Monday, April 23, 2012

Do Macro Photography on the Cheap

I've always wanted to do macro photography, but a macro lens is pretty far down my list of priorities. I stumbled upon a cheap way of doing it. All you need are these things called macro extension tubes. I got mine for $15 on Amazon. You can also find them for $10 to $20 on ebay. (I went for the "branded" Fotodiox ones, but they're really just tubes, so it shouldn't make any difference.) 

The results? It literally works with any lens, and it opens up new photographic horizons. Macro extension tubes do, however, have limitations. They're best used with manual lenses and you'd best know what you're doing in the oftentimes dark world of macro photography. For less than P500 though, you really can't go wrong. It sure beats spending $800 on a macro lens.

How it works

The Fotodiox tubes I got include three tubes and the male and female micro four thirds adaptors. You simply stick any combination of the tubes onto your camera and then stick a lens in front of it. You can use one tube, two tubes or all three tubes.

In practice, all the tubes do is decrease your minimum focusing distance. For example, the Jupiter-8 lens I was using has a minimum focusing distance of 1 meter. Using the largest tube, the 28mm one, with the Jupiter-8 meant that my minimum focusing distance was now a couple of inches. If I wanted to get closer, all I had to do was add another tube, and so on and so forth.

That said, even the smallest tube, the 7mm one, drastically gets you closer to your subject. Using the 7mm tube with the 50mm Jupiter 8 gave me a minimum focusing distance of about a hand's length.


Using macro extension tubes poses a number of challenges. For starters, the tubes have no electronic contacts, so your lenses can't communicate with the camera. That's why manual lenses work best because you can still control the aperture and the focus.

Manual lenses like these are easier to use with macro extension tubes

This is actually not that big a deal. The focusing ring is actually next to useless when you're an inch away from your subject. You achieve focus by moving the camera backwards or forwards in very small moves. 

Control of the aperture ring is still pretty useful, so I primarily use my manual lenses with these tubes.

It's still possible to use the tubes with electronic lenses. For micro four thirds cameras, this is what you do:
1. Set the lens to the desired aperture.
2. Hit the depth of field preview button (you can customize this to a button; I placed it on the Rec button) 
3. With the depth of field preview button held down, remove the lens. DO NOT turn the camera off.
4. Your lens will now be frozen in that aperture. It will also be frozen in that focus, but like I said, focus isn't such a big deal.

I did experience some trouble with the tubes locking up. The threads on these guys are a little bit too tight. After some pushing and pulling (and some swearing) the tubes eventually let go of my lens.


It's a pretty dark world when your nose is pressed against your subject. Make sure you've got the lighting you need. You can use a ring flash if you've got one of those. Or you can also use LED lights. A small flashlight can do wonders. 

I used an external flash that was set to trigger remotely. I held the flash in one hand and shot with the other (the built-in flash triggered the external flash). If you place the flash in the hotshoe or use the built-in flash, your lens will most likely cast a shadow on your subject.

The Photos

And here are some sample photos. Most were taken with the Jupiter-8 and the Industar-22. I can't explain why, but the most interesting shots were the ones taken with the SLR Magic Toy Lens. (They're the photos with the soft dreamy look.) I really love that lens.

Here's the stuff I shot beside an iPhone to give you some sense of scale.

And here they are up close and personal.

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