Capturing the Perfect Shot -> Cheap Macro

Shot in CO with my 50mm lens and 20mm extension tube
Nov bloom in TN. Taken with 20mm extension tube.

So, it’s another gorgeous day here in S.FL, and with a tad less wind it would have been the perfect opportunity to get in close and tight for some macro shots. That thought brings me smoothly into the next chapter of my photography series and a few more juicy tips for those budding shutterbugs out there.  Close-up shooting is a fascinating little activity, usually involving yours truly lying flat on my stomach in the dirt, riveted to my “subject” and waiting patiently for a half hour or so for that perfect 1 sec lull in the wind to get the shot….ahhh, fun times indeed.

The problem is that it can also be rather pricey. For those of you with SLR-type cameras a dedicated macro lens can cost upwards of $700+, and if you’re just a macro-hobbyist like me that’s a tad pricey. So, let me change your life and introduce you to “home-made” macro. You see there are  2 “tricks” you can do with removable lenses that allows you to get closer to your subject, and they can be done really cheaply!

Reversal Ring

1. Lens Reversal – Reversing your lens (putting it on your camera the wrong way around) will actually give you instant macro power. Instead of the lens taking big things (whatever you’re looking at) and making them small (for your sensor), it now does the opposite. How cool is that! You can buy a cheap $10 reversing ring (like this one), and off you go! Just make sure the reversing ring you buy fits the lens you’re going to use. Your auto-focus won’t work anymore, but with a bit of fiddling back and forth manually, you can get some amazing shots.

Typical set of extension tubes

2/ Extension Tubes
– Another little trick for getting closer is to put distance between your lens and your camera body. The more distance the closer your picture and any old, empty tube will do as long as you can get a light-tight fit at both ends. For the super-cost-conscious you can use an empty can of Pringle’s chips (like this example). For the more refined a $80 or so set of Kenko or Zeikos extension tubes (like these) will do the trick. Make sure to buy the version for your camera brand. I’ve used extension tubes for years and love the fact that they’re so light and easy to carry around. The other neat thing about extension tubes (if you buy the commercial version) is that your auto-focus will still work. It still takes quite a bit of fiddling since your range of focus gets a lot smaller, but it can be soooo much fun to try.

Summer bees in France. Taken with extension tubes and a bit of fiddling :)

Neither of these methods are, admittedly, as versatile as a “real” macro lens. The “tricks” allow you to bring your camera closer (so, for example instead of focusing out a few feet from your subject, you can bring the camera as close as a few inches to the subject). Macro lenses allow you the get close-ups without having to get so close, if you see what I mean, which can be useful for easily-spooked insects and such. But, the methods work and with a bit of practice can produce some really stunning results.

So, if you’ve been put off macro by the costs, hopefully these tips give you some ideas to get started. Happy shooting, everyone!

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  1. says

    A couple of other cheap things can work well.

    You can use screw-in diopter sets, which usually come in +1, +2 and +3. The cheap ones are…, but if you stop way down they aren’t too bad. A few two-element ones have been produced that are much better.

    Another cheapie is a coupling ring; these attach one lens reversed on the front of another lens. They work best when a short lens is attached to a long lens, say a 50 on a 135, and depending on the combination can result in extreme magnification.


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