Macro Lighting Advantages Of The Canon Twin Lite MT-24EX

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One of the problems with macro photography is a need for ample light. Shooting in daylight is always a pleasure but not always practical depending on the weather and the subject being shot. With focusing distances somewhere around an inch or two between the front of a lens and the subject, on camera flash is not a very viable solution for an even, consistent effect. Even taking the flash off camera is not optimal without some willing assistants or a well laid out shooting area. Considering moving from subject to subject? Then a handheld flash solution looks even less enjoyable.

Enter the specialized macro flash. In this case, a MT-24EX by Canon (lent to me by the fine folks at BorrowLenses.com). While a ring flash can give a nice even light and works in certain macro situations, the macro flash (actually two strobes with one triggering unit) takes this a step further by allowing for different angles of light as well as adjusted ratios between the two. This particular strobe also can control a third strobe to add in another light dimension.

The MT-24EX attaches to the hotshoe of SLRs just like any flash and then uses an adapter ring sized to the particular lens to be fitted (52mm and 58mm are the current choices). The ring screws onto a lens as any filter will and then the flash mount clips onto the ring with an easy to use quick-release system. Each of the strobes has its own holder on the flash mount to make break down into a nice, small package easy.

The unit has a few useful features. First, the unit can switch between manual and TTL metering control and I found the results with TTL very satisfying (although not always perfect). The unit’s rear controls are the same as most other Canon strobes except for the + and – controls, as well as the < and > arrows. I much rather prefer the wheel and select controls of strobes such as the 580EXII. Not only will the MT-24EX allow for adjusting the ratio of the strobe units, it can also wirelessly control a third strobe when that strobes is set to slave (or multiple strobes set to the same channel). You will see this in action at the end of the post.

Setup and adjustment of the strobe is fairly easy. The main unit attaches to the camera hotshoe and then the main ring clips onto the adapter, having been previously screwed onto a macro lens. Then the strobes have an easy slide-in clip on the ring. The position of each strobe can be adjusted in two manners: 1) a press of the button shown at right allows the strobe to circle around the lens, covering a range of about 130 degrees and 2) the strobes will pivot in and out, on a marked scale (also shown at right) for objects near and far. The darker hash mark indicates straight forward.

To show the main advantages of this strobe unit, I will present a number of photos with the strobes at various configurations, pivots and ratios.  I have mirrored the image of the flash unit so that the configuration matches the photos.

These first four shots play with the pivot of the units. The first shot is with the strobes angled directly at the pencils, about two inches (6cm) in front of the lens. Then the strobes are pointed straight forward, outward and all the way inward. (click on pencil images for a 2000 pixel wide version) All shots were taken with a Canon 7D, Canon EF 100mm Macro L lens at ISO 100, f/22 and 1/250. The pencils were kept the same distance from the lens in all the images and were approximately 1.5 feet (50cm) in front of a slightly off white wall with very little ambient light.

Next, I played around with adjusting the ratio of the strobes. This first shot below is at 2:1 (left:right) then 4:1 and finally 8:1, the maximum ratio to be achieved with the flash controls.

Now it is time to move the strobe units around the ring to demonstrate the different lighting effects to be achieved. Again, the image of the camera is flipped to match the light configuration of the pencil image. The largest impact these changes have is on the placement and intensity of the shadows on close-up objects.

This last set of images includes the use of a third strobe, a Canon 580EXII, set to slave mode and controlled from the MT-24EX. Each shot is captioned with noted changes. The first shot is the control with a 1:8 ratio and configuration as shown.

Flash C held lower than pencils, firing up with a +2 exp. adjustment

Flash C held directly behind pencils, firiing into lens at +2 exp. adjustment

Flash C held directly behind pencils, firiing into lens at +0 exp. adjustment

Flash C held directly above pencils with +0 exp. adjustment

Lastly, the unit also has a pair of modeling lights which help illuminate subjects both for focusing and to estimate how light and shadows will fall within the scene.

With a the amount of variables available on the Canon MT-24EX flash unit, macro photography becomes far more interesting. The amount of control, both with the individual strobe units (each strobe can be turned off altogether to allow only one strobe to fire), the ratio, the angle and the inclusion of a third flash for additional lighting, makes this kit a worthwhile addition for anyone wishing to become serious about macro work in hard lighting situations. The kit retails for around $800US. Sto-Fen also makes flash diffusers for this particular kit. Thanks again to BorrowLenses.com for the lend. The technical specifications can be found at Canon’s website.

