Close-Up Lens Boosts Your Zoom

Close-Up Lens Boosts Your Zoom

I tend to be a one lens traveler.  My camera and lens are heavy enough so I usually leave the house with just one lens and one body, unless I have an assignment that calls for more.  And yet, I’ve been enjoying close-up photography more and more.  You know; bees on flowers, barnacles on rocks, bugs of all kinds.  My 28-300mm Canon lens can only get so close, so I started casting about for a reasonable solution.

Enter the Canon 500D (no, not the camera 500D) Close-Up Lens. (Note: Nikon has a number of close-up lenses as well with different diopter sizes.  This post is meant to cover the general idea, so the concepts will work with both manufacturers.)

This lens fits on the end of 77mm lenses and works best with high zooms, such as the 70-210mm or 100-400mm.  Canon also carries the 250D for 58mm diameter lenses.  They both work as easy as they sound; just screw the lens onto your prime lens as you would any other filter.  Let’s take a look at some examples.  Click on any picture to see the image at 100% for maximum pixelpicking.

First, a shot of some barnacles with a Canon EOS 7D DSLR, 28-300mm at 300mm and approximately two feet from the subject.  ISO 100, f5/6, 1/800sec

No Close-Up Lens - 300mm

Now, applying the close-up lens and moving the end of the lens to within about six inches of the rock, we get the next image.  ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/1000sec

Close-Up Lens Applied - 300mm

The shutter speed change was due to variance in the natural sunlight while taking the photos.  Otherwise, the lens typically stops things down close to one full stop when applied.

Next are the same shots with an f-stop of 20.  ISO 100, f/20, 1/80sec, 300mm, no close-up lens

No Close-Up Lens - 300mm

And now: ISO 100, f/20, 1/80sec, 300mm,  with the close-up lens applied.

Close-Up Lens Applied - 300mm

Again, click on each photo for a full size image (WARNING: They are about 7MB each).

The close-up lens does decent work at getting crisp macro shots, especially when used at smaller aperture sizes.  The images can be soft around the edges, though.  No, it is not a full replacement for a good, quality macro lens, but it does fill a certain niche.  That niche is perfect for those who don’t wish to carry another lens just for Macro work while traveling, as well as those looking to be a bit cheaper alternative, especially those looking to experiment with Macro before dropping money on a high quality lens

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics - A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

Some Older Comments

  • Don Merchant March 13, 2012 07:53 am

    Hi. My question is I have a Canon A590 Power Shot camera. I will be purchasing the Conversion Lens Adapter LA-DC52G which has the 52mm threads. Seeing the cost of the Canon 52mm 250D at around $70-100 and being tight on funds would it be possible to instead purchase the 52mm Nikon #2 close up lens? I can get this Nikon lens used in mint condition for $23 and I believe that since it is 52mm thread it would fit on the Canon adapter tube. Any very quick posts on this would be appreciated.
    Thank you
    Don

  • kirpi November 23, 2010 08:11 pm

    As we're here: pack some of your close-up lenses together, tape them in front of your camera (without your regular lens attached) et voilà, you have a very powerful lens of a rather long focal length, flare-prone and certainly not high-quality, but useful for creative experiments.
    At no cost.
    :-)

  • FCANONIAN November 23, 2010 12:10 pm

    I use a Tamron 70-300 mm set to macro with my Xti and a set of four close-up lenses (+1, +2, +4,+10) made by Ketnor USA and the results are impresive, even more, the combination of them makes me to get to magnification levels that I never dreamed of, for photography as well as video.

  • jewelfuji November 17, 2010 04:35 pm

    Great Tips, Thanks sir

  • Photoskipper November 9, 2010 04:22 pm

    The 500D is very useful with both 70-200 F2.8 IS and 24-105 F4. I always keep it handy on photo trips. Unfortunately, it is rather heavy and the autofocus does not work with the 500D.
    Macro ring is lighter and work with other lenses with different front lens diameter.

