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Take macro shots like this for less than the cost of a pizza

2011-07-21 by elendilthetall. 23 comments

Take this with just your 18-55mm kit lens and a reversing ring!
The ability to take super-close-up images opens a whole new aspect of photography, but true macro lenses can
cost a fortune. Luckily, there are a couple of much cheaper solutions, and in this article Im going to take you
through one of them reversing rings.
Reversing ring showing the lens-mount side
As the name suggests, a reversing ring allows you to attach a lens to your camera backwards. This allows you to
get extremely close to your subject. The wider the angle of the lens, the greater the magnification: a 50mm lens will
provide a rough 1:1 ratio, which is the benchmark of a true macro lens. A 20mm lens will yield a massive 4:1 ratio.
So if youve got an otherwise ordinary 18-55mm kit lens, youre sitting on a great macro lens; it just needs a little
help from a reversing ring! Because the ring attaches to the filter thread, you can even use them on lenses that
have broken mounts: not an uncommon problem with cheaper, plastic kit lens mounts.
Its not all good news though. Reversing rings come with a couple of small problems. Firstly, when you turn the lens
around you obviously lose the CPU connection between the lens and the camera, so say goodbye to autofocus,
metering (in most cases) and aperture control (though Ill come back to that). Secondly, you expose the rear
element of the lens to the outside world. Indoors this isnt a huge issue, but its worth being aware of when youre
outside on a windy day or in other adverse conditions.
So, if you dont mind risking a little dirt on your lens, or doing things manually, you can get into macro
photography cheaply and easily. Lets look into it in more detail.
To start, youll firstly need a camera and at least one lens. As I mentioned above, a wide-angle lens is ideal. It doesnt
matter if its a zoom or prime, but zooms give you some flexibility more on that later.
I use two lenses in conjunction with my reversing ring my Nikon 18-55mm kit, and a 40 year old Mitakon 50mm
1.7 PK mount lens. The advantage of this old lens is that it has a manual aperture ring, which neatly neutralises the
loss of automatic control mentioned above. Also note that because I reverse the lens, it doesnt matter that the lens
mount is different from the cameras. You can pick up this kind of lens (not to mention the cameras that go with it)
for next to nothing. In general, I use the 50mm for subjects such as flowers where I dont want to be super-close
up, and the 18-55mm for insects etc.
Reversing ring fitted to Mitakon 50mm manual aperture lens
Then of course, youll need a reversing ring. Theyre available from most camera shops, both online and in the real
world, and only cost about $15/12/14. The ring consists of a lens mount on one side (which should obviously fit
your camera) and a male filter thread on the other; this should match the filter thread of the lens(es) you intend to
use. Heres my Nikon mount 52mm reversing ring, thread-side up:
Reversing ring, thread-side up
Getting started
The first thing to do is attach the ring to the lens by simply screwing it on like a filter. Then attach the lens to the
camera as usual via the ring. Now its time a for a little light hacking. As I mentioned before, you lose aperture
control when you reverse a lens. However, you may still need a wide-open aperture to get the most light into your
camera.There still exists the normal trade off between DoF and aperture so stopping down some may be an
option for you to get more DoF (especially on fast primes like 1.8 or 1.4) at the expense of a dim viewfinder and
slower shutter speed.. If you have an old manual lens like mine, great just open that aperture up and go for it.
But if you only have modern lenses, you need a hack.
Nikon, Pentax and Sony lenses
If you have any of the above lenses, you need an additional piece of highly specialised kit a ball of poster tack.
Next to the rear glass element of the lens is a small metal rectangular tab this is the aperture lever:
Nikon 18-55mm kit lens, aperture lever highlighted
Simply actuate the lever so the aperture is fully open (or any intermediate position youd like), then carefully stick it
in place with the poster tack. Dont jam it right in: you dont want to get bits in the mechanism. Just gently push it
over so that it holds the lever in place.
Poster tack in place over the aperture lever
Be aware that sometimes the lever can slowly push through the tack if you notice the viewfinder darkening,
check the lever.
Canon lenses
Canon lenses lack an external aperture lever, but if your camera has DoF preview you can still make use of a
reversing ring thanks to a little hack. In fact, modern Canon lenses default to wide open when off the camera, so
youll only need to follow these instructions to stop down any. Mount the lens as normal and set the aperture wide
open (or however you want it, in fact). Now press and hold the DoF preview button and while holding it in, remove
the lens. The lens should remember the aperture setting. To minimise the time you have the lens off and the
camera body exposed, mount the reversing ring first, then do the hack and simply flip the lens over and remount it
in reverse.
Get shooting
18-55mm lens reverse mounted on camera and ready to shoot
So now your lens is reversed and your aperture is as good as its going to get. Time to turn the camera on! Most
cameras will probably start complaining that theres no lens attached. Dont worry, just flip to Manual mode. Now
find a subject and frame it up in the viewfinder. Whats that? You just get a blur? Thats because you have to get
really, really close: at 18mm you need to get within about 5cm/2 of the subject. So get stuck in.
Remember how I said zooms offer flexibility? Heres where it comes into play. You can adjust the zoom to adjust
the magnification, as in normal photography. But as focusing when a lens is reversed is achieved purely by moving
the lens back and forth, the zoom acts as a focus too! So, if youve got yourself set nicely for a good shot of, say,
a flower, but its just out of focus, simply adjust the zoom slightly to bring it in.
