Home Methods Using non-macro lenses for macro photography

Using non-macro lenses for macro photography

by Güray Dere

We have a camera, we want to take macro photos.

Where do we start? Can’t we do something with the equipment we already have without spending much? Or do we have to buy a new 1:1 macro lens?

In fact, it is not possible to move to a whole new area without spending any money. But with the lowest cost, it is possible to open the door to the macro world. Many of us have multiple lenses of various focal lengths. Most of them are far from the macro range. We can’t get the detail we want by shooting at a distance of half a meter. We may not even understand what the tiny object in the picture is at that distance.

In this article we will look at how we can use the compact digital or SLR camera and the lenses on them in close-up photography.

Yeşil weevil makro fotoğraf örneği

What we’re going to do is force the lenses to focus closer. We can do this using several kinds of accessories. We will lose the opportunity to focus to infinity because we force our lens closer then the minimum working distance it is designed. But it’s okay, our goal is to get closer. We can sort out our methods like this.

  • Close-up filters
  • Extension tubes – bellows – helicoid
  • Reverse lens
  • Reverse lens on another lens (coupling lenses)

In SLR cameras, we can use these four methods separately or together. Considering the variety of lenses, there are quite a number of possibilities that we can try.  Some methods will give very satisfactory results easily. Some of them can be very difficult. 

Close-up filters

Raynox DCR 250 close up filter
Raynox DCR-250 with its universal adapter

The reason I explain the close-up filters first is that they have a wide range of use. Whether we have s SLR or a compact camera. Regardless of our lens, we have the chance to make macro shots using close up filters with a suitable adapter.

You can think of a close-up filter as a magnifier. This magnifier is installed
in front of our lens, and then we are able to take closer shots. With a close-up filter installed, we also have the chance to adjust the magnification ratio by changing the focus.

You can find a large number of close-up filter models with different magnification powers under different brands. We also have the opportunity to use multiple models together. I will review the Raynox DCR-250.

Raynox DCR-250 close up filtre ve universal  adaptör

Raynox DCR-250 with its universal adapter side by side

Raynox comes with an adapter. Different adapters are available depending on the lens filter diameter. I have chosen a universal adapter that can be attached to lenses in the range of 52-67mm filter sizes. If this is not appropriate, we can also use Raynox with any digital compact camera by supplying the right filter diameter adapters. Compact cameras already have close focus abilities, allowing nice macro shots. With Raynox, we have the opportunity to develop this further.

I did a little test with Pentax K series 135mm f2.5. Without Raynox, this lens is able to focus at a minimum distance of 1.5 m. The following illustration shows it with and without the Raynox.

First I took a photo by setting the lens to 1.5m, which is the original closest focusing distance. Then I took 2 exposures by attaching Raynox to the lens bringing it to the nearest and then to the infinity focus. The lens has now become a macro lens that can magnify over 1:1.

What makes this possible is that our lens is focusing closer. So now we are able to shoot at only 10-15cm distances instead of 1.5 meters. Different lenses at different focal lengths will have different results. I will give examples and measurements of these in another article and explain the subject in more detail.

Note: Turkish articles will be translated soon.

Extension tubes, bellows and helicoids

makro uzatma tüpü extension
Kenlock macro tubes. 3 pieces together

Tubes, bellows and helicoids are basically the same thing. These tools, which are in the form of an empty tube with no optical elements, force our lens to focus closer. Since the tubes are solid but stable, we cannot adjust the the magnification and the framing precisely. It is what it is. Unlike the tubes, the bellows are flexible structures that can extend and shrink. We can play with magnification and framing as we like. The bellows can be extended quite long, allowing high magnifications. Helicoid  combines the strength of the tube and the flexibility of the bellows. It has the same mechanism in our zoom lenses. The length can be changed by rotating or pulling.

They don’t carry an optical glass element like a close-up filter, so they don’t harm the picture quality, but they’re not a little add-on like a close-up filter. A Raynox provides a much more compact and lightweight solution for handheld shooting in the open field. We adjust the size of the tube or the bellows according to the focal length of our lens and the magnification we want to achieve. We generally use short tubes at wide angles, and longer tubes at tele angles. That’s why the tubes are made in multiple parts, we get the desired length by adding them together. Usually wide-angle lenses are preferred to keep the set in a portable, usable size. Otherwise, it may be necessary to use an unstable tube that is too long to handle. 

Photo taken from Flickr’s gallery of Canonian!.

