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REVIEW: Manfrotto Micrometric Focusing Rail

Joseph Albert , Aug 28, 1999; 12:09 a.m.

I acquired not too long ago an interesting focusing rail made by Manfrotto. Because it is not well known, and I think it is the best rail available from anyone, I thought I would post a review of it.

The product is the Manfrotto 3419 Micrometric focusing rail. As far as I can tell, there is no "Bogen" brand name equivalent product (as most of you know, Bogen products are made by Manfrotto of Italy and sold in the US under the Bogen brand name). I purchased it for $84 from a local camera shop, but it might be available at a lower price from one of the mail-order outfits (it is not listed on either the Camera World of Oregon or B&H web sites, however).

I used to own the Pentax Macro Rail III, which is a highly regarded focusing rail. However, I prefer the Manfrotto 3419 for the following reasons:

1. It has a much finer granuality of control of camera position than any other rail I've seen. It has a geared movement that moves the camera only 1mm in 1 full revolution of the knob. This enables much finer control of focus in macro situations than is possible with any other focusing rail I've seen.

2. It allows a significantly more stable/rigid setup. It is just a single sliding plate so that the camera mounts very close to the same plane as the rail mounts to a tripod. Conventional focusing rails have the camera mounted on a significantly elevated rail that leaves the camera hanging over space that is not centered over the center of gravity of the tripod.

3. There is a quick-release lever to unlock the rail allowing quick positioning at a coarse granularity for quick camera positioning, then this is released, and the geared, fine-tuning control of focus can be used. This compares vary favorably to the Really Right Stuff macro slider which has a similarly convenient coarse focus control by unlocking the clamp, but after positioning the camera you also get a very fine level of control of camera position for critical focus with the Manfrotto rail.

The only negative thing I've observed with this product is that it is not as finely machined as some other rails, eg the Pentax Macro Rail III. However, this Manfrotto rail is easy to control and seems well made overall.

What I've found convenient is to use a 3-way pan head without a quick-release builtin to the head on the tripod, and mount the rail directly to the head. Then I attach a Kirk QR-1 "arca-swiss" style clamp on top of the rail. This makes for a very stable setup, although the QR-1 is a smaller than normal clamps so not all arca-swiss style plates will fit in it (Kirk's plates do fit of course).

Anyway, thought that might be of interest to folks interested in macro work.

Responses


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Scott Long , Aug 28, 1999; 10:06 a.m.

A few points to add to Joseph's comments. 1) It is compact, about 4"x9"x.5", which makes it easy to put in the camera bag for hikes. 2) I put a QR plate on the bottom of the rail and attach it to a 3-way pan head. And, I found the Bogen 3229 head (a simple QR head that swivels in one direction, designed for use on a monopod) works great attached on top of the rail. This head is about 1.5" thick and moves the camera above the rail so you don't bang your chin into the focusing rail.

For the money, it is a very nice rail. I went to six cameras stores before I found it. All of them carried Bogen, none of them knew about the rail, and when I found it on a shelf at one store the clerk was surprised they had it.

--Scott

Danny Burk , Aug 28, 1999; 05:17 p.m.

Can you advise where the Manfrotto rail is currently available? I'm in the market for a rail and was unaware of one made by them. I've been looking favorably at the one made by Really Right Stuff; other than the brief comment above, does anyone have experience with RRS's rail? Of the two, which does anyone prefer? Thanks.

Scott Long , Aug 29, 1999; 08:27 p.m.

I suspect that any Bogen dealer can order get one. The label on mine was 3419 Micrometric Sliding Plate. The documentation is dated 6/98, so it has been around for a time.

Joseph Albert , Aug 30, 1999; 08:44 p.m.

Danny,

If you need a focusing rail, I would advise against the "Really Right Stuff (RRS) Macro Slider". It really is not a focusing rail because it lacks any geared movements.

The purpose of a focusing rail is two-fold: first, it provides a finer granularity of control of focus by moving the camera to bring the image plane of focus into sharp focus; second, when you get much past 0.5X magnification, say close to 1X, even very small turns of the lens helicoid change the magnification enough that it will change the composition of the image. This means that you cannot adjust the focus without adjusting the composition at these magnifications.

The easier way to work is to set the lens (or lens + extension tube and/or teleconvertor) to a desired magnification, and then bring the image plane of focus into sharp focus by adjusting the camera position. This requires a focusing rail with geared movements, something the RRS macro slider lacks. The RRS catalog even states that after adjusting the slider position, make a final adjustment with the lens helicoid. This is not going to support a good working technique much beyond 0.5X in magnification.

There are a number of very good focusing rails on the market, such as the Novoflex rail, the Pentax Macro Rail III or the Olympus Macro Rail. In addition to avoiding the RRS Macro Slider, I would also avoid rails that support lateral (left-to-right) camera positioning as well as forward-backward. Although this is a convenience that saves moving the tripod around, it does not contribute to the main function of a focusing rail, ie bringing the image into sharp focus. But these two dimensional rails are more awkward to use and very difficult to use for vertical format shots. They also are awkward to pack.

I think the Manfrotto rail is superior to other geared rails in that it has a much finer granularity of focus. Most other rails have a steeper gear ratio and move the camera by an inch or more in one revolution of the focusing knob. I wrote above that the Manfrotto micrometric rail only moves 1mm in 1 revolution. It is probably closer to 1mm in 3/4 a revolution of the knob, offering a much finer level of control of critical focus than other focusing rails I've seen. It also is very compact and light weight to pack.

Charles Mackay , Aug 31, 1999; 06:20 p.m.

I use the RRS slider and would agree with Joseph. At 1:4 ~ 1:2 (where I do most of my work) the RRS works great. At higher rep ratios the micrometric control of a traditional rail is very helpful. The RRS rail is rock stable, beautifully made, and easy to work with, allowing mounting of the canera in fore/aft or conventional orientation (as does the rail made by Kirk). (If you are trying to save money on any of this, forget it!)

Tom Pohrte , Sep 01, 1999; 06:07 p.m.

At B&H:

BOGEN MICROMETRIC SLIDING PLATE/REG #BO3419/3419 $69.95

Enjoy

Danny Burk , Sep 06, 1999; 02:22 a.m.

Hi, thanks to all for your input. I will order the Manfrotto rail shortly from B&H...

Best, Danny

Walther Adler , Sep 24, 1999; 03:51 a.m.

Joseph, thanks a lot for your very helpful review. I ordered the Manfrotto rail this morning and am really looking forward to test it in the field (in Europe, it's mushroom time)!

On the list code: The American code is "Bogen 3419", the European designation is "Manfrotto 454".

Michael Taylor , Aug 13, 2001; 03:47 p.m.

Has anyone tried to mount this rail to an Arca-Swiss clamp? If so, what plate did you use? Where did you get it? I am loath to use the one sold by AS, because it's incredibly heavy and lacks any kind of anti-twist flange. Thanks in advance.


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