2010-01-16

Manfrotto 454 Micro Positioning Plate


Concept: 2 out of 5
Execution: 2 out of 5
Yeah, but: It's a great budget choice for a niche product.


The Long Version: Many macro photographers think that their images lack depth - and it's not because they're more honest than average. Getting enough depth of field, and getting the right focus placement, can be a real struggle. So for everyone who uses a tripod to improve their close-up photography, I'll recommend a fantastic accessory that's generically called a 'focusing rail.' Far cheaper than the (reportedly excellent) products from Kirk and RRS, the Manfrotto 454 Micro Positioning Plate is affordable enough to be used by non-specialists and still good enough to do the job.


Getting enough depth of field is a huge challenge in macro photography. Focus stacking - combining images with different areas in focus - is an excellent solution, but simply changing the focus on a macro lens also changes the magnification and composition. Walking the focus with a stationary camera may work, but using the 454 positioning plate gives a better solution. Simply focus to the desired magnification, position the camera for the best framing, and then move the camera front-to-back with the 454 while taking photo 'slices' through the subject. Combine them in software in post and the results can be quite striking.


Naturally, even single images will benefit from your being able to place the plane of focus in exactly the right spot by simply shifting the camera with absolute precision. No more nudging the tripod legs and hoping for the best.




The assembly in these photos is a DIY project. Two 454 plates - sold separately - are attached perpendicularly, with a 323 quick-release on top and an attachment plate for my 410 geared head on the bottom. The 323 QR was a bit of a problem, since its bottom isn't flush, but a couple of cut-down stir sticks solved that problem. It's my way of putting the pro back into improvised. Without the added quick release the camera would need to be screwed directly to the 454 plate; that's just barbaric.


Making the system compatible with the 200/rc2 plates also means that a Manfrotto 341 L-bracket can be used on the camera. The 454 plates weigh about a pound each, so this whole assembly is over a kilogram and isn't something to flop sideways on a ballhead. But by placing mine on a 410 geared head, it gives me precise control over five axes of movement. Weighing six pounds without a camera, that's a substantial addition to the top of a tripod; but for focus-stacking and/or precise compositions, it's totally worth it.




Front-to-back movement is controlled by a the dual thumbscrews (black) that move the assembly less than a millimeter with a comfortable 5/8ths twist. For quick adjustment, the black lever disengages the mechanism and allows the plate to slide. The brass thumbscrew beside it does the reverse, and locks the plate into place. There's enough play in the sliding plate that the framing will change slightly, but if it's tightened down enough to get rid of that movement, then all movement stops. If I'm shooting a stack of images then I'll just factor a little wiggle room into my composition - literally - and forget about it. Life's a barter system.


In an entertaining first for Thewsreviews, I completely forgot that I'd actually reviewed the 454 plates six months ago. (Naturally, there's a lot of repetition, but the earlier article is here.) While I was more enthusiastic back then, my basic conclusion is unchanged: They're not perfect, but the 454 plates are a solid and reliable way to get better close-up photos. I liked my first one enough to add a second, and I wouldn't want to do my product photography without them.

3 comments:

  1. Very helpful informative review !

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  2. you mention a could of times the plates are not perfect and its a cheap but get the job done version of more expensive options - what are those aspects you refer to?

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  3. The difference that separates the micro-positioning plate from its much more expensive focusing-rail siblings is the amount of play in the mechanism. That's not unreasonable, and the 454 works very well, but there's enough lateral movement to be significant for framing at macro magnification. With single photos this doesn't matter tremendously, but makes more of a difference when stacking multiple images for increased depth of field.

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