How to Take Great Macro Photos for Only $40!

Taken with 16mm extension tubes (50mm, f/5.6, 1/80 sec, 160 ISO)

Photographers who engage themselves in macro photography keep being seduced by this field. One of the satisfying things is to reveal what the human eye cannot plainly see. This gives us the opportunity to change our perspective on this tiny world, so different from the one we know. It often looks like another planet. That’s what macro-photography is, revealing things we can’t see and show it to the world.

Macro Photography on a Budget

16mm extenxion tubes: “On the String” (50mm, f/5.6, 1/80 sec, 500 ISO)

And you know what? You are going to be able to take big close-ups just with your existing equipment! Isn’t it great?

16mm extension tubes (16mm, f/3.5, 1/80, 100 ISO and +0.3 EV)

2 Solutions exist, aside getting a real expensive 100mm (or 30, 50, 90, 150mm) macro lens.

  1. Raynox Macro Lens. You can find other brands of course but they are the most famous ones. It works like ND filters that you screw on your actual lens. It’s sort of a magnifying glass. It works great but it’s not the cheapest solution and putting another glass at the end of your lens can add chromatic aberration or distortions.
  2. Extension tubes. You can find very cheap extension tubes, for $15 or $20 but you will loose autofocus and all the electronic connections with your lens. Not that practical when you want to change your depth of field! Oh, and say goodbye to the EXIF data as well. No, what I’m advising you is to get extension tubes with electronic contacts. Kenko makes great products but almost the price of a cheap lens. You can find Viltrox extension tubes for about $40. Ebay, Amazon of other e-retailers offer them for about this price.
16mm extension tubes ( 16mm, f/4.5, 1/60 sec, 250 ISO)

With those, you will not lose the optical abilities that your (expensive) lens already has, but you have to take into account that you will lose some light. Expect to lose 1 to 2 light stops, depending on the extension tubes you use (10mm, 16mm, or with both 26mm). You just have to compensate the exposition to correct it.

Extension tubes can be used on every type of lens

Another fun fact is that it works whatever the lens you have, wide angle and telephoto lenses, power zoom (as long as you have electronic contacts as I said earlier) or manual ones. Just try different combos with the lenses you have, you’ll get different effects. You can be quite creative with that.

16mm extension tube (50mm, f/5.6, 1/100, 100 ISO, +1.3 EV)

Correlation between the size of the tube and the focal lenght

As you can imagine, using a 10, 16 or 26mm extension tubes will modify the level of magnification. The wider your tube is, the closer you’ll get to your subject for a given focal length (reducing the minimum focus length). For instance, with 26mm extension tubes and a focal length of 16mm the end of the lens can be at 1mm only from your subject. That’s the extreme situation I admit, your lens will cover the subject with its shadow.

I usually use the 16mm tube and focal lengths between 16 to 50mm, depending on the field you want to catch. To sum up, you get a bigger close-up at your wide end than at your long end focal for the same extension tube. It’s the other way around compared to what we are used to.


16mm extension tubes with a focal length of 16mm, f/4.5, 1/80, 100 ISO.

The actual size of this flower:

Do you see the tiny little white flowers in the red circles?

The Depth of Field

One last thing you have to know about extension tubes: The depth of field. It will completely change the performance of your lens. A regular f/3.5-5.6 from kit lenses (18-55mm for instance) can reach a very shallow depth of field. Be careful when you open the diaphragm, I know it’s tempting to shoot wide open but the depth of field will quickly be no more than 1mm, and you will lose sharpness. So in this case I would advise to focus manually and use a tripod if you can.

Next week I’ll give you 5 tips to get better macro shots using these extension tubes. So stay tuned!



16mm extension tube (36mm, f/7.1, 1/60 sec, 400 ISO)