Macro, or close-up photography, is the art of making photographs that display the subject at life size or larger. Filling the frame of a picture close up results in amazing detail, revealing the intricacies of life often overlooked by the naked eye.
Dedicated macro lenses are available for SLR and dSLR cameras that offer the ability to magnify a subject to life size, or a 1:1 magnification ratio. These lenses are often expensive. What is a photographer to do if he or she would like to try out macro photography without making a large financial investment? There are several inexpensive options available.
Extension tubes are one inexpensive option for macro photography. They allow for greater magnification from existing lenses on an SLR or dSLR camera by shortening the minimum focusing distance. They aren’t ideal for all shooting situations, however, as they decrease the light that reaches the camera and cannot be used with some lens mounts or with fixed lens cameras.
Close-up lenses are a more flexible option than extension tubes.
- They screw into the filter mount of the camera lens, allowing them to be used with both fixed lens and SLR/dSLR digital and film cameras.
- They don’t decrease the light reaching the camera and don’t adversely affect exposure or auto-focus ability.
Close-up lenses work by magnifying the subject and decreasing the focusing distance of the camera. Their strength is measured in diopters, where higher numbers offer greater magnification. A close-up lens set typically includes several lenses with strengths of +1, +2, +3, and +4. Two close-up lenses can e stacked on top of each other for a cumulative effect. Just be sure to put the stronger lens on first.
How to Use a Close-Up Lens
Prepare for a macro shooting experience by finding a close-up lens that fits the size of the camera lens’s filter mount. These are measured in millimeters, such as 49mm or 58mm. Next, select the preferred amount of magnification and screw the appropriate close-up lens onto the camera lens’s filter mount or filter mount adapter.
Shooting with a close-up lens is similar to shooting without one. Close-up lenses have no adverse effects on exposure, so there’s no need to worry about decreased light reaching the camera. There’s no need for exposure compensation, and if shooting is done in daylight, it can often be done hand-held without a tripod.
The major concern when shooting with a close-up lens is the need to shoot at smaller apertures. Most inexpensive close-up lenses are not corrected for optical aberrations. These aberrations can result in false colors, color fringes, or halos in photos. Shooting at an aperture of f/8 or smaller (higher) can reduce these distortions. With the decreased focusing distance, the depth of field will be shallow even at these higher apertures. The creative effect of blurred backgrounds (or “bokeh”) can still be achieved with a close-up lens.
Because close-up lenses introduce another layer of glass to the shooting scenario, they slightly decrease the resulting image quality when compared to a dedicated macro lens. Stacking two close-up lenses further degrades the image quality. However, these supplemental lenses are so inexpensive that they offer a great alternative for entry level and budget conscious photographers looking to try out macro photography.
Keep a close-up lens in the camera bag. They’re great for getting a little closer to the world around you.