Winter may seem like a funny time to shoot macro, after all, there are no insects or flowers to photograph. But I am headed to Kauai and Costa Rica (two spots left) in the next few months, and I wanted to update my macro options to capture those colorful dart frogs in the Costa Rican rain forest. I’ll talk about lens options in another post, but probably the least expensive way to get into ‘macro’ shooting is using extension tubes.
Generally macro photography is thought of as the subject size is life size on the sensor, resulting in a 1 to 1 reproduction. ‘True’ macro lenses have 1 to 1 reproduction, while other lenses may only have 1 to 3 reproduction. Many photographers have telephoto lenses like the 70-200mm, which zooms into your subject, although not as close as a macro lens. Extension tubes help you get closer. An extension tube is a tube between the lens and the camera. By moving the lens further from the image plane, you can focus closer. Auto extension tubes allow full autofocus and metering with your lens. There is no glass in an extension tube, so no loss of optical quality here. The only downside to using extension tubes is you loose light resulting in longer shutter speeds.
I have been using an inexpensive set of Vello extension tubes ($79). The tubes come in 12, 20 and 36mm. Attaching these to my 70-200mm gets me much closer to a tiny subject and still allows a good working distance (so I am not right on top of my subject). The tubes are made of plastic with metal fittings inside; they may not feel the most sturdy, but I have not had any problems using them. I get full autofocus and aperture control, and they are very lightweight. Any time I think I might want to shoot ‘macro’, I drop these into my pack. And they would make a perfect stocking stuffer if you are still shopping!