Every now and again, I come across people who would like to get into macro photography and they tell me that they are saving up for a macro lens. A lot of newcomers often think that they have to spend a ton of money on equipment in order to take macro photos and I always tell them that it doesn’t have to cost and arm and a leg to get into it. You can, of course, spend hundreds if you choose to do so. But I always suggest some of the cheaper alternatives to people who are starting out for a couple of reasons:
What if they spent hundreds on a lens and later on realise that macro photography isn’t for them? The way I see it, spend a bit of cash now and see if taking macro photos is your thing. If not then at least you didn’t spend much. If you like it then you can get a macro lens. But also…
Some of those cheaper alternatives do an excellent job. I guess I’m just the type of person who will try to look for the cheapest way of doing something without sacrificing quality. Plus, I like doing all sorts of photography and I don’t expect to spend a ton of time taking macro photos so I don’t want to spend too much money on it.
The first of those alternatives is to get an older lens that you can adapt to your camera. It isn’t the cheapest and some can sell for over $100 but it is possible to grab a bargain if you keep an eye out for them (my Canon FD 50mm f/3.5 Macro cost me around $6.50). You’ll also need to get an adapter which would cost around $20. The good thing about doing this is that you can use the lens for more than just macro photos (portraits, for example). The downside is that you most likely won’t have auto focus so you’ll need to learn to manual focus. But this isn’t that big a deal when taking macros.
The photos below demonstrate the difference between non macro lenses and macro lenses. Both were taken using 50mm lenses.
A Raynox 250 is something that attaches to the front of any lens that has a filter thread between 52-67mm. Mine cost me $80 and the nice thing about it is that it can turn any of your existing lenses into macro capable lenses so you don’t need to bring a separate macro lens with you. You’ll also be able to use auto focus if your lens has it. And the longer the focal length of your lens, the greater the magnification will be.
The two pictures below were taken using the same lenses as above but with the Raynox 250 attached to both. The Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 with the Raynox 250 produces roughly the same magnification as the Canon FD 50mm f/3.5 Macro on its own. Of course, attaching the Raynox 250 to a macro lens produces even greater magnification (see second picture below).
Probably the cheapest option is to get extension tubes (I got mine for free but you can probably get some for $10 or less). These allow your lens to be positioned further away from the camera body, which in turn increases the magnification of the lens. The downside from using this method is that modern lenses won’t be able to autofocus. And if you have a lens where the aperture is controlled by the camera body then you won’t be able to control the aperture so your lens is stuck wide open. The last one isn’t that much of a problem if your lens has an aperture ring.
The photos below were taken with the Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 (non macro lens) and different lengths of extension tubes.
Combining extension tubes with a macro lens allows you to achieve even greater magnification.
Another issue with using extension tubes is that it requires you to remove your lens whenever you need to use the extension tubes. It can be a bit of a pain if you’re out and about which is why I haven’t used this method all that much. I’ve mainly been using the Raynox 250 for my macro photos before I got my macro lens a couple of weeks ago.
When used with either the Raynox 250 and the extension tubes, I noticed that the the Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 had shallower depth of field than with the Canon FD 50mm f/3.5 Macro even though both were shot at f/3.5. Because of this, I would prefer to use the macro lens whenever possible.
There will be times when I won’t have my macro lens with me whereas the Raynox 250 is small enough to bring everywhere so I’ll probably end up using that more often. It is probably the most convenient way to take macro photos out of the three options I’ve discussed. I am also quite happy with the macro lens + Raynox 250 combo so I’m looking forward to trying out that combo outdoors. It’s been super cold here lately so I haven’t been taking a lot of photos outside.
The photos above have been resized but are uncropped. All of them were shot handheld using a Panasonic Lumix GF1.