goodbye Canon MT-24EX?

When I was first in the market for a camera I chose Canon for their macro system and especially the capable – and unique – MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro lens. Over the past few years of using it I have found it near indispensable and always keep it on hand when in the field.

My main problem with the Canon macro system has come to be the Canon MT-24EX Macro Twin Lite Flash. While extremely versatile and compact, this little flash unit is quite harsh unless diffused well (like Alex Wild’s setup) and there are some annoying issues with its effective range and the flash head angle when coupled with the working distance of many lenses.

The diagram above depicts the working distances of the MP-E 65mm lens at 1:1 (1) through 5:1 (5) and the light cast by the Mt-24EX flash head when in the “default” position pointing down.

Quality of the Lighting

With my homemade diffuser setup the area from 2:1 to 5:1 is quite well lit – the lighting is very even and soft, but almost flat – without much depth. This can be fixed with an adjustable flash shoe which the  the light  and gives a far better result in many situations.

But at this  angle the flash can cast a shadow on the near side of the subject particularly when photographing a very small subject and this led me to stop using the adjustable flash shoe option.

At magnifications less than 2:1 it is hard to get good lighting with the MT-24EX as the distance between the subject and camera is very often too great for even my versatile tracing paper diffuser.

In the example above, I used the MP-E 65mm lens with the flash diffused. As you can see the image on the left (taken at about 2.5:1) is quite well lit versus the image on the right (taken at 1:1).

If you compare the relative distances of the two subjects from the flash heads in the diagram above it becomes clear how the diffuser is far less useful at the greater working distance.

I have tried a variety of different diffuser setups, none adequately diffused light throughout the entire range of the 65mm lens let alone to the near range of Canon’s 100mm macro lens, even with one or two extension tubes.

Position/Angle of the Flash Heads

In the above image you can see how the light from the flash strikes the subject on from the side rather than the top – a major issue when using a lens in the 100mm+ range.

The mounting ring which attaches the flash heads to the lens raises them only a few centimeters above the lens barrel, a huge problem when trying to shoot a subject that is larger, as in the photo above.

Though this image was taken with a 100mm lens, two 25mm extension tubes, and a custom bracket (which held the flash heads up and out toward the subject) the lighting was no better than that from a ring flash, probably worse.

Above is shown the path of the light from the MT-24EX to a subject at the minimum focusing distance of the Canon 100mm macro lens.


After over two years of using the MT-24 EX and a whole lineup of diffusers my conclusion is that this flash is very good for use with Canon’s 65mm 1-5x macro lens in the 2:1 to 5:1 range, providing lighting that, when adequately diffused, is very good.

But even with in the short span between 1:1 and 2:1 a diffuser which worked well in the former range is now of little to no use. This is the same when the M-24EX is used with a 1:1 50mm to 100mm macro lens due to the angle of the flash only a few centimeters above the lens.

Now I and anyone else can almost certainly make a diffuser which covers a given portion of the MP-E 65mm’s or 50mm/100mm range, but it is creating a diffuser that covers a greater range which will actually make this unit practical.

After spending two years plus trying to find ways to bridge the gap I decided to take a break from the Mt-24EX and tried using the Canon 580EX with a small softbox.

With this new arrangement I have been quite happy – only in one or two incidents has this combination presented some trouble which was easily correct with a minor adjustment of the flash’s position. And using this setup I can switch from the MP-E 65mm to a 50mm lens without having to fiddle with arranging the MT-24EX or diffuser, just a swift adjusting of the bracket and the flash is nicely positioned.

On the left a shot taken with the MT-24EX and on the right a shot taken with the 580EX – what a difference!

Please let me know what you all think about MT-24EX – I look forward to hearing what you all have to say!

  1. I’d have to agree – I’ve also noticed lighting generally works out pretty well using this flash with the 65mm and not so well with the 100mm macro. I use the 100mm more than the 65mm, so the 580EX might be the ticket.

  2. KeithN said:

    I was thinking of buying the MT24, but am now having second thoughts. I do have the MPE65 and the 180mm f3.5 lenses and now realise that the MT24 would not work well at all with the 180. Thanks for the info.

    I would be really interested to see the setup you have now. How have you mounted the 580EX? and how have you managed to hold the softbox over the subject?

    A photo of your setup would be really appreciated.

    • I use a wimberly macro flash bracket to hold the 580ex over and quite close to the subject – the closer the light/bigger the diffuser the more pleasing the quality of the light will be.

      • Which Wimberly bracket model?

      • The Wimberley F-2 Macro Bracket – a great piece of gear

      • Dave said:

        Hi Chris

        Nice writeup, you’ve done here.

        Personally, I’ve tried this setup before, and found it very clunky compared to the MT-24EX. Both in that the softbox protrudes too much and knocks into branches etc. and I found adjusting the bracket arm to the correct position needed much more difficult than just adjusting the MT-24Ex heads up or down a notch depending on 1:1 or 2:1 and greater.

        I wondered if you are doing anything different to what I tried, do you have any shots of your setup with the bracket and flash when using the MP-E lens?

  3. Anthony G. said:

    Another option I discovered if you are using the MT 24EX is the Macroshot Dual Mount Flash Bracket for $56 on Ebay. I am dialoguing with one guy that claims this also solved the issues at specific magnifications. It looks like a great device and apparently the results were well worth it.

    Your article was very helpful – thanks for posting and also your two years of research

  4. Jack said:

    I read from the MT24-EX manual that for 1x magnification, the inward angle of flash head should be set at 45 degrees, and for 5x – 2x magnification, the angle should be 60 degrees.

    Would doing this allow the object to be well-lit at all magnifications of the MP-E 65mm?

  5. allan said:

    hi l am about to buy the same flash l use a canon 7d 5d and for the macro l use a 100mm is macro lens, the question l have is what is the smallest aperture you are to use handheld

    • allan said:

      i have now reconsidered i do have three canon 580ex ll due to the weight i would like to use two of them any ideas on a good strong bracket to hold two


  6. I own a 5DMII+MP-E 65mm for 2-3 years.
    Never used any light but natural. Sometimes is very hard.
    Never had the need until now that I´m only doing macro indoors.
    Considered the MT-24EX but it is very expensive for me, now.
    Also read a book about macro with a regular Canon flash and seems to me more practical, more options to sculpt the light over the subject. Less “medical light” ,-)

    There´s all these other Canon flashes and I don´t know what do choose because I never used artificial light, as I said.

    And this:

    At the same time I´m learning wet plate collodion photography (XIX century) and it need lots of light to make a portrait. Some people use natural light and use very long exposures. Some strong strobes.

    If possible I would like to use the same light both for macro and for portraits that need strong light.
    I´m a bit lost here.

    Any opinions are welcome.

  7. dalantech said:

    I’ve been getting really good light out of the MT-24EX from .6x to 2x (the the EF-S 60mm + 37mm of extension tubes) and up to 5x with the MP-E 65mm, although I agree that getting light onto the subject at 5x with the flash heads mounted directly to the supplied flash mount is tough. I sometimes use Kaiser adjustable flash shoes to elevate the flash heads. Plenty of examples at my Flickr gallery:

    • I agree – I’ve not had a chance to update this blog but I redid my diffusers and have dramatically improved the quality of light from the MT-24EX

      • Ricky Jones said:

        Chris, I wonder what diffusers you now use?

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