Extension Tubes: Close Up Photography Lesson #2 -

Extension Tubes: Close Up Photography Lesson #2


This is the second 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.


In the last lesson, I wrote about close-up lenses and how they can help you get closer to the subject for close-up photography. This time, I’m going to write about another accessory you can buy, extension tubes.

Extension is the term used to describe the distance that the front element of your lens can be moved forwards. The further forward the element, the closer your lens can focus to your subject.

Extension tubes work by increasing the extension of your lenses. An extension tube is a hollow, light-tight tube that fits between your lens and your camera mount. It moves your lens further from the camera, and the front element closer to the subject. The closer you can focus, the more magnification you get.


The above photo shows a 50mm lens fitted with a 25mm extension tube.

Extension tubes, generally speaking (it depends on the lens) get you closer to your subject than close-up lenses, in some closes nearly as close as you would be able to get with a macro lens.

There are two types of extension tube that you can buy:

The first, and the least expensive, don’t maintain the electrical connection between your lens and camera body.

The camera can still handle exposure – just set it to aperture priority or program mode.

The biggest drawback of these extension tubes is aperture control. If your lenses don’t have manual aperture rings (ie the aperture setting is controlled by the camera) then the lens aperture will remain locked open at the widest aperture. While wide apertures can be used creatively, the narrow depth-of-field you get with close-up photography means that you usually need to stop down to get a large enough zone of sharpness to suit the image.

However, if you have a lens with a manual aperture ring, this may not matter too much, as you can stop down manually (although the viewfinder will get darker as you do so, making it hard to see at small apertures).

The second type of extension tube is one with electrical contacts that maintains communication between the lens and camera body. The camera controls the aperture settings, and you can use any automatic exposure mode and also autofocus (although it is often easier to focus manually when you’re working close-up).


These are the Canon EF25 and EF12 extension tubes (now discontinued and replaced with the EF25 II and EF12 II tubes). You can see the electrical contacts in the extension tubes.

You will find plenty of inexpensive extension tubes if you search on Amazon or eBay, and they are fine if you are on a tight budget or just want to play. But if you can, you should buy the second type of extension tube, which is one that maintains the electrical connection between the lens and the camera body.

Nikon, Canon and Olympus make extension tubes for their cameras. Sony doesn’t, but you can buy them from third party manufacturers like Kenko and Vivitar, who also make extension tubes for Canon and Nikon. These tubes are all of the second variety.

Pentax is the odd man out here – the only extension tubes I could find for sale online were more expensive than a Pentax macro lens (I don’t know why). But if you’re a Pentax user, you can buy the first type of extension tube I mentioned easily enough, as long as you’re willing to work within the limitation of losing the lens to camera electrical connection.


Extension tubes work best with lenses of short to medium focal lengths. They are less effective with telephoto lenses.

This is the opposite way around to close-up lenses (see my first article here), which work better with telephoto lenses. The focal length of the lens you intend to use for your close-up work may determine which is the best accessory to buy.

An advantage of extension tubes is that you can use them with any of your lenses. If you buy a set, you can join two extension tubes together to give you even more magnification.


The only disadvantage of extension tubes is that there is some light loss. Adding an extension tube increases the effective aperture of the camera lens, which means you need to use either a longer shutter speed or higher ISO to compensate for the loss of light. Your camera, if it’s set to an automatic exposure mode, will take care of this automatically for you.

Using extension tubes

The best way to use extension tubes is to set the lens to manual focus. You can use the manual focusing ring on your lens to focus on the subject.


Depth-of-field is very narrow this close up. Don’t be afraid to raise your ISO in order to get a small enough aperture to give you adequate depth-of-field. If your subject is still, you can use a tripod – this will let you use a low ISO to maximise image quality and eliminate camera shake.

If you are hand-holding the camera, you may need to use a faster shutter speed than normal to obtain a sharp image. The extra magnification also magnifies camera shake as well as the subject. Shutter speeds of 1/250 second or more are ideal.


What sort of thing can you take photos of with extension tubes? I like to use them for taking photos of flowers. I also had a lot of fun taking photos of my girlfriend’s eye (the opening image to the article). It’s a good illustration of how close you can get if you stack enough extension tubes together.

In Lesson #3 we’ll take a look at reverse lens macro!


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.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Andrew S. Gibson is a writer, photographer, traveler and workshop leader. He's an experienced teacher who enjoys helping people learn about photography and Lightroom. Join his free Introducing Lightroom course or download his free Composition PhotoTips Cards!

Some Older Comments

  • Ollie June 9, 2013 01:42 pm

    Chrissy, I know that the 50mm uses an EF mount and the 55-250mm uses the new EF-S mount. I'll bet the extension tubes only fit EF lenses. It's worth checking.

