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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.

One for the road…

Now that was a quick 7 months and a bit in Hong Kong. Whenever I go over Stone Cutter island bridge, I can never help staring at the hill with colonial houses on it overlooking Hong Kong Island. For me at least, that would be the best location with a view of  Hong Kong Island. I’ve always wanted to go there in the evening and set up my tripod to take a panorama at location (22.31530, 114.14248). On my last weekend there, I found that that place is a Naval base, hence off limits to casual passerbys. Its amazing what a little check on Googlemaps and streetview can tell you. So its time to search for an alternative. I’ve shot quite a number of pictures of Hong Kong, and I have not had a good panorama of the place yet, so this is an obvious last project before leaving.

Finally settled on West Kowloon Waterfront as the second best alternative just above Western Harbour tunnel. Again, best time for me to shoot was between 6:30pm to about 8:00pm. At this time of the year, the sun will start to set at 7pm and there will be two light show. One when the orange glow of the setting sun showers the subject with soft warm light and the second (which I think I like better) when the sun has set below the horizon and the skies in the background are in a dark shade of blue and foreground lighted by orange neon lights. I’m pretty happy with the resulting panorama made up of up to 15 frames of 12 megapix pictures stitched in Photoshop. Heres a sample:

Good way to end my short stay in Hong Kong. Now signing off, soon I will report back in a new location.

Migration to a new webhost complete!

Construction ahead...
I’m in the progress of moving from a website that is blocked in China, to a new webhost. The move will be painful as there’s no way for me to retrieve most of my current data from the previous FTP server. Let’s see after a few weeks!

Update: Migration completed! We are now live off the new server. Hope you will be able to see a little performance increase. For me, as I’m able to access this when I’m in China, I should have a lot more flexibility to post more in the future.

Pictures from Sichuan/Guangxi Trip

Coming back from those two provinces, I ended up with 12 rolls of film, 1200 pictures from the DSLR and 1500 pictures from the point and shoot. As you can imagine it takes a long long long time to sort and categorize them and delete the junk shots. I have spent a week developing the rolls of film, and I can only go thru 200 pictures a night maximum for the DSLR as they are all shot in RAW NEF format and needs some kind of adjustments in Lightroom. 
So bear with me for a moment. I will put up the pictures on the postings and will announce on Twitter or Jaiku once I get them ready. Post processing sucks. But there are some nice pictures there!!!

This will also mark the start of me putting watermarks with copyright logo on the pictures, even though they are all small. Read about how pictures are reused without permission and just wanted to be sure I’m protected as much as possible.

Planning to label the posts with the following:
– *Incomplete* means I have not started on it yet
– *Partial* means that I have loaded pictures from some but not all my cameras yet. Soon to have more pictures coming up.

Through Typhoon Jangmi (28 Sept 2008)

The newspaper here says that it is the strongest typhoon to hit Taiwan this year. On the map it looks like its big enough to engulf the whole country, and the time this will happen will be tomorrow, Monday. It has been raining the whole day today and occasionally there are strong gusts of wind, where umbrellas get entangled. If it gets any worse, that means I will get a holiday on Monday!

All doors are braced for the strong winds expected on Sunday

At the Sakura Lounge, Narita Airport

This is interesting. I hold a standard Y class economy ticket which I bought last minute at Taipei Taoyuan aiport (TPE) but in Taipei they put me in the lounge as well. So when I checked in today at Narita, I asked them what made me so special (of course I didn’t mind the lounge, beats sitting in the common area next to someone taking a nap across 4 seats) and she told me that’s because I bought the most expensive economy ticket (i.e. at full fare!). Yeah, so I think I might have paid something like 2000USD to fly one way from Taipei to Tokyo to Shanghai. 2 legs, 1 direction. So I’m going to drink all the wine I can get my hands on. Where is the caviar!!!

Taipei & Typhoon Kalmaegi

I’m in Taipei today, and seems that Typhoon Kalmaegi has been pummeling Taiwan for the last 2 days. I do see some light to medium rain, and occasional strong winds, but compared to what I have seen in the past trips to Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Philippines, this didn’t look too much like a TYphoon from where I am in Taipei. News says that there has been some casualties, but I’m already planning to wake up early tomorrow and if there’s a little respite from the rain I might go out for a morning jog. Staying over near the office at NeiHu across the river from Taipei city. Morning jog consists of running 1km to the river and then running along the park across from the city airport. Nice run. Too bad I can’t cover more than 5km now.
Continue reading “Taipei & Typhoon Kalmaegi”

Buy a mobile phone in Shanghai

Based on recommendations from colleagues, went to check out a shopping centre near Shanghai’s main railway station that has only mobile phone shops. Its located at the junction of Meiyuan rd and tianmu rd. Just across the road from Pacific Dept Store and Xinmei East Hotel. The place has a name but too bad its in Chinese so it is as good as ‘the building’ to me.
Prices here are cheaper than elsewhere in Shanghai where I have compared, using Nokia N82 as my control phone. Its May 2008 and cheapest for the new Black version is 3050 rmb and I’m fairly confident to hit 3000 rmb cash price. This place is an insane 5-6 floors of identical phone shops. And I think 10% of all prepaid cards are here too, judging from the stock each shop holds.

Earthquake in China

I didn’t feel anything, but colleagues mentioned that the office building was swaying. Thought it was nothing big compared to what I feel in Taipei and Tokyo, but now I’ve heard there’s a 7.5 earthquake in Szechuan Province, which is far far away from here. Will have to listen to the news to see how devastating it was…

Magnitude 7.5
Location 31.084°N, 103.267°E
Depth 10 km (6.2 miles) set by location program
Distances 90 km (55 miles) WNW of Chengdu, Sichuan, China
150 km (95 miles) WSW of Mianyang, Sichuan, China
360 km (220 miles) WNW of Chongqing, Chongqing, China
1545 km (960 miles) SW of BEIJING, Beijing, China
Location Uncertainty horizontal +/- 6.5 km (4.0 miles); depth fixed by location program
Parameters NST=206, Nph=206, Dmin=>999 km, Rmss=1.61 sec, Gp= 29°,
M-type=moment magnitude (Mw), Version=7
Event ID us2008ryan

Rangefinding a wedding…

Was wondering… since tri-x in rodinal looks so good and imparts that atmosphere of the photojournalists in the 60s, why would anyone be so lazy to use a DSLR in a wedding. Of course, most couples probably can’t tell the difference between digital and film, as long as you crank up the saturation a couple of notches and scale down the 12mpix image into a 640×480 web JPEG. And in terms of convenience, an auto everything DSLR with whatever lens and flash on bounce and diffusing dome would do the trick.
But what the hell, all talk and no action, so for my own sister’s wedding, I thought since she already has a professional photographer, why not go back in time. Brought a Nikon S2 paired with a Voigtlander 21mm Skopar lens, Leica M6 with 50mm summicron, and a third rangefinder, an Leica M2 with 35mm summicron ASPH to the wedding. The rule was, Tri-X for all shots, except for dinner when its my favourite Neopan 1600. All black and white. For safety measures, I brought a Voigtlander 35mm f1.2 Nokton ASPH. And for portraits, why not Fuji’s GA645i. 4 cameras with me. Swapping from one to another…

I have with me right now 6 rolls of 135 film and 2 rolls of 120. Will be processing them in my darkroom in Shanghai and the labs recommended by a fellow photographer. Here are some of the results…