A short review of the Minolta Macro Twin Flash 2400
8. September 2004, 15:22:55 Uhr:
Why a special macro flash
When shooting at large magnifications (like 1:2 or 1:1) you get only very shallow DOF, and you have to stop down to f/22 or more to get a few millimeters of DOF. Consequently, exposure times become very long at these apertures. You're often tempted to use flash in these situations, to get some light and to stop motion. Using a regular flash unit is often not the best solution. It's difficult to position the large flash unit to get light into the small space between lens and subject. Furthermore, a single flash unit results in harsh light from a single direction. By using two flash units you gain much more control over the lighting situation. But again, using two regular flashes, mounted at the end of long flexible bracket arms, are uncomfortable to use. The center of gravity of these flashes is at the end of a long lever, causing extra vibrations.
The solution comes in the form of special macro flashes. With these the flash controller is separated from the flash tubes, moving the center of gravity for such a setup towards the camera body. Only small and lightweight flash tubes are mounted next to the front of the lens.
The Minolta Macro Twin Flash 2400
The Minolta Macro Twin Flash 2400 consists of the following parts:
- Macro Flash Controller MFC-1000
- 2 flash tubes T-2400
- Flash tube holder
- Adapter rings for 49 mm and 55 mm filter threads
- 2 extensible arms
- 2 wide-angle adapters
- 2 folding soft-boxes
- 2 cord reels
- manuals (4 languages)
- two pouches, one for the controller, one for everything else
The adapter rings mount on the lens like regular filters. The flash tube holder snaps onto the adapter, and it can be rotated around the adapter. The holder has four mounting positions for the flash tubes. These can be mounted either directly on the holder, or extensible arms can be mounted between the holder and the tube. Both the tubes and the arms can be tilted.
The flash tubes are connected to the flash controller with curled cables. The flash controller is mounted on the camera's hot shoe. It's shaped like the 3600HS(D) flash unit.
If you already have the old Ring Flash 1200AF-N, you can use its flash tube unit with the new controller. The MFC-1000 is shared by the Macro Twin Flash 2400 and the new Macro Ring Flash 1200.
The flash tubes have a maximum guide number of 12 meters each. This doesn't sound like much, but remember that the flash-to-subject distance will be very short. For these distances a GN of 12 meters is more than enough. The tubes cover an angle of view of 45° by 60°. When you snap the wide-angle adapters onto the flash tubes, the angle of view increases to 60° by 78°, while reducing the guide number, of course. Also included are two small soft-boxes. These can be folded and mount in front of the flash tubes just like the wide-angle adapters. You have to use arms with the soft-boxes, otherwise they may obstruct the view of the lens.
The flash controller can drive either the two twin flash tubes or the ring flash unit (not tested). When using the twin flash tubes you can select a single tube or both.
Flash metering is TTL-OTF or pre-flash metering. The latter one is selected automatically when you use the flash on one of the digital compact cameras, like the DiMAGE A1 or A2, or DSLRs like the Dynax/Maxxum 7D. For all film bodies, TTL-OTF metering is selected. You can't switch between these two metering modes manually.
A fully manual flash mode can be selected. The power output can then be selected for each flash tube separately, using two large dials on the flash controller. HSS, ADI and wireless flash are not available. This is not a big loss, because it wouldn't make much sense to use these in macro situations.
There is a test button on the flash controller. It either fires a single test flash or a stroboscopic modeling flash at 40 Hz for 2 seconds.
The flash controller takes 4 AA batteries. Lithium batteries and NiMH rechargeables can be used. There is also a 6V power socket on the controller, but it is not explained in the manual. Minolta also doesn't offer an external power supply outside Japan. Again, not a big loss unless you do a lot of studio work and don't mind another cable hanging from your camera setup.
There is an adapter ring for 72 mm filter threads that has to be ordered separately. In my opinion it would have made more sense to include this 72 mm adapter in the standard package instead of the 49 mm adapter. Minolta's macro lenses have filter sizes of 55 mm and 72 mm, but not 49 mm. Also, the cost of ordering the 72 mm adapter separately exceeds its value by far (after all, it's just a piece of aluminium), so they could have included all three adapters for $5 more. For other filter sizes you have to use the next bigger adapter ring and a step-up ring for your filter size.see update below
The controller uses the Minolta iISO hot shoe, ie. it is compatible with all camera bodies starting with the i-series. For the old x000 series bodies you have to use the FS-1200 flash adapter. The controller is also compatible with Vectis cameras and DiMAGE digital cameras using the same hot shoe.