  • Chrissy March 11, 2013 03:30 am

    Hi Andrew,

    A great article however; I have a question I'm hoping you can help with.

    My husband has borrowed a Kenko Uniplus 25 extension tube from a friend in work, to see if he liked it as he's really interested in macro photography however; he has a Canon T2i and 4 lenses.

    When he connects the extension tube to his camera body, the only lenses he can then fit to it is his fixed Canon 50mm and his Sigma 105mm macro lens, but his Canon 55mm - 250mm and the kit lens 18mm - 55mm lenses won't mount to the extension tube?

    Can you please shed any light on this quandary we seem to be in.

    Thank you

    He's asked several people who all say that it should work with any lens, but try as we might, they just do not fit.

  • Mario February 19, 2013 01:24 pm

    Hi Anthony,
    An extension tube will not help with zooming, they are for helping you get closer to the subject, not bring the subject closer, it sounds contradictory, I know, let me try to express myself better, just bear with me.

    When the element in you lens gets farther from the sensor you will be able to get physically closer to the subject thus smaller details will be better to capture, that separation is what does the trick. All you need is the extra space, but also you will need more light (I have the Kenko set with the electronic connectors and love it, I sometimes us it with my Canon 100mm f/2.8 L).

    Now, if you want to make far away things closer to you then you will need some kind of glass to achieve that through the refraction it will give to light, so you need what is called a "tele-converter" or extender. This look like extension tubes only in the fact they get attached between the camera and the lens, but this ones do have glass elements inside that will help you make things appear closer. It is very important you get the best possible tele-converter because the glass quality will have a huge impact in the quality of the picture,moreover, they will make any aberration the lens has even more pronounced. They are more expensive of course.
    Canon tele-converters are strongly recommended to be used only on their L series no smaller than 100mm, I'm afraid they will not fit your 24-105. I would suggest you to get a Canon 70-200 f/4 IS. They are excelent telephoto-zoom lens and the price is still good. I'm sure you will be happy with it, I have the non IS version and really love this white baby, I wish I had gotten the IS copy but it's OK.

    And in a completely different issue, vigneting can be corrected using the software that came woth your camera, DPP. It will correct aberrations the lens have, I use it and it's quite nice to play with.

    I hope I didn't bore you.

  • ANTHONY February 18, 2013 03:53 pm

    hello guys, i have a 24-105mm lens on my 600d. im planning to buy a kenko extenders set. i was wondering if this would be compatible with my lens; my very main purpose of the extenders is to increase its zoom range and fix the vignetting cons at its wide angle end. I just wanted to clear things out, 24-105 ef canon lens is already a macro lens, do you think it would still be compatible with kenko extenders?

    A reply is much appreciated, THANK YOU SO MUCH!

  • Kishan August 28, 2012 01:40 pm

    Nice Article..

    I use extension rings a lot to shoot close-ups as Macro lenses are way too expensive for me. So far I am pretty happy with the results. One flipside is that the DOF becomes so small that you need to stuggle hard to get a sharp picture if you dont have a tripod, so a lot of patience is required.

    Following are some of my clicks:

  • Steve Berardi July 23, 2012 02:23 am

    Tony - Thanks for your response! That definitely makes sense: that you'll get less of an improvement in minimum focus distance when adding an extension tube to a long telephoto lens (versus a short lens like a 50mm).

    I do still think extension tubes are extremely useful on telephotos, since they allow you to fill the frame with smaller subjects, while also isolating it against a very specific part of the background.

    If you used a shorter lens instead, then you'd have to get closer to your subject to fill the frame--which could potentially scare it away if it's an insect or something, and it'd also force you to include more of the background (which might not always be what you want).

  • Paul vS July 22, 2012 06:48 pm

    [...] If your lenses don’t have manual aperture rings (ie the aperture setting is controlled by the camera) then the lens aperture will remain locked open at the widest aperture [...]

    Isn't it more like the other way? Lenses with no manual aperture control (like "D" lenses / Nikon) have their aperture closed to the most narrow position (e.g. f22).

  • Mario July 22, 2012 06:30 am

    I use the three Kenko extension tubes with my Canon 70-200 f4L and love it! This set-up brings beautiful images that are razor sharp (usually on f18, ISO 400) and I can shoot from a good distance, excellent for bugs, and now that I got a 60D crops look even better than with old XT (which I still love) I wish I could post an example but don't have images on any photo-sharing website, only on FaceBook but I think quality is lost when uploading to FB (I should open an acount in a phot-sharing webiste already, I guess) :(

  • marius2die4 July 22, 2012 03:36 am


  • Michael Minick July 20, 2012 10:32 pm

    The 2 sets of rings that I have from the 60's each come in 3 pieces...2", 1", & 1/2" so they can be used screwed together or you can unscrew them and use them in combinations. Adds a lot of versatility and they're cheap":)

  • Tony July 20, 2012 01:29 pm

    Hi Steve

    Take this with a grain of salt because I'm not an expert...extension tubes decrease in effectiveness as the focal length gets longer because the 'close-up' effect is due to the combination of the length of the tube Vs the focal length of the lens; this brings the minimum focal distance closer to the front of the lens.

