Home ReviewsLenses Macro photography with a cheap tele zoom lens

Macro photography with a cheap tele zoom lens

by Güray Dere

People who want to start macro or just try a little, are often confused by many options. I get so many messages on this. “Which lens should I start with?”, “Does this lens work?” or “Do I need to spend so much?”

I would recommend a lot depending on the situation when answering these questions, but one thing I have never suggested for the macro is a cheap zoom lens!

In fact, there is a lot to do until you turn to expensive macro lenses. I’ve written this before. The difference in this article is that I will use a cheap tele zoom lens which I never recommend! I’m going to give this lens a chance and ask it to do its best.

Tokina 80-250 Autozoom f4.5

Tokina 80-250
Tokina 80-250

This review came out by chance. I had no intention of buying and using such a lens. But somehow I wanted to make a monocular to my daughter, so I was looking for a zoom lens. I had no expectations except for working in a wide zoom range and having a tripod connection on it. There were many alternatives, but I came across this lens.

Our lens is Tokina 80-250mm. The same model was sold under other brands. I don’t know the date of manufacture, but these are old lenses. The prices of most M42 zooms are as low as almost free. In other words, the cost of shipping is higher than the cost of the lens. Customs officers could not believe the situation, so they called me for an examination and I made an explanation. It doesn’t look so cheap with a heavy body. Anyway, I convinced them to get the lens without paying extra customs duty.

Like I said, the lens is M42. So I mounted it using an adapter. First I tried it in some normal shots. The image quality is awful when the aperture is fully open. It’s like we’re just waking up and looking around half awake. The image doesn’t improve until f8. f11 and f16 are fine, giving a very clear picture. I test everything in terms of macro, so this time I’m looking for the answer to the question of how to get a macro photo with the most inconvenient lens possible. This test can also be a guide to many tele zoom lens users.

Tokina 80-250 has a minimum focusing distance of 6m and needs an assistant in macro shooting. As you can see, that assistant is a Raynox DCR-250. Thanks to Raynox, the lens can close focus on a distance of 10cm now.

Accessories for macro

Raynox comes with a universal adapter, which makes it easy to attach on many lenses having different filter diameters. It was able to connect to Tokina without any extra adapter. However, it is necessary to use a diffuser and a hood to create a high quality lighting. I mean, if you don’t care about them, think again.

The filter diameter of the lens is 67mm. The hood has a diameter of 52mm. Outside of Raynox is 49mm. So I need a 49mm-52mm step up filter adapter to use the hood on the Raynox.

My favorite diffuser is a paper cup. I cut it to match the diameter of the hood and at the same time, it should still perform well. I have to test it beforehand and look at the focus distance of the lens. The diffuser should be designed to cover the object at that distance.

We’re connecting the pieces.

When we assembled the parts we got the above view. The cut-out part of the paper cup is on the bottom because we’re going to insert the object in there. When adjusting the frame, there must be enough space for us to move the object freely.

Macro shooting with Tokina 80-250 

That’s how our setup looks. Fire in the hole! The dead fly, our object, was glued to the tip of a needle. Unfortunately, I could not be very careful in this process. When I had trouble with the first few attempts, I got angry and used too much glue. That will look bad in the picture. But no matter, it’s a test, not art.

When it was time to shoot, the fly was pushed into the cup and brought to the focal point. And led lamps (Ikea Jansjö table lamps) has been placed on both sides to illuminate the cup from the outside.

I arranged the framing. There was an appropriate image when the lens was around 220mm. Actually the middle zoom values are usually sharper in zoom lenses. I mean, I could get the best result from this lens in the range of 135mm-200mm, but I did not like the framing. I performed the first test at  f8. If we close the aperture too much, we know that we will loose detail due to diffraction. Even f8 is near the limit. I completed a series of shots this way. But I didn’t feel satisfied when I saw the photos. Something big was missing in the clarity. So I went back to do it again.

I made two assessments about the problem.

  • I lost my remote control and ordered a new one. But I don’t want to wait a month for this test. That’s why I pressed the shutter button manually. Even after 2 seconds in delayed mode, is it the effect of the shake that I’ve created?
  • Is it necessary to close the diaphragm more because the lens is too bad?

I preferred closing the aperture because it would solve both problems. I set the lens to f16. That means we are deep in the diffraction zone, but there was nothing to do. I took a sample photo. The exposure was 4sec. Either the vibration went out well during the 4sec exposure or it was a higher quality central optics at f16. I mean, it worked. 46 shots were required for focus stacking. 

A fly with Tokina 80-250

We will examine the photo in more detail, but at first glance, I was happy to see this result. As opposed to what I expected, this is clearly not a useless result. I’m glad because it is another indication that you should stop the equipment race. There may not be noticeable difference between a good lens and the best lens as long as we use the light correctly and pay attention to the shooting technique.

Now let’s take a closer look at 3 different regions of the photo.

Central region detail
Central region detail

All lenses are strong in their central resolution. The sharpest image occurs here. Tokina has done well in the center despite the f16 diaphragm. The details are satisfactory.

Edge details
Middle region details

The lens is having a hard time here. The antenna is starting to fade. CA color distortions are visible. By the way, CA is the biggest problem of Tokina 80-250. Even though I close the aperture down to f16, and apply Photoshop CA corrections, these blue-red halos continue to appear and disrupt the colors. Especially in wide apertures, it increases to unacceptable levels. We force the lens beyond its capacity in the macro. That’s why it grows more and more in macro shots.

Kenar detayı
Corner details

Further away from the center, it seems that the lens has totally failed. CA distortions increase with contrast. The shiny adhesive I used here has maximized the CA effect. And the hairs have been wiped out. There’s not much detail on them under the influence of diffraction.


Summarizing again, I see a good result when I look back at the photo despite all these negatives. Only macro or other special lenses have a great edge sharpness. And we’re talking about one of the most inappropriate lenses possible.

With a good lighting and the right focus stacking technique, we can work even with bad lenses. Most of us have modern tele zoom lenses. These will give even better results. If the goal is shooting macro, it is best to start with whatever we already have. I’ve heard stories like this: There are people who return the Canon MP-E 65 after purchasing the lens, which is one of the best macro lenses on the market, saying “this lens doesn’t focus beyond a distance”, “it has no autofocus”. Getting to know the macro, developing the technique is more important than the lens. 

In the meantime, I have to make a warning. I said the lens is cheap, but the accessories I use are not cheap. Tripod, head and rail are very important. We can’t make good quality shots, even if we have the best lens without making a comfortable and stable working environment. It is better not to keep your expectation too high without considering the accessories.

You may find interesting

Leave a Comment