More close-up photography

A little while ago I wrote about using close-up lenses as a possible cheap alternative to a macro lens. I was quite pleased with the results, but decided to try another cheap alternative – extension tubes. Essentially extension tubes move the lens further from the camera, allowing you to focus on objects closer to the lens, and therefore produce larger images. They have advantages and disadvantages over close-up lenses…

The main advantage of extension tubes is that they have no optical components, and so have no affect on image quality, unlike close-up lenses. Both the close-up lenses and extension tubes I have bought so far have been very cheap, since I’m just trying them out. Cheap extension tubes produce images as good as the original lens. Cheap close-up lenses produce softer images. The downside of cheap extension tubes is that they break the electrical connection between lens and body. That means no autofocus and no aperture control. Manual focus isn’t such a bad thing, especially for close-up photography, but no aperture control means using the lenses widest aperture and so getting minimal depth of field. That’s a bit of a drawback. In both cases, buying more expensive kit helps, but that means spending about 10x more. Once I’ve figured out which is the best technology for me, I’ll consider that option!

Anyway, to the extension tubes. Mine come as a set of three than can be combined as required. The longer the overall length of the tube, the closer you can focus. As with the close-up lenses I used the tubes with my 18-55mm standard zoom set to 55mm. With no close-up aids this has a closest focus distance of about 12″. I won’t go through images with all the various combinations. Suffice it to say that there are 8 combinations from no tubes at all to all three, and the two extremes are shown below. Other combinations give magnifications between these two.

Closest focus of lens alone at 55mm

Closest focus of lens plus all extension tubes

You can see that this is much closer than I got with the close-up lenses, even when using them all at once, and the image quality is much better – combining all the close-up lenses produced a very soft image. The front of the lens was maybe 2cm from the coin for this shot.

I still need to find some more interesting subjects for close-up photos, and will do some comparisons of the close-up lenses and extension tubes when I can get something set-up. If you have any suggestions for subjects, please suggest them in the comments! At the moment, though, I’m favouring the tubes…

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