birch forest. Luckily I didn’t do it eventually as it was around winter at that time and it did take some hike – uphill – around 5km one way to get to a location where the trees are a little more dense than usual. 

To get there, first you have to drive all the way to Inje. There are no public buses to the entrance of the park, so don’t bother going public. I guess you could hitch hike, but I doubt many cars intentionally take that route unless they were either living there or going to the park. Rent a car. Its worth it. By the way, Avis in Korea is a company called AJ Rental, and they do have a branch close to the Inje Bus Station as I found out while having my lunch in that town. So in theory you could take a bus to the town and rent a car after that. 

Anyway, at Inje, drive down southwest along the only highway through town. I believe it is highway 44. Take the turning towards the east at 38° 1.212′, 128° 7.855′. The road leads to a small road that eventually hugs the valley that gets narrower and narrower till it is almost a bottleneck. Keep on going.

Entrance to the park is at 38° 0.554′, 128° 11.698′. I had to park by the roadside when I was there. There’s a booth, but no fee to pay, you just have to sign in the visitor log. I was there in Winter, around christmas, and I don’t know if in other season the road is opened to cars to drive up. 

 The trees on the way up are somewhat white. Don't despair - a few more km uphill to go...
The trees on the way up are somewhat white. Don’t despair – a few more km uphill to go…

So far so good. You follow the path uphill, and a few hundred meters after the booth, take the right part of the fork. It goes uphill for about 5km, sometimes you get flats, but generally it is uphill. In winter, you need spikes on your boots. Either that or walk on the side of the road. Cars are not allowed on it, unless you live there I guess since the whole way I only saw a truck with dogs in the rear bed. 

The higher up you go, you’d start to see more white birch. Close to the road, it is quite sparse. Eventually you hit the 5km mark and there are plenty of white trees. That’s all there is to it. 

Now for equipment. I brought with me a Sony RX1 with fixed 35mm lens and I had to rely on the might of that sensor to do some cropping. I would have loved to bring my full DSLR with me, and perhaps 100-300mm range of lens for that compressed look, but I doubt I would have enjoyed the uphill hike. I consider this a survey trip then. The end of the trail (but not the trek, it looks like it goes on farther) is what looks like a small car park and the path leads downhill among the white birches. 

        
     

I realised it is not that easy to follow my words and GPS copy and paste for direction, and so if you have a software that reads GPX, you can download the file I recorded on the iPhone here. You will be able to view it in Google Earth or one of those free Garmin applications for the PC/MAC. 

Enjoy Inje, please get in touch with me if you need more directions. I’m sure I’ll make another trip there one day with an extreme wide angle and a long lens. 

 

*end*

Seoul – Dongdaemun on Sunday

Out of the markets in Seoul, the one I like the most is Dongdaemun. You can find anything you want there. I’m not talking about consumer stuff, of course you can find anything you want there if the market is big enough, but parts of this market has industrial stuff as well, and that makes for great photo opportunities. With black & white film, some parts of this market can have that classic vintage look to the photos.

 The area in question is between Euljiro-4 and Euljiro-3 Metro station and south of the small stream on the map The area in question is between Euljiro-4 and Euljiro-3 Metro station and south of the small stream on the map

So what happens on Sundays. First of all, in that area that is marked in English as “Sallim-dong” on the map above, most of the shops are closed. There are some workshops that are still open on Sunday – but it looks like the only reason is to catch up on the backlogged work. You can safely say that it is generally closed on Sunday. So there are all these alleyways that are devoid of human beings, but you can still get a sense of the spirit of the market. So over a few Sundays I made my way there, walked around, got lost a few times, and once I do, I just walk straight and eventually I’ll hit a metro station and I’ll find my bearings again.

Here is are some of the photos taken during the survey. They’re all taken with Leica Ms and I believe a majority of them were with 24mm, which I prefer in tight places and it retains a rectilinear look unlike something wider. Enjoy and leave comments if you wish.

 These shops are close to Euljiro-4 station. Start of my walk. Nothing interesting yet.  These shops are close to Euljiro-4 station. Start of my walk. Nothing interesting yet.   Walking into the small alleys, here's the first workshop, sewing machines. It took me some time to meter this show, trying to balance the strong backlighting with the shadows inside the shop. And this is the reason I prefer film, you can control the contrast by development and prevent blown highlights.   Walking into the small alleys, here’s the first workshop, sewing machines. It took me some time to meter this show, trying to balance the strong backlighting with the shadows inside the shop. And this is the reason I prefer film, you can control the contrast by development and prevent blown highlights.  One of the thing I like about this market (and markets in Korea in general) are all these transport Daelim bikes.  One of the thing I like about this market (and markets in Korea in general) are all these transport Daelim bikes.

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