macro photography extension tubes

Do you know anything about macro photography extension tubes? Maybe you should. They're very affordable and simple to handle. They're a thrifty way to dive into macro photography and get great images. Bonus:  you can get them to fit the camera you already own.

Set of 3 extension tubes for close-up photography

Extension tubes are my favorite accessory for doing close-up photography. Whether it's indoor studio shooting with controlled lighting or outside in the natural world with existing lighting, I use extension tubes more than any other macro optical system.  

These tubes come in several lengths,and you can combine them in many different ways. Usually in sets of three, they often come in lengths such as 12mm, 20, and 36mm.

With a set like this you can combine them and extend your lens by 12mm, 20mm, 32mm, 36mm, 48mm, or 56mm. With all three stacked you can get 68mm of extension between the lens and camera body. Extension tubes are one of the easiest macro photo accessories to use.

Macro photography extension tubes

The macro set-up pictured above is a set of macro extension tubes made by Opteka, placed in between a Canon 85mm f1.8 and a Canon 20D.  The possible combinations for lens extension with these extension tubes is 13mm, 21mm, 31mm, 34mm, 52mm, and 65mm.

advantages of using macro extension tubes

  1. Affordable
  2. No optical degradation of the image
  3. Provided you get the right ones, no breakdown in communication between the lens and the camera.
  4. You can use them with several different lenses that you already heavy in your collection.


disadvantages of using macro extension tubes

  1. Limited amount of magnification.
  2. Loss of light due to added distance from lens to digital camera sensor.
  3. Inconvenient to keep switching tubes to get the right magnification.
  4. Limited depth of field.  This is true for all macro photography.


tips for using macro photography extension tubes

  • Use manual focus.  Even though a good set of extension tubes will maintain the auto-focusing function with your Canon lens, it is advisable to not to use auto-focus. You will want to control the exact focus because the depth of field is so shallow.
  • When attaching or removing your lens be extremely careful to grab the lens barrel and not the focusing ring or you will damage your lens.
  • Don't forget the importance of lighting, and a few good composition rules like using diagonals, creating balance and the rule of thirds in photography.


Here is a Macro Photography Gallery from a one-hour photo shoot, using only extension tubes and 85mm prime lens.  The only other camera accessories I used were a tripod and a cable release. 


36mm extension tube36mm Extension Tube




Customer Reviews on:
Extension Tubes on Amazon

EXTENSION TUBE LENGTH COMPARISON

This is an extension tube length comparison done with a set of extension tubes including 13mm, 21mm, and 31mm lengths. Extension tubes are a popular substitute for pricey dedicated macro lenses and can be used in conjunction with the lenses you already have.

extension tube comparisonMagnification Comparison: Single Extension Tube vs. 3 Combined

The photo below shows a pencil photographed at the minimum focusing distance with a Canon 85mm lens.  All photographs were shot at f/18, aperture priority, using the same lens on a Canon EOS 70D.

The pencil is being held by one of my favorite macro accessories, the Wimberly Plamp II.

Without macro extension tubeShot at closest focusing distance with just an 85mm lens.

Compare this photo with the one below where a single, small (13mm) extension tube was used to take the photo of the same pencil. 

13mm extension tube13mm Extension Tube


The photo below was taken with a single 21mm extension tube to shorten the minimum focusing distance to an even further extent.

21mm extension tube21mm Extension Tube


The largest extension tube in the three member set is 31mm long. Here the focusing distance is getting really short and can get you in really close to your subject.

13mm extension tube31mm Extension Tube

3 extension tube combination12mm + 21mm + 31mm Extension Tubes Combined

There is no loss in image quality when using extension tubes for macro photography. Extension tubes have no glass or other optical components.  

They simply increase the distance between your existing lens and the camera body which decreases the minimum focusing distance of the lens you are using. With the 85mm f/1.8 Canon lens I used for this post, here is a chart of the minimum focusing distances that I achieved.


Extension Tube

Approximate Minimum Focusing Distance

None

13mm

21mm

31mm

13 + 21 + 31 = 65mm

27 inches

13.5 inches

11 inches

9 inches

6 inches

final thoughts on extension tubes for macro photography

They are very affordable and can give you good magnification and great working distances with a standard or moderate telephoto lens.

Without a doubt by far, the biggest issue with extension tubes is the precision with which they are made to fit properly. I've read quite a few disaster stories of people having their lens and or camera get stuck.

The best extension tubes are auto extension tubes, meaning that full auto-focus and aperture control functions perfectly between the lens and the camera.  Often, that means you should match the maker of the extension tube to the camera maker. If you shoot with Nikon, you;d use macro extension tubes for Nikon. If you're a Canon shooter, you'll get compatibility with extension tubes for Canon. 


Have a blast. Keep on clicking!

Bruce



Back from Macro Photography Extension Tubes to Digital Photography Tips Home

Go back to Macro Photography

Macro Photography Samples

All About Lenses


Macro photography extension tubes are also available at Adorama and ebay. Extensive reviews from photographers at Amazon.  Please support this site and visit one of my preferred vendors.  Just click a link below.