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Macro Photography Without a Macro Lens

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Macro Photography Without a Macro Lens www.sleeklens.com

If you are into macro photography but think is all about buying more equipment and a proper macro lens worth a lot of money, well this is not entirely true.

To get you started with macro photography and get great results you don’t actually need all the stuff you are thinking about. I will tell you from my own experience and show you some great results I’ve achieved using a non-macro that with some budget accessories will get you great results.

Nikon D610 ƒ/5.6  Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 [email protected]300.0mm + 20mm Extension Tube t:1/2000  ISO800 Flash Fired

How Macro Lens Works

Let’s explain in a few words how a macro lens works. First of all, we need to understand just some basic optics principles, really simplified for this article. A regular camera lens has it’s focal plane closer to the sensor plane than a macro lens.

Optical schemes are simplified to show the main features in lens functions.

A macro lens has it’s focal plane (principal focal point) further away from the sensor of the camera, allowing to have a greater magnification ratio standing closer to the subject. Not getting into a deep explanation a macro lens needs a larger barrel and have more glass elements to be able to do this with a great sharpness usually better than a regular lens.

But let’s not get discourage by this, there a few ways to achieve getting the focal plane away from our sensor without losing too much sharpness and quality on the way. The most commons ways are:

  • Extension Tubes (main focus of this article)
  • Close up filters
  • Teleconverters
  • Reversing a lens
  • Stacking Lenses

In this article, I will focus on the method of Extension tubes as per my experience being the cheapest method with better quality results.

Magnification and how an extension tube works

Optical schemes are simplified to show the main features in lens functions.

The simplified optical scheme above describes how and the image is captured by the camera’s sensor using a regular lens. Magnification of the lens is the relation between the Focal Length of the lens and the actual distance from the focal plane of the lens to the object.

From this relations is easy to highlight how if the Focal Length of the lens is increased therefore the magnification will also increase. Allowing to have a bigger subject in our photo.

Optical schemes are simplified to show the main features in lens functions.

Here comes the use of the extension tube, as it shows the scheme above the use of a regular lens plus an extension exactly does what we need, enlarging the focal length of our regular lens to convert it and do the work of a macro lens.

Pros and Cons of Extension Tubes


  • Lot cheaper than a macro lens
  • No need to carry additional lenses
  • Get one with electronic contacts for your camera lenses to have auto-focus
  • Can be stack to get more magnification
  • Great for introduction to macro-photograph
  • Easier to set up and use than other methods like reversing lens, or stacking lenses
  • More image quality than using close up filters.


  • Less sharp than a real macro lens (with good lenses this can be improved in post processing)
  • Modification of the focus planes on the lens can cause shifting in the focus point
  • Might not work in zoom lenses in all range
  • Can be stack to get more magnification
Nikon D610 ƒ/10  Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 [email protected]300.0mm + 20mm Extension Tube t:1/500  ISO800 Flash Fired

Which Extension Tube to Get

There are many cheap extension tubes to choose from, being the ones without autofocus capability being among the cheapest. I don’t recommend this get one with the right electronic contacts for your lenses and camera so you can work with auto focus.

Most of the extension tubes kits come with three tubes (12mm, 20mm & 36mm) that can be stacked together or used separately, remember when you stack the tubes the range of the focus distance in your lens will change and be reduced so some lenses will have trouble auto-focusing when stacking the tubes.  Prices can go from 20€ to some of the good sets like the Kenko set that can go above 100€ which still is a fraction of a good Macro lens.

Nikon D610 ƒ/6.3  Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 [email protected]300.0mm + 20mm Extension Tube t:1/1250  ISO800 Flash Fired

Practice and patience are key to get better results with macro photography. In the next article, I will be writing about the use of flash, post-processing and other key aspects to improving your results. So get out there and start shooting!

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José Luis Garcia Tucci
José Luis is a self-taught amateur photographer currently based in Barcelona, Spain. His main interests are travel, macro, studio and astrophotography.
José Luis Garcia Tucci

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