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Canon MT-24EX macro flash Review

Canon MT-24EX macro flash Review - You are about to read the test of 'the most advanced flash unit available for macro photography', that's according to Canon anyway.

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Category : Portable Flash and Lighting
Product : Canon MT-24EX macro flash
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You are about to read the test of 'the most advanced flash unit available for macro photography', that's according to Canon anyway.

The Macro Twin Lite MT-24EX certainly looks the part as you can see on the image to the right. However costing around 700 this is not something everyone is going to be able to afford. We tested the flash unit with a Canon EOS D30 and a EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens which Canon were kind enough to provide.

Listed below is a breakdown of some of the the flash units' quite advanced features.

Main features

  • E-TTL Autoflash, High-speed sync (FP Flash), FE lock, Flash exposure compensation, FEB.
  • Wireless multiple flash control. Slave flashes (550EX, 420EX, MR-14EX-14EX) can be controlled (up to 3 groups). All functions are utilisable in the same way as in a wired connection.
  • A:B flash ratio control. Ratio change from 8:11 to 1:1 to 1:8 = 13 half step increments. Single flash or dual flash can be selected.
  • High Guide No. good even for normal flash shots. Guide No. 2.8 to 24 for macro and non-macro flash photography.
  • Built-in focusing lamp. Obtain accurate focusing even at high magnification.
  • Modeling flash, See your lighting before taking the picture.
  • Compatible with both film and digital cameras. Fully compatible with the D30 and 1-D.

Compatibility
The available features on this flash unit depend on the type of EOS camera you use. The manual explains that EOS cameras can be separated into two groups which are laid out below:

Type-A Cameras E-TTL EOS-1V, 3, Elan 7E/30, Elan II/Elan II E/50/50 E, D30, 300/Rebel 2000, Rebel G/500, 3000N/66, IX, IX 7/IX Lite.
Type-B Cameras TTL All EOS cameras other than the above.

So depending on which camera you have the following features will be available:

Features With Type-A Cameras With Type-B Cameras
E-TTL autoflash O X
TTL autoflash O O
High-speed sync (FP flash) O X
FE lock O X
FEB (Flash exposure bracketing) O O
Wireless, multi-Speedlite E-TTL O X

For more details click here to open an image from the manual showing the features available on specific cameras.

We tested this flash unit with a Canon D30 which typically has problems focusing in low light. The MT-24EX has a lamp feature which dramatically helps the focusing ability of the camera. There is a custom function to activate this which allows you to simply double half press the shutter button. Unfortunately this custom function isn't compatible with the D30 so you have to look up and use the button on the main flash unit to turn this feature on and off.

Performance and battery life
Approximate recycling times and flash counts are shown in the table below.

Canon mention in the manual that size-AA nickel-hydride batteries will only yield 60 percent of the flashes shown. We were using nickel-hydride batteries in the test but they were old and not fully charged, allowing us only around 80 shots from 2 sets of 4 AAs. To get the best performance without buying an external pack you'll need high capacity rechargeable batteries or alkalines.

Usability
Attached to a Canon D30 the flash unit was easy to use. The red pilot light showed the flash was ready to fire, when taking a shot the automatic E-TTL ensured shots were well exposed and a green light next to the pilot light confirmed this.

The buttons are all rubber and slightly sunken so can be a little bothersome to press. The LCD can be lit up which is very useful, if only the cameras always featured this function as well. The lamp function not only helps the autofocus but allows you to target where the highest intensity of the flash will be. The lamp section of the flash heads can be seen above the main flash light. Each flash head also has a tripod socket allowing for greater flexibility with the cord reaching about half a metre.

Canon usually produce good manuals with their cameras so I was surprised by the one for this flash unit. The main problem with it is the way it's shared with the MR-14EX (a macro ring flash) which I can only presume was some cost-cutting exercise. Luckily despite this confusing element there is still a lot of useful information included. The flash unit comes complete with quite a nice carrying case, though we'd have expected this really on such a high priced product.

Sample Images
The three images below show the effect of flash ratios that can be achieved with this unit. The far left image has the flash heads both in the lowest position, the middle image has them both at the top, and the far right image only has the left flash head firing. To see a larger version simply click on the image.

Click to see large version

There are many different combinations available that will all produce different results often dramatically so. Here are some more samples to show some of the flash units capabilities.

A slightly over exposed section of mushroom, but the flash has brought out the fine details of what would have just been shadows.

The apple stalk shadow helps to give a more three dimensional feel here and through using the flash ratio, can be only seen on one side.

Dried flowers may not look quite as pretty as the live variety but often produce more interesting shadow variations.

Canon recently introduced a professional digital SLR the EOS-1D. For a sample of a macro shot taken with this flash unit and the 1D see the bottom of the page here.

Verdict
Despite the high price of this flash unit we can still recommend it. Mainly due to the fact that as far as we're aware there is no other similarly specified competing product available. This is most likely going to appeal to professionals because of its high cost, but many enthusiasts will buy it too. It adds so much extra functionality to your camera that the price doesn't seem so bad after all. You'll certainly be able to get a lot of shots that otherwise would have been impossible.

If you're set on buying a macro flash unit for your Canon but don't want to spend this much there's also the Macro-lite MR14EX which is around 400. There are cheap flash units available from most camera shops as well, but these don't offer anywhere near the functionality the Canon units do.

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