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Up for Discussion – Using Extension Tubes

On this blog I have noticed how many of you seem to enjoy macro photography, me among them.  I don’t have a macro lens and it was frustrating me quite a bit, and then Ben, from APERTURE64, suggested I get some extension tubes.  He told me how I could use them with my 50mm lens.  So I did and they have been fantastic.  I also like, now that I have the loan Tamron 90mm Macro lens, I can also use the tubes on it as well.  I asked Ben if he would write a post on using them for us.  

What is an Extension tube?

Extension tubes are a tube that goes between your camera and lens, at present extension tubes are available for DSLRs with full frame and cropped sensors. An extension is a tube placed between the lens and camera reducing the minimum focus distances of the lens, enabling you to get closer to your subject. As you move closer to the subject the bigger it becomes.

Orb Weaver Macro-3489

There are many companies that make extension tubes, when buying you really get what you pay for. The more you spend the better the build, which means it is less likely to cause problems with your camera and lens (eg lenses getting stuck or even tubes getting stuck to cameras, it can happen).

There are two types of extension tubes, those with electronic connections, and those without. Electronic connections are important as they allow you to change the aperture of your lens as well as use auto focus. Non-connector tubes won’t let the camera talk to the lens, leaving you unable to change the aperture while the lens is connected to the tube as well as not being able to use the auto focus. The non-connector type will be fine with older lenses with manual focus and aperture ring.

Focal-lengths-with-extension-tubes

One element of extension tubes that seems illogical is that; the smaller the lens (shorter focal length) the closer you can get to a subject. An 18mm lens will let you get closer than a 100mm lens. Although zoom lenses are great, I tend to use prime lenses as they create sharper images and are lighter. If you attach a heavy lens to a long extension tube, if the lens is not supported this could cause damage to the camera.

How to use

Using an extension tube is just the same as a normal lens. I use Polaroid tubes that came in a set of three; 13mm, 21mm and 31mm. These three tubes can be mixed and matched with each other, with all three connected I have a 65mm extension tube. I add my lens to the tube/s and then attach everything to the camera.

Instagram Image.

I have found that although I can use auto focus on my lenses it doesn’t really focus and I always manually focus with my lens. The inability to focus is because the AF system doesn’t have enough light to focus with. I manually focus the lens to infinity and move close to the subject until it is sharp.  I am usually seen swaying in and out as I take macro shots with my extension tubes, as the area of focus is really slight sometimes a matter of a mm.

Depth of field of the lens is extremely narrow compared to the lens by itself. I prefer to use the sharpest aperture so that the details I capture are sharp instead of having a larger area in focus which is not as sharp. Also as you get closer to a subject the less light there is, using the smallest aperture may not be possible.

Instagram Image 2

I favour the use of a tripod although there are times when that isn’t possible. When using a tripod I use the LCD screen, not the view finder to compose and focus my image, as I can magnify the area I am focusing on to make sure that it is sharp.

Into The Mouth Of the Dragon

Some issues and photo hacks

Extension tubes mean longer exposure times because there is less light reaching the sensor. Without a tripod the rule of thumb for the minimum shutter speed for sharp images is, no slower than the focal length of the lens. Attaching all my tubes and my lens equals an exposure faster than 1/100. As I said early it is not possible to use your tripod all the time, I have found this especially true when photographing insects and bugs. The only way increase shutter speed is to raise the ISO or use a larger aperture. In Raising the ISO you are adding more noise to an image resulting in a lower image quality and using larger aperture would result in a smaller depth of field.

Another option is to use flash. When using flash you want to have even defused light, nothing too harsh as this will create contrast in the image. An expensive option is to buy a ring flash which is attached to the end of your lens. A cheaper photo hack is to use a Pringles tube and some tracing paper.

I call it a flash extender; I eat the Pringles (the fun part) and then cut a square hole on the bottom side of the tub, I then tape tracing paper over the hole. I place this on my flash and securing with tape and then photograph. If it gets battered and damaged eat some more Pringles and start again.

Lady Bird Red 2

When it comes to photographing insects the major drawback is the lack of auto focus and the need to move in and out to take the shots, this with the need to get quite close to the insects as well has a habit of to making them more skittish. One option is to carry sugar water and place a drop for the insect to feed on giving you some time to take the shot.

Other uses

Abstract Macro

Extension tubes are not only for Macro photography they can also be used to dramatically decrease the depth of field, great for portraits and standard still life pictures. Also if used creatively can be great for creating abstract pictures with a large aperture.

