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draft article on Cheap Macro
Posted By: RioRico, 07-16-2011, 08:35 PM

Yo! I sometimes tire of re-typing some of the same helpful replies to the same excellent questions. I should write more articles, save my fingers a bit, eh? Here is a draft article on Cheap Macro. I'd like your comments and corrections before I submit it. Do your worst!

UPDATE: This draft is now dead. The official 'live' version is now here [ https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/pentax-lens-articles/152336-cheap-macro-b...lose-work.html ] and all further comments should go there. Thanks for everyone's help!!
__________________________________________________________

CHEAP MACRO -- Buying or exploiting a lens for ultraclose work

I see many questions like, "Can you recommend a macro lens for under US$200 (or whatever)?" Well, it all depends on what you mean by 'macro' and 'lens'.

'Macro' usually means reaching 1:2 (0.5x) or 1:1 (1x) magnification. Reaching 1:1 isn't hard and needn't be expensive. 'Lens' can be anything from a superduper new multipurpose tool, to something you've salvaged from broken binoculars. The choice may depend on whether flash is needed. On a Pentax P-TTL-only dSLR, using flash can be tricky without an AF or other A-type lens. (Or maybe I'm just a wimp!)

The options:

* MACRO LENSES
* New or used AF macro lens -- not cheap, and you don't really need or want AF for macro work, but good for portrait and short-tele work as well as macro.
* Used A-type MF macro lens -- still not cheap, but you can easily use flash.
* Used non-A-type MF macro lenses, still not cheap (usually) and flash is tricky.

* FLASH-FRIENDLY TRICKS
* Lens extension with aperture control: A-type macro tubes or deglassed TC's.
* Closeup adapters -- very-to-fairly cheap, and you keep auto focus and aperture.
* Teleconverters -- macro-focusing or otherwise, A-type or not.

* EVERYTHING ELSE
* Lens reversal using a cheap mount-reversal adapter.
* Reverse-stacking using a cheap thread-reversal ring.
* Lens extension, totally manual, with cheap macro tubes and/or bellows.
__________________________________________________________

Some basics: No lens can focus closer than its focal length, and that point is also where you get maximum magnification. Short lenses are for close work. Longer lenses allow (or force!) you to work a bit further off. Macro lenses 60mm or shorter are generally for studio work; those 70mm or longer are more suitable for field work; those 200mm or longer can be a bit clumsy handheld. Fine macro work often requires flash and/or a tripod. Autofocus and fast lenses are NOT your friends when shooting macro. A-type auto aperture is handy, though. And except with close-up adapters, MACRO SHOOTING EATS LIGHT! For every X increase in magnification, you lose X+1 f-stops of light.
- DEFINITIONS:
- Clean Macro: No extra glass between the camera and the subject.
- A-Type: Pentax-A manual lens or extension, with auto-aperture contacts.
- MF: Manual focus -- AF: Autofocus -- all Pentax AF lenses are A-type.
- Flatfield Sharpness: Necessary for flat subjects; optional otherwise.
- Tricky Flash: trial-and-error; P-TTL flash is easier with A-type gear.
MACRO LENSES: For 'dedicated' AF or MF macro lenses with auto-aperture control, you gotta pay. Pentax, Tamron, Sigma and others make popular macro lenses -- see the reviews. For 'dedicated' MF macro lenses without auto-aperture control, you still gotta pay. I have three fine manual macro lenses, by Kilfitt and Asahi and Vivitar-Komine... and I rarely use them, preferring to put lenses on CHEAP EXTENSION (see below).

PRO: Easiest to use; flatfield sharpness; for more than just macros.
CON: Fairly to quite expensive.

A-TYPE EXTENSION: With aperture-control extension, you use A-type macro tubes on your AF or A-type camera lens. Such tubes may be hard to find, and not cheap. But A-type teleconverters ARE fairly cheap, and their glass can be easily removed, and you retain aperture automation and thus flash support. These are usually about 25mm thick, so two of them on a 50mm AF lens puts you at 1:1. This is probably the cheapest way to do clean macro with flash.

PRO: Clean and simple; easy flash.
CON: Not quite as easy as macro lenses; eats light; not flatfield sharp.