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Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Morocco, Seattle, Los Angeles and more. He is also the creator of 31 Days to Better Photography & 31 Days of Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

  • Hi

    This is a really informative article and study detailing the use of this Macro Flash attachment. If I had a spare $800 to spend on the very specialized equipment, I would do so. I would also then have to start focusing on Macro Shots to see how I could recoup that expenditure. I suspect that I can get similar results using two of my Nikon SB600 Flash units controlled by my D90. They can be set for Master/Slave, TTL Info is transmitted and individual flash strengths adjusted – just wouldn’t look as professional as the equipment described here

    I still like natural light when I can find it, like this cool macro of the eye of a butterfly:

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/04/24/touch-down/

  • HI

    The ligthing setup described would be perfect for on location Macros. I recently visited a Butteryfly Exhibit in San Diego, California. The lighting was somewhat subdued so I has to bump the ISO to 800 to get these Macro shots. Had I been equipped with this lighting gear, it would have been so much easier.

    Might have scared the Butterfly away with the Flash….Hmmm

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/04/25/blue-morpho/

  • Peter,

    Are there any good point and shoot macro cameras that you’d recommend ?

  • scott

    Great write-up on a useful piece of kit, I’d really like ti find something like this that works with a Sony DSLR.

    Even with a decent macro lens, I still find lighting to be the greatest challenge and most limiting factor.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5687300117/

  • Rex Boggs

    Check out this photo, taken using the Canon ME-24EX:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/33814780@N07/4716749642/in/faves-rexboggs5/

  • A simple metal bar attached under the camera can provide a mount for two flashes. If you want to spend more money, Manfrotto already has one with adjustable arms to pivot the flashes around.

    If you have one flash, you can get a second used one that has very little in the way of super features, for as low as $40 on craigslist and other places.

  • Abbott

    This is a good introduction to this unit (I own one and love it). A couple of points:

    – In addition to the two adapter rings mentioned, Canon also offers a 67mm ring; it’s required for the 100mm f/2.8L macro lens.
    – Because of its ring-mount requirement, a photographer can really open up their minds to how to use this device. An adapter ring is a ring; doesn’t care what lens it mounts to as long as it’s the right size.

    67mm happens to be the filter size of the EF 70-200 f/4L lenses. Think about using the MT-24EX mounted on this lens in conjunction with a TC-14 and/or extension tube. The MT becomes a nice, diffused, versatile flash, the the lens extensions let you get usably close to subjects. I’ve gotten excellent results with this setup on butterflies and other insects and small reptiles, for example. The MT-24EX is much more versatile than it’s humble ‘macro flash’ designator suggests.

    And yes, one can craft a similar unit using a bar and a couple of small flash units. I first saw this described decades ago, and I’m sure there are plans available online. Works great using a pair of small strobes, as long as you have a way to trigger them. For me, what this unit adds is easy control of the light ratios of the two strobes, plus easy and versatile positioning.

    The only thing I wish is that instead of heavy cables, it was wireless like the Nikon R1C1.

  • Interesting article. As an alternative, I’ve used a Sigma EM-140 DG Macro Ring Flash on my Canons for 3-4 years. It does the same thing with an adjustable ratio setting for the two flashtubes and a rotating ring for $379 on Amazon. I am a professional flower photographer and use it on every shot, sun or shade. Love it.

  • Carel

    I do have the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 L IS USM Macro Lens and am now saving up for a ring- or twin lite for the lens. Since the MT-24EX needs a step down adapter to fit onto the 67mm filter of the lens, does this in any way obstruct part of the image?

  • Abbott

    No; the ring doesn’t obstruct the image at all. All it does is add cost and a bit of inconvenience. Also, get a 58mm lens cap if you plan to leave the flash attached to the camera (say, when you’re walking around between images). The cap snaps onto the MT-24EX. It also snaps onto the front of the adapter ring.

