I have rewritten this article a couple of times, each time adding one more thing to the content. At first I was planning to cover only Raynoxes, but then the topic of close-up filters came up in a broader way and I decided to cover them all at once.
I’ve written about it before, it all started with the Tamron 90mm lens. After I bought it, I closed the subject by saying “I can shoot macro now” and for a long time I thought I had solved my need. It was a few years before I heard about Raynoxes and I used the 90mm more as a portrait lens than a macro lens. When I learned that I could increase the magnification of the lenses with small attachments, I immediately started researching. Everyone was talking about a Raynox and the photos I saw were really exciting. This is how I met the DCR-250. It would be the first macro lens I bought after the Tamron 90 and the one I used the most after that.
Before moving on to Raynoxes, I would like to give some general information about close-up filters.
Macro close-up filter
These are tools that we all know in concept, but perhaps few of us have used or tried. When we want to shoot closer than our lens allows, we have a few options. Using a tube is the first method that comes to mind, but as the lens focal value increases, very long tubes will be needed, so using a close-up filter instead of a tube is a good option for tele lenses. Close-up filters, which act as a magnifying glass, have names such as +1, +2, +3 according to their magnification power. We choose the one with the appropriate value, attach it to the filter mount of the lens and take our close-up photo.
Close-up filters create a different magnification effect with each lens.
When we talk about +1, +2, +3, we need to explain what this is. It certainly does not mean x2, x3, x4. A close-up filter does not carry x2 value like a teleconverter. I see misleading advertisements in this way. Even Raynox itself put an inscription like 4X on the MSN-202. These are not true, keep in mind. Filters give different magnifications according to the optical properties of the lens we will use together.
Returning to diopters, this number, which expresses the optical power of lenses, is a different way of saying focusing distance. If we give it as a formula, we can say 1/f. So a +2 close-up filter focuses at a distance of 1/2 meter = 50cm. For +5, focusing will be at a distance of 1/5 meter = 20cm. The degree of the glasses we use is also given in this way. When we say that my eye is 0.5 degrees bad, we are actually saying that we need a lens with a diopter value of 0.5. Depending on whether the lens magnifies or minimizes objects, the diopter takes a plus or minus value.
There is a practical convenience in using diopters instead of focal length. If we superimpose two lenses, we simply add their diopter values to calculate how they will behave together. So two close-up filters of +1 and +2 will behave roughly the same as a filter of +3 when used together. In this way close-up filters can be used on top of each other. But I prefer to use a single +3 rather than +1 and +2 together. As you stack them, the sharpness will decrease due to problems such as reduced light transmission, internal reflections, etc.
How effective is a close-up filter
I can’t answer this question without testing, because the effect depends on the lens we use. And not only according to the focal distance. For example, we cannot say that the same magnification occurs in all 50mm lenses. Because the closest focal distance of each lens is different. So we will see this by experimenting.
I choose to test with tele lenses because they have more magnification potential. I will test with Tamron 90mm and Pentax K 135mm f2.5. The filters I have are made for 52mm diameter lenses. But that’s no problem at all. We can easily use them on both of our lenses with filter diameter converter adapters.
Using Tamron 90mm and close-up filters
When calculating the magnification values, I use the images I have taken on millimeter paper. I calculate the magnification in the new images by comparing them with the pixel dimensions of the image taken with the Tamron 90mm at 1X magnification. To be precise, I calculate directly on the number of pixels.
For everyday shooting, a rough calculation is enough. To make this easier, I have marked the different magnification values on the same sheet of paper. Your sensor size is important when making this marking. If you know the sensor size of the camera you are using, when you draw a line of the same length, this is the 1X line. If this line fills the frame in a photo, you are getting 1X magnification. In the same way, lines of different magnifications can be drawn by proportioning. This is how I do it.
After using +1, +2 and +3 separately when using close-up filters, I will also test the +6 value I get by stacking them on top of each other. As I said, they can be used on top of each other.
I don’t give sample photos for the Tamron 90 because they were all very close to each other. Here are the magnifications obtained according to the use:
|Tamron 90mm + 1 close-up||1.07X|
|Tamron 90mm + 2 close-up||1.17X|
|Tamron 90mm + 3 close-up||1.26X|
|Tamron 90mm + 1 + 2 + 3 close-up||1.47X|
As you can see, the difference is not much. Since the Tamron 90mm was already a macro lens, it focused close up and gave 1X magnification. With the close-up filters, this amount was slightly increased. But the difference is not worth the loss of quality. If we are only aiming for such a magnification increase, it makes more sense to use the Tamron 90 with a macro tube.
