Close-Up Photography Equipment Guide by ALZO Digital

Close-Up Photography Equipment

  1. Close-Up Photography Equipment Overview

  2. Close-Up Lenses

  3. Extension Tubes

  4. Bellows

  5. Lens Reversing Ring

  6. Focusing Rails

  7. Macro Lens

  8. Macro PC Lens

  9. Macro Lens Setting on Point & Shoot Cameras or DSLR Camera Lenses

  10. Comparison Table

1. Close-up Photography Equipment Overview

There are many pieces of photography equipment that may be used to enhance the close-up capability of your existing cameras and lenses. Depending on your subject and budget, there are many alternatives to choose from. Your camera may indeed already have rudimentary close-up capabilities and you may be able to utilize them without an additional cost, especially a point and shoot type camera with built-in close-up settings. However, if you have a DSLR, the close-up equipment options are many and the scope and quality of close-up imagery can be greatly enhanced. Low cost options such as lens reversing rings, extension tubes and close-up lenses (look like heavy glass filters) can give decent results just using the normal lens you may already own. Beyond that, there are better and more costly options. The best quality options include true macro lenses and Perspective Control versions of the same. Some of this equipment can be combined to even further enlarge and make photographing small subjects more convenient. Adding close-up lenses in front of a macro lens will extend the close focusing capability, but may also degrade the image quality to a slight degree as the close-up lenses are not the same quality as the macro lens they are attached to, and not optically matched or calibrated to the macro lens, and is not part of the true optical formula of the macro lens. You can also add close-up lenses to your standard lens along with extension tubes or a bellows to enhance the close-up capabilities as well. All of these close-up options and combinations of options will give superior results to shooting a subject at a normal distance and then enlarging the image to a larger size. Focusing rails can be used with any close-up system to make the change of lens to subject distance more easily accomplished, rather than trying to move a tripod in small increments. One issue to content with is distance from the front edge of the lens to the subject. With extreme close-up capability, the front edge of the lens can possibly be so close to the subject that it will block your lighting and cast a shadow on the subject. In that case, the lighting will need to be adjusted, or if that is not possible, the close-up system will need to be altered to allow more lens to subject distance. Going to a longer focal length lens or backing off and compromising on image size (smaller) may be the only alternatives.

2. Close-up Lenses

Close-up lenses are optical magnifying lenses that shorten the close-focusing distance of the camera lens. It allows the camera lens to go closer to the subject than before and achieve a larger subject image. Depending on what camera lens you attach them to, your magnification and lens to subject working distance will vary. It is best to experiment with different camera lenses and close-up lens combinations to achieve the desired magnification. Just keep in mind the filter size on the camera lens to make sure the close-up lenses will fit. There are step-up and step-down adapter rings to fit different camera lens sizes to different close-up lens sizes in case the close-up filters do not fit your camera lenses directly. It is better to use a larger close-up lens set on the smaller camera lens. Using a smaller close-up set on the larger camera lens may lead to vignetting of the image area. The other issue that may occur is that of lighting your subject with the close-up lenses too close to the subject. The closer the lenses are to your subject, the less area you will have to light your subject properly. You may have to lower the light to skim under the lenses so a shadow from the lenses does not end up on your subject. You can also use a longer focal length camera lens to gain more working distance from your subject. You may have to add more close-up lenses to the longer camera lens to gain the needed magnification.

Close-up filters are generally available in three diopters (strengths): Close-up +1, Close-up +2 and Close-up +4. The higher the number, the stronger the lens and the closer you can get. The three lenses can be used in any combination. They look like thick glass filters and are threaded to screw onto the end of the camera lens and each other (when using more than one at a time).

3. Extension Tubes

Extension tubes are designed to enable a lens to focus closer than its normal set minimum focusing distance. Getting closer has the effect of magnifying your subject (making it appear larger in the viewfinder and in your pictures). They are exceptionally useful for macro photography, enabling you to convert almost any lens into a macro lens at a lower cost than a true macro while maintaining its original optical quality.

The extension tubes have no optics. They are mounted in between the camera body and lens to create more distance between the lens and film plane. By moving the lens farther away from sensor in the camera, the lens is forced to focus much closer than normal. The greater the length of the extension tube, the closer the lens can focus. Extension tubes are generally sold in sets and the individual tubes can be used in any combination to vary the added close focusing ability of the camera lens. When using extension tubes the lens will not focus to infinity. The focus range will be greatly limited to a very close focusing distance. There is light fall off when using any extension tube; sometimes the equivalent of 3 f-stops of light is lost when using multiple extension tubes together. This light lost can affect the camera's ability to auto focus. Manual focusing is recommended should the lens begin to "hunt" (not lock onto the subject). Please check the compatibility of the extension tube/camera combination. Some brand tubes may allow for auto-focus/auto-exposure and some may not.

4. Bellows

Bellows are similar to extension tubes in purpose, but are more sophisticated and allow infinite adjustment between the fully collapsed and fully extended positions. Most bellows will allow more extension than an extension tube set unless you add more tubes beyond the standard full set. Some bellows may allow some auto features from the camera to the camera lens, and some may not. Some bellows also feature a focusing rail built-in to the bottom to allow more critical movement of the entire camera/bellows/lens combination. That is much easier than trying to move your tripod in small critical increments. There will be light loss to the camera lens depending on the amount by which the bellows is extended. The amount of magnification will be determined by the focal length, close focusing capability of the camera lens and the extension amount of the bellows. A camera lens attached to a bellows will not allow focusing to infinity.

