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Categorized | Articles, Gear, Jason DiMichele

Gear – Novoflex Castel-Q Focusing Rack (full review)

Review by Jason DiMichele

Macro photography is an incredible way to explore a world full of exciting subject matter. It’s a style of photography that can be achieved in many ways, from extension tubes, bellows, reversing lenses, macro focusing racks and a combination thereof. Novoflex has manufactured macro accessories for a long time, and their macro racks are particularly popular. Will a Novoflex focusing rack be something that will bring your macro photography to the next level?

Novoflex Castel-Q Focusing Rack

Novoflex Castel-Q Focusing Rack

The Novoflex macro focusing racks are made in Germany, along with the rest of the Novoflex products. Not only are they aesthetically pleasing, their build quality is second to none. There are a few different models of focusing racks, with the main difference being the type of camera quick-release plate used. Although I chose the Novoflex Castel-Q ($375) focus rack to review, you can expect the same craftsmanship and reliability from all of their models. The Castel-Q measures 20 cm x 10 cm x 3.3 cm and weighs 450 g, so it won’t add appreciable weight or bulk to your bag. The Castel-Q will mount to a ¼” or 3/8” threaded tripod or quick-release plate and it uses the industry-standard Arca-Swiss quick-release system. The rack track is finely machined, with incredible precision. There’s a very accurately etched ruler that runs the length of the rack to help with precise movements. A simple yet very welcome feature is a set screw at each end of the rack that will stop the base from sliding off, which could no doubt be disastrous.

A focusing rack is used for precise and repeatable camera movement and focusing for photographing macro subjects, typically at 1:1 or greater magnification. On one side of the Castel-Q is the advancement knob, and on the other side is the tension/locking knob. The tension can be set so finely that you’re able to advance the base fractions of a millimetre at a time, if required. Although focusing racks can be used to critically focus for a single photo, their most popular use is for focus stacking. Focus stacking is a process of taking several photos at various focus points and stitching them together in software for greater depth-of-field. Because macro images have a very shallow depth-of-field (perhaps a few millimetres), focus stacking overcomes this problem. Castel-Q’s quality of control makes it ideal for the focus stacking process. It has a total rack travel of 125mm and each turn of the advance knob will move the base a consistent distance. The knob that controls tension and locking will not cause the base to shift with tension changes, locking or unlocking. For even more flexibility with camera placement, you can connect two Castel-Qs (perpendicular) so that you have precise movements going forwards, backwards, left and right.

Flower Macro 01sh

Some may think the Novoflex Castel-Q is expensive, especially when you can purchase third-party focusing racks for a fraction of the cost. I can tell you from experience that the cheaper racks are decent for casual macro photography, but don’t expect them to be as well built, precise or repeatable. If you choose using a macro rack for focus stacking (instead of manually refocusing the lens), I highly recommend not using an inexpensive rack. A lot of the cheaper (and even mid-range) racks wobble and stick when moving the base, and don’t have quality tension and locking knobs. A cheap tension knob will make it more difficult for minute, repeatable movements, which is critical when you’re using 1:1 or greater magnification and focus stacking. The rack teeth on the cheaper racks can also have inconsistent spacing, which will cause an inconsistent distance change as you turn the knob. When working at large macro magnifications, the camera position or incorrect focus point can cause real problems with your image.

Macro photography is exciting and very rewarding, but requires discipline and impeccable technique to achieve quality results. It requires repeatable and accurate control. It’s hard to beat the craftsmanship and experience using the Novoflex focusing rack. If you’re regularly photographing macro subjects and expect excellent results, the Novoflex focusing rack is something you’ll want to add to your macro kit!

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