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Who likes taking pictures of bugs? Who doesn’t?! Then what do you do if the lens you are using does not focus close enough to clearly capture these creepy subjects in all their glorious detail? Well, there are a couple things you can do. One option is to buy a macro lens that offers at least a 1:1 magnification ratio. Like any type of lens, a macro lens varies in price and quality, but even the most affordable of true macro lenses costs hundreds of dollars, and if you need just the occasional close-up macro shot, that expense may not be justified.
Image made with an 85mm lens and 12mm tube
Another more affordable and versatile option is to buy a set of Vello Extension Tubes that mount between your lens and camera body and enable closer focusing. By placing more space between your lens and the camera’s film plane or sensor, you are able to focus more closely on subjects and can bring the magnification ratio of any lens to 1:1 true macro and beyond.
It is recommended to use extension tubes on standard-length lenses; however, they will work on any focal-length lens, including wide-angle and zoom lenses. You can even utilize extension tubes on a macro lens, bringing its magnification ratio above 1:1 and capturing images that fill the frame with the intricate details of an extreme close-up. The additional benefit of owning a set of extension tubes is that you have three tubes of different lengths, which can be used individually or in any combination to achieve the close focus you desire.
Vello offers extension tube sets for both Nikon F Mount lenses and Canon EF and EF-S lenses. I worked with the Nikon set on a D800 digital camera with a 50mm f/1.8D lens and with an 85mm f/ 3.5G macro lens. Because extension tubes have no optical elements they will not degrade the quality of the lens you are using, but they do reduce the amount of light that the sensor is receiving and, therefore, exposure must be adjusted accordingly. That is one reason to use Vello Auto Extension Tubes over Manual Extension Tubes.
With manual extension tubes, you will need to use a lens with its own aperture ring or you will be stuck having to stop up or stop down (depending on whether you're using Nikon or Canon cameras and lenses) in order to reach proper exposure. The other main reason to use auto tubes, of course, is that the electronic contacts in an auto-extension tube will communicate autofocus and auto-exposure information between the camera and lens. In my experience, the autofocus worked swimmingly every time; however, autofocus capability varies from camera to camera as well as on the subject and on the amount of light that reaches the sensor, so sometimes manual focus will be necessary even when using the auto tubes.
Additionally, Vello auto-extension tubes are of a particularly solid build, they lock into place firmly, release smoothly, and come with front and rear caps. Each auto-extension tube has its own direct mount, whereas the manual tubes need a ring mount to secure the tube to the camera.
Using the Vello Auto-Extension Tubes proved to be quite simple and really opened up creative possibilities when shooting with a standard 50mm lens that focuses only as close as 18”. For several reasons, a tripod is almost a must when you are working with extension tubes. For starters, the tubes reduce the amount of light entering the camera and, therefore, slower shutter speeds may be required. Also, when shooting at such close distances, the depth of field is very shallow and even the slightest camera movement will continuously shift your subject in and out of focus. To that point, a macro focusing rail is even a more precise alternative to a tripod as not only will it keep your camera still, but you can move the rail itself to bring your image into focus as opposed to repeatedly adjusting the lens.
When shooting flowers, marbles, bugs, and coins, I used an Oben AC-2320LA 3-Section Aluminum Lateral Tripod With BB-1 Ball Head, which provided the stability I needed as well as a swiveling center column, enabling me to get directly and easily above the objects I was shooting. With the tripod and camera set in place, it was just a matter of taking a shot with one tube and then changing tubes to shoot again. One thing to remember is to not over-tighten the tubes; let the auto tubes click into place as you would your lens and when using manual tubes, tighten just enough for them to hold securely.
When testing the tubes, I started with the smallest, which for the Auto Nikon F-mount tubes is 12mm. With just a 12mm tube, the minimum focus distance drops significantly, allowing you to focus as close as 9.7”. I then removed the 12mm tube and replaced it with the 20mm tube and then the 36mm tube. Last of all, I put all three tubes on together and was able to reach focus with the lens almost touching the subject.
A consideration to keep in mind when using extension tubes, especially when stacking several together, is that you will be extremely close to your subject and often obstructing your own light. This affected me in two ways. I had to be very careful not to bump into my subject or things attached to it (branches for example) and unintentionally move it out of focus. Also, my lens and tubes created a shadow that obscured the subject I was shooting. When shooting outdoors it is less of a problem, but when shooting inside or in dim light, a ring light such as the Bolt VM-110 LED Macro Ring Light is a great aid. A standard hot-shoe-mounted flash will not be so effective because the light output will be blocked by the lens and tubes, but a ring light that mounts directly on the front end of the lens will properly illuminate a close-up subject.
After I finished shooting with the 50mm f/1.8D lens, I shot with the Nikon 85mm f/3.5G Macro lens. I did a few shots without any extension tube to see how the auto exposure compared with the tubes in place, and then shot with the 12mm auto extension tube. The close-up details when using a macro lens with an extension tube were incredible (see image below).
It’s hard to underestimate the ease with which a set of Vello extension tubes can provide macro and extreme close-up focusing. They really are a simple and effective tool to enhance your shooting as well as something to have handy when the need arises. And don’t forget the fact that there are sets that come with auto exposure and autofocus capability, and the very affordable option of manual extension tubes that provide a wealth of combinations for exploring the creativity of macro photography.
For more information, stop by the B&H SuperStore in New York, speak with a sales professional on the telephone at 1-800-606-6969 or contact us online via Live Chat.