Cheap High Quality Macro Flash Project

Started May 17, 2012 | Discussions
SteB
SteB Veteran Member • Posts: 4,526
Cheap High Quality Macro Flash Project

As I've written in a few other threads I've had an idea for making a cheap easy to assemble macro flash for some time. I had intended to finish it last year, but too much else happened.

The idea is to make macro photography more accessible with a cheap simple set up which will give light nearly as good as from the most expensive macro flashguns. I have deliberately used cheap easily available photo accessories, so anyone anywhere in the world can get the parts if they want. My intention was to make it minimalist i.e. no big heavy brackets if at all possible and very low profile. Also by using an independent flashgun available in all fits and other generic parts it should be possible to adapt it or use it on virtually any camera or system that takes external flashes.

I've got the flash now and most of the parts, but I want to test it out in the field before photographing the set-up. Unfortunately it's a bit wet and cold in my part of the world at moment so it's likely to be another day or so before I complete that part. However, I might post a quick photo in an hour or 2 to show what the set-up looks like.

The initial set-up and diffuser will be aimed at close range work with a working distance of about a max of 15cm. Although I have got another diffuser type which will allow it to be useful to 20-30cm, and I will build a diffuser that allows it to be used further out than that.

The set-up is quite similar to the one shown on Kurts blog linked to below.
http://orionmystery.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/270ex-for-macro-improved-version.html

However the main differences are that I will be using a Cokin P square type filter holder with a reverse mounted square modular hood as a front mounted bracket. The flash I got is a Polaroid PL 108-AF, which basically looks like a clone of the Metz 24 AF-1, but cheaper. It is a TTL flash and the Canon one I've got works with E-TTL. I was initially a bit worried about recycle times but when I just tried it our with a double layer diffuser I got virtually instant recycle times with a newly charged pair of AA Uniross Hybrio batteries.

I'll list the parts to show how cheap it has been. Prices are in UK pounds.

Polaroid PL108AF flash = £39.99

Cokin type P holder and 62mm adapter ring = £5.99

Square modular hood = £3.35

I roll hook and loop tape = £1

In addition you will obviously need an off camera cord if you haven't already got one. You can get a cheap one for less than £14 off eBay. You will also need some plain neutral vellum paper or white packing type foam for the diffuser, and some board to mount it on. In other words it should be only just over £60 even if you need an off camera TTL cord. It is also very light. The only assembly work is going to be making the diffuser, which is easy.

What you do is to put the square filter on normally with the adapter ring. On the top of the square modular hood I've attached a strip of 1cm thick foam with double sided tape. On the top of this stick a strip of hook and loop tape, and attach the opposing piece to the front of the flash.

Then mount the square modular hood on backwards. You will need to push the long ends of the square filter holder inside the hood to put it on backwards, it flexs easily. Then just velcro the flash on. This will actually hold it on and it won't fall off. However it will wobble slightly. So for a really tight fit loop an elastic band either side of the flash on the square modular hood and connect them over the flash via a small hook. This really holds the flash on tightly. Just attach the TTL cord and all you need to do is to make the diffuser.

As you can see from Kurt's diffuser it isn't complex. This is my original plastic cup diffuser they are all derived from.

There's a double layer vellum paper one here.

However, I have no found it easiest to mount them to a board. Just a bit of carboard or plastic that slots in the filter slots should be easy. Because these diffusers are easily crushed, I now have some that fold flat. You just get a clear plastic container (ideally 8-9cm diameter) with a flat bottom. You want to cut it off about 1.5-2cm from the bottom. Then cut in in half and cut a semi-circle from the bottom leaving a lip of at least 1cm. Then cut a few tabs from the hook and loop strips. The U-shaped diffuser can then be attached to the clear plastic former with hook and loop pads. This allows it to be carried flat. You can also stick the clear plastic former to the board like this. By making it modular like this you can make different length or shaped diffusers, all of which can be carried flat. If you have a flared former, with makes the diffuser more funnel shaped, then attack a foam diffuser and bend it back it gives good lighting for butterflies etc, at up to 30cm. I made a similar diffuser out of multiple layers cut from PC dust-covers a few years back and used it like that.

I've put this up now so anyone can ask questions if they fancy trying it themselves. If you've already got a small TTL flash and an off camera cord you've already got nearly everything. As soon as I can I will get some images of the set-up and some taken with it. Alongside this over the Summer I will be doing some comparisons of different price points of getting greater than 1:1. I'ill compare a 55-250mm zoom plus Raynox close-up lenses to the Sigma 70mm f2.8 plus extension tubes against the MP-E 65mm. I might also put a reversed 50mm or wide-angle, and possibly a 100mm macro lens in the mix.

