Getting Up Close with Close-Up Lenses - Digital Photography School

Getting Up Close with Close-Up Lenses

This is the first in a series of four lessons on close-up and macro photography by Andrew S Gibson, author of Up Close: A Guide to Macro & Close Up Photography.

Close-Up-Lenses-01.jpg

Macro and close-up photography can seem complex and intimidating when you don’t know much about the techniques or equipment used.

The good news is that close-up photography techniques are straightforward to learn, and it doesn’t have to be expensive either. All it takes is for someone to guide you through the accessories and methods that photographers use to get up close to their subject.

While macro lenses undoubtedly give you the best image quality (I’ll cover macro lenses in detail in a later lesson) not everybody wants to, or has the budget, to buy one. So first I’m going to explore some relatively inexpensive ways to try out close-up and macro photography.

First a couple of definitions

Macro photography: This is when the subject is the same size, or smaller than, your camera’s sensor. This results in what is called 1:1 or life-sized reproduction. The best way to obtain this level of magnification is with a macro lens, although you may also be able to do it with extension tubes or a reversed lens (covered in upcoming articles).

Close-up photography: I define close-up photography as taking photos using an accessory that allows your lens to focus more closely to the subject than it otherwise would. It’s getting close to your subject, but not as close as you can with a macro lens.

For me, this is the area where the most exciting images are to be made. You can create exciting close-up images of flowers, portraits and detail. You are close enough to create dramatic images, but not so close that you run into problems created by lack of depth-of-field.

Close-Up-Lenses-02.jpg

My favourite accessory for getting up close is a close-up lens (the Canon 500D close-up lens is pictured above). A close-up lens, while technically a lens, looks more like a filter and screws into the front of your lens the same way. For this reason they are also called close-up filters or supplementary filters.

Close-up lenses work by reducing the minimum focusing distance of your lens. You can focus more closely to your subject, which gives you greater magnification.

There are two types of close-up lens:

1. Single element close-up lens

You’ll see these for sale in camera stores and on Amazon or eBay, sometimes for rock bottom prices. They may come in sets, allowing you can combine the lenses for greater magnification.

Single element close-up lenses are built with one optical element. This keeps the price down and they are ideal if you’re on a budget. However the image quality isn’t great. They suffer from lack of edge sharpness and chromatic aberrations. These are more pronounced at wide apertures.

2. Double element close-up lenses

Double element (sometimes called dual-element or achromatic close-up lenses) close-up lenses contain two elements. The second element corrects the aberrations of the first, resulting in excellent image quality across the frame and minimal chromatic aberration.

The 500D close-up lens pictured earlier is a double element close-up lens.

The only downside of double element close-up lenses is the price and availability. While cheaper than buying a macro lens, they can be considerably more expensive than single element close-up lenses.

Canon is the only major camera manufacturer producing double element close-up lenses. The 250D (+4 diopter) and 500D (+2 diopter) are available, although probably not off the shelf in your local camera store. You will have to order them.

Just like filters, they can be used with any brand of camera, the important thing is to make sure you buy the right size to match the filter thread on your lens.

Nikon used to make close-up lenses, but they have been discontinued. You may still be able to buy them second-hand.

Raynox makes triple-element close-up lenses that come with a snap-on mount that you can use to attach them to lenses with filter threads from 52 to 67mm. I haven’t used one, but the reviews are good and they are surprisingly inexpensive considering the image quality you should get from them.

Using close-up lenses

Using a close-up lens is easy. Just screw it into the front of your lens and your camera will take care of exposure and auto-focus (at higher magnifications it may be easier to switch the lens to manual focus).

For maximum magnification, use manual focus and set the lens to its minimum focusing distance. Move the camera closer to the subject until it’s in focus.

Close-up lenses work better with telephoto lenses than shorter focal lengths. The longer the focal length of your lens, the more magnification you will gain by attaching a close-up filter (Canon makes the 500D close-up lens in 72mm and 77mm sizes to match the filter threads of its telephoto lenses).

I like using my close-up lens for the following types of subject:

Close-Up-Lenses-03.jpg

Portraits – if I want to get really close to my subject, I just put a close-up lens on my 85mm lens. This lets me get really close, yet, as I’m using a short telephoto, not so close that I make my sitter feel awkward.

Close-Up-Lenses-04.jpg

Flowers – flowers look amazing in close-up. I’ve spent a lot of happy hours in Auckland’s Winter Gardens, and Kew Gardens in London, photographing the beautiful flowers displayed there.

Close-Up-Lenses-05.jpg

Details – details are a great way of capturing the atmosphere of a place when you’re travelling. A close-up lens lets you get up close and concentrate on the little things that evoke the atmosphere of your location.

