Today we are going to take a look at a small and compact macro focusing rail from the Chinese manufacturer NiSi, a company that is more well known for its quality line of stills and video filters.
Focusing rails are precision tools that are mainly used for allowing extremely accurate focus stacking. While it is possible to stack focus simply by changing the focus on your lens when stationed on a tripod if you want to preserve your original composition as much as possible and your lens has some level of focus breathing (which most of them do) a focusing rail is a way to go.
A focusing rail allows the user to move the camera in very small and exact increments giving the user extreme precision but also reparability when shooting several products on the same setup.
The NiSi Macro Focusing Rail NM-180
Build and design
So, let’s take a closer look at the build quality and design of the NM-180 focusing rail. In the small but very well-made box, you will get the focusing rail itself with its included legs, a nice grey carrying case, and a medium-size Arca Style quick release plate with a very nice and thick D-ring on the bottom.
The rail itself looks and feels outstanding in the hand, all-metal and very well machined with really nice curves. The rail is about 24 cm long (9.5″) and has an actual travel range of about 16cm (just over 6″). The feet are easily detachable so you can choose to keep them for tabletop use or remove them if you are working from a tripod although with most tripod heads you can leave them on and they won’t get in the way.
On the bottom, you have the 3/8″ and 1/4″ screw hole for connecting to a tripod head but a very nice feature of this unit is that its base is actually a long Arca swiss compatible “plate” so you can just connect it directly to any Arca compatible head without any need for a plate.
The most visibly obvious feature of the rail is the small crank on the side for moving the carriage (there is also a nice thumb-screw knob on the other side for tabletop use). You can open and close the crank for travel and it is very smooth and produces about 1 and 1/4 mm of movement per revolution, which lets you maintain very precise control. For repeatability, there are markings in mm on both sides and on the carriage itself.
The carriage has the option to turn in different angles, but the mechanism is designed in a way so it will be easy to always get back to 90 degrees. You also have a locking knob on one side and a tension knob for back and forth travel on the other side. If you need you to have the option to connect a second focusing rail for precise horizontal movement as well.
The product itself is super easy and straightforward to use. Out of the box, it had some grease on the shaft which could have been avoided if there was some sort of top plate but it’s not a dealbreaker.
We test using it for shooting some jewelry and as you see it worked really well on a tripod. Using it on a table on the other hand was not ideal because it lacks stability unless your movements are very precise (this is where the knob on the opposite side comes in handy). We also tried shooting some video with it using the unit as a sort of very precise slider, however, the frame keeps moving up and down and so it will be hard to recommend it for this task.
The first image (out of 18) in the stack (out of the camera, no processing) – only the front of the gem is in focus
The finished picture after stacking 18 images in Photoshop (and some light re-touching) – everything is in focus
A little behind the scenes of this shoot (you can see the focusing rail under the camera)
Conclusion & pricing
The NiSi macro focusing rail is an extremely well-made product. The design is solid, the built quality is excellent and at the end of the day just works.
As for pricing the NiSi rail cost just under $130 which is about mid-range level compared to some of the other products on the market but given its solid build quality and general functionality, we feel it gives very good value for money.
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