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I was wondering what are the alternative macro techniques people use instead of buying expensive macro optics. I know about single lens reverse macro technique; what other alternative techniques allow you to do quality macro within a budget? If yes:

  1. What is it called?
  2. What equipment do you need and (if any) where to buy them?
  3. Does it support AF/Aperture dial?
  4. What are the risks associated with it?
  5. What are the disadvantages of the technique?
  6. What are the Advantages in your opinion?

Feel free to add your own comments if you want, following the points.

This is a community wiki post, so please put one answer per post, and feel free to improve an item originally posted by someone else.

  • As for your #3 in reverse lens - the complete loss of control is only true for lenses w/o an aperture ring (Canon EF lenses, for example). – ysap Mar 1 '11 at 17:20

13 Answers 13

15
  1. What is it called? Extension tubes
  2. What equipment do you need and (if any) where to buy them? Extension tubes! (good camera stores/online will sell them)
  3. Does it support AF/Aperture dial? Maybe, depends on whether the tubes maintain electrical contact
  4. What are the risks associated with it? None that I can see
  5. What are the disadvantages of the technique? Limited magnification increase, especially with telephotos, loss of light, possible loss of lens control.
  6. What are the Advantages in your opinion? Fairly cheap, multiple length tubes can be combined to give varying magnifications.
  • extension tubes sounds great. i don't know if they differ to bellows? Can you please post links for extension tubes which manages electrical conducts? for Canon rebel? – fahad.hasan Mar 1 '11 at 10:23
  • 1
    The Canon tubes obviously allow communication with the lens, the cheaper Kenko alternative do too, see : amazon.com/Kenko-Auto-Extension-Canon-Mount/dp/B000U8Y88M – Matt Grum Mar 1 '11 at 11:01
  • Thank you Matt, I think Extension tubes are an excellent alternative macro technique, its easier, comparatively cheaper and doesn't compromise image quality big time. – fahad.hasan Mar 6 '11 at 7:30
  • Bellows are basically an extension tube with squishy bits in the middle that let you squeeze them down, no difference to the light path at all. But bellows don't often, at least I've never seen one for my nikon, maintain the electrical/lens contacts so tubes are your best bet here unless you really need to change length dynamically. – Patrick Hughes Apr 8 '13 at 21:05
14
  1. What is it called? Shrinking yourself and camera.
  2. What equipment do you need and (if any) where to buy them? Shrink ray (an expanding ray is helpful also), you can't buy these at the moment
  3. Does it support AF/Aperture dial? Yes
  4. What are the risks associated with it? Insect predation, being stood on, getting lost.
  5. What are the disadvantages of the technique? It's not possible with current technology.
  6. What are the Advantages in your opinion? No modification required to the camera, no depth of field issues, can use any lens, framing is easier, great stories to tell afterwards, Nobel prize for Physics.
  • 3
    You could also try to use a reversal adapter with the shrink ray to enlarge the target. – Jari Keinänen Mar 1 '11 at 10:40
  • 1
    Best answer on SE. – BBischof Mar 1 '11 at 21:39
  • 1
    This technique is used most effectively while wearing an anti-gravity belt. – junkyardsparkle Aug 23 '16 at 21:00
  • Sounds good, until you consider that the lens ratios all stay the same as they're shrunken down, so you still can't get 1:1 imaging. It's no better than using an ultra-crop sensor camera. – xiota Dec 26 '18 at 6:13
5

This is a slightly more reliable way of achieving the magnifying glass in front of the lens technique

  1. What is it called? Close-up adaptors / diopter filter
  2. What equipment do you need and (if any) where to buy them? Close-up adaptors (mostly see these online). They are extra lens elements that screw onto the front of your lens.
  3. Does it support AF/Aperture dial? Yes
  4. What are the risks associated with it? You could cross the filter threads if you're not careful.
  5. What are the disadvantages of the technique? Extra glass can introduce distortion, softness, CA, only work with one size filter diameter.
  6. What are the Advantages in your opinion? Cheap, easy to screw onto an existing lens.
4

Magnifying Glass

Since you see what the camera sees, you can just hold a magnifying glass in front of the lens. I've done this with reasonable results.