It’s not an area I’ve dabbled in much, but close-up lenses are also great for food photography.

In the next lesson I’ll take a look at extension tubes, how to use them and which ones to buy.

You can learn more about close-up and macro photography in my new ebook Up Close: A Guide to Macro & Close Up Photography, available now from Craft & Vision.

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Andrew S. Gibson is a writer and photographer living in New Zealand. He is the author of over twenty photography ebooks and he's giving two of them away. Sign up to his monthly newsletter to receive complementary copies of The Creative Image and Use Lightroom Better.

  • rich

    I like to take the 500D close up lens when travelling. It means that you can still take some shots close up without having to carry the bulk of a macro lens.

    Here’s one example from a trip in vietnam, you can even make out the fingerprints on the hand of the artist.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/41898910@N03/4716445720/lightbox/

  • Scottc

    Interesting info on “close-up” technology, thanks.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5283278934/

  • http://mikhailanand.wordpress.com Mikhail Anand
  • ccting

    Hi Darren Rowse?

    1) What is the maximum distance to use those close up lens, in inch?
    2) Will it cause very shallow DOF, so we have to use high f-number?

    Ty.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/12137650@N02/ Scott

    Here’s my go at it

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/12137650@N02/6110398980/' title='Glass' url='http://farm7.staticflickr.com/6189/6110398980_595147197f.jpg']

  • raghavendra
  • http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/ Mridula
  • http://www.photo-roll.com/ Sachin Verma

    Here is my latest close up shot, without a close up lens :D
    Camera used : Nokia X6
    http://www.photo-roll.com/2012/06/inertia/

  • http://www.wildlifeencounters.eu steve slater
  • Jeremy Hayden

    Cokin also offers a number of “close up filters”.
    An old shot:
    A Grasshopper for Lunch

  • http://mikhailanand.wordpress.com Mikhail Anand
  • Izzy

    Would it be benificial for me to add the close up filter (canon 500d) to my macro lens (canon 100mm f2.8L) I’m planning on shooting butterflies and dragon flies
    Thank you, great article

  • http://www.kerstenbeck.com Erik Kerstenbeck

    Hi

    A bit of a frosty close up from New Zealand – Hoar Frost!

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2012/06/20/synchronicity/

  • http://energizeyourphotography.blogspot.com EnergizedAV
  • Barry E
  • Dale Morton

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/12068333@N03/7436270646/' title='Rosebud with Worm' url='http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7129/7436270646_b1c22872e4_z.jpg']

  • http://framesandfocus.wordpress.com/ Gracie

    Here’s some of the more recent macro and close up shots I have taken around the neighborhood.
    [eimg url='http://framesandfocus.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/mg_1885-edit-copy.jpg' title='mg_1885-edit-copy.jpg']
    [eimg url='http://framesandfocus.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/mg_9136-copy.jpg' title='mg_9136-copy.jpg']

  • http://www.michielhulst.com Michiel

    I believe this one is pretty close :)
    [eimg url='http://www.michielhulst.com/wp-content/uploads/Fly-Macro-1-e1336507049725.jpg' title='Fly-Macro-1-e1336507049725.jpg']
    http://www.michielhulst.com/macro/fly-macro-1/

  • Mei Teng

    Very good write-up on close up lens.

  • David Marlow

    Had a set of clse up filters for Christmas. I must give them a trial. I like the photos of the beasties above

  • marius2die4

    After I read this article I know about double lens. If I have the occasion, I would try one.Congrats!

    Some of my picture:
    http://marius-fotografie.blogspot.ro/

  • Michael Bragg

    Thanks for the information. I never knew close up lenses existed (Not sure if I’ve just missed them in the cataloges and in online shopping or that they’re just not that common and therefore, not prominently advertised). Either way, I’ve always assumed that a macro lens was the only option. I have wanted one for a long time and luckily just received a fantastic Nikon AF-S VR Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED for Christmas yesterday! Don’t tell my wife that she could have saved a fortune and just bought a close up lens! Looking forward to more reading on the subject. Thanks again, Michael

  • chiptheduck

    Michael, your wife will never know. Your secret is safe with me and 10 million others :-)

  • Queenie Muck

    Really useful information. I have used close up lenses – single element – for my Canon EOS 1100d. Had good success although didn’t really know what I was doing. With some of the tips provided – think this year my photos of our honey bees will be better. Thanks

  • jumbybird

    I got a set decades ago for use with my Minolta 7xi and never used them much. Maybe I’ll break them out and give it a go.

  • Amateur Lee

    I’m an amature photographer and I don’t have too much experience. My camera is very old Nikon D70s and came standard with a 28 – 70mm F2.8 – 4. What I noticed with this lense is that I can only shoot at it’s lowest F2.8 if I am completely zoomed out. If I want to take a close up of an item, with nice sircles of confusion (F2.8), i ussually can’t achieve this. Would Close-up filters work in this case, or will it automatically start pushing up the Fstops on my lens?