Taken at around 25mm, this dew drop was only 3mm across
The next thing youll notice is that the depth of field is wafer-thin. Thats an issue with all macro photography its a
blessing and a curse, as it gives a nice blurred background that emphasises your subject, but it can also mean that
not enough of your subject is in focus. Couple that with the fact that youre focusing purely by moving back and
forth (or breathing!) and you have a tricky situation. But the great advantage of digital photography is that you
can take as many shots as you need to get things right, so, onwards and upwards.
Now, because youve lost metering, its time for some experimentation. You still have control of ISO and shutter
speed, so first set the ISO to an appropriate level for the light. Now dial in a shutter speed, say 1/60, and take a
shot. Have a look on your LCD is the shot well exposed? If its not, adjust your shutter speed accordingly (faster
if its over exposed, slower if under) and try again, repeating until youve narrowed down the right setting. If youre
having to set a really slow shutter speed, up your ISO to compensate. You can also use your on-camera flash, but
you will need to turn TTL off and use manual firing.
If youre planning on taking shots of fast-moving critters like insects, its a good idea to take a few test shots of a
flower or other object, just to get the exposure in the right ballpark, so its quicker to adjust when the time comes.
After a while, youll begin to get a feel for what settings work in a given situation, so that youre closer to the right
ones straight away.
And thats really all there is to it. Heres a quick checklist of things to remember:
Attach the reversing ring and open the aperture using the appropriate method for your lens before
attaching it to your camera.
Set the camera to Manual mode before trying to take a shot.
Get close to your subject and remember that you focus by moving the lens/camera/yourself back and
Experiment with shutter speed and ISO to get the correct exposure.
| Rainy Day Project: Multi-colour abstracts with a few household odds and ends
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jrista says:
2011-07-21 at 3:57 am
Thanks for taking the time to post such an excellent opening blog. Love the tip about Canon and the DOF
preview button. Extremely handy little trick!
Reply to this Comment
Fahad Hasan says:
2011-07-21 at 8:43 am
This is awesome, Ive been doing reverse macros for quite some time now and had to read a lot of articles on the
way of learning. I must say this is the best article so far that explains almost everything one might need. Thanks
for taking your time to write this excellent article!
Reply to this Comment
ivoflipse says:
2011-07-22 at 5:52 pm
Thats one hell of a first blog post! Im looking forward to any other useful tips you guys will be posting.
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Jin says:
2011-07-22 at 8:03 pm
I wish I could upvote this post
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ivoflipse says:
2011-07-25 at 5:37 pm
Then perhaps you should have added that to the theme @Jin
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Kiril Kirov says:
2011-08-01 at 10:33 am
Ah, that is awesome! Really great opening for blog, congrats! I have D5100 and I thinkg Im going to try it
Reply to this Comment
Good luck!
Filed under Columns On the Cheap
Rainy Day Project: Multi-colour abstracts with a few household odds
and ends Stack Exchange Photography Blog says:
2011-08-04 at 9:09 pm
[...] my last post I explained how to get into macro photography cheaply and easily using a
reversing ring. This time, [...]
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Help on Extension tubes/Raynox says:
2012-02-06 at 3:02 pm
[...] [...]
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katt says:
2012-03-13 at 5:04 am
Isnt there a way to protect the lens?? just to see it there all exposed makes me nervous
Reply to this Comment
ElendilTheTall says:
2012-07-01 at 1:04 pm
You used to be able to get clear rear element protectors for use with reversing rings, but theyre hard to
come by these days. You might find one on eBay or in a second-hand camera store. Otherwise, just be
A prime lens is a safer option, as while the glass is still unprotected, the lack of a zoom means you cant get
dust etc in the lens mechanisms.
J. Walker says:
2012-03-30 at 10:58 pm
AWESOME! You should allow us to upvote these blog posts!
Reply to this Comment
Heather says:
2012-04-06 at 3:04 pm
That is incredible. Ive been dying to do some real macro photography AND find a use for my old kit lens. I
cannot wait to try this out!
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Kanchan says:
2012-06-18 at 7:45 pm
Sir,Thank you for this tips,very useful but saved images are very darknot even visible.what to do?
Reply to this Comment
ElendilTheTall says:
2012-07-01 at 1:01 pm
It sounds like you arent opening the aperture lever on your lens, so very little light is getting in. Be sure to
open it fully and hold it open while you press the shutter button
Larry says:
2012-07-22 at 7:27 pm
Great blog! Havent tried the poster tack, but for static subjects (flowers), I just hold the aperture lever open with
my finger to allow enough light to focus, then let it go back to fully closed (f32) to shoot, which gives max depth
of field. How else to get into macro for $8?!
Reply to this Comment
ElendilTheTall says:
2012-08-04 at 10:28 am
If you have enough light to shoot with the aperture closed, that certainly works.
bishal says:
2012-10-22 at 11:35 am
i love this.
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bhushan says:
2013-03-31 at 1:00 pm
Thnx for an educative article which is of immense help for a beginner to understand the nuances of photography
Reply to this Comment
2013-06-15 at 3:29 am
undoubtedly the best explaination about reversing lense technique.. Thanks a lot..
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Reverse Ring | masdoni says:
2013-09-11 at 11:21 pm
[] Sumber Gambar : Blogoverflow []
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zahoor says:
2014-02-21 at 4:17 pm
I would like to know how to open the aperture in the Canon lense after using the reversible ring on 18-55 lense.
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zahoor says:
2014-02-21 at 4:18 pm
I would like to know how to open the aperture in the canon lense after using the reversible ring
Reply to this Comment
ElendilTheTall says:
2014-03-11 at 8:09 am
See the last paragraph of the Getting Started section you need to use the DoF preview button on your