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Macro Photography with Affordable Extension Tubes & Reverse Mount Adapters

Shooting Macro Photography With Cheap Extension Tubes or Reverse Mount Rings

Macro photography is extremely interesting when everything is magnified and the viewer gets into this surreal environment that they’ve never seen before no matter how mundane and common the subject may be.

There are a lot of great macro lenses available for all kinds of cameras, but most macro lenses are costly and unless you do macro and detail-specific photography often, the investment seem to be unjustified for pretty limited use.

The ability to see the details, colors, shapes, and textures opens up a photographer’s creative vision beyond what the eyes can see. In order to capture subjects with such magnification, however, special equipment are required, specifically, special lenses.

Normal lenses cannot magnify subjects beyond 35-25% of the actual subject size. Macro magnification, in general, should yield at least 1:1 ratio or life-size magnification or larger.

Luckily for those who don’t have deep pockets, there are cheaper ways to try out macro photography without breaking the bank. The solution is simple, and you merely have to look back before auto-focus lenses were invented. Knowing how light travels and making use of simple contraptions to magnify subjects before it hits the film/sensor plane.

I recommend the using extension tubes and/or reverse mount adapters over any other option if cost is a big factor.

The techniques should apply to any digital or film SLR as long as there are adapters available.

Here are the things that you’ll need, assuming you already have a digital SLR to begin with, for extension tube macro:

Lens Choice

I chose an old M42-mount Fujinon 55mm f/1.9 prime lens that came with my Fujica ST701 SLR. This is a very sharp prime lens with manual aperture ring adjustment on the lens barrel itself. If you use an auto-focus, modern lens, it’ll take a bit more effort to focus and stop down.

To use an AF lens without an external aperture adjustment ring, you need to do the following to stop-down the aperture:

  1. Mount the lens as you normally would.
  2. Set your aperture using your camera’s aperture adjustment knob/button to a small enough aperture. F/8 would be a good start.
  3. Press the depth-of-field preview button of your camera, it’s usually located near the lens release button on your camera’s body. You’ll hear the aperture blades close and if you peer into your lens, you’ll see the blades of the lens.
  4. Without releasing the DOF preview button, remove the lens from the body. Doing so will keep the lens stopped down.
  5. Mount the lens to your adapter and you’re good to go.

You can see why using a newer AF lens is harder as you need to stop down the lens before you can compose and focus. When you stop down your lens, the viewfinder will be really dark, making manual focusing a lot harder.

With an old lens that allow aperture adjustments mechanically, you can focus and compose while the lens is wide open, then stop down the lens afterwards before capture.

All you need is an adapter that allows you to mount the old lens onto your DSLR mount. I use M42 lenses a lot so I use an M42-to-EOS adapter.

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