If you’d like to start taking professional-quality close-ups of the world around you without having to upgrade your existing camera and lens system or purchase a macro lens, you’re going to find this post quite agreeable.
Without pooh-poohing the imaging abilities of the flagship cameras from any of the major camera manufacturers, there’s little doubt the picture-taking abilities of entry-level DSLR and kit zoom packages costing 1/10 the price of the big boys can be quite impressive.
For the sake of the story line, we used a Canon EOS T6i, an 18th-generation descendant of the original Canon Digital Rebel, which comes with a Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM kit lens (29-88mm equivalent). Featuring a 24.2MP APS-C CMOS sensor and a DIGIC 6 image processor, the Canon T6i captures extremely detailed stills and Full HD 1080p video @ 30fps. The T6i also has a 3" 1,040k-dot Vari-angle Touchscreen, which comes in very handy when shooting close-ups at odd camera angles.
Nobody ever made claims about kit zooms being the most sophisticated optics available, but many of them, including the lens used to illustrate this post, are capable of producing good, and often very good photographs when used thoughtfully.
While the 9.9"minimum focus distance of the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM kit lens enables an impressive maximum reproduction ratio of about 1:3, we’re going to need a few additional accessories if we want to focus-in even closer.
Canon Close-up lenses are available from Canon in 52mm, 58mm and 72mm filter sizes. Close-up lenses screw onto the front of your lens like a UV, or similar, filter. Depending on the strength of the filter, close-up lenses enable you to focus in tighter than your lens’s native close-focusing distance, and they do so without need of exposure compensation.
Each of the following series of close-up photos was captured consecutively at f/3.5, f/11, and f/32 to illustrate how each image appears throughout the aperture range. It’s also worth noting that the focal length of the closest-focusing distance varies depending on the lens-to-subject distance and which combinations of close-up filters and/or extension tubes you are using.
A downside of close-up lenses is that, depending on the host lens, the focus distance, the lens aperture, and your subject matter, you might notice a degree of softer focus toward the corners of the frame when using close-up filters.
Extension tubes are affordable, easy to use, and because they do not contain lens elements, they do not impact image quality. Canon EF II extension tubes are available in 12mm and 25mm lengths, and they allow for full AF and AE functionality. Both extension tubes, which can be combined for greater magnification ratios, are compatible with most Canon EF, TS-E, and EF-S lenses*.
If there’s a down side to extension tubes, it would have to be a bit of light loss, which inevitably occurs when you add distance between the lens and the imaging sensor (or film plane). The good news is that the camera’s TTL metering system compensates for any exposure loss so you can concentrate on taking terrific pictures.
It should be noted you cannot focus to infinity when using extension tubes and close-up lenses—these accessories are for close-focusing only.
Canon Speedlite MR-14EX II Macro Ringlight
One additional accessory I ordered is a Canon Speedlite MR-14EX II—a macro ring light—which is specifically designed for lighting subjects situated millimeters from the front lens element. Shoe-mounted speedlites are difficult to aim at subjects closer than a foot or two, and they tend to cast shadows in all the wrong places.
Featuring a guide number of 45.9' @ ISO 100 and a twin-tube design that literally wraps around the camera lens, the Canon MR-14EX II surrounds your subject with a soft, shadowless light.
The MR-14EX II, which can be powered by either 4 AA batteries or a Canon CP-E4N battery pack, is compatible with other Canon E-TTL and E-TTL II flash components with support for wireless E-TTL when linked to one-or-more Speedlight 600EX II-RT flashes. Other features include white LED modeling lamps, a dozen custom functions, and fully adjustable flash output. To attach the ring light, which has a 67mm thread, to the zoom lens, which has a 58mm lens thread, I used a 58mm to 67mm step-up ring.
A Few Tips for Shooting Macro Photographs
There are a few items to keep in mind when shooting extreme close-ups. When possible, it’s highly recommended you mount your camera on a tripod or similar camera support to ensure sharp results.
If you are shooting handheld, make sure your camera’s image stabilization system is engaged, because camera shake is greatly magnified when shooting at life-size magnification ratios.
Unless your camera’s image stabilization system has a tripod mode, you should disengage the camera’s IS system to avoid damaging the mechanism.
Depending on your subject matter, lens-to-subject-distance, and working aperture, it’s often easier to capture sharp close-ups when shooting in Manual Focus mode rather than in Autofocus mode. If in doubt, try both modes to see what works best for you.
Lastly, depth of field (DoF) becomes increasingly shallow the closer you focus to your subject. Depending on the focus distance and focal length of the lens, even at f/22 or f/32, DoF can be extremely shallow.
Do you have experience shooting close-ups with accessory close-up lenses, extension tubes, or other close-up accessories? Tell us about them—we’d like to read your comments.
*The following Canon lenses are not compatible with Canon’s EF II-series extension tubes:
• Canon Extension Tube EF 12 II cannot be used with Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 Fisheye, 14mm f/2.8L and MP-E 65mm f/2.8.
• Canon Extension Tube EF 25 II is recommended for use with lenses with focal lengths of 50mm and longer—no wide-angle lenses. When used with the Canon EF-S 18-55mm, only midrange and telephoto settings can be used.
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