In the field
I have used the macro twin flash with a Dynax 7, the Minolta 100/2.8 Macro and the Minolta 200/4 APO Macro G lenses. The latter has a 72 mm filter size, for which I had ordered the 72 mm adapter.
I have used both on a tripod as well as handheld. The flash tubes, holder and adapter are very light, so handholding the entire setup is not much different from handholding the camera with a regular flash unit mounted. On a tripod the flash tubes induce almost no extra shake.
The entire setup is very flexible. You can mount the flash tubes at four different positions on the holder, selecting various angles between the two tubes. The entire setup can be rotated around the front of the lens. You can mount the tubes directly on the holder, or you can use the extensible arms between the tubes and the holder. The tubes and arms tilt. Furthermore, you have the choice between two diffusors, the wide-angle adapters and the soft-boxes. The flash tubes can be fired separately or together. The number of different lighting setups is almost unlimited.
You can set a ratio between the two flash units by using manual flash mode. This will get very complicated very quickly. You have to manually adjust for aperture, flash-to-subject distance, diffusors used, filters, extension (of the lens and extra extension), TCs, film speed, etc. There are a number of tables in the manual to aid the task, but I found this to be impractical in the field. You don't want spend half an hour to calculate the correct flash output for each tube before making the shot. I found it much more practical to use “old fashioned” means to set a ratio between the two tubes, like using one directly on the holder while placing the other one farther away on one of the extended arms, or using a diffusor on one tube and none on the other. This way I can set a ratio between the two tubes and still use TTL-OTF metering.
The modeling flash is very useful. It not only allows you to judge the lighting setup before making the shot, but also aids with manual focusing. When you use extra extension and probably also a TC, the viewfinder may become quite dim, and every bit of extra light helps to find the correct focus.
I like to use the Angle Finder Vn for low angle macro shots. However, with the macro flash controller mounted, I found the two to easily interfere. Your forehead hits the flash controller before you get your eye up to the angle finder. Using a different shape for the controller may have been a good idea, one that is more flat and is oriented towards the front of the camera instead of sticking up. The current shape makes it difficult to use the controller and the angle finder at the same time.
I have not used the cord reels. These mount to the side of the flash controller, and they take up excess cable length. They are quite difficult to install and remove, and you always have the feeling that they rather break than attach or detach. Doing this every time you assemble and disassemble the flash setup was just not comfortable. The good thing is that you don't really need the reels. The cables are not overly long.
Here are a few sample shots. All were taken in TTL-OTF flash mode.
The macro twin flash is a very useful flash solution for macro photography, and way better than two regular flash units on flexible brackets. It is not a cheap flash, though. You really have to be into macro photography to make it worthwhile. However, you will not be disappointed by this flash.
- Very flexible
- Excellent metering
- Easy to use
- 72 mm adapter should be included in standard package
- Better shape of the flash controller may be useful
Update from April 2007
This flash was re-released by Sony in 2006, named “Sony Alpha Macro Twin Flash Kit HVL-MT24AM”. It is almost identical to the Minolta version, with one major difference: The controller does not have the socket for the ring flash. This means that you can not use the Sony controller and the flash tube unit of the old Minolta Ring Flash 1200AF together. This was only possible with the Minolta version, where the controller still had the ring flash socket. Sony also does not seem to offer a 72 mm adapter ring.
There is no other technical difference. And of course, the Sony version also works with Minolta's older film and digital cameras.
Update from January 2008
Pete Ganzel is offering a clone of the AR-T72 adapter ring. The original ring is no longer available, and Sony does not offer a 72 mm adapter for its HVL-MT24AM. Pete also offers a number of other adapter rings for the Twin Flash 2400/HVL-MT24AM.
Go to eBay and search for the seller petemn to find Pete's offerings.
Product shots © Minolta