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Monday, March 12, 2012

Shoot Macro Photos Without A Macro Lens—03/12/12

Four affordable alternatives to expensive macro glass

This Article Features Photo Zoom


Close-Up Filter
I've got a great macro lens and I love shooting with it. It's got image stabilization and a fast maximum aperture, and I find it immensely useful when making big photos of small objects. But this great lens comes with a cost: just about $1000, as I recall. So there was a long time when I had to make due without my expensive macro lens, and I know there are many other photographers who want to do the same. So here are four great alternatives to help you make close-up photos without a macro lens.

1. Close-up filters. I eased into macro photography by working with close-up filters for many years prior to my macro lens investment. These concave chunks of glass fit over the front element of a lens and allow it to focus considerably closer than its typical focusing distance. It may lack some of the enlargement power of a Macro, but it more than makes up for it in convenience and cost savings. With the right thread size any lens can become a macro lens with the addition of a close-up filter.

2. Reverse your normal lens. Did you know that if you turn your normal 50mm lens around you can focus it considerably closer than it normally does? That's why in film days prime lenses often served double duty as slide loupes in a pinch. Some smart inventor decided to capitalize on this bit of physics and created the reversing ring. This super-affordable adapter simply allows you to reverse mount the filter threads of your lens onto an adapter that fits into your SLR's body mount. The rudimentary versions eliminate all electronic contacts, but if you're game to reverse-mount your lenses you're probably okay with manual focusing and aperture adjustments. (There's even a deluxe version from Novoflex that—while not a cost saver—allows you to regain automatic lens/camera communication. Why make such an investment instead of just buying a macro lens? Because the tremendous enlargement and focus range available via an adapter like this not only rivals macro lenses, in some cases it far exceeds it.)

Extension Tubes
3. Use a bellows. Film photographers were used to working with bellows in a number of areas—slide copiers, enlargers, view cameras… It turns out, though, that the slide copier of days gone by is an excellent indicator of the power of a bellows for macro photography. By extending the distance between the film plane and the lens, close focusing and massive enlargement is possible. A bellows—a flexible, accordion-shaped light-tight chamber that is greatly adjustable along its length—is an ideal way to make close-up images with almost any lens. And these things are versatile, too: the farther you extend the bellows, the greater you increase the magnification. The only downside is there's math involved; you'll have to manually compensate for the exposure falloff that occurs when bellows are extended, much the same way large format film photographers have always had to. Unlike them, though, you can just check the LCD and adjust your exposure until it looks right; no math required.

4. Use an extension tube. An extension tube is perhaps the most commonly used non-lens macro accessory, and that's because it's an easy and affordable way to turn any lens into a close-focusing tool. Operating on the same principle as the bellows, the extension tube is preset at a fixed distance to provide a precise magnification power. Extension tubes are sold with millimeter measurements just like lenses; smaller numbers offer less magnification and are intended for use with wider lenses. Best of all, manufacturers make extension tubes for their own cameras and lenses that maintain all of the electronic contacts, so autofocusing and TTL exposure metering are retained—meaning you won't have to manually compensate for the light falloff that happens with a manual extension tube or bellows.

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