Pentax SMC K 135mm f2.5 with close-up filters
In this lens the close-up filter will make a more serious change. I can say this without testing. Auxiliary macro equipment makes a big difference in non-macro lenses. But these everyday lenses are often not suitable for macro. It is necessary to pay attention to this. It should start with a sharp lens selection.
Let’s test the lens alone first. A full frame shot at a distance of 1.5m gives the following result with 135mm.
When we put a close-up filter on, we see a serious change. The photos we obtained at +1, +2, +3 and finally +6 values by using them all together are as follows in order:
Not bad for a lens not designed for macro. These are single-shot photos, no focus stacking was applied. Therefore, the depth of field decreases as the magnification increases. When evaluating, you need to decide on sharp areas. The first shots are good, but especially in the last one, the use of 3 filters on top of each other has taken something away from the sharpness. Modern filters will give better results, the product I had was quite old.
The Raynoxes are next. They take advantage of technology. Before we examine them in detail, let’s make a comparison on the same lens and the same test subject. We attach a Raynox DCR-250 to our lens.
If we gather the magnification values we got with the Pentax 135mm in a list, we get the following result:
|K135 + 1 Close-up||0.25X|
|K135 + 2 Close-up||0.40X|
|K135 + 3 Close-up||0.57X|
|K135 + 6 Close-up||0.96X|
|K135 + DCR-250||1.32X|
Raynox gave higher magnification with a much sharper result. In order to show details from both photos, I cropped them and put them side by side. Soligor +1 and +2 looked good, but +3 and +6 did not give the desired result. The Soligor +6 (all three together) close up filters on the left is a disaster not only in terms of sharpness but also in terms of CA color distortion. Red-violet halos ruined high-contrast areas. The Raynox DCR-250 on the right, with its +8 diopter value, is very successful in terms of both sharpness and color.
Raynox close-up add-ons
To summarize again, two features stand out when choosing a close-up filter:
- What it can do for us to increase magnification.
- How much impact it will have on image quality.
The magnification can be estimated by looking at the diopter value. Image sharpness is also related to the overall quality of the product and its modern coatings. In this regard, the Raynox brand has a well-deserved reputation in the market. They are also affordable in terms of price. They can be bought for around $75, which is also appreciated.
Raynox has 4 different filter models for macro purposes. MSN-505 is the highest magnification model with 32 diopters, but unfortunately I haven’t had the chance to test it so far. DCR-150, the lowest magnification one, I’m not interested in it yet because I think 4.8 diopters may be too light. The DCR-250 is a model I have been using for a long time and the other one is the MSN-202 that my friend Adnan Demir sent me to test.
Raynox filters themselves can be inserted directly into the filter threads. But their diameter is a bit small. That’s why they come with an adapter. With this adapter they can be used with a wide range of lenses with different filter diameters. If we want, we can also use our own filter diameter conversion adapter instead of the included adapter.
Let’s now look at the DCR-250 and MSN-202 in detail.
The DCR-250 model is the most preferred and most widely used model with +8 diopter value. It is an add-on that can be used especially for handheld shooting. It does not increase the magnification excessively, the depth of field is at a level that can be shot handheld. It comes to the rescue in situations where we are not satisfied with 1X and think of going a little higher. We can take macro photos by using it with almost all the lenses we have.
The DCR-250 has filter threads on both sides. The back is 43mm and the front is slightly wider, 49mm, so you can put other 49mm filters on the DCR-250.
Under the gallery pages you can find many photos taken with the DCR-250. Some examples:
The MSN-202 promises high magnification with +25 diopters. It is not very suitable for handheld shooting because the depth of field will be very narrow. Focus stacking becomes an absolute necessity with this filter. MSN-202 only has a 37mm filter screw on the back. We cannot add another filter on it. Such a decision may have been made because of its small size. If we insist on adding a filter, we need to add the MSN-202 on top.
Let’s move on to the tests. In order to interpret the results correctly in Raynox tests, I obtained a full depth of field by applying focus stacking. I did not manipulate the photos to give a better idea. No Photoshop editing or cropping, as it came out of the camera. I used continuous light for illumination. 2 Ikea Jansjö led lamps served as light sources. I used a paper cup as a diffuser. Our lens is Tamron 90mm. Let’s first see what kind of photo we get without filters
1X magnification is insufficient for this small insect attached to the needle with glue. We can’t see much detail. Need to try again with DCR-250
1.7X is a very good rate. We can get the details and it’s very easy to use. It is a rate I use constantly for handheld shooting. The photo is very successful in terms of sharpness. Raynox has no visible side effects. Then, when we use MSN-202, we get 3.16X magnification.
