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01-13-2015, 09:09 PM   #1
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Extension tubes vs macro lens

So ive decided that i want to get into some macro photography. Plus, i am willing to bet that two lenses isnt really enough. So, i found some nikkors that that go for around $500 which isnt too bad. Images look nice but then are are also extension tubes that go for a mere $12 on amazon. What are the advantages of each? Like if i were to put a single extension tube on my 24-85, how close could i get? Thank you so much!

01-13-2015, 09:12 PM   #2
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QuoteOriginally posted by neostyles Quote
So ive decided that i want to get into some macro photography. Plus, i am willing to bet that two lenses isnt really enough. So, i found some nikkors that that go for around $500 which isnt too bad. Images look nice but then are are also extension tubes that go for a mere $12 on amazon. What are the advantages of each? Like if i were to put a single extension tube on my 24-85, how close could i get? Thank you so much!
Tubes are helpful but they basically make the lens all-manual, which could make metering more tricky. I recommend a dedicated macro lens unless you plan on going closer than 1:1.

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01-13-2015, 09:17 PM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by Adam Quote
Tubes are helpful but they basically make the lens all-manual, which could make metering more tricky. I recommend a dedicated macro lens unless you plan on going closer than 1:1.
Hmm im kind of unfamiliar with macro levels of zoom. Do you know of any sites that offer comparisons? Thanks! Like here is a pic that i took with my phone. Im looking to maybe go a little closer than this

Last edited by neostyles; 02-07-2015 at 12:51 PM.
01-13-2015, 09:25 PM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by neostyles Quote
Hmm im kind of unfamiliar with macro levels of zoom. Do you know of any sites that offer comparisons? Thanks! Like here is a pic that i took with my phone. Im looking to maybe go a little closer than this
That's more than 1:1, but then again the IQ isn't that great. You would probably need tubes + a macro lens to get closer but a dedicated macro lens on a DSLR will match the quality.

The reproduction ratio is just the size of the object on the sensor vs. the size in real life


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01-13-2015, 09:44 PM   #5
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Using extension tubes or a bellows isn't hard but it is more complex than a dedicated macro lens. This is for a Nikon camera I assume? I'm afraid I don't know the details of which lenses each body can use and with what restrictions, but if you can use tubes I recommend using them with a fixed focal length lens rather than a zoom. Enlarger lenses make rational macro lenses on a budget, plus they are small and light.

See this thread for my version compared with my dedicated macro Lens.

https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/177-macro-photography/285041-lightweight-macro.html
01-14-2015, 12:57 AM   #6
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Dedicated macro lenses are a better choice in the long run, frequently they are very good for everyday photography with the added benefit of being able to focus very closely for detail shots.


Extension tubes can wind up being just as cumbersome - if not more than a dedicated macro lens.

Allow me to illustrate:


In this image we have the Pentax FA77mm f/1.8 Limited with extension tubes required for 1.25:1 magnification, compared to a Sigma 180mm f/3.5 APO Macro lens which is natively capable of infinity focus down to 1:1 magnification- while maintaining automatic aperture control, focal length data transmission, full AF along with a focus limiter.

Last edited by Digitalis; 01-14-2015 at 01:13 AM.
01-14-2015, 01:18 AM   #7
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you can get a set of autofocus macro rings for nikon on ebay for $50. that would probably be your best option.

01-14-2015, 01:23 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by maltfalc Quote
you can get a set of autofocus macro rings for nikon on ebay for $50
Many of those suffer from nasty internal reflection issues.
01-14-2015, 05:37 AM   #9
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My advice - get some tubes - try it - cheap and fun. If you love it get a pair of lenses and stack them back to back - a fixed prime and a smaller fixed prime (the front lens can be fully manual and not Nikon). Doing macro this way gives you crazy insane magnification if that's what you are after.
01-14-2015, 05:58 AM   #10
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Tubes will degrade image quality if You shoot with a non-macro lens. This can partly be overcome by mounting the lens reverted to the tubes, but You need an adapter (filter thread to lens mount) and have to step down manually, if it can be done with the lens.
If quality is what You want there is no way around a dedicated macro lens. Maybe the use of a converter combined with a macro lens can help to enlarge the object more.
Needless to say that I don't prefer extension tubes ...
01-14-2015, 06:22 AM   #11
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If your intention is to get greater magnification than the photo of that coin, AND IF you plan to photograph stationary objects such as coins, the best IQ will be obtained by getting a good quality enlarging lens and reverse mounting it on either tubes or a bellows, then using image stacking to get the required depth of field. IF you are planning to photograph live subjects at greater than 1:1 (greater than life-size) there are two viable options: 1) a macro lens with a set of extension tubes that has aperture linkage (=that will close the aperture automatically); or 2) reverse mounting a short focal length lens atop a long focal length lens. For example, mounting a Pentax 50mm f1.7 reversed atop a 150mm Takumar SMCA will yield 3X magnification while retaining aperture control; OR, mounting a 50mm Componon enlarging lens reversed on a 200mm SMCA Takumar will yield 4X magnification while retaining aperture control. Reverse mounting two lenses can yield unexpectedly good macro combinations. EXPERIMENT with lenses you have, even a zoom lens either as the basic lens or the reverse mounted lens, but always have the longer focal length attached to the camera. ANOTHER OPTION: Raynox macro filter lenses are achromatic and can provide very good results when mounted on some lenses, even zooms. I think the 2.5X kit goes for under $200. Again, a slightly longer basic lens (100~200mm) will commonly yield better results, but it's worth experimenting with anything/everything that you have, even a kit zoom. I have seen some very good macros taken with very improbable combinations of lenses.

