The Digital Photo Guy

Macro Lens Alternatives

by on Apr.19, 2010, under Monday Morning Tips

Macro On the Cheap

The annual Desert Spring Wildflower and San Diego Wild Animal Park Butterfly Workshops are over for 2010 and, as always, many students were fascinated by the world of macro photography. So much so that some wanted to rush out and buy a new macro lens. Before you spend a lot of money on a dedicated macro lens, here are some alternatives as well as the pros and cons of each.


Each photo above was taken with a different macro configuration.

The first photo (left) was taken with a Canon 100/2.8 macro. This is a different flower from the remaining two but about the same size so it won’t matter. Also, notice how I used a reflector with the next two to remove the shadows. Shadows are desirable when showing depth and texture. Without shadows, the flowers resemble textbook illustrations. At ~$530, this is the most expensive but most flexible solution. I almost always recommend B&H Photo of NYC for this sort of purchase.

The middle photo is from a Canon 50/1.8 (Plastic Fantastic) with a Kenko 36mm extension tube. Kenko tubes come in a set of 3 (12mm, 20mm, 36mm) for about $170. The tubes can be used in any combination for more or less magnification. This is an excellent solution and the cost is quite reasonable at about $270 for lens and tubes. Downside is flexibility and short working distance. Kenko tubes can be bought anywhere but I recommend B&H Photo where you can also get the best price for a Canon 50/1.8.

The last photo used the same Canon 50/1.8 with a Mandee +10 close up filter screwed on to the front like a standard filter. Mandee is a cheap, generic filter from some unknown Indian firm but, as you can see, the resuls aren’t bad for ~$40 plus the lens. I didn’t try it but I’m told the results deteriorate rapidly when used with an inexpensive zoom like the Canon 18-55. Close up lenses are more restrictive than extension tubes because they don’t work as well with zooms and require extra care not to damage the glass elements. Also, cheap filters seem to always cross thread themselves. These are available from Photosolve.

For any sort of macro photography requires a good tripod tha can get low to the ground and a solid ballhead that doesn’t droop when you let go of the camera. Have fun and send me photos to post if you use my advice to make macros.

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