Wednesday, March 8, 2017

MacroMat Review

I'm always looking for ways to up my photography game, mostly to make up for my terrible painting. For at least a decade, I've been using an 8.5x14 inch piece of paper with a blue gradient printed on it, with something behind it to prop it up. It's always been a little too narrow and a pain to keep up.

So when TableWar launched their MacroMat Kickstarter, I was all about the mat and the stand. Unlike some Kickstarters, TableWar shipped their product very quickly, it arrived in early February and I've been playing with it since then.

The first thing that was really nice is it came in it's own carrying case. For someone who lives in a major metro area where space is at a premium, it's nice to have something like this to keep everything organized.

The stand has two configurations, regular and extended. I opted for only the blue gradient mat, so I probably will never use it in it's extended setup. It can also be raised and lowered for a higher or lower stand. (Ignore the fact that the base in on backwards in the picture of the extended configuration, I wasn't paying attention and was too lazy to reshoot the photo)

The set includes four clips (two shown) to hold the mat onto the stand. This is necessary because the wingnut that connects the crossbar sticks up and without the clips to hold the mat up above the bar a little, the mat wrinkles really bad. This is one of my few real complaints, I wish the crossbar was designed so that the wingnut was recessed into the crossbar. The mat is heavy enough that you would not otherwise need the clips.

The mat itself is made from the same material as TableWar's F.A.T. Mats, although about 1 mm thinner (according to their customer service, which has been excellent by the way!). If you're not familiar with their products, it is the same material as a cloth covered mousepad but not as stiff. It is backed with a rubber type material that keeps it from slipping, which is really nice and solves one of the big problems I have with using a sheet of paper as a backdrop. The picture bellow does not really show the gradient vary well due to may poor lighting in the shot.

My first few attempts at using the backdrop was less than stellar. As you can see bellow, the weave of the mat is quite clear and if you have a tight crop, the gradient is not very recognizable.

When I attempted to shoot some scenery, however, those problems go away. This is noticeable on the box art as well where the example photos include those of model cars and other larger objects. 

I was determined not to give up on the MacroMat though. And when discussing this with my artist wife, she reminded me "adjust your aperture, stupid." And I did so, and got much better results. The first photo above was taken with my maximum aperture so that I guaranteed I had the whole model in focus. So I cranked it all the way down to f/2.8 and that removed the weave, but resulted in a photo where only the face was in focus. My next step was to march through every aperture option until I found one that gave me the best depth of field while still blurring the background. For me, it seemed f/13 gave me the best result. As you can see in the picture below, the weave is only visible at the bottom. The mat's color is a bit off in the photo below for some reason, all my test photos came out perfectly, but my actual photos came out a little off (the terrain photo above is a much better indication of the color of the mat). 

So there you have it. All in all, I am pretty happy with the MacroMat. I only have three complaints:

  1. The size of the weave
  2. The wingnut extending above the crossbar
  3. No instructions were included
But those complaints are pretty minor. It is very quick to set up and stand helps me out since I don't have a dedicated photo area. If it retails for what the Kickstarter charged, I wholeheartedly recommend picking one up unless you have your own dedicated photo studio.


  1. Great review...A friend of mine here in VT got one and I really liked the look of it. I'll probably pick up a mat at least...but your review has certainly given me some things to think about.

    1. Even though I harped on the wing nut issue, I'd really recommend the stand, especially if you're not using a light box. It's pretty convenient.

  2. Interesting. You can also factor in the distance between the subject and the lens into your depth of field issues. If you have the room, you can set the background farther back from the figure too. One trick I use for paper background is bookends and spring clamps of clothes pins. That holds it up and then paper weights at the front corners to help maintain the curve in the paper. But yeah a sheet of paper doesn't always cut it.

    1. While I definitely have more experimenting to do, I think that any solution that allows a single 28mm model to remain in focus is going to pick up a bit of the weave on the bottom. I do think for larger things it won't be a problem at all.

  3. thanks for that review. Been looking for a blue gradient mat. Got a colored one from hangar 18 but was a bit pricey

    1. How do you like it? I've been looking at those too.

    2. material is quite good. not sure how resilient it is, tho. Haven't used it much yet. Don't know how to describe it. It's sort of like reinforced plastic !? Was contemplating getting a blue gradient mat from them. Comes out to something like $30'ish shipped which seems a little steep (maybe I'm just cheap!)