March 8, 2008

Extender Rings

Article by Ron Brinkmann

Hard-core macro shooters spend a lot of bucks on specialized gear – dedicated macro lenses, complex tripod rigs, custom flash setups. But before you go down this route whole-heartedly, it might make sense to look at low-cost options that can give you a good feel for whether or not you enjoy this sort of thing. And a really nice and reasonably-priced (at least relative to a new lens) way to dip your toes in the water is to get yourself a set of extension tubes.

These tubes work in conjunction with an existing lens – I usually use them with my 50mm prime – and basically just move the lens a fixed additional distance away from the sensor, thereby shortening the focusing distance. The net result is that you can get close-up ‘macro’ images. The longer you push the lens out the closer you can focus, which is why extension tubes usually come in a set of 3. You can use any combination of the 3, or all 3 together, to get a variety of different magnification amounts.

There are several different flavors of these things but since there’s no glass involved I’m not particularly convinced that the more expensive brand-name ones (i.e. directly from Canon or Nikon) are really any better than the Pro Optics or Kenkos. (I bought the Kenko’s a few years back… but can’t remember specifically why I got them instead of the Pro Optics).

They do force you to manually focus, but with macro work that’s often a good idea anyway. And of course once you start playing with these you’ll really start to get a good feel for how critical depth-of-field is with this type of shooting.

This post sponsored by the Digital SLR Store

Join the conversation! 11 Comments

  1. Another cheapo trick is to take off the lens and turn it backwards. Focussing is done by moving the lens. It’s haphazard at best, but you can get some interesting results.

  2. there is another even cheaper, though not as flexible, way of getting extreme close-ups.

    Reverse the 50mm prime lens (this can be done by an adaptor which screws into the filter thread which then fits to the camera’s lens mount). You will lose all the auto functions but it allows getting to within a few millimetres of the subject.

    It is possible to do it by holding the lens in place manually but that’s not so easy.

    Focussing is achieved by moving forwards or backwards in relation to the subject.

  3. will extender rings work with my new nikon 105mm vr micro lens?

  4. I love my tubes. I used them for years before buying a dedicated Macro. I still use them in conjunction with my 100mm 1:2 life size and my 50mm. They also come in handy on occasion to decrease the minimum focus distance on tele-lenses but you lose infinity focus in the trade.

    Re: Chris

    Extension tubes should work on the 105 no problem and give you greater than 1:1

  5. I have a question for everyone:

    I am a Nikon Girl, but I think it would be good to get sorta a general answer on this for all D-SLR/SLR users in general…

    What are the top 5 Must have Lenses for a starting SLR photographer.

    In your opinion of course.

    Just lenses that everyone should have in their kits because they are just that necessary no matter what you shoot?

  6. Chris,

    Yes, extension tubes (or rings) will work with ANY lens. There is no magic, no optics involved – you’re just moving your lens further away from the sensor plane, thereby reducing minimum focus distance. The only caveat is that in the process, you will lose the ability to focus at infinity.

  7. Canon 500D close-up lens – available in many sizes. Fits on a lens like a filter. Works on Nikkor lenses (and many others).

  8. I’ve also used a reversed 50mm in front of a non-reversed 50mm for taking macro shots. Since the reversed one was rather old, with yellowed coatings, the image had a nice, warm feel.

  9. I have seen some really crazy macro work that was achieved by combining various techniques that have been described above. One that sticks in my head is using a macro lens on the camera and then attaching an extension tube to the front of the macro lens to add a reversed 50mm. This will give you an insane magnification level.

    Cindy – your question is a little off topic, but I’ll throw in my two cents on this. Being a Nikon person myself, I usually recommend primes and high-end f/2.8 zooms. the lenses I recommend include the 50mm f/1.8D (the standard prime). I’m in love with the 85mm f/1.4D which is a fantastic portrait lens if you can swallow the price, the 85mm f/1.8D is almost as good, but isn’t built as ruggedly. Everyone needs a wide angle prime (well most people should have one) and for that I recommend the 20mm f/2.8D. For telephoto zooms, the 80-200mm f/2.8D is hard to beat unless the 70-200mm f/2.8G VR is in your budget. Really the best middle ground is the older AF-S 80-200mm f/2.8 which can be had used for around a grand if you can find one. If you need a macro lens the 60mm f/2.8 (both the older model and newer G version) is a great start. Then for a standard zoom, my favorite walk around lens is the AF-S 17-55mm f/2.8G. It’s heavy, but the photos are worth it. The newer 18-55mm VR probably fills this gap for those with a lower budget. Really, on a daily basis, I can shoot with my 17-55mm and 85mm and not miss any of my other lenses. The less gear I have to worry about and the less time I spend changing lenses means more time shooting and being creative. Everyone’s needs are different, so I can only recommend what I have used for the subjects I shoot, which are mainly landscapes and portraits.

  10. Iain beat me to it but the Canon 500D close focusing lens, called a diopter by some, works brilliantly when combined with a longer telephoto. With a lens like a 70-200, it’s almost like a zoom macro. You get a working distance of about 18 inches or so.

    As he said, they are available in many different sizes and screw onto the lens just like a filter. And yes, they work very well on Nikkor lenses. This trick was shown to be years ago by a Nikon shooter.

    I prefer the look of the 500D shots compared to my 100mm macro lens and always try this combo first.

  11. Great article,

    I followed this same thinking and purchased a few extension tubes to try out macro work without a big initial investment in gear. I like it so much I ended up with the Canon 100 macro. I would have purchased third party extenders – much les expensive, but at the time only Canon’s version would work with ef-s lenses (at the time I only had an 18-55 ef’s and 70-200L). I’m not sure if third party extension tubes are now supporting ef-s lenses, but if you have a basic Canon setup you may want to check into this first.


    James Taylor

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