CLOSE-UP ADAPTERS: Simple uncorrected meniscus +dioptre closeup adapters are cheap and are not great; but corrected adapters can give brilliant results -- see the Raynox Club thread. The fairly inexpensive Raynox DCR-250 reaches 1:1 at about 150mm on a couple lenses I've checked on my K20D. Your mileage may vary! That is, the exact magnification depends on the actual focal length and the focus distance. Adapters don't interfere with AF or auto-aperture; flash is no problem.

PRO: Very to fairly cheap; simple, easy; auto-control if desired.
CON: Imperfect image quality; not flatfield sharp; can be quite acceptable.
___________________________________

SIDEBAR: +DIOPTRE CLOSEUPS

I call these 'strap-ons' and they range from cheap uncorrected meniscus screw-ins to the not-too-expensive corrected 2-element adapters from Raynox, and their ilk. Dioptres are additive -- stack +1+2+3 to get +6dpt. For reference, the Raynox DCR-150 is +4.8dpt and the DCR-250 is +8dpt.

The close-up attachment lens diopter selects the working distance, while the focal length of the host lens determines magnification. Here are focusing distances in inches and metric:

+1 >> 20-38" (500-950mm)
+2 >> 13-20" (330-500mm)
+3 >> 10-13" (250-330mm)
+4 >> 8--10" (205-250mm)
+5 >> 6.5-8" (165-205mm)
+6 >> 6-6.5" (153-165mm)
+8 >> 5" ---- (127mm)
+10 > 4" ---- (102mm)

Simple uncorrected meniscus strap-ons show aberrations, especially at the image edges, that you might not like -- no edge-to-edge flatfield sharpness, nope! But they can be OK for shooting rounded stuff head-on. And a +1dpt strap-on can turn a cheap slow 18-55 kit.lens into a decent portrait lens with thin DOF. These only cost a few bucks per set and are worth playing with, and FUN!

I mentioned adapters made by Raynox. These screw into supplied clip-on mounts that fit lenses from all makers on all cameras, as long as the host lens' front diameter is 52-68mm. The spring-loaded Raynox clip *can* be forced onto a 49mm-diameter lens, but I prefer to use a cheap 49-43mm step-down ring.

Most macro work eats light. Close-up adapters don't, and are good for dimmer shooting situations. Meanwhile, meniscus strap-ons can do other things, and other optical strap-ons and filters exist. Stay tuned for the article on those. [I'll link it here after I write it, soon...]

PS: Member PaleoPete posted his binocular lens macro rig. From his description that its working distance is about 5in, I can guess that the lens is about a +8dpt, like a Raynox DCR-250. Some of you experimenters with extra binocs lying about can try this CHEAP MACRO trick, eh?
___________________________________
TELECONVERTERS: Using teleconverters, you add glass between the lens and the camera. Ordinary TC's increase focal length (and f-stop) while keeping the same working distance, effectively increasing magnification. Macro-focusing TCs let you work closer and with more magnification. TCs magnify whatever problems the host lens may have. All TC's reduce the light reaching the camera. AF TC's are rare and expensive; A-types are less so; both of these are suitable with flash. I have some TCs. I don't use them; that's all I have to say about them.

PRO: Simple.
CON: Not the cleanest; eats light; magnifies lens problems.

LENS REVERSAL: Many macro shooters work with a reversed prime lens -- but reversal just brings you close to your subject. (Working distance is about 45mm with Pentax-type prime lenses.) You still need some extension to gain magnification. A lens with a deep front inset effectively has built-in extension; others may need an added tube. Lens-reversal is cheap, easy, and clean. Just about ANY lens can be reversed. That's how I recycle some non-Pentax lenses that I would otherwise not use. Or I can use a Pentax lens normally, for non-macro work, then flip it around to get real close.

You can reverse a zoom. DA lenses lack aperture rings; they won't do. But any FA or F or MF zoom can be reversed, with a working distance somewhere around 1.3-2x the focal length. Even a lousy zoom, reversed, can give good results. I do this with the A35-80, arguably the worst lens Pentax ever sold. At 35mm I get 1:1 magnification at about 5cm distance; at 80mm I get 1:2 magnification at about 15cm, and it will focus past infinity. A real macro-zoom! NOTE: Lenses labeled as MACRO-ZOOM, ain't macro. They rarely go beyond 1:5 magnification. But MACRO uses less ink than CLOSE-FOCUS so that's how lenses are labeled. Go figure...

