I wanted to write a short article on macro photography for beginners on a budget for some months now and today I finally got to it. So let’s not waste any more of your valuable time…so if you don’t want to read throught the short paragraphs below, use these quick links:
I think everyone has seen some great macro photographs, capturing daily encountered objects in micro detail and I believe (correct me if I’m wrong) that everyone who has seen such photos wanted to try and reproduce them in his own way. Lets say you’ve just bought a new camera and the chances are it came with the usual 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens. On the 55mm end you can certainly take some interesting close-ups, but I wouldn’t speak of macro shots just yet. Those luckier (or wealthier) of us managed to buy their cameras also with telephoto lens with a focal length of up to about 250mm. Again, we can talk about some macro possibilities (and there are lens with dedicated macro switch that can really do nice macro), but with the minimal focusing distance of about 1 meter, these shots won’t probably be as macro-ish as you might wish. Now there are several solutions to this problem, that will allow you to actually shoot true macro shots:
Buy macro lens!
Now this is quite obvious, but rather expensive. There are some really good macro lenses on the market today, that won’t exactly ruin your budget, but still, I don’t thing many of us have at least 200 dollars lying around to spend on a macro lens we will use just occasionally. If I was to buy a macro lens, it would probably be the Tamron 90 mm f/2.8 Di VC USD (price tag of 400 to 500 usd), which has a nice use also for portraits. But since there is a “on a budget” in the title, we won’t go down this road…
Buy macro extension rings!
Now we’re cooking! With the price tag between 20 to 30 dollars (or even less!), these are much more appealing to the consumer (and his wallet). These extensions just fit between your lens and your camera body and offset the lens from the body by the defined amount. which results in shifting the minimum focusing distance closer to the lens. They usually come in sets of several lengths, that you can combine together to get the focal lengths you want to achieve (usually 10, 16 and 32 mm, but you can find many different ones out there). Another nice thing is you can get them with electronics (when I say electronics, I mean just wires connecting the ends of the individual extensions…) and therefore autofocus abilities or without it. The electronics of course affect the price tag again. While the manual rings can drop even below a 10 dollars tag, the electrified ones can climb up to 100 bucks (well, in this case, you might actually be better off with some 200 dollar macro lens…). Also, if you’re not too afraid and since no fine craftsmanship goes into these, you can try to search some Chinese wholesale servers for a nice deal on those (don’t worry, there’s not much they can screw up with this kind of product, plus you usually get free shipping). I believe this is the go-to solution well suited for almost anyone. I’ve written a small review/tutorial on this method – take me there.
Ultimate cheapo solution – buy a lens reversing ring!
This is about as cheap as macro can get (unless you’re thinking of a duct tape…). With price tag rarely over 8 dollars, this is really the smallest and cheapest gizmo that can get you some macro abilities. What it does is it screws on the front of the lens (where you would usually put a filter), then you take the lens off the camera, flip them 180 degrees and lock them back onto the body using the reversing ring. You can just adjust the focal length of the lens to the desired position (remember that in this mode, the biggest close up in on the short end of the lens – typically 18 mm). Now you can without much trouble achieve a crazy magnification using this technique. I have tried this with a simple ruler, which I photographed and then enlarged to about 100x of it’s original size and it still looked pretty well. basically, what you get here is a (semi-)microscope! A big downside is the unavoidable loss of lens control, mainly autofocus – you have to nail that manually. And when I say manually, forget about twisting the focus ring. No, in this case you actually have to move the whole camera. The focusing distance in this case is just a few centimeters and the depth of field can drop down to just several millimeters (depending on the lens of course), but with a bit of experimenting with aperture and practicing manual focusing, you can get it done. It’s also really useful, cause you can take the reversing ring anywhere and it won’t take up any space in your backpack or burden you. Also, you won’t be afraid of breaking it. In this case, I actually recommend ordering it from some Chinese wholesale server because of the low price and free shipping and there really isn’t anything to screw up with these. I’ve made a series of aperture experiments with this one so you can see how this cheapo performs at different settings – take me there.