SteB
OP SteB Veteran Member • Posts: 4,526
Image of the set-up

This is a very rushed snapshot and I made a rough job of the cut out. But the main point is so people can see what it looks like. I haven't bothered putting the elastic band retainers on and the end of lens concave diffuser is simply an old one that by luck fitted in the filter slots.

Look closely and you will see it is simply a square modular hood put on backwards to normal. The velcro holds the flash at any angle. However a couple of elastic bands looped around the modular hood either side of the flash and held together with a hook really firmly attaches the flash.

Yes it looks very simple, but that is the idea.

btw. This flash has a swivelling head so the flash head angle can be altered without moving the flash position. Remember the square filter holder rotates under friction so the flash can always be positioned above the subject. The friction is great enough for it not to rotate by the weight of the flash. Needless to say the whole set-up is much lighter than most macro flash set-ups. It should give pretty similar results to my MT24EX set-up. I have also order some hug light LEDs to use as focusing lights. £3.40 off eBay. I got the idea here.
http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1041&message=41498514

orionmystery
orionmystery Senior Member • Posts: 2,047
Re: Image of the set-up

Great post on DIY macro rig Stephen. Love DIY project! The lightweight flash on Cokin Filter Holder is a brilliant idea. Good to finally see image of the setup.

I happened to have a Cokin filter holder but I can't seem to put it on in reverse though. The normal way should work too i think.

I would love to feature this in my blog if you don't mind. I will probably wait till you have a few more shots of your setup, and even sample shots :).

I have also looked at a friend's post on using a lens hood to hold the 270EX 270EX II. I posted about it in my blog already.
--
Macro Photography Blog: http://orionmystery.blogspot.com

SteB
OP SteB Veteran Member • Posts: 4,526
Re: Image of the set-up

orionmystery wrote:

Great post on DIY macro rig Stephen. Love DIY project! The lightweight flash on Cokin Filter Holder is a brilliant idea. Good to finally see image of the setup.

I happened to have a Cokin filter holder but I can't seem to put it on in reverse though. The normal way should work too i think.

I would love to feature this in my blog if you don't mind. I will probably wait till you have a few more shots of your setup, and even sample shots :).

I have also looked at a friend's post on using a lens hood to hold the 270EX 270EX II. I posted about it in my blog already.
--
Macro Photography Blog: http://orionmystery.blogspot.com

Thanks Kurt. I've just seen the set-up on your blog and its very good. Actually its quite similar to how I intend to use this. Because I will sometimes use it with a longer foam concave end of lens diffuser and I want to be able to double it back like that or fold the end up for using at longer working distances. Which is why I like your foam diffuser as it is easier to alter its shape. Personally I will be using it more with my Sigma 70mm on a separate body, and it needs to work at longer distances as well as close-up.

I don't mind you featuring it one your blog, just make the point that it is a work in progress so some bits will alter and anyone trying it will have to fine tune it themselves. The idea with the finished version is that it will all fit together easily and be usable, and so someone will only have to modify it if they want to. Already I will probably alter the fitting to raise the flash up a bit more and I have a few ideas for the diffusers. The head swivels like the 270EX head but in a different way, so it can be point outwards.

There's a knack for getting the hood of the Cokin square filter holders on backwards, which is easy when you know how. The long ends of the square filter holder are a touch too long to fit in the square modular hood. So you need to flex hood slightly with your fingers so these ends fit within the hood, which they will. Then it clicks into place easily and is solid. I will have to do a video because it is the sort of thing that is easy when you know how, but difficult to explain without a lot of words.

SteB
OP SteB Veteran Member • Posts: 4,526
An update

Just an update with a few more image of the set-up, and a couple of images taken with it.

The 58mm adapter I ordered only just arrived so I was only able to test the set-up out on the MP-E 65mm now. Unfortunately the Dandelions have just finished and there aren't many of the wildflowers I use for my insect photography out that are well suited to getting good images. The couple below were taken of Hoverflies feeding in Buttercups. Unfortunately you tend to have to snatch a few shots rather than being able to work on the composition so the angles are not my perfectionist best. Nevertheless they give a good impression of the lighting from the set-up as both these hoverfly species are quite reflective.

The only negative I have noticed compared to the MT24EX aside from the focusing lights, are the recycle times. Whilst it appears to recycle quite quickly after one shot you can't take several shots in quick succession as I am used to with the MT24EX. The LEDs on the Hug Light I got are not powerful enough so I will be looking at some more powerful clip on LEDs for the focusing lights. However, the upshot is that it all works reasonably well and gives similar lighting to the diffused MT24EX for about 10% of the cost of the MT24EX.

orionmystery
orionmystery Senior Member • Posts: 2,047
Re: An update

Thanks for the update Stephen.