  • Phil November 7, 2010 04:14 am

    Carel, it is certainly possible to combine a macro lens with both extension tubes and diopters/close-up lenses. The only caveat with using diopters is that they degrade your image quality to some extent compared to an image taken without them. Using extension tubes will not degrade the quality of your images but you may lose the auto functions of your camera. I believe there are extension tubes that allow you to retain auto functions but have not tried them yet so I can't attest to their effectiveness.

    Most pros would prefer to use extension tubes over diopters because the loss of auto functions is a lesser sacrifice to the loss of image quality but as many will attest, using a diopter of good quality will not degrade your images noticeably enough for anyone to mind. Diopters also come in different strengths/magnification ability, and can be stacked to increase their magnification even further, although with the concurrent degradation.

    In the end, it would be advisable, should you choose to experiment, to start of with manual tubes, which are quite inexpensive. These can be combined with any of your lenses (even macro). Considering you have one of the better macro lenses in the market, diopters would be counter productive to the quality of your lenses. These would normally be a good choice for people thinking of getting into macro or those who don't carry macros around all the time but want to be always ready.

  • Phil November 7, 2010 04:13 am

    Carel, it is certainly possible to combine a macro lens with both extension tubes and diopters/close-up lenses. The only caveat with using diopters is that they degrade your image quality to some extent compared to an image taken without them. Using extension tubes will not degrade the quality of your images but you may lose the auto functions of your camera. I believe there are extension tubes that allow you to retain auto functions but have not tried them yet so I can't attest to their effectiveness.

    Most pros would prefer to use extension tubes over diopters because the loss of auto functions is a lesser sacrifice to the loss of image quality but as many will attest, using a diopter of good quality will not degrade your images noticeably enough for anyone to mind. Diopters also come in different strengths/magnification ability, and can be stacked to increase their magnification even further, although with the concurrent degradation.

    In the end, it would be advisable, should you choose to experiment, to start of with manual tubes, which are quite inexpensive. These can be combined with any of your lenses (even macro). Considering you have one of the better macro lenses in the market, diopters would be counter productive to the quality of your lenses. These would normally be a good choice for people thinking of getting into macro or those who don't carry macros around all the time but want to be always ready.

  • Carel November 5, 2010 06:54 pm

    I have recently started photography and bought a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 L IS USM Macro Lens. The lens is superb to say the least. I was looking at the close up lens as well as extension tubes before I got the lens. The lens was my first choice. Now I would like to know is it worth-while getting any one of the 2 or both? If both what is the best one to get first?

    I have a few other things I need to get first but after that how should I go forward to get a even bigger picture of my subject?

  • Andrew October 31, 2010 01:47 pm

    My canon 70-200 has a switch that determines minimum focus distance. The lesser being 1.4m (4.5ft). What range approx would the 500d give me (I assume the minimum focus distance stays the same from 70 thru 200mm)? Also if I add a 2x adapter into the mix does the min focus distance stay the same?

  • D. Travis North October 30, 2010 06:52 am

    Scott: This is essentially a filter - it's only called a lens because it's got magnifying glass in it. It works on any lens so long as the filter size is the same. In fact, Brian Peterson speaks about this at length in his book titled "Understanding Close-Up Photography".

    That said, I've used this exact close-up lens with my Nikkor 50mm prime.

  • Scott October 30, 2010 04:14 am

    I've been using a Tamron 60mm, as well as an extension set, for Macro photography, but these are certainly inconvenient for "on the go" close-ups. A lot of discussion re Nikon and Canon add-ons, any input on how these would work on other than Nikon/Canon lenses with the same ring size? or, perhaps, any aftermarket add-ons compatible with Tamron lenses?

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/4655260143/

  • D. Travis North October 30, 2010 03:57 am

    I've used a number of close-up lenses (all borrowed) and I can say that the Canon close-up lens is among the best. It has two chunks of glass in there, so it avoids a lot of the problems that the cheaper close-up lenses have: Aberrations, distortion, etc.

    I've just borrowed these in the past, but I definitely have one on my list for future purpose.

    Somewhat along the same lines - I love to recommend using a Reversing Adapter. it screws into the filter mount of your lens and permits you to mount your prime lens backwards. This allows you to get really close. With my 50mm prime mounted backwards, I can get as close as 2 or 3 inches.

