I have, for some time now had an interest in ‘Macro’ photography.

Macro photography is essentially another name for ‘close-up’ photgraphy, although the classical definition is that the image projected on the “film plane” (i.e., film, or a digital sensor) is the same size as the subject in life. or 1:1.

As you will know if you’ve ever looked at upgrading one of your lenses, purchasing even another entry level one, can be very expensive. I have tried various ways of achieving a macro image, all, but one of which has been successful, and all of which have been reletively inexpensive.

The first experiment was using a set of cheap extension tubes, which I bought from china, via ebay for the majestic sum of £6! I connected them to a M42 50mm f1.8 prime lens, also purchased from ebay for £8.

The one thing I should say about all of the products I’ll be talking about, is that you will have to set your camera to ‘M’ mode and adjust shutter speed and aperture manually. This is because the cheapest options use old M42 fitting equipment and everything with this mount type is manual. You will also need an adapter ring, which allows you attach an M42 lens to your camera. These can be picked up on ebay for less than a fiver.

Anyway, getting back to the topic, I connected all three of the extension tubes in the set to the camera body, then attached the very cheap 50mm lens to the end. Then, using a tripod, and with the aperture setting at f1.8, I manually focused on a moth. Once I’d got focus, I stopped down to f22 and using an off-camera flash took the shot you see below.

Even if I do say so myself, I’m very impressed with the result from such an inexpensive set up.

The next thing I tried was using a reversing ring between the camera body and the lens. A reversing ring is exactly what it sounds like. You attach the ring to the camera body in the same way you would attach the lens. Then the other side of the ring has a thread which matches the filter ring size of your lens, so that you can screw the lens onto your camera body, back-to-front. This allows you to get a much closer focusing distance, which inturn allows you to fill the frame with more of the subject.

Although this method did work, I wouldn’t recommend it on it’s own for macro photography. I would however recommend that you purchase a reversing ring that has one thread the same size as the filter thread your ‘kit’ lens, and the other thread, the size of your M42 lens. This will allow you to achieve a very close focusing distance which can give very impressive results.

The final thing I tried, which gave the most impressive results, but was the most difficult to get a sharp image with, was to use a set of bellows with my 50mm M42.

The bellows were again bought on ebay, for less than £10.

Again I attached the 50mm f1.8 to the end and then attached the bellows unit to my my camera body, using the adapter ring.

I needed to set the focus on the lens to infinity, and the aperture to f1.8, so that I had enough light coming through the lens to be able to achieve sharp focus, then stopped down to f22. Fine focusing is achieved by carefully turning the thumb-wheel on the bellow unit. It takes a bit of getting used to initially and I spent quite a bit of time moving the tripod backwards and forwards before I got it to a position where it just needed fine tuning with the bellows.

The magnification you get with this set-up, which remember, cost just over £20 in total, (that includes; adapter ring, bellows unit and lens!), is quite honestly outstanding. Below are two images. The macro image is the uncropped image, taken using this set-up, the other was taken just using the 50mm lens, again uncropped. You can click on the images to enlarge them. The only adjustments, were to convert them to 72dpi, from 300dpi.

Well, hopefully this post will help you make an informed decision about the necessity of a dedicated Macro lens. Truth be told, as soon as I can afford to buy a good quality Macro lens, I definately will, but until then, I’m more than happy to use my alternative.

Happy Shooting :)