It's best to fix both the magnifying glass and the camera in place, and to focus manually.

(But not since going digital, so can't post any pics, unfortunately).

  • Equipment: Any magnifying glass / etc.
  • Autofocus: Yes (but you'll probably want to focus manually anyway).
  • Aperture: Yes
  • Risks / Disadvantages: Typically poor quality around the edges / vignetting
  • Advantages: Simple, cheap, portable.
  • i dont know how you're going to handle distortions caused by the magnifying glass? unless you buy an expensive magnifying glass i dont think the results will look good. – fahad.hasan Mar 1 '11 at 10:25
  • I have personally used this technique, with fairly good results. In my case I used a magnifying glass fixed to the tripod using adhesive tape and a Point&Shoot. The camera had no trouble focusing but I had to use fairly good amount of light. In this case the pictures where needed just to inspect tiny soldering spots in some computer parts. The pictures clearly served the purpose as they allowed to detect cracks in the soldering (enough detail) but the picture got distorted near the borders, which could be reduced zooming in. The distortion was nice and could easily be used artistically – Jahaziel Jun 28 '11 at 16:49
3
  1. What is it called? Single Lens Reverse Macro
  2. What equipment do you need and (if any) where to buy them? Any lens, the smaller the focal length, more magnification. Can be done hand-held, but its good to buy a reverse ring adapter from Amazon/eBay etc.
  3. Does it support AF/Aperture dial? No control over the lens once you take it off the body.
  4. What are the risks associated with it? Camera sensor and lens mount open to dust/mist particles.
  5. What are the disadvantages of the technique? Very shallow DOF, focusing is very hard even in higher apertures.
  6. What are the Advantages in your opinion? No cost setup. very good quality.
3
  1. What is it called? Freelensing
  2. What equipment do you need and (if any) where to buy them? Your hands
  3. Does it support AF/Aperture dial? No
  4. What are the risks associated with it? Dropping lens, contaminating camera body
  5. What are the disadvantages of the technique? Unpredictable results, limited repeatability, difficulty focussing/composing, limited increase in magnification, light coming in the sides.
  6. What are the Advantages in your opinion? No equipment required, fun, can tilt the plane of focus, unpredictable!

Basically freelensing is detaching the lens and holding it in front of the camera, as you are increasing the distance from lens to camera you can use this to shoot macro images.

2
  1. What is it called? Lens reversal on top of a straight lens.
  2. What equipment do you need and (if any) where to buy them? lens reversal filter ring. It is a ring with a filter screw threads on both sides, so lenses can be screwed "head-to-head".
  3. Does it support AF/Aperture dial? The straight lens is fully functional for setting aperture.
  4. What are the risks associated with it? Same as for single lens reversal, plus risk of damaging the straight lens if its mount is weak and the reveresed lens heavy.
  5. What are the disadvantages of the technique? Same as for single lens, but vignetting is much more severe, up to a point that the image circle is only a fraction of the frame.
  6. What are the Advantages in your opinion? The filter ring adapters are pretty cheap. The magnification can be higher than w/ single lens.
  • Changing the aperture of the straight lens should not have any affect on the photo other than producing vignetting, technically. So, if I use faster aperture on the first lens and smaller in the reversed, that should eliminate most of the vignetting, am I right? I also think the straight lens should be a zoom lens if you need better framing and the reversed lens should be as lightweight as possible, the nifty fifty will do I guess? Now the question comes, why would I want to use two lenses instead of one? Does Autofocus work in this setup? – fahad.hasan Mar 2 '11 at 3:39
  • Well, the above is based on some experimentation I did with this technique. Unfortunately, at the time, I did not keep a record of all the settings and the outcomes to get some scientific conclusions. However, I used EF70-200/2.8 with EF50/1.4 reversed (a step-down adapter ring was required) , assuming that using good optics will get me better results than the reversed EFs18-55. In all of the images, the vignetting is dominant. IIRC, vignetting is not affected by aperture, so using faster/slower combination should not matter. As for AF, the setup was pretty dark for even trying AF. – ysap Mar 2 '11 at 6:19
2

This one is nearly off-topic. But prospective readers with certain requirements might still be interested in this alternative.