    Reversing rings are brand specific - you need one that fits your camera - but they're often quite cheap. I got mine for about $25.

  • Mark October 30, 2010 01:27 am

    @robin oberg

    The point is to get maximum magnification for these types of photos. Zooming out does not let you get any closer with these lenses. You are getting as close as possible in this case. And these so called close up lenses reduce the minimum distance of the lens, so they allow you to get closer than the camera lens alone. I often take close ups with my Canon 100-400mm lens at the max of 400mm and that is enough for my needs, but to get even closer, I would need to switch to a "macro lens" or add a close up lens to the end of my camera lens. There is a whole field of photography dedicated to "macro" shots and they generally define that as a 1 to 1 magnification! I for one am not a purist, yet many people are impressed by these types of shots. The main limitation on most camera lenses is the "minimum focusing distance" and the only ways to get closer is with close up lenses or extension tubes between the camera body and the lens.

  • Claire October 30, 2010 12:39 am

    I have a set of relatively inexpensive hama close up lenses and find them great. You need do work with a tripod and use MF to get the best results: http://www.thedigitaliris.net/2010/01/close-up-lenses.html

  • Thom Gourley October 30, 2010 12:36 am

    I used to turn up my nose at screw-in closeups, but now I can't live without them. I'll sometimes use them for a Lensbaby-like selective focus with more control.

  • Robin Oberg October 29, 2010 10:34 pm

    I don't really see why you zoom in. Wouldn't it be better to zoom out and get in closer?

  • kirpi October 29, 2010 03:14 pm

    @cairith
    True, all lenses are not the same: quality and optical results vary a lot. In specific, Canon 250D and 500D as well as the Nikon #3-6T lenses are among the best. The positive point here is that they are not brand oriented,... so you can use them on any lens/camera (use adapter rings or tape them to your lens if you like). But they far far from cheap. Find more here http://bit.ly/bIYJff
    Remember thought that, above all, "optical quality" does not coerce aesthetical quality... You can get beautiful and expressive results with a poor lens, and the reverse applies as well.

  • Mark October 29, 2010 02:02 pm

    @cairith

    Your lens has a 67mm filter size and I checked Nikon's site as well as Amazon.com and only found after market brands in that size. You might try one of the better brands and see if it is any good. The Canon close up lenses mentioned cost as much as some lenses and are of very high optical quality. None of the after market ones that I saw were in the same class, but they might do the trick. Personally, I would not waste my time trying Tiffen or Opteka brands but possibly Hoya might be good enough. Look to the high end price wise since you want good optical properties that are not cheap.

  • Cairith October 29, 2010 01:19 pm

    Awesome, I love my 70-300 Nikor Lens, is there a comparable lens for the Nikon lovers out there?

  • Chromatic Dramatic October 29, 2010 12:29 pm

    Interesting... it makes me want to get one of those puppies and have a play.

    Although I don't quite understand how it works?

    What does it actually do to allow macro photography?

  • dean October 29, 2010 09:33 am

    Thanks Peter. I found another good explanation of the pros and cons of the 500D vs. macro tubes here:

    "Close-up lenses such as the Canon 500D Close-Up Lens result in higher magnification when used with longer telephoto lens but shorter focal length lenses result in higher magnification when used with extension tubes. Close-up lenses can only be shared with other lenses with the same filter thread size, but extension tubes can generally be used on all lenses. The other disadvantage of close-up lenses is that they have a short focus distance range - much shorter than extension tubes."
    http://www.the-digital-picture.com/reviews/canon-ef-25mm-extension-tube-ii-review.aspx

  • Jay Jenkins October 29, 2010 09:30 am

    Ops, forgot to include "depth of field". You will find that with this lens/filter combo, the depth of the focus field increases, and it is quite difficult to get the background or foreground seriously out of focus.

