This Arduino-powered DIY macro rail helps you shoot perfect stacked macro shots every time

Feb 1, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

This Arduino-powered DIY macro rail helps you shoot perfect stacked macro shots every time

Feb 1, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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If there’s one essential item for macro photography, aside from a macro lens (or extension tubes), it’s a macro focusing rail. We’ve featured a few focusing rails here on DIYP before, like the NiSi NM-180 (review here), as well as some other DIY solutions. This one, from Curious Scientist, is an ongoing project based around an Arduino Nano that uses a stepper motor to move your camera along a rail in fine increments.

I say it’s an ongoing project because since releasing his first video on his motorised macro rail slider only a month ago, he’s already posted an update showing almost a complete redesign of the staging platform on which you mount the camera. Depending on your camera and needs, either design might work very well for you, so I’ve included his videos below for both of them.

YouTube video

The first design, posted a month or so ago, is essentially how you’d expect a macro-focusing rail to look. It actually resembles the NiSi NM-180 mentioned above, except that it has a motor on one end of it instead of a manually turned handle. The electronics allow you to set start and stop endpoints, and it calculates the number of shots based on your aperture, depth of field and other settings.

It also keeps track of how far through the shooting sequence it is, letting you quickly see at a glance how much work is still left to do. Ultimately, it presents you with an array of images you can then load into Photoshop or your image editing software of choice to create your stacked macro photo with everything in focus, just the way it should be.

The second design shows a very different and much more elaborately designed staging platform. It looks more like a tiny camera slider rather than a macro-focusing rail, but it should add much more stability to the system as it moves from one shot to the next. This allows you to use larger, heavier camera rigs as well as providing more precise control for smaller subjects with much shallower depth of field.

YouTube video

Both hardware designs are very interesting, and which you might choose to build will depend on your own needs, but the electronics to power both are identical. They’re both interesting projects, and I think the design of the rail itself is possibly more interesting than the electronics or the software. Fortunately, he’s made the 3D files (for the second version) available to download from his website.

The PCB files, however, you’ll need to purchase via PCBWay, and the source code for the Arduino is only available to his Patreon supporters. Links for both of those are also available on Curious Scientist’s website.

Macro is a whole lot of fun, especially when you can automate some of the processes to take human error out of the equation. I’ve been thinking about trying to motorise that NiSi NM-180 ever since I got it, but looking at how simple the mechanical designs for these are, I might have to think about just building one from scratch!

Find out all about Curious Scientist’s first design here and his second design here.

[via Hackaday]

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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