Macro photography is one of the reasons many photographers decide to buy their first DSLR camera. If you are among them, then you’re probably excited about capturing the close-up world of everyday objects, flowers, insects, etc. Macro photography is a rather simple concept: with the use of the right lens, or other devices, you are able to take a picture that registers an object on the sensor at its actually size, or a 1:1 ratio magnification.
The barrier to you experimenting and enjoying macro photography will probably be in your wallet, or a lack of money in your wallet. For example, you’ve decided to buy the new Canon EOS Rebel T4i DSLR. The 18–135mm f/3.5–5.6 IS STM lens that comes with the camera as a kit lens doesn’t focus any closer than 1.3 feet (.39m). For true macro photography versatility, you need, for example, one of Canon’s macro lenses, which are hundreds of dollars, with one priced at more than a thousand. That’s a hefty investment for occasional use and in a specific kind of photography you don’t know if you’ll pursue.
A definite advantage of a macro lens is that it focuses very close to an object as well as focusing at infinity, so you don’t have to change lenses if you want to shoot a close-up of a flower petal, and then turn to take a picture of a child playing in the garden. If you do decide to purchase a macro lens, then remember that those with a greater focal length will allow you to be farther from your subject. This can result in more depth of field, which is always a consideration during macro photography.
Fortunately, there are a number of optional accessories that will convert a “standard” lens into a macro lens…and most cost much less.
1. Reversing Ring
A reversing ring may be the simplest, and is certainly the least expensive, option to a separate macro lens. Depending on the brand of your regular lens, virtually all reversing rings cost less than $50, and most less than $20. It is a carefully machined, metal ring with male filter threads at both ends; so one lens can be attached to another, but reversed. The lenses are attached front-to-front making the open, or light gathering, end what would normally be mounted to the camera body. In effect, you create a macro lens with this set-up. A number of lens combinations are typically used: a 50mm reversed mounted to a zoom lens or a fast (f/1.2 or f/1.4) 50mm reversed on a telephoto lens with a fixed focal length of more than 200mm.
2. Extension Tube or Bellows
An extension tube or bellows is mounted between the camera body and lens, which increases the distance from the lens to the sensor. An extension tube is typically a piece of high quality plastic with mounts at either end, but with no glass elements. It’s simply a conduit for the light traveling from the lens into the camera. A bellows serves the same purpose, except the housing is made from a durable, flexible material, so you can change the length of the bellows. A bellows is typically mounted on a small rail system with a dial to make those length adjustments. The length of an extension tube or bellows determines how close you can focus, with more length equaling a closer focus. Length also translates into more cost, with extension tubes and bellows costing hundreds of dollars or less than a hundred for shorter distances.
3. Close-Up Lens
A close-up lens (sometimes know as a close-up filter) adds magnification to your standard lens when attached to its front end. Close-up lenses have number designations that represent the power of the lens to focus closer. Prices for close-up lenses depend on your camera type, but, as a beginner, you’ll probably find what you need for less than $100.
Maybe your best option for your first foray into macro photography is to rent a macro lens or any of these optional accessories for a weekend. That will cost you much less than a purchase and you’ll be surer that macro photography is an interest you want to continue to pursue.