Adventures in Close-Up Lighting with the Canon MT-26 Macro Twin Lite

August 29, 2017

Last summer I wrote a blog for the Canon Digital Learning Center titled “Macro Projects for a Rainy (or Hot) Day.”  The projects in that blog were all done with LED table lamps.  LED lamps will work for a lot of subjects, but a Speedlite offers advantages that a constant light source can’t.

Canon makes two Speedlites designed specifically for macro photography, the Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II and the new Macro Twin Lite MT-26EX-RT.  This article will explore the features and benefits of the MT-26.

First, the short duration of a Speedlite can stop the motion of almost any subject.  Since we are working with macro subjects at small apertures (to obtain greater depth of field), we would have to go to very high ISOs to get fast enough shutter speeds to stop the motion.  A Speedlite allows us to maintain a low ISO as well as use small apertures.

Second, the MT-26’s twin flash heads can be controlled from the camera to create the desired lighting ratio. If we were using LED lamps, we would have to move the lamps closer or further away from the subject to control lighting ratios.

The MT-26 also allows you to add an extra Speedlite to light the background (or other areas of your picture).  This Speedlite is controlled wirelessly via radio signal (with a compatible RT Speedlite) so it can be placed anywhere in the scene.  Even behind the background.  

To see what this new flash is capable of, I set up a few different scenarios.

Project #1: A droplet of water hanging from an artist’s paintbrush, with an artificial flower as the background.  To accomplish this shot we need the short flash duration provided by the MT-26 in order to stop the action. The setup also includes a 430EX III-RT to light the background.

The MT-26 was arranged with the “B” flash attached to the lens (via the included mounted bracket) pointing down on the paintbrush.  The “A” flash was attached to a tabletop tripod and used as a backlight on the droplet.  The 430EX was used as a “C” flash and set to illuminate the background.  The “C” flash was controlled wirelessly via radio signal from the MT-26.  All flashes were set to manual and after a few test shots I had the correct exposure.

Focusing was done manually with Live View by focusing on the drop before it started to fall.  Then it was just a matter of waiting for the perfect moment to take the picture.  I used a Remote Switch RS-80N3 so I wouldn’t move the camera at the time of exposure.

Project #2: Ultra high magnification macro photography, using the Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro Photo lens.  

Most macro lenses have a maximum reproduction ratio of 1:1 or life-size.  The MP-E 65mm lens starts at life-size and goes up to 5:1 or 5 times life-size.  To give you an idea of what this is, you can fill the frame with a grain of rice.  A mundane subject like a spool of thread, or the strawberry shown below can become an interesting photograph when you use this lens.

High magnification photography, even with a tripod, can be challenging to get sharp images.  At our Canon Live Learning classroom in San Francisco, when the cable cars go by, their vibration can result in soft images when shooting 5x magnification in available light.  Using the MT-26 Twin Lite as the light source eliminates those vibrations because of the extremely short duration of the flash.

One of the other issues with the MP-E 65mm lens is that at 5x magnification it is difficult to actually get light onto your subject.  The MT-26 allows you to aim the flash heads to direct the light to your subject, even at 5x magnification.

Project #3: Create a photo studio in miniature.  When I did the blog article I used LED table lamps for illumination, since the lighting setups were simple and didn’t require changing the lighting ratios.  The MT-26 allows me to control the lighting ratio of the A/B flashes from 8:1 to 1:1 to 1:8.  This allows the “A” flash to be the main flash and the “B” flash to be the fill or vice versa.  I can even change the lighting ratio from the LCD on the back of the camera.

The miniature I chose for this image was a coiled snake I found at the local hobby shop.  I positioned the snake so that the “A” flash would be the main light and the “B” would be the fill light.  I experimented with the ratios, but in the end I used a ratio of 1:3.  This gave me nice light on the body of the snake and filled in the shadows on the right side of the frame.

Project #4: One of the obvious choices for the MT-26 is flower photography.  After returning from the local nursery with the “perfect orchid” I set up my home studio.  Wanting to do something a little different I visited the local crafts store and purchased a few sheets of background paper. My setup was an EOS 6D Mark II, an EF 100mm Macro lens, the MT-26 and a Speedlite 430EX III-RT.  The MT-26 was set up with the diffusor adapters to soften the light on the flower.  The “A” and “B” flashes were used to light the orchid. The 430EX was aimed to backlight the orchid and create a much more dramatic effect.  I chose a background paper with metallic reflective stars for something a little different that the usual black background.  

From the technical side all of the flashes were set in Manual mode.  I did this because of the highly reflective nature of the background paper.  I chose the 6D Mark II because it has an articulated LCD screen.  The camera could be at a low position for my composition and I could adjust the screen to use Live View to focus and the touchscreen to control the flash lighting ratios.

Project #5: Now it’s time to head outside.  Photographing insects and butterflies is always challenging because they move around very quickly.  For this shot I used high-speed sync to be able to shoot with a shutter speed of 1/400th of a second.  The faster shutter speed allowed me to get a darker background. Because the flower was so bright I adjusted the MT-26 to +2/3 stop exposure compensation.  For focusing I set the camera for a Spot AF point in the center and focused on the front antennae using back button focus.  Additionally, I added the Compact Battery Pack CP-E4 since the outside shots require quite a bit of power and I wanted the fastest recycling time possible.

As you can see, the MT-26 is a very versatile tool for macro photography.  Features such as twin directional flash heads and radio transmitter master function plus the included diffusor adapters make the MT-26 your go-to Speedlite for macro photography. Additionally, the MT-26 has improved performance (compared to the MT-24) in flash power output, recycle time and enhanced LED focusing lamps. Let your imagination run wild with endless macro photo possibilities and the MT-26 will take care of your macro lighting needs.

The CDLC contributors are compensated spokespersons and actual users of the Canon products that they promote.

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