5. Lens Reversing Ring

An adapter ring that fits between the camera and lens to enable reverse mounting of camera lenses. Make sure that the threads match the lens you are trying to reverse mount. The look of the camera lens on backwards is a little odd, but the reversing ring is a fairly inexpensive way to achieve a decent close-up magnification. The quality of the camera lens will determine the overall image quality and the focal length and close focusing capability of the camera lens will ultimately determine the final magnification size.

6. Focusing Rails

Focusing Rails attach to either the camera or the lens, depending on which needs more support. It is not a close-up device by itself, but works with the camera and close-up devices to make positioning the camera and close-up device easier in relation to the subject position. Most focusing rails move the camera either closer or further from the subject to help adjust image size. Some focusing rails also move the camera left or right to facilitate image area side to side positioning of the subject. The focusing rails that have both movements are usually much more expensive.

7. Macro Lens

Macro lenses that are specifically made for the camera are an excellent option for the best results and are usually one of the most expensive options. The optics are specially calibrated for close-up work and still work nicely as a standard lens. Most macro lenses come in standard or short-telephoto focal lengths. Others that have longer focal lengths or are zoom capable are usually more expensive.

8. Macro PC Lens

Macro PC Lenses are the most specialized and expensive of the close-up equipment options. When used to their full potential, no other close-up option can match it. Just by virtue of its Perspective-Control, you can adjust the plane of focus to help match the shape of your subject to allow larger apertures with the same depth of field. By using apertures in the middle f/stop range instead of much smaller apertures, the images will not begin to be degraded by lens diffraction. To put it in the simplest of terms, lens diffraction is a distortion of light rays as they pass through very small apertures. Using very small apertures (f/22 and smaller) will start to have an effect on the image in the form of image softening. The amount of lens diffraction depends on focal length and lens quality as well as other variables, but primarily lens aperture.

9. Macro Lens Setting on Point & Shoot Cameras or DSLR Camera Lenses

This is the least expensive option, as many point and shoot cameras and DSLR Camera Lens already have some of this functionality built-in the cameras or lenses. It's just a matter of using the proper setting on the camera or lens to utilize its close-up function. When using these, the quality may or may not hold-up, depending on the camera or lens. The camera may allow the lens to extend farther or have internal lens movement to compensate for closer focusing. Other cameras may use digital focusing to achieve the same effect, but that is often only a digital cropping of a smaller image to make it look larger and then increasing the resolution to bring up the file size to where it should be with normal photos. By increasing the resolution, the image starts to soften. Some DSLR lenses add a close-up function to the end of the focusing scale by extending the lens or internal lens movement. Many times, this function is only available at one end of the focal zoom range in the case of zoom lenses. The macro focus settings on standard or zoom lenses are more of a compromise and a convenience, rather than a high quality image capture as you would expect from a dedicated macro or macro PC lens.

10. Comparison Chart

Equipment

 Cost

 

 Close-Up Capability

Image Quality

 

Existing

0

Low to Medium

Depending on

Existing Equipment

Fair to Very Good

Depends on Quality of

Camera Lens

Close-Up Lens

Low to Medium

Medium to High

Depending on Camera Lens and # of Lenses

Fair to Very Good

Depends on Quality of

Camera Lens and Lenses

Lens Reversing Ring

Low

Low to Medium

Depending on

Camera Lens

Fair to Very Good

Depends on Quality of

Camera Lens

Extension Tubes

Low to

Medium

Low to High

Depending on Camera Lens and # of Tubes

Good to Excellent

Depends on Quality of

Camera Lens

Bellows

Medium

Medium to High

Depending on Camera Lens and Bellows

Extension

Good to Excellent

Depends on Quality of Camera Lens

Macro Lens

Medium to High

Low to Medium

Excellent

Macro PC Lens

High

Low to Medium

Excellent

Macro Lens &

Close-Up Lens

Medium to High

Medium to High

Depending on Macro Lens and # of Lenses

Good to Excellent

Depends on Quality of Close-Up Lenses

Macro PC Lens &

Close-Up Lens

High

Medium to High

Depending on Macro Lens and # of Lenses

Good to Excellent

Depends on Quality of Close-Up Lenses

Extension Tubes & Close-Up Lens

Low to

Medium

Medium to High

Depending on Camera Lens, # of Tubes and # of Lenses

Fair to Very Good

Depends on Quality of Camera Lens and

Close-Up Lenses

Bellows &

Close-Up Lens

Medium to High

Medium to High

Depending on Camera Lens, Extension of Bellows and # of Lenses

Fair to Very Good

Depends on Quality of Camera Lens and

Close-Up Lenses

Extension Tubes & Lens Reversing Ring

Low to Medium

Medium to High

Depending on Camera Lens and # of Tubes

Fair to Very Good

Depends on Quality of Camera Lens

Bellows & Lens Reversing Ring

Medium

Medium to High

Depending on Camera Lens and Bellows Extension

Fair to Very Good

Depends on Quality of

Camera Lens