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Alternatives to Buying a Dedicated Macro Lens for your DSLR

If you want to experiment with taking Macro images but don’t have the budget to be able to afford a dedicated Macro lens for your DSLR there are a number of other Macro lens alternatives worth considering.

Each alternative has their own advantages and disadvantages in terms of price, portability and image quality – but it’s amazing at what can be achieved on a budget to give you a taste of the world of macro photography.

Close Up Lenses

Close-Up-LensClose up lenses (or supplementary lenses) are perhaps the cheapest alternative of getting into Macro Photography on a budget. These small lenses screw into the filter thread of your camera’s existing lens and allow the lens to focus closer than it’s normal minimum focal length. In doing so they allow you to fill more of the frame with your subject.

These lenses often come sold in a set of 3 and are labeled as +1, +2 and +3 etc (with +3 being the largest magnification). The ones pictured above are made by Bower and are +1 +2 +4 Close Up Lenses Set.

The positives of Close Up Lenses are their price and portability. They also allow you to retain all of the auto features of your lens (metering, focus, aperture control etc). The downside is that the loss of quality of image (you lose infinity focus and you’re also introducing an extra element to shoot through) can be more significant than some of the other methods.

For some examples of what can be achieved with close-up lenses check out this thread in our forums.

Extension Tubes

Extension-TubeAn extension tube is a tube that sits between your lens and DSLR. This lengthening in distance between the image sensor in your camera and the lens allows you to focus closer than the normal minimum focusing distance of the lens and as a result you can get in nice and close to your subject and make it bigger in your frame. They are usually sold in sets (of different length tubes which can often be added together to give you a long tube).

The one pictured above is a Kenko Extension Tube.

The ‘cost’ of using an extension tube is that less light gets to your image sensor meaning you need to make adjustments in your camera’s settings (wider apertures, slower shutter speed or higher ISO) to get the same exposure. Also you may in some cases lose auto functions on your lens (check before you buy as some manufacturers allow you to retain Auto Exposure and Focus while others require you to shoot in manual mode).

Extension tubes cost more and are larger than Close Up lenses (you again lose infinity focus) but can give excellent results – especially as they don’t introduce any extra elements to have to shoot through (they are just hollow tubes with no glass in them).

I just read a good little review of extension tubes which might be helpful. There are also a couple of threads on extension tubes in our forum here.

There are other options – for example reversing rings (to allow you to fit a lens on your camera backwards) but the above two methods are those that I have tried. Of course I ended up investing in a dedicated macro lens because I enjoyed macro photography so much (I got a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Lens which I’m very happy with but I’m constantly amazed by the shots that other DPS members are getting with their cheaper options.

I’d love to hear from members as to what kind of Macro gear they use. Do you have a dedicated macro lens or do you use one of the alternatives above – or another one again?

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Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse

is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals.

He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

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