Macro kit options on a budget

So, you have most likely overheard other photographers talking about macro photography, and how incredibly difficult it is, not to mention expensive! I know I have, and things don’t get any better when you see those super detailed, super close up shots of bees and flies, and wonder to yourself “how did they take that photo?” Like everyone else who is interested in macro photography, you search the internet to find out how, and come across the special macro-specific lenses the various manufacturers like Nikon, Canon, Sigma and Tamron produce, only to be discouraged by the large investment that is needed to purchase such a lens…

Luckily, for those of us that have to work very carefully with a budget, there are a number of options available that can help you to get up close and personal with the object you are photographing, which I will explain to you below.

Reverse Rings

Reverse ring Nikon

A reverse ring is a specially manufactured adaptor that enables you to mount virtually any lens (take note that I say “virtually”, some lenses are naturally just not going to work, think 500mm telephoto zoom etc) backwards on your DSLR body. This allows you to get magnification levels greater than the 1:1 values that the normal macro lenses reproduce subjects at (excluding the Canon MP-E 65 of course).

  •   Readily available from most online photography stores and eBay, prices range from $10 (3rd party) – $40 (Nikon BR-2A)
  •   Available in a variety of filter thread sizes to suit different lenses (ie 49mm, 52mm, 55mm, 62mm etc)
  •   Manufactured to support the popular DSLR brands’ specific mounting system (ie Nikon F-mount, Canon EOS, Pentax K-Mount, Minolta MD etc)
  •   Takes up virtually no space, and adds no discernable weight, to your camera bag.
  •   Practically indestructible, and at that, cheap to replace should the need arise.

Close-Up Lenses

Phottix Close Up lenses

A close up lens is basically just a very high quality magnifying glass that mounts to the front of your camera’s lens, much like a polarising filter does. They work by reducing the minimum focusing distance of the lens that you have attached it to, thereby letting you move closer to the subject, giving you greater magnification. (Take note: this option will not get you that great, super high magnification shot, but will allow you to get much closer to your subject than your standard lens would be able to, which is sometimes just as rewarding!)

  •   Readily available from most online photography stores and eBay, prices range from $20 (3rd party) – $150 (Canon 500D 77mm)
  •   Available in a variety of filter thread sizes to suit different lenses (ie 49mm, 52mm, 55mm, 62mm etc)
  •   Any brand of close-up lens will work with any brand of lens.
  •   There are two types of close-up lens: Single-element (cheaper) and Double-element (pricier) close-up lens. If possible, try and go for the Double-element option, as they will give you much higher quality images, as the second element helps to cancel out the poor edge quality and aberrations of the first element.
  •   Close-up lenses’ strengths are measured in diopters. The larger the number is, the greater the level of magnification. (ie +1, +2, +4, +10 etc) Two close-up lenses can also be combined to give the effective magnification of the two lenses added together (ie a +2 and a +4 diopter lens together give the same magnification as a +6 diopter lens)

Extension Tubes

Nikon Extension tubes

Extension tubes will allow you to get even closer than a close-up lens will, without getting into full on macro territory (ie 1:1 magnification ratio). They fit between the lens and the body of your DSLR, thereby extending the distance between the front element of the lens and the sensor plane, which in turn enables you to focus more closley to your subject, increasing the magnification. An extension tube contains no glass. They are just hollow, light-tight cylinders. Since there is no glass inside, the optical quality of your lens is retained.

  •   Readily available from most online photography stores and eBay, prices range from $20 (3rd party, single tube) – $200 (3rd party, kit of 3 tubes)
  •   Available for most popular camera brands. Nikon and Canon manufacture their own branded extension tubes. Kenko, Zeikos, Dot Line and Vivitar manufacture extension tubes to fit the other brands like Sony, Olympus, Pentax etc.
  •   Normally made in varying thicknesses to suit different magnification needs. Normally vary in thickness from 8mm to 36mm.
  •   Always verify whether a certain brand of extension tubes keeps the electrical contacts active between the camera body and the lens, which will keep the autoexposure and autofocus controls active.
  •   If not, time for some aperture priority or program mode shooting baby! (Will become an issue if your lens does not have a manual aperture ring, as you will only be able to shoot at wide open aperture without the electrical contacts, thereby losing the ability to manually control your depth of field…)
  •   Again, not a cumbersome item to lug around in your camera bag in comparison to a proper macro lens.

Well, there you have it, a short breakdown of 3 great options to get you started with macro photography for relatively cheap prices compared to spending $700-$1500 on a dedicated macro lens. Of the 3 options, the reverse ring method is the most challenging, but also the most rewarding, option to get stuck into. Look out for an upcoming article here, where I will be sharing my experiences with reverse ring macro photography.

If I have missed something, or you feel that I should add some more info for each option, let me know in the comments below, as I would like to improve this page so that it is as informative as possible. 🙂



One thought on “Macro kit options on a budget

  1. Pingback: New page is up! | VB | PHOTOGRAPHY

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