If we compare the two in terms of sharpness, both lenses are very successful in the center areas. They show us a lot of detail. At the edges, MSN-202 is quite soft. In DCR-250, the loss at the edges is not so obvious. If we look at the detail crops below, we can notice it immediately.
This situation at the edges certainly doesn’t make the MSN-202 a bad filter. Since the most important areas are usually in the center, it doesn’t make sense to call the resulting images bad, as the examples show. But it is not an easy lens to work with. If we use the Tamron 90mm, we shoot from a very close distance of 1.5-2cm. In terms of lighting, it takes some effort to ensure that the area directly in front of the lens is not dark.
Then, of course, I did a test using the DCR-250 and MSN-202 together. When we add up the diopter values, we expect it to come to something like 8 + 25 = 33. There is a situation that should correspond to a 32% magnification increase. But theory and practice do not match again. When I use both together, I only get a 5% magnification increase over MSN-202, an increase that is not worth the losses of using dual filters. I am removing this option from the plan.
And what do we get if we try it on daily lenses?
I tried the MSN-202 with a 135mm lens, but because the magnification was so high and the depth of field so fine, the vibration sensitivity was beyond what the Pentax K-x body could handle. I couldn’t get clear images, and I could have done this with a flash or with the appropriate body, i.e. with the EFSC feature that some mirrorless cameras and some Canon models have. I put the 135mm aside and continue with my more modest Pentax SMC M 50mm lens.
It’s nice to see that macro shots can be taken at this level with 50mm lenses, which we usually all have 🙂 Of course it is possible to get the same picture using a reverse mount and tube. But with an attachment like MSN-202, you can get a very light and compact solution and at the same time apply it to tele lenses and get very high magnifications.
Using the Raynox DCR-250 with an enlarger lens
Let’s talk about the enlarger lenses… By the way, I made the article very long, but as I said, I wanted to cover them all at once.
We use the enlarger lenses reversed. How will the Raynox be positioned in this case? I can solve this problem by using a 43mm-37mm filter diameter reducer for the M39 mount for the enlarger lenses. But in order not to spoil the setup and to try something different, I choose to reverse the Raynox and connect it to the inside. It will be a strange way of connection, many adapters will be needed.
- Outermost hood made of m39 extension tube
- Reverse-coupled Rodagon WA 40mm enlarger lens
- 40.5mm – 49mm filter adapter
- 49mm – 43mm filter adapter
- Raynox DCR-250 (reversed)
- 49mm – PK mount reverse adapter
When we stitched them all together, we ended up with a strange lens that looks good. In order to reduce internal reflections and get a sharp image, I use matte black ring-shaped light absorbing material in the m39 hood on the outside and in the 40.5mm-49mm adapter on the inside. These will have a noticeable positive effect. I can’t predict what effect the new optical arrangement brought about by this combination with Raynox will have. I’m curiously moving on to the tests.
The lenses are attached to the bellows. I closed the bellows all the way on the first shot to keep the magnification to a minimum.
It gives a very nice magnification: 3.1X. This value can be used for a lot of studio work. The already very sharp Rodagon WA 40mm gets along well with the Raynox. The loss of detail is hardly noticeable. Now we need to open the bellows all the way and shoot again. Let’s see how high the magnification goes.
The magnification has increased to 6X. At these values, there must have been a switch to microscope lenses. There is some loss of detail because we pushed the limit a bit. The lighting has become more difficult. Again we are shooting from a distance of a few cm. Fortunately, there is no CA color distortion. I think the resulting image is quite acceptable.
If I have to draw a conclusion, the Raynox DCR-250 is a great attachment. If I lose or break it, I will buy a new one immediately. The MSN-202, while very good, is outside my personal use case. I have a wide range of equipment and use other solutions for higher magnifications, but it is a product with a wide range of uses that can be easily recommended.
You can order Raynoxes directly from Amazon. They arrive in a short time. When I bought it, it was more affordable than the Turkish price.
Note: There is another use for Raynoxes (especially DCR-150 and DCR-250 models) that I have not covered here. In Infinity type microscope lenses, they simply and beautifully solve the need for a tube lens that we normally provide with a 200mm lens. If I get my hands on an infinity type microscope lens in the future, we will be examining this situation together.
Note 2: Raynox lenses have another unexpected use. We can use them like a normal lens by simply attaching the Raynox to a bellows. They make a portrait lens with a very nice character. I examined this use in a separate article.