9 Gift Ideas for Macro Photographers

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Macro photographs enable you to capture in-your-face close-ups of flowers, bugs, peeling paint, and—depending on your personal aesthetics—anything encrusted in rust. The following are 10 gift ideas designed to help you with tight close-ups of objects, rusty or otherwise.

1. Macro Lenses

Macro lenses are specifically designed to capture sharp close-up photographs. Available in normal, wide-angle, and telephoto focal lengths, most macro lenses can get as close as life-size (1:1). A few macros only focus down to half life-size (1:2), while others can focus down to 5x life-size (5:1).

Venus Optics Laowa 15mm f/4 Macro Lens (left) and Canon TS-E 135mm f/4L Macro Tilt-Shift Lens (right)

Available for most every camera system, many shooters prefer longer focal length macros because they are less likely to cast shadows on their subjects or, in the case of insects, scare them away. When used at close range and at wide apertures, longer focal length macros make it easier to focus selectively on your subject while separating it from the foreground and background.

Conversely, wide-angle macros enable you to get in close to your subject while maintaining detail in its surroundings. With few exceptions, macro lenses focus to infinity and can be used equally well for conventional, i.e., non-macro photography.

If you’d like to learn more about the different types of macro lenses sold at B&H Photo, check out Todd Vorenkamp’s Macro Lens Buying Guide. Additional articles and macro lens-related product reviews can be accessed by clicking here.

2. Extension Tubes

Extension tubes, which are mounted between your lens and camera body, decrease the minimum focusing distance of your lens without affecting image quality. Available from OEM and third-party manufacturers, extension tubes of various sizes are available individually or in sets, and can be stacked for increased magnification. The longer the tube, the closer you can focus to your subject.

Vello Auto Extension Tube Set

Premium extension tubes maintain full metering and autofocus functionality. The most basic models require manual focusing and, depending on your camera system, you’re most likely going to be restricted to manual and/or aperture-priority metering.

Though they can be used with certain wide-angle lens/camera combinations, they are primarily intended for normal and telephoto lenses.

Extension tubes require additional exposure times, which is typically compensated for by your camera meter. If you are using a handheld meter, you must compensate for any exposure factors manually.

For more information on the B&H Explora website about how to use extension tubes, click here.

3. Macro Bellows

Unlike extension tubes, which have fixed lengths, macro bellows offer increment-free magnification of your subject. Though best used with macro lenses, bellows can be used with just about any lens via adapter. The degree of magnification is based on the focal length of your lens and how far you rack out the bellows. Like extension tubes, bellows require exposure compensation, which isn’t a problem if you’re using a camera with TTL metering.

FotodioX Macro Bellows for Canon EF Mount Camera Systems

The most versatile bellows available are produced by FotodioX and Novoflex, each of whom produces bellows for use with most all of the popular cameras sold at B&H (Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, etc.).

Tripods are highly recommended when shooting close-ups with a bellows system.

To learn more about using macro bellows, check out Tips for Extreme Macro Photography and 9 Gift Ideas for Macro Photographers, which appear on the B&H Explora website.

4. Close-Up filters

Close-up filters are basically magnifying lenses that screw onto the front of your lens. The best of the bunch are compound lenses containing multiple elements that get you closer to your subject with little, if any, loss of image quality. Less expensive close-up filters tend to be a bit softer toward the edges, though this is a generalized statement.

Hoya 77mm HMC Close-Up Filter Set II (+1, +2, and +4)

Close-up filters are available in thread sizes ranging from 27mm to 86mm, and non-threaded diopters (to 6"). They are also available in series sizes, bayonet sizes, square, unthreaded circular sizes, and for dedicated filter systems from Lindsey Optics, Cokin, GoPro, Polaroid SX-70, Holga, and others.

Unlike extension tubes, close-up filters do not require exposure adjustments.

For further insights into using close-up filters, check out the following Explora articles and features.

5. Reversal Rings

The least expensive method of turning any lens into a closeup lens is by flipping the lens around 180° and mounting it on the camera body backward using a reversal ring. When mounted backward on the camera, your lens becomes a magnifying lens. The focal length of the lens determines the degree of magnification—the wider the lens, the greater the magnification.

Nikon BR-2A Lens Reversing Ring - 52mm Thread

Image quality varies depending on the lens, as well as your ability to focus and change aperture, especially if the lens lacks an aperture ring. Generally, photographs captured with this method have sharp centers and variably sharp (or not-so-sharp) edges, depending on the lens and focal length.