PRO: Cheap and easy; flatfield sharpness.
CON: Close working distance; no auto control.

REVERSE-STACKING: You can reverse-stack lenses and can gain great magnification. Mount a longer PRIMARY lens on the camera; then use a male-male thread-reversal ring, then screw a shorter SECONDARY prime on that. (If you're really cheap, just use gaffer's tape to hold the lenses nose-to-nose.) Magnification is the ratio of the Primary:Secondary focal lengths. A 35mm secondary stacked onto a 105mm primary gives 105:35= 3:1 magnification. A 25mm stacked onto a 200mm gives 8:1, which gets into MICRO-photography territory.

The Primary can be a zoom, although I prefer primes. The Secondary should be a manual prime with an aperture ring. Use the Secondary's aperture ring to control exposure, and leave the Primary wide open. Stopping-down the primary can cause vignetting. You want the front objectives to be fairly close together; lenses with deep insets can cause vignetting. Space between the lenses will increase magnification VERY slightly.

Reversing or stacking primes ALWAYS puts you at that same close working distance of about 45mm. That is good for studio work; not so good for the field. Be sure to use a hood with any reversed lens, to reduce flare. HINT: Macro tube sections work well as hoods.

PRO: Easy to achieve great magnification; flatfield sharpness.
CON: Close working distance; no auto control; eats light.

CHEAP EXTENSION: I love simple cheap extension (tubes and/or bellows). You can put a prime or a zoom on extension for close and macro work; I prefer primes. An Industar-50/3.5 on 50mm of cheap M42 tubes with a safe cheap flanged M42-PK adapter puts you at 1:1 for a pittance. For not much more, is my favorite: cheap bellows and tubes mounting cheap enlarger lenses, copy lenses, other lenses without focusing mechanisms of their own -- non-camera lenses. You can shove just about any optical material into a bellows!

Many many types of tubes and bellows exist; I can't discuss them all here. I prefer cheap simple ones, and not only for macro work. Both PK and M42 tube sections can be used as adapters for weird lenses -- just glue a tube section to the lens body. Tube sets are dirt cheap, often well under US$10 shipped for 50mm of extension in 3 modular sections. I have about 6 sets of each and I need more. M42 bellows are cheap, PK bellows are a bit more. Bellows for other mounts can often be easily adapted to PK -- just replace the mount hardware with a cheap flanged M42-PK adapter.

PRO: Cheap; clean; flexible usage.
CON: No auto control; eats light.
___________________________________

SIDEBAR: ENLARGER LENSES ETC

I love cheap enlarger lenses! EL's have edge-to-edge flatfield sharpness; they need hoods to avoid flare; they are FUN! A small bellows, some cheap macro tubes, and a handful of EL's will take you far. They also give me a great feeling of freedom. I'm not limited by whatever lens designers thought was A Good Idea.

On my K20D or K1000 I use a 50mm EL for close studio work; 75mm for slightly further macro work, and portraits; 90-110mm for portraits, and short-tele and moderate macro work; and 140-200mm for even more distance. I buy such EL's for under US$10 usually, sometimes four for a dime, maybe as much as US$20 for a Leitz or Nikkor. Premium brands can get expensive but the cheap guys work well too.

EL's have aperture rings, often with the numbers printed upside-down. Other lenses non-camera lenses can be put on extension: projector, copy, xray, process, other specialty glass. These typically DON'T have aperture rings. They can be used wide-open, or you can improvise baffles or Waterhouse stops for greater sharpness. Reversing an EL or other non-camera lens may increase sharpness also. EL and other non-camera lenses usually aren't designed for flare resistance, so be sure to use a hood.

Many European and some Japanese EL's have a 39mm thread, the same as M39 and L39 /LTM (Leica thread-mount) lenses. Some Japanese EL's have a 42mm thread, same as M42. Many USA EL's have inch-based or various non-standard threads. Some non-camera lenses have NO threads and must be taped or otherwise secured into adapters. Cheap adapter: a one-buck plastic body cap with a hole cut in it!