  • azportsider

    I’ve used the two-element designs for insect photography for years (butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies and wasps), and they’ve always produced images that I can be proud of. These supplementaries work especially well with zoom lenses because everything works just like you’d expect it to–not counterintuitively, the way extension tubes can. My usual walking around outfit is a Canon 100-400mm IS zoom on the camera with a 77mm 500D close-up lens in my pocket. That combination easily handles everything from the smallest damselfly (about 20mm long) up to the largest big game animal.

Some older comments

  • David Marlow

    January 4, 2013 06:47 am

    Had a set of clse up filters for Christmas. I must give them a trial. I like the photos of the beasties above

  • Mei Teng

    June 29, 2012 10:39 am

    Very good write-up on close up lens.

  • Michiel

    June 29, 2012 07:46 am

    I believe this one is pretty close :)
    [eimg url='http://www.michielhulst.com/wp-content/uploads/Fly-Macro-1-e1336507049725.jpg' title='Fly-Macro-1-e1336507049725.jpg']
    http://www.michielhulst.com/macro/fly-macro-1/

  • Gracie

    June 27, 2012 05:13 am

    Here's some of the more recent macro and close up shots I have taken around the neighborhood.
    [eimg url='http://framesandfocus.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/mg_1885-edit-copy.jpg' title='mg_1885-edit-copy.jpg']
    [eimg url='http://framesandfocus.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/mg_9136-copy.jpg' title='mg_9136-copy.jpg']

  • Dale Morton

    June 26, 2012 01:57 pm

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/12068333@N03/7436270646/' title='Rosebud with Worm' url='http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7129/7436270646_b1c22872e4_z.jpg']

  • Barry E

    June 26, 2012 08:49 am

    I call this one Lucky& & Seven

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/69714842@N06/6997166727/

  • EnergizedAV

    June 26, 2012 12:17 am

    A caterpillar destined for the life of a Monarch

    http://energizeyourphotography.blogspot.com/2012/06/look-for-little-things.html

  • Erik Kerstenbeck

    June 25, 2012 11:10 pm

    Hi

    A bit of a frosty close up from New Zealand - Hoar Frost!

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2012/06/20/synchronicity/

  • Izzy

    June 25, 2012 09:50 pm

    Would it be benificial for me to add the close up filter (canon 500d) to my macro lens (canon 100mm f2.8L) I'm planning on shooting butterflies and dragon flies
    Thank you, great article

  • Mikhail Anand

    June 25, 2012 09:00 pm

    Texture project from around cambridge
    http://mikhailanand.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/littlebitoftexture/

  • Jeremy Hayden

    June 25, 2012 08:36 pm

    Cokin also offers a number of "close up filters".
    An old shot:
    A Grasshopper for Lunch

  • steve slater

    June 25, 2012 05:53 pm

    If you do not like spiders then look away now

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/European-Insects-Spiders-and-molluscs/G0000KgqECgOq3Tw/I0000PGeM3BeEsTg

  • Sachin Verma

    June 25, 2012 04:20 pm

    Here is my latest close up shot, without a close up lens :D
    Camera used : Nokia X6
    http://www.photo-roll.com/2012/06/inertia/

  • Mridula

    June 25, 2012 02:46 pm

    A bit of spices as a close up.

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2011/12/red-chillies-and-a-lemon.html

  • raghavendra

    June 25, 2012 12:41 pm

    Have taken a lily flower in college

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com/2012/04/beautiful-lily-flower-in-pond.html

  • Scott

    June 25, 2012 12:02 pm

    Here's my go at it

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/12137650@N02/6110398980/' title='Glass' url='http://farm7.staticflickr.com/6189/6110398980_595147197f.jpg']

  • ccting

    June 25, 2012 10:28 am

    Hi Darren Rowse?

    1) What is the maximum distance to use those close up lens, in inch?
    2) Will it cause very shallow DOF, so we have to use high f-number?

    Ty.

  • Mikhail Anand

    June 25, 2012 09:40 am

    using my macro around london
    http://mikhailanand.wordpress.com/2012/06/24/barkmint-2/

  • Scottc

    June 25, 2012 09:24 am

    Interesting info on "close-up" technology, thanks.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5283278934/

  • rich

    June 25, 2012 08:57 am

    I like to take the 500D close up lens when travelling. It means that you can still take some shots close up without having to carry the bulk of a macro lens.

    Here's one example from a trip in vietnam, you can even make out the fingerprints on the hand of the artist.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/41898910@N03/4716445720/lightbox/

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