  • Jay Jenkins October 29, 2010 09:18 am

    If you are using this combination with a 7D body, micro focus adjustment is not an option (meaning that it dosen't work for obvious reasons). You can also forget about zooming out to infinity. But of course this is not the intended use. Using a dedicated macro such as the EF-60mm Macro results in superior images but it's use is much more complicated. Everything that they say is true (Tripod, good light, wireless shutter release, no wind, and proximity to your subject - if it lives it moves), if you want the very best macro shots, conditions should be as near perfect as possible.

    A "good" zoom plus a Canon (don't buy anything less, you will be disappointed) CLOSE UP LENS, either a 250D or a 500D gives you very good results, and will screw into any filter mount. But as has been mentioned, there are going to be trade offs.

    On the plus side, you don't have to sweat all of the above conditions that influence true macro shooting. Image quality is of course, the trade. Don't expect miracles. If portability is high on your priority list, and you can live with a slight loss of IQ, this is the way to go.... Recommended for its intended purpose

  • Desiree Cherisse October 29, 2010 08:24 am

    I have these and a macro. They work well for situations where lighting is low and I get to use it for close ups with my faster lens.

  • Peter West Carey October 29, 2010 08:08 am

    Dean, yes, it does still allow for AF to work. It's simple a screw on filter, if that helps visualize.

  • Christine Giglio October 29, 2010 07:43 am

    I used a maco on my 35 to 80 nikon zoom for this little guy.
    http://kryssiesdailyphoto.blogspot.com/2010/10/continual-becoming.html

    [eimg url='http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_z7ohRnDhfC4/TMIEgrjVW-I/AAAAAAAADos/V-GbezYwfDQ/s1600/spider.jpg' title='spider.jpg']

  • dean October 29, 2010 07:42 am

    What's the advantage of this over macro tubes? Does it still allow autofocus to work?

  • Andrew October 29, 2010 06:59 am

    I've always heard these referred to as diopters but I imagine they changed it to a more consumer friendly name. Now that I think about it they are probably two different sort of mechanics but with the same purpose. These I would assume actually magnify the subject whereas diopters simply shorten minimum focusing distance allowing you to get in close. I personally would prefer diopters for less distortion and much cheaper costs.

  • Chris October 29, 2010 06:31 am

    Not really THAT much cheaper than some macro lenses. I was lucky and got a set of 3 Hoya's of different strengths and another 5 of some other brand for free when I picked up some cheap old rangefinders from a lady. Another option (that I do not like as much but is still fun) is to use macro bellows. You can pick up those up pretty cheap too.

  • jack Larson October 29, 2010 06:03 am

    The 500D is a dynamite lens. My Nikkor 24-70mm is my normal walk-around lens. Every now and then, I want a close-up type shot. Rather than switch to my 105mm macro, I just slap on the 500D. The quality of the image is exceptional.

  • Lucas Zallio October 29, 2010 05:33 am

    Thanks much for the article, It was really educative. I would love to have an article like this when I was about to buy one of these a few month ago. But instead, I just went to the cheap macro tubes that I think they could fit in the same niche (somewhere between a good quality macro lens and the always good DIY inverse lens).

    The only thing I can say against the tubes is that you've to it all manually. Even apperture has to be set analogically from the lens.

    Anyway I got really descent results with the 3 segment macro tubes. Some examples below:

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/zallio/5080614765/' title='Taraxacum officinale (Dandelion o Diente de León)' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4031/5080614765_cc0a5a4325.jpg']
    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/zallio/5119735422/' title='Coffee Beans - Granos de Café' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4021/5119735422_521e2fa095.jpg']
    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/zallio/5000005940/' title='Tiny Flower' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4152/5000005940_4dfe19804d.jpg']
    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/zallio/5005604949/' title='Patterns on a Seed' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4130/5005604949_e1b7cffc4c.jpg']

    ------------------------------------------------------
    Lucas Zallio

    My Flickr
    My Photoblog

  • Roberto October 29, 2010 05:31 am

    I'm new on photography and would like to thank you for sharing this knowledge!! ;)

  • MRMARK October 29, 2010 05:25 am

    I agree, for the price, close-up lenses are a great option for non-pro photographers. I have a similar post on my blog about close-up lenses.