PRO: Cheap; EL's have flatfield sharpness.
CON: EL's rapidly become addictive!!
___________________________________
My recommendations: If you have the money and want a sharp versatile lens, get a new AF macro. (I'd love to crawl in the mud with a DFA 100/2.8 WR!) If you're real cheap and fairly lazy, get a set of meniscus close-up adapters; if not quite so cheap, get a Raynox. If you don't mind working real close, try lens reversal and stacking. If you want cheap clean basic macro, get a set of macro tubes or de-glass an A-type TC. If you want to experiment cheaply, get bellows and tubes and enlarger lenses. If 10x isn't enough magnification, get a microscope!

And there you have it -- the basics of Cheap Macro. I didn't say much about 'dedicated' camera macro lenses nor AF TC's because they ain't cheap! REAL cheapskates don't even buy macro tubes -- they get PVC pipe from hardware stores, and improvise. Online searches will reveal macro setups made from Pringles potato-chip cans. How cheap can YOU go? And I'm not discussing technique because enough is enough. I'll let the macro pros tell us how they do what they do, eh?

BIBLIOGRAPHY (actual books!)
FIELD PHOTOGRAPHY by Alfred Blaker (Freeman) ***
CLOSEUPS IN NATURE by John Shaw (AmPhoto)
CLOSE-UP PHOTOGRAPHY by William J. Owens (Petersen)
CLOSE-UP AND MACRO PHOTOGRAPHY by Adrian Davies (Focal)
UNDERSTANDING CLOSE-UP PHOTOGRAPHY by Bryan Peterson (AmPhoto)

Thanks to members jolepp, yeatzee, jatrax, abacus07, pacerr, GeneV, PaleoPete for suggestions. The fixes are in! The discussion thread for the draft version of this is here [ https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/pentax-slr-lens-discussion/152178-draft-a...eap-macro.html ] in case you want to read the comments.

UPDATE: This draft is now dead. The official 'live' version is now here [ https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/pentax-lens-articles/152336-cheap-macro-b...lose-work.html ] and all further comments should go there. Thanks for everyone's help!!

Last edited by RioRico; 07-18-2011 at 06:14 PM. Reason: small corrections and elucidations
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07-18-2011, 11:40 AM   #31
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I've made a few more amendments and additions. I haven't had any more comments for over half a day. I guess it's ready to go live. It's submission time, folks! Within the hour, anyway...

07-18-2011, 12:26 PM   #32
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Guess I am late, great article.
One item I didn't see when discussing cheap purpose built macro lenses is the often suggested Cosina/Promaster/whatever 100mm plastic fantastic lens.
With the included (originally anyway) 1:1 adapter it is usually a steal and a very effective macro option.
07-18-2011, 12:36 PM   #33
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QuoteOriginally posted by crewl1 Quote
Guess I am late, great article.
One item I didn't see when discussing cheap purpose built macro lenses is the often suggested Cosina/Promaster/whatever 100mm plastic fantastic lens.
With the included (originally anyway) 1:1 adapter it is usually a steal and a very effective macro option.
Oh, it's never too late! Assuming this draft is accepted, I'll still be able to edit it as needed. I know I will have a couple of links to insert.

As for the lens: It's still not cheap enough for me!

No, I purposely avoided discussing any specific products (except the Raynox adapters) because 1) that's a whole 'nother can of worms, 2) the worms change every now and then, and 3) I have no experience with them -- I know my few manual macro lenses but I try not to blather about stuff I haven't used. I also didn't mention prices because prices change too. So for any specific 'macro' lens, see the reviews.
07-18-2011, 12:40 PM   #34
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QuoteOriginally posted by yeatzee Quote
I did a quick skim and it seems pretty much dead on. Though something I never understood..... the absolute need for contacts for using flash in macro work. You should be shooting the flash in M-mode anyways so why stress and spend the extra $ to get "flash friendly" components?
If you are using the P-ttl ring flashes by Pentax, Metz, Sigma or Promaster, the contacts are needed for operation in P-TTL.

07-18-2011, 12:47 PM - 1 Like   #35
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A couple of additional points I think should go into the article.

-while you define macro as 1:2 or better magnification, I think you should make note that many zoom manufacturers lable zooms as "macro" really meaning close focusing, with reproduction rations of 1:3 or 1:4.