AND, the "gold standard" for high quality macros at magnifications above life-size are microscope objectives, BUT YOU MUST USE IMAGE STACKING SOFTWARE. Reversed high-quality enlarging lenses come in second.
01-14-2015, 06:45 AM   #12
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Dedicated macro lens + teleconverter yields excellent results. That's what I settled on after experimenting with tubes, reversed lenses, macro filters and anything else I read about people doing on the net.

Or you can buy a canon camera and get their dedicated 1:1-5:1 macro lens :-)

On a more serious note, what ever you do, you'll need a tripod of some kind and lights. Being able to do long exposures lets you keep the ISO low and have your aperture closed up enough that you actually have some depth of field in your photos.
01-14-2015, 07:00 AM   #13
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FOLLOWUP:

The Raynox 2.5X achromatic close-up with mounting adapter for 52-67mm filter sizes is about $75 at B&H. The Raynox kit with 1.5X and 2.5X lens units is $118. I believe the lens units will mount directly on 49mm filter threads, and Raynox makes other adapters for mounting on up to 77mm filter threads, although any step down ring that provides for 67mm or smaller filter mounting will work. Mounted on a good/great quality prime lens, the Raynox units can provide very good results although not akin to what a good dedicated macro can deliver, nor up to the quality of some reversed SFL lenses or the excellent quality of some reversed enlarging lenses.

There are many routes to high magnification macro, and certain approaches will always produce high quality results (microscope objectives and reversed high quality enlarging lenses), other options are unpredictable. EXPERIMENT WITH WHAT YOU HAVE. Technique is initially more limiting than equipment.
01-14-2015, 07:55 AM   #14
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I haven't had much experience with degraded images using bellows or tubes with non-reversed lenses. My thread referenced earlier in this thread called Lightweight Macro shows my use of an enlarger lens mounted right way round on tubes - I will have to play with reverse mounting at some point. I have done simple reverse mounting in my film days but found normal orientation with tubes or bellows more satisfactory, but back then I never combined reverse mounting with extensions.

To my eye the results I got with my tubes and my 50mm enlarging lens in my thread are quite good with good IQ, however I can't say they couldn't have been better without trying it out at some point.
01-14-2015, 08:54 AM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by UncleVanya Quote
I haven't had much experience with degraded images using bellows or tubes with non-reversed lenses. My thread referenced earlier in this thread called Lightweight Macro shows my use of an enlarger lens mounted right way round on tubes - I will have to play with reverse mounting at some point. I have done simple reverse mounting in my film days but found normal orientation with tubes or bellows more satisfactory, but back then I never combined reverse mounting with extensions.

To my eye the results I got with my tubes and my 50mm enlarging lens in my thread are quite good with good IQ, however I can't say they couldn't have been better without trying it out at some point.

The general rule of thumb is: use an enlarging lens in normal orientation up to 1:1, and reverse mounted @ greater than 1:1. Basically, reverse mounting an enlarging lens is using it in its intended orientation, projecting a small subject (a negative) to a larger size (a sheet of enlarging paper), but as a photo lens it is enlarging a small subject (coin, insect, stamen or even individual pollen grains) to a larger size on the sensor. Hence it is preferable to have the photo subject at the end of the lens where a negative would be. This same effect applies to SFL lenses when reversed, with greater magnification obtained by shorter SFL lenses. Some old 28mm photo lenses of modest aperture (f3.5 or 2.8) give very good results @ >1:1 when reverse mounted. For enlarging lenses, to get the best results you need a good quality lens. For example, the ubiquitous, popular 50mm f2.8 EL-Nikkor is a great reverse-mounted macro, but the bargain 50mm f4 EL-Nikkor is unsatisfactory. A reverse-mounted 28mm f4 Componon is regarded as an excellent high magnification macro, but it's an uncommon lens compared to the f2.8 50mm EL-Nikkor.
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