Great light in those images!

Could you please also show us some front view. Also interested in knowing how you secure the flash to the Cokin adapter. Thanks.
--
Macro Photography Blog: http://orionmystery.blogspot.com

SteB
OP SteB Veteran Member • Posts: 4,526
Re: An update

orionmystery wrote:

Thanks for the update Stephen.

Great light in those images!

Could you please also show us some front view. Also interested in knowing how you secure the flash to the Cokin adapter. Thanks.

Thanks Kurt. I will provide some more images when I've finalised it. At the moment I am looking at the attachment as a temporary measure until I can find something better. It holds the flash in place well enough, it's just that I want something a bit more elegant and adjustable. I've been looking around the shops for ideas on something to use as a platform to raise the flash up instead of the foam but I haven't found anything ideal at the moment.

I also want to show more of my modular end of lens concave diffuser, because I can attach foam like you use, or vellum paper. In fact I can use one or 2 layers of vellum paper and use different length or shaped versions. These can be quickly swapped around in the field. I can also add small reflectors for fill-in. You can already see one the bases of this modular diffuser in one of the images. Although I haven't shown everything I attach to it. Another advantage is that it allows me to carry the diffuser material flat (between 2 boards).

The whole thing is basically a work in progress.

btw. What's the recycling like on the 270EX. With the flash I'm using it tends to run out of steam quickly if you try taking shots in quick succession. This is where the MT24EX scores as for about 5 or 6 shots I can fire as quickly as I want. It will even keep up with the 6fps drive for a burst of about 4-5 shots. There's no big delay, but you do need to wait a few seconds otherwise the flash won't fire.

orionmystery
orionmystery Senior Member • Posts: 2,047
Re: An update

SteB wrote:

orionmystery wrote:

Thanks for the update Stephen.

Great light in those images!

Could you please also show us some front view. Also interested in knowing how you secure the flash to the Cokin adapter. Thanks.

Thanks Kurt. I will provide some more images when I've finalised it. At the moment I am looking at the attachment as a temporary measure until I can find something better. It holds the flash in place well enough, it's just that I want something a bit more elegant and adjustable. I've been looking around the shops for ideas on something to use as a platform to raise the flash up instead of the foam but I haven't found anything ideal at the moment.

I also want to show more of my modular end of lens concave diffuser, because I can attach foam like you use, or vellum paper. In fact I can use one or 2 layers of vellum paper and use different length or shaped versions. These can be quickly swapped around in the field. I can also add small reflectors for fill-in. You can already see one the bases of this modular diffuser in one of the images. Although I haven't shown everything I attach to it. Another advantage is that it allows me to carry the diffuser material flat (between 2 boards).

The whole thing is basically a work in progress.

btw. What's the recycling like on the 270EX. With the flash I'm using it tends to run out of steam quickly if you try taking shots in quick succession. This is where the MT24EX scores as for about 5 or 6 shots I can fire as quickly as I want. It will even keep up with the 6fps drive for a burst of about 4-5 shots. There's no big delay, but you do need to wait a few seconds otherwise the flash won't fire.

Hi Stephen, yes I have similar issue with the recycle time on the 270ex. Even with the MT-24EX, I can't always fire continuous shots. Need to wait a few seconds in between as you mention. I tested my light at F11, 1/200, ISO100, and I needed 1/4th power to properly light up a scene. Just a few days ago, I put in a new material, some kind of micro fiber cloth and the improvement is really obvious, but I also need higher power i.e more than 1/4th at similar setting.

-- hide signature --

Macro Photography Blog: http://orionmystery.blogspot.com

David Pilling New Member • Posts: 1
Re: Image of the set-up

SteB wrote:

There's a knack for getting the hood of the Cokin square filter holders on backwards, which is easy when you know how. The long ends of the square filter holder are a touch too long to fit in the square modular hood. So you need to flex hood slightly with your fingers so these ends fit within the hood, which they will. Then it clicks into place easily and is solid. I will have to do a video because it is the sort of thing that is easy when you know how, but difficult to explain without a lot of words.

To fit the hood backwards roatate it by 90 degrees to the usual orientation.

ikendu Forum Member • Posts: 66
Re: Cheap High Quality Macro Flash Project

SteB wrote:

As I've written in a few other threads I've had an idea for making a cheap easy to assemble macro flash for some time. I had intended to finish it last year, but too much else happened.

The idea is to make macro photography more accessible with a cheap simple set up which will give light nearly as good as from the most expensive macro flashguns.

Here's mine. Maybe 25 cents of tape, spray glue, tin foil, rubber band and cardboard.
Otherwise, the standard flash of the Nex 5n.

Here's a close up I took with this rig; a tiny cactus the size of a match head.

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