  1. What is it called? Low-magnification microscope with suitable mount for your camera body
  2. What equipment do you need and (if any) where to buy them? A low-end (Consumer, children) stereo microscope with suitable camera mount, optionally with lens adapter. Maybe one day you can buy one cheaply for <$100 at Amazon/eBay etc.
  3. Does it support AF/Aperture dial? No.
  4. What are the risks associated with it? Cheap ones might fail. High quality stuff is expensive. Strong extra lights are needed.
  5. What are the disadvantages of the technique? Only for indoor settings (lab, garage etc).
  6. What are the Advantages in your opinion? Almost microphotography. Very good quality.
2
  1. What is it called? Not that expensive optics
  2. What equipment do you need? Third party macro lenses or some used ones.
  3. Does it support AF/Aperture dial? Depends on the model and how old the lens is.
  4. What are the risks associated with it? On the used ones there is a risk to get a faulty one or with some problems like scratches or more dangerous some fungus. Ask the vendor how functional the lens is.
  5. What are the disadvantages of the technique? A third party lens can give you less sharp images than a more expensive one. An old lens could have some tint that has to be corrected using white balance.
  6. What are the Advantages in your opinion? Lower cost. There are some new brands that are offering good quality gear at a fraction of the cost to similar specs equipment. And you can find pretty decent used gear if you know how to look for.
1

Another way to get an inexpensive extension tube with aperture contacts is to get an old 2x teleconverter and take out the glass. The 2x teleconverters are usually about 50mm, so using one and a 50mm lens will get you to 1:1, if you so desire.

1
  1. What is it called? M42 helicoid adapter.
  2. What equipment do you need and (if any) where to buy them? M42 helicoid adapter. M42 lens.
  3. Does it support AF/Aperture dial? No autofocus. Aperture is manually controlled on the lens.
  4. What are the risks associated with it?GAS.
  5. What are the disadvantages of the technique? Similar to using extension tubes. Limited magnification increase and loss of light.
  6. What are the Advantages in your opinion? If used with a mirrorless camera, the lens can be used normally, except with a closer minimum–focusing distance. There is no need to remove tubes when switching between normal and macro shooting. For lenses with inaccurate focus scales, the helicoid can be adjusted to correct the lens scale without modifying the lens itself.
0
  1. What is it called?Salvage lens from a broken film scanner.
  2. What equipment do you need and (if any) where to buy them? Broken film scanner. Screwdriver. Mount adapters. Scissors. Tape. Time. Etc.
  3. Does it support AF/Aperture dial? No autofocus. No aperture.
  4. What are the risks associated with it? Variant of GAS in which the afflicted disassemble working equipment.

  5. What are the disadvantages of the technique? Expensive if the original cost of the scanner is considered. Unknown focal length and aperture prior to disassembly and testing. No built-in focus or aperture control. May not be suitable for general photography. May not look nice attached to camera, depending on method used.

  6. What are the Advantages in your opinion? MacGyver would be proud. – Film scanner lenses are designed for 1:1 and greater magnification ratios. They tend to be sharp with good contrast, minimal chromatic aberration, and minimal field curvature.

-2

Though I haven't tried, so I don't know about the quality (probably cannot rival a dedicated macro lens) is to build it using a cheap lens in reverse on a long light-proof tube. See this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGdE15Qj3iA&feature=related

Maybe I can finally find a use for my kit lens once again.

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