  • I’ve been wanting to do a segment on Macrophotography lighting, Though I have written an article about it, I’ve yet to go into some more detail +1 GREAT ARTICLE. Here is a link to one of my posts http://clickitphoto.net/2011/04/20/tip-corner-macro-photography/

Some Older Comments

  • Brandon Lopez May 8, 2011 01:42 am

    I've been wanting to do a segment on Macrophotography lighting, Though I have written an article about it, I've yet to go into some more detail +1 GREAT ARTICLE. Here is a link to one of my posts http://clickitphoto.net/2011/04/20/tip-corner-macro-photography/

  • Abbott May 7, 2011 11:58 pm

    No; the ring doesn't obstruct the image at all. All it does is add cost and a bit of inconvenience. Also, get a 58mm lens cap if you plan to leave the flash attached to the camera (say, when you're walking around between images). The cap snaps onto the MT-24EX. It also snaps onto the front of the adapter ring.

  • Carel May 6, 2011 03:51 pm

    I do have the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 L IS USM Macro Lens and am now saving up for a ring- or twin lite for the lens. Since the MT-24EX needs a step down adapter to fit onto the 67mm filter of the lens, does this in any way obstruct part of the image?

  • Larry May 6, 2011 06:48 am

    Interesting article. As an alternative, I've used a Sigma EM-140 DG Macro Ring Flash on my Canons for 3-4 years. It does the same thing with an adjustable ratio setting for the two flashtubes and a rotating ring for $379 on Amazon. I am a professional flower photographer and use it on every shot, sun or shade. Love it.

  • Abbott May 6, 2011 04:32 am

    This is a good introduction to this unit (I own one and love it). A couple of points:

    - In addition to the two adapter rings mentioned, Canon also offers a 67mm ring; it's required for the 100mm f/2.8L macro lens.
    - Because of its ring-mount requirement, a photographer can really open up their minds to how to use this device. An adapter ring is a ring; doesn't care what lens it mounts to as long as it's the right size.

    67mm happens to be the filter size of the EF 70-200 f/4L lenses. Think about using the MT-24EX mounted on this lens in conjunction with a TC-14 and/or extension tube. The MT becomes a nice, diffused, versatile flash, the the lens extensions let you get usably close to subjects. I've gotten excellent results with this setup on butterflies and other insects and small reptiles, for example. The MT-24EX is much more versatile than it's humble 'macro flash' designator suggests.

    And yes, one can craft a similar unit using a bar and a couple of small flash units. I first saw this described decades ago, and I'm sure there are plans available online. Works great using a pair of small strobes, as long as you have a way to trigger them. For me, what this unit adds is easy control of the light ratios of the two strobes, plus easy and versatile positioning.

    The only thing I wish is that instead of heavy cables, it was wireless like the Nikon R1C1.

  • Hagen May 6, 2011 01:53 am

    A simple metal bar attached under the camera can provide a mount for two flashes. If you want to spend more money, Manfrotto already has one with adjustable arms to pivot the flashes around.

    If you have one flash, you can get a second used one that has very little in the way of super features, for as low as $40 on craigslist and other places.

  • Rex Boggs May 5, 2011 09:56 pm

    Check out this photo, taken using the Canon ME-24EX:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/33814780@N07/4716749642/in/faves-rexboggs5/

  • scott May 5, 2011 04:48 pm

    Great write-up on a useful piece of kit, I'd really like ti find something like this that works with a Sony DSLR.

    Even with a decent macro lens, I still find lighting to be the greatest challenge and most limiting factor.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5687300117/

  • Gary May 5, 2011 01:13 pm

    Peter,

    Are there any good point and shoot macro cameras that you'd recommend ?

  • Erik Kerstenbeck May 5, 2011 11:38 am

    HI

    The ligthing setup described would be perfect for on location Macros. I recently visited a Butteryfly Exhibit in San Diego, California. The lighting was somewhat subdued so I has to bump the ISO to 800 to get these Macro shots. Had I been equipped with this lighting gear, it would have been so much easier.

    Might have scared the Butterfly away with the Flash....Hmmm

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/04/25/blue-morpho/

  • Erik Kerstenbeck May 5, 2011 07:09 am

    Hi

    This is a really informative article and study detailing the use of this Macro Flash attachment. If I had a spare $800 to spend on the very specialized equipment, I would do so. I would also then have to start focusing on Macro Shots to see how I could recoup that expenditure. I suspect that I can get similar results using two of my Nikon SB600 Flash units controlled by my D90. They can be set for Master/Slave, TTL Info is transmitted and individual flash strengths adjusted - just wouldn't look as professional as the equipment described here

    I still like natural light when I can find it, like this cool macro of the eye of a butterfly:

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2011/04/24/touch-down/

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