The point that should be taken into consideration when buying extension tubes is to choose a branded, high quality product. There are very cheap Chinese tubes in the market. I bought one to try. But it didn’t fit to the camera. I didn’t use it much because it had problems such as getting stuck in the body or dropping the lens to the ground. A risk not to be taken for  little savings. In addition, cheap tubes don’t prevent internal light reflections. That will negatively affect the sharpness. We have an article about internal reflections:

Note: Turkish articles will be translated soon.

Quality tubes usually offer support for automatic aperture adjustment. Thus, if we use automatic lenses, we can control the diaphragm from the body. The automatic lenses used with automatic aperture tubes allow us to shoot without a darkening in the viewfinder. The aperture remains wide-open until the shutter release.

There are autofocus tube models too, but they are quite expensive and unnecessary in the macro.

An interesting area of use of the tubes is to reduce the focus distance of the tele lenses. If you’re shooting a bird, you know that you can’t focus closer than 4-5m with most long tele lenses. If your bird is landed next to you on your lucky day, your precious lens will not focus that close, and you will just look at it. In this case, by inserting a thin tube, you can choose to sacrifice the lens’s infinity focus and work within the range of 2m-50m (for example) instead of the range of 4m-Infinity. I think closer range makes sense. A bird from a distance of 50m will not be close enough even with the most powerful lenses. For this kind of shooting, auto focus support will be important in the tube. Otherwise, AF support is needless for macro shooting.

Olympus 65-116 variable extension tube 

As a helicoid, the Olympus 65-116 is one of the top quality products. You will need additional adapters to connect the body and the lens. It has a tripod collar, making it easy to shoot in horizontal-vertical and in-between positions.

Detailed review on extension tube usage can be found here:

Reverse lens

Ters bağlı lens ile makro
4x magnification mechanism. Reversed Nikon El-Nikkor 50mm enlarger lens on 2 sets of tubes.

When the lenses are reverse mounted, they start to focus quite close. I mentioned it in my first article. When I reverse looked through my binoculars in middle school, I discovered that it magnified nearby objects like a microscope. 

We use the filter thread of our lens for reverse mounting. There are adapters with one side having the filter thread to connect to the lens, and the other side to mount to the camera body. We call them reverse mounting adapters. They are small and cheap things that can be purchased under $1. But spend an extra $1 and get the ones with a label on them. Or you’ll be searching in the drawers a lot.

We do not connect the lens directly to the camera. We need some extension tubes we have decided their length beforehand. Bellows or helicoids are also ok. This way we can make high-magnification shots called “extreme macro”. The most preferred daily lenses for reverse mounting are 28mm and 50mm. Enlarger lenses used for macro are almost always reverse mounted.

Warning: Do not reverse zoom lenses. The zoom mechanism can be damaged because it is not sturdy enough to carry the lens backwards. I know it because it happened to me.

For a detailed review of the reverse mounting technique, click here:

Reverse lens on another lens (coupling lenses)

Tamron 90mm 1:1 makro lens üzerine ters bağlanmış Pentax M 50mm
Reverse mounted Pentax  SMC M 50mm on Tamron 90mm 1:1 macro lens
49mm - 52mm filtreden filtreye ters bağlantı adaptörü
49mm – 52mm filter to filter coupling adapter

As strange as it may sound, such things are practiced because macro photography is very open to experimentation. What we actually do is instead of using a close-up filter, we use another lens that acts as a powerful magnifier in the same principle. First, we put a normal tele lens on our camera. Then again, using a special adapter with filter to filter threads, we reverse mount a second lens on it. For example, if we have a 200mm telephoto lens with a diameter of 52mm, and a 50mm with a diameter of 49mm, we reverse our 50mm lens using a product called “49mm-52mm filter to filter adapter”. The other name for these adapters is “macro coupling adapter”.

If you use a tele zoom lens as the main lens, you’ll have a very flexible system. You can play with the focal length and change the magnification.

If we need to calculate the magnification, we add the magnification of the original lens to the ratio of the focal lengths of the 2 lenses. For example, a 90mm macro lens provides 1:1 magnification. If we use a reversed 50mm on 90mm, the magnification equals 1 + 90/50 = 2.8X. In practice I find magnifications by measuring. The bottom example shows that the magnification is quite high when using 90mm and 50mm.

You can also find this topic in detail in a separate article:

Note: Turkish articles will be translated soon.

The last thing I can say is:

If we only see these methods for non-macro lenses, it wouldn’t be exactly right. All of them give excellent results when used with macro-specific lenses, ie true macro lenses, special-purpose macro lenses and enlarger lenses. If you have a macro lens, try it with these methods. You will not regret 🙂

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