For additional information about reversal rings see Todd Vorenkamp’s article Tips for Extreme Macro Photography.

6. Focusing Rails

When shooting extreme closeups with any of the abovementioned macro accessories, focusing rails can be particularly useful, especially when shooting closeups with bellows.

Focusing rails, which cost as little as $20 or up to $600-plus, depending on their abilities, enable you to make extremely fine adjustments to the focus, and in the case of dual-axis focusing rails, the position of your subject within the frame. The big benefit of focusing rails is that they enable you to make these adjustments without having to move the camera and tripod.

Novoflex CROSS-Q Castel-Cross-Q Focusing Rack

Pricier focusing rails offer the option of rough and fine focus adjustments, which can be particularly useful when shooting greater than life-size photographs of small objects. Focusing rails require the use of a tripod.

Todd Vorenkamp’s Macro Photography Gear: Bellows, Reversal Rings, Macro Couplers, & Focusing Rails is a good source of additional information about focusing rails and other macro-related products mentioned in this holiday guide.

7. Remote Triggers / Cable Releases

Even when shooting on a tripod, the best way to avoid camera shake is to not touch the camera during the exposure, and the best way to do this is by using a shutter release. Shutter releases are available in several forms, the most basic being a threaded cable release. Back in the day, virtually every shutter button was threaded, but these days threaded shutter releases are few and far between. If your release is threaded, this is the simplest and least expensive route to take.

Sony RM-VPR1 Remote Commander with Multi-Terminal Cable (left) and Gepe PVC Pro Threaded Cable Release with Disc Lock (right)

More common nowadays are wired shutter releases, which attach to the camera via a port typically located behind a hinged flap or door on the side of the camera. Unlike threaded cable releases, which are mechanical, wired shutter releases are electronically controlled and invariably dedicated to specific cameras. Wired shutter releases are typically 1.5 to 3' in length.

A third option is to use wireless remotes, which can trigger the camera shutter from great distances via radio frequency (RF), infrared (IR), Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi.

Depending on the model, select wired and wireless shutter releases also enable you to shoot time exposures, time delays, and time-lapse photography. Others enable you to adjust ISO, shutter speeds, and lens aperture.

8. Tripods/Monopods/Tablepods

Composing photographs using long telephoto and macro lenses can be tricky, which is why we strongly recommend using camera supports for both types of picture-taking when possible. Tripods come in a wide variety of sizes that can support your camera at heights ranging from 2.2 to 94" from the ground.

Oben AT-3565 Folding Aluminum Travel Tripod with BC-217T Ball Head (left) and Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ball Head with Lever-Release Panning Clamp (right)

Depending on your tastes and needs, they are available with a choice of ball or pan/tilt heads. They are also available in aluminum, carbon fiber, titanium, and magnesium alloy. For ground-level shooting, you can also opt for tablepods with either rigid or flexible legs, or flat base-plate-style supports.

Platypod Ultra Plate Camera Support & FEISOL TT-15B Mini Tripod (left) and FEISOL TT-15B Mini Tripod and Ball Head (right)

Discussing tripods, monopods, and other camera support products in greater detail in a few brief paragraphs is difficult, to say the least. To learn more about tripods, tripod heads, monopods, and related camera support products, click here.

9. Macro Lighting Systems

Lighting small subjects positioned inches (or millimeters) from the front element of your lens is challenging, if not impossible, without the correct tools for the job. This is why B&H stocks dozens of macro lighting systems.

Bolt VM-210 Flexible Macro Light (left) and Godox ML150 Macro Ring Flash (right)

Macro lighting systems are available from OEM and third-party manufacturers in the form of small ring lights, twin lights, or combination ring/twin lights. Because ring lights surround your subject, the light is shadowless. If you prefer having the ability to model the light, you’re better off using twin lights or combination ring/twin lights. When used thoughtfully, each of these options works equally well.

You also have the option of flash or LED light sources. Flash is preferable for capturing fast-moving subjects such as flying insects. LED light sources, which are continuous, are preferable when you want to model the light. LEDs are also preferable if you plan on shooting close-up video.

To learn more about lighting for macro photography check out Shawn Steiner’s Lighting Options for Your Macro Photography.

Tell us about your favorite macro photographer’s sense of aesthetics, and what you might give them as a gift, in the Comments section, below.

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