    That is, a 25mm extension tube will have a much bigger effect on a 50mm lens (50+25=75mm) than on a 400mm lens (400+25mm=425mm)

    - They will still work when you use them on a telephoto lens, but you will need a longer extension tube for a telephoto lens than for a wider angle lens

    You can also go overboard...if you put a 25mm extension tube on a very wide angle lens like a 10-20mm lens, the combination may be unusable because the minimum focal distance is inside the lens, so you won't be able to focus at all

  • Bill Taylor July 20, 2012 04:36 am

    A question for you Javier.
    I am trying to do what you say but the image through my viewfinder is so dark that I cant focus.

  • The Fantastic G July 20, 2012 02:23 am

    There is no reason whatsoever not to use tubes on a 300mm+ lens. I use to use them on a 70-300 VR with great results. Most used application I have seen is with the Nikon 300mm F4 and second is with the Sigma 50-500.

  • Javier July 14, 2012 06:53 pm

    Nice article.
    There is a workaround for aperture control on cheaper tubes.

    1) set the aperture with the lens attached directly to the camera.
    2) press the DOF preview button and hold it while detaching the lens

    This makes the aperture fixed to the value you previously set.

    3) attach the lens with the extension tube in between.

    4)Take the photo.

    It's not real time. And not ideal, but works fine for planned or studio shots for the low budget photographer.
    And also the DOF button will be happy of someone actually using him.

    I hope it help

  • Steve Berardi July 14, 2012 12:20 pm

    Andrew - I can't remember if I got a double element close-up filter, so I'll have to check. Thanks for the tip!

    Linda - thanks so much for your kind words about PN! I've heard great things about close-up attachments that Raynox makes for point and shoot cameras (like Canon's G series), but don't know much about their SLR stuff. It probably wouldn't produce images any sharper than an extension tube though.

  • Alexander Catastroff July 14, 2012 03:54 am

    Awesome post! I really want some extension tubes for my 55-250 lens!


  • Jean-Pierre July 14, 2012 12:36 am

    Extension tubes are a great, inexpensive way to go whether you're using a regular lens or reversing your lens for the added magnification. Couple of my examples:



  • Linda July 13, 2012 09:25 pm

    Hello all, really enjoying thes articles on close-ups, and getting lots of great ideas. I would appreciate some info please.
    I have a Nikon 90mm macro lens, 3 extension tubes and a set of 4 closeup lenses, and use all at various times with my Nikon D90.
    I am reading about the Raynox 250 macro attachment, and am curious if it would get me any sharper, or more interesting shots than I am already getting with the above equipment.
    Can you tell I love macro work!!
    Thanks for any input...Linda
    Thanks Steve, for all your Photo Naturalist articles..your explanations are super...

  • steve slater July 13, 2012 06:53 pm

    Extensions are a good tool to have but I am not sure they are as good as a good macro lens


  • raghavendra July 13, 2012 12:57 pm

    I have another thoughts in abstract images in daily life
    few close up shots


  • Scottc July 13, 2012 09:39 am

    Great article, quite a refresher for me from past reading on extensions. I've got a few, just haven't been very successful with them. I'd be concerned about ISO, given the level of detail in the photos captured using these. Thanks!


  • Toren July 13, 2012 07:52 am


  • Jean-Pierre July 13, 2012 07:46 am

    Using extension tubes is an awesome way to gain magnification at a low cost. I made one by removing the glass out of a vintage tele-converter and a reversed 35mm lens. IMO, I get stunning results from this setup. I really love macro photography. The first photo was featured on an article, the second is much more recent of a spiderling.



  • Andrew S Gibson July 13, 2012 07:36 am

    Hey Steve, I don't use telephoto lenses myself (the longest I have is 85mm) but I know that extension tubes decrease in effectiveness as the focal length gets longer. Doesn't mean they aren't useful on telephoto lenses though. Did you try a double element close-up lens? I get great quality from mine combined with my 85mm lens.

    Glad you like the book!

  • Steve Berardi July 13, 2012 07:07 am

    Hey Andrew, great article and photos! I was wondering why you don't like to use extension tubes on telephoto lenses?

    I use them a lot with my 300mm (and sometimes with the 1.4 extender too). I tried one of those close-up filters, but in my tests I found them to create images that are much less sharp than those shot with an extension tube.

    btw, I'm currently in the middle of reading your new book, Up Close. Really enjoying it so far!