Home Methods Reverse lens macro photography

Reverse lens macro photography

by Güray Dere

Reverse lens method is very common and is as important as extension tubes for macro photography.

In the previous article, I used all the lenses in normal (not reversed) when testing the macro extension tubes. We get good results with true macro lenses and extension tubes in normal mounting, but in practical use most lenses give better results when reversed.

Reversing adapter

Pentax PK reverse lens adapter for 49mm filter diameter

In order to perform reversing, our lens must have a filter thread. Except for special cases, almost every lens has a filter thread. We need to get an adapter with one side to fit the filter thread and the other side to fit the mount of our camera body.

These bracelet-shaped adaptors can be found for $5 on shopping sites such as eBay or AliExpress.

To reduce the cost, you can get some filter diameter conversion adapters and only one reverse mounting adapter instead of buying separate reversing adapters for each filter diameter. These filter step-up / step-down adapters are sold in a set and offer the possibility to change the filter diameter in a wide range. This way we can use different filter diameter lenses with the same reverse lens adapter.

We will probably use the reversed lens with some extension tube. The lens alone can not provide the desired level of magnification. As long as we do not exceed the resolution capacity of the lens, we can attach more extension tubes and use the lens together with them to reach the magnification we want.

There is no brand-mount problem in reverse mounting. In fact, in macro shooting, you don’t usually have such a problem. With the combination multiple adapters, we usually lose the ability to focus to infinity. But we already do macro shots, it doesn’t matter. All we need is that the filter thread is working and robust. Canon-Nikon-Pentax, it does not matter which bayonet the lens is.

So you can go to a dealer and have this conversation.:

– We are looking for a second hand 28mm sharp manual lens …
– Which mount? Canon, Nikon?
– It does not matter.
– !?!?
– …
– …
– Well, we’re going to use it for macro.
– Okay, what’s the camera?
– …
– ??

🙂 Personally experienced …

The sharpest lenses that are best suited to reverse mounting are usually enlarger lenses, but they will be the subject of a separate article. You can access it by the following link: Macro photo using enlarger lenses. I chose two normal manual lenses for this test. These are the ones I used in the normal mounting test. I love the Pentax, SMC M 50mm and SMC M 28mm. Both of the lenses are often used in macro shooting with reverse mounting. Masters like Thomas Shahan also use these two lenses.

A Pentax K-x APS-C camera is used for the tests.

As in the previous article, first I will use the lens reversed alone, then on a set (68mm Kenlock) of extension tubes and then on 2 sets (118mm, Kenlock + unbranded Chinese) of tubes. I’ll take sample photos and measure the magnification.

Pentax SMC M 50mm

The range of 0.5X to 2X is very suitable for shooting. The 50mm lenses can work successfully in this magnification range. Let’s look at our test photos for the Pentax 50mm.

As a subject, I got one of the wild flowers surrounding my garden.

The pictures were taken with the external flash support in the range of f8 to f11, and I only set the auto brightness / contrast. I just tried to make the magnification clear and visible. I wasn’t interested in visuality.

The Pentax 50mm is quite ergonomic with a set of tubes. Suitable for handheld use with magnifications up to 2X. However, the use of 2 sets of tubes starts to make us feel the weight of the lens on our wrist. Shooting without support from the bottom makes me feel risky because of the unbranded tube.

Pentax SMC M 28mm

28mm is one of the first focal lengths that comes to mind when we talk about reverse lens macro shooting. As we shift to a wider angle, our magnification and the excitement of the work increase together. But we’re beginning to exceed the limits of hand-held shooting. When I first tried the reverse 28mm, for days, even for weeks, I looked for faults in myself. It wasn’t exactly the way I wanted. The viewfinder image was extremely dark, the focused area was extremely narrow. I had to get too close to the subject. I was loosing the framing all the time due to the vibration and when I pressed the shutter button I was photographing something else.

In fact, no one has any flaws. Due to the nature of the work, shooting 4X handheld can turn into torture rather than entertainment. If you are patient enough and take a large number of shots, one of them may be the photo you are looking for.

Now let’s look at the magnification values of 28mm

We see that the magnification is very high. Let’s take a look at the sample photos.

Our magnification values are high. But the depth of field is a problem. The diffraction at f8 has a negative influence on sharpness. While the need for light is already very high, the size of the lens standing at a distance of 3cm to the flower began to block the illumination, resulting in unwanted shadows.o6X magnification exceeds the capacity of Pentax 28mm. The double set of tubes are not suitable for this lens.

Compared to 50mm, we are able to work at high magnifications using shorter tubes, or even using tubeless. We work with a light and short lens in the 2X-4X range. This is an advantage but we cannot have a low magnification. It would be a problem to fit a beetle larger than 1 cm in our frame.

Normal mounting vs Reverse mounting

Lastly, let us remember the magnifications of 28mm and 50mm lenses with normal-mounted and reverse-mounted versions. I created a table for this.

I’ve marked the values that can be preferred (sharpness, working distance) for working as bold. Others are inappropriate configurations due to various problems.

These comments are only for these 2 lenses and also reflect my personal preference. You can work in all magnification ranges.

Note: Focus stacking is a necessity above 1:1 magnification. As the sample photos consist of single frame shots, the focused area is too narrow.

Pentax SMC M 28mmPentax SMC M 50mm
Normal mounting without tube0.13X (insufficient magnification)0.15X (insufficient magnification)
Normal mounting on a set of tubes *Unavailable (no focus)1.31X (
insufficient working distance)
Normal mounting on 2 sets of tubes ** Unavailable (no focus)2.44X (
insufficient working distance )
Reverse mounting without tube1.81X0.46X (
insufficient corner sharpness)
Reverse mounting on a set of tubes *4.17X1.75X
Reverse mounting on 2 sets of tubes **6.27X (diffraction problem)2.91X (not ergonomic)

* 1 set of tubes 68mm

** 2 set of tubes 118mm

You can get the same values with a same length bellows.

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Guillaume 29 May 2019 - 22:40

hey, congratz for your very interesting website! a lot of advices and pictures are great
i made a DIY reversed lens for macro, with a c-mount fujinon-tv 35mm f1.7
results are great with this configuration, i almost don’t need to stack pictures and i have no diffraction working at f16-f22
i tried a lot of lenses and i think i found the graal (this fujinon tv costs few bucks and is great in normal use on MFT!)

Güray Dere 03 June 2019 - 10:01

Thank you. Congratulations, your work is a successful attempt. Tests with less-known lenses are particularly informative and helpful.


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