- I think you need to distinguish between auto aperture (with KA mount or later) and auto aperture i.e. open aperture focusing, because there are K mount extension tubes with and without aperture linkage out there. This point gets lost too many times

- for dedicated macro lenses, you should mention 2 other points, that I did not see,, epecifically that macro lenses are designed for flat field reproduction as opposed to curved field, making them better for copying flat objects, like stamps, etc, and macro lenses are optimized to focus close, where normal primes are not, these two points are what really distinguish a true macro lens from a prime on an extension tube

- i did not see any mention of a bellows and enlarging lens. maybe I missed it but this can be low cost and high quality

- you should point out that the *istD can do TTL flash with any lens, and is a good way to get flash with macro, if you don't want manual


in the explanations you may want to say why things are not always recommended, like AF, the truth is, the AF does not always focus where you want it. etc...

it is a good framework

edit note

- you may also wish to add that shorter focal lengths are also used for copy work, due to the reduced working distance.

- i think eats light needs to be defined. regardless of how you get magnification, the light fall off is simply a function of magnification ratio and effective aperture.

Last edited by Lowell Goudge; 07-18-2011 at 12:55 PM.
07-18-2011, 12:51 PM   #36
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QuoteOriginally posted by Blue Quote
If you are using the P-ttl ring flashes by Pentax, Metz, Sigma or Promaster, the contacts are needed for operation in P-TTL.
can they not work manually??? (i've never shot a ring flash)
07-18-2011, 01:25 PM   #37
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QuoteOriginally posted by Lowell Goudge Quote
A couple of additional points I think should go into the article.
I've just submitted it, so I'll wait for approval and posting before I do any edits.

QuoteQuote:
-while you define macro as 1:2 or better magnification, I think you should make note that many zoom manufacturers lable zooms as "macro" really meaning close focusing, with reproduction rations of 1:3 or 1:4.
I mention that, but it's rather buried. I'll move that to a more prominent place.

QuoteQuote:
- I think you need to distinguish between auto aperture (with KA mount or later) and auto aperture i.e. open aperture focusing, because there are K mount extension tubes with and without aperture linkage out there. This point gets lost too many times

- for dedicated macro lenses, you should mention 2 other points, that I did not see,, epecifically that macro lenses are designed for flat field reproduction as opposed to curved field, making them better for copying flat objects, like stamps, etc, and macro lenses are optimized to focus close, where normal primes are not, these two points are what really distinguish a true macro lens from a prime on an extension tube
I should be able to work those in. I'll expand on flatfield sharpness.

QuoteQuote:
- i did not see any mention of a bellows and enlarging lens. maybe I missed it but this can be low cost and high quality
Near the end are the section CHEAP EXTENSION and the sidebar ENLARGER LENSES ETC.

QuoteQuote:
- you should point out that the *istD can do TTL flash with any lens, and is a good way to get flash with macro, if you don't want manual
Except for the Raynox adapters, which are standards, I don't discuss any specific products. That means cameras too, especially those I don't use and know. Everybody needs to read their own user manual. Too many variants for me to track.

QuoteQuote:
in the explanations you may want to say why things are not always recommended, like AF, the truth is, the AF does not always focus where you want it. etc...

- you may also wish to add that shorter focal lengths are also used for copy work, due to the reduced working distance.
I can work those in.

QuoteQuote:
- i think eats light needs to be defined. regardless of how you get magnification, the light fall off is simply a function of magnification ratio and effective aperture.
I explained LIGHT-EATING just above the DEFINITIONS. I'm going to avoid effective aperture. This a cheap-gear guide, not a tutorial on macro shooting. That's why I don't discuss flash and other lighting, DOF issues, macro-stacking warez, focusing rails and stages, magnification calculations. Some of that should go into another article: EASY MACRO MATH or something like that.

QuoteQuote:
it is a good framework
Thanks. I'm just trying to provide a usable overview. And many thanks for all your suggestions! I edit them in as soon as I can.
07-18-2011, 01:40 PM   #38
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QuoteOriginally posted by yeatzee Quote
can they not work manually??? (i've never shot a ring flash)
P-TTL ring flashes can work in p-ttl, ttl auto or manually. However, operating in p-ttl or ttl is a lot less trial and error. However, only the *istD, *ist DS and *ist DS2 digital bodies can use ttl.

Of course, non p-ttl ring flashes aren't as expensive. I have a Promaster ttl Macrolume and an Sigma EM-140 DG ring flash. I like the Promaster macrolume better but my version is non p-ttl so as Rio said earlier it is sometimes a pain for the trial and error and some subjects don't give you many chances but in some cases it is o.k. But the point is that without the A contacts, ttl and P-ttl ring flashes become auto or manual only. That is a big hit for a $300 to $400 flash.

07-18-2011, 01:52 PM   #39
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QuoteOriginally posted by yeatzee Quote
ebay china brand?
That's right. The $20 or $30 to get a name brand is worth it, as I have learned the hard way.
07-18-2011, 05:18 PM   #40
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QuoteOriginally posted by Blue Quote
P-TTL ring flashes can work in p-ttl, ttl auto or manually. However, operating in p-ttl or ttl is a lot less trial and error. However, only the *istD, *ist DS and *ist DS2 digital bodies can use ttl.

Of course, non p-ttl ring flashes aren't as expensive. I have a Promaster ttl Macrolume and an Sigma EM-140 DG ring flash. I like the Promaster macrolume better but my version is non p-ttl so as Rio said earlier it is sometimes a pain for the trial and error and some subjects don't give you many chances but in some cases it is o.k. But the point is that without the A contacts, ttl and P-ttl ring flashes become auto or manual only. That is a big hit for a $300 to $400 flash.
Yeah i guess your right, but if your using a $300+ ring flash your probably using a modern day macro lens anyways.

As for manual flash work, again, trial and error but only for a couple shoots. Eventually you learn your setup and what is required flash wise to achieve what you want at any given aperture/magnification etc.
07-18-2011, 05:21 PM   #41
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QuoteOriginally posted by fuent104 Quote
That's right. The $20 or $30 to get a name brand is worth it, as I have learned the hard way.
I don't think i'd ever spend $20 or $30 on tubes. If I was looking for more I'd just go the bid section of ebay which gets rid of all the china tubes. Any old set in PK mount is fine im sure as long as it looks robust. I dont trust the items sold by multiple china shops on ebay unless its the only option (adapters :ugh: ) My AICO tubes are fantastic (and fully manual )
07-18-2011, 05:59 PM   #42
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QuoteQuote:
Any old set in PK mount is fine im sure as long as it looks robust.
Quite right. I have 3 sets I got in various online auctions at very good prices, one I think is missing one tube, but I mix and match and cannot tell the difference in photo quality. I think the most expensive one was $15. After all, an extension tube is just an open tube to get the lens out further away, a cardboard tube will do the same thing except that it's more difficult to mount.
07-18-2011, 06:07 PM   #43
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I can't guarantee my tubes were from China, as I bought them maybe 5 or 6 years ago...

However, I can assure you my lens was damaged because of them. It was wasn't the tubes that made the difference (of course, as they are simply tubes), it was the lens mount. The switch that holds the lens in place broke, and ended up somehow locking onto the aperture trigger switch of the lens. It was badly stuck, and when I pulled them apart, something internal (I'm hoping it was just the spring for the aperture lever) broke or became misaligned. Hence I sent the lens to Eric.

Should I have tried so hard to pry the tube apart from the lens? Maybe not. But I had tried to use tools to trigger the switch, and it wasn't working.

I guess it is possible that this could have happened with Pentax or Vivitar brand tubes, but it seems much less likely to me. I did get several years of usage out of my tubes, but, in the end, the safety of my lens is well worth the extra money I would have spent in the first place. In fact, it is probably going to cost me more than the difference between cheap and slightly less cheap tubes to have the lens fixed.
07-18-2011, 06:08 PM   #44
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If I hadn't thrown the tube set in the trash, I would post photos of them, so other people could see what I'm talking about.
07-18-2011, 06:10 PM   #45
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QuoteOriginally posted by Lowell Goudge Quote
A couple of additional points I think should go into the article.
Lowell, I've just done an update with many of your suggestions incorporated. It's in the posted version.

UPDATE: This draft is now dead. The official 'live' version is now here [ https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/pentax-lens-articles/152336-cheap-macro-b...lose-work.html ] and all further comments on it should go there. Thanks for everyone's help!!

Last edited by RioRico; 07-18-2011 at 06:16 PM.
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