Tulip Red and Yellow-0903

Extension tubes are a good cheap alternative to a Macro lens but I will admit once you start to get into Macro photography you will crave to move on from them and buy a macro lens. This doesn’t mean that the tubes are then a waste of money as they can be used with a macro lens to get you even closer.

wordless wednesday Macro Landscape

 

Thank you Ben, great explanation of what they are and how to use them.  I hope you will all thank Ben.  He is going to answer comments, so if you have any questions, please ask.  If you would like to see more of his work please visit his blog, APERTURE64.  I am going to put the images from the post and a couple of others that Ben sent in a gallery for you now.

65 Comments
  1. Interesting

    >

    October 24, 2014
    • hi Tienny, the world of macro is super interesting, I hope you will give it ago.

      October 24, 2014
  2. Beautiful images! I know I love my extension tubes; just need to get out there and use them more. 😀

    October 24, 2014
    • HI, it is a case of getting out and using them, a good suggestion is to challenge yourself and only use extension tubes for a day. Apart from using them you will also have to be creative to get some shots.

      October 24, 2014
  3. Interesting post. Its nice to learn something new.

    October 24, 2014
    • Hi Andrea, learning is the only way to improvement, I hope you learnt something from this post.

      October 24, 2014
      • Yes I did thank you Ben. It was nice to read it because you explained it very well and i liked the Pringles idea 😉 I love macros, to look at other peoples photos and to take them so this post was useful for me.

        October 24, 2014
  4. I tried some extension tubes but they just didn’t work well for me. There was too much light leaking between the tubes so I stick with my 100mm L macro lens.

    October 24, 2014
    • Hi, light leaking is the part of the build quality, good quality extension tubes should have metal grips between tubes which hold and lock them together. See if you can get hold of some and add them to your macro lens,that would be fun.

      October 24, 2014
  5. I don’t use mine enough, but whenever I have I like the results. One thing I really want to add to help me with my imaging when using the extension tubes, or my macro lens is a focusing rail. I’ll be able to get close and stay there without wobbling. 🙂 My goal is to have one by Spring 2015.

    October 24, 2014
    • I saw a photographer on the internet with a focusing rail, he said not to get an expensive one, that cheap ones can be just as good. I use that philosophy if it doesn’t affect the image, then go cheap. I have been thinking about getting one as well.

      October 24, 2014
      • Leanne, I have a friend with one who also bought a middle of the road one…not very expensive. He said pretty much the same thing as the photographer you quoted.
        My friend also recommends a small LED light. Which costs as much as the rail! 🙂 Thankfully I already have the little Gorilla Pod for standing it up.

        October 25, 2014
    • I agree Leanne, focus rails can be really useful especially as you get really close and focusing it a slice of a mm.

      October 24, 2014
  6. Really great post on this subject Ben and Leanne.

    October 24, 2014
    • Thanks Robyn, a lot of people talk about macro lenses but not extension tubes and there is a slightly different approach to extension tubes.

      October 24, 2014
      • You are so right Ben. I enjoy my extension tube… well really what I can see and find with it 🙂 Great post!

        October 24, 2014
  7. Until now, I did not even know what an extension tube is. Thank you. I need to shop for them now!

    October 24, 2014
    • Hi Singh, I use Polaroid Extension tubes and they are great,the other brand I would recommend is Kenko. Remember although there are cheap versions you get what you pay for.

      October 24, 2014
      • Oh yeah, can I add to look for the ones that have the auto focus, there are different polaroid ones.

        October 24, 2014
      • Yeah, make sure they have the connectors so the lens and camera can talk to eachother.

        October 24, 2014
      • Thank you sir. Will start looking. eBay should be a good bet.

        October 25, 2014
  8. Informative article – Another soft light hack is to take a gallon milk jug, cut the bottom out and enlarge the pouring hole to fit you lens – as long as the flash is going thought the plastic jug – you have a small, portable soft box for macro work

    October 24, 2014
    • Hi Robert, that is a cool photo hack, it would create something like a whale tail. Thanks for the contribution.

      October 24, 2014
  9. Another informative article. Since I never seem to be able to save enough for a macro lens, I had been contemplating working towards extension tubes so this is all really great information. Thank you.

    October 24, 2014
    • Hi Papict, that is the exact reason I bought my first tubes, the macro lens was out of my budget but tubes weren’t. I use Polaroid tubes and I am really happy with them but another brand I can recommend is Kenko.

      October 24, 2014
  10. As usually very intersting article, thanks for teaching us!

    October 24, 2014
    • hi, I am sure the same is for Leanna but I am glad to teach, it is my day job as well, as I love to see people being creative with photography.

      October 24, 2014
  11. Although I now have a set for my Fuji, I have always used improvised extension tubes on my Nikon. For Nikon, I bought two cheap 2x teleconverters and simply took the glass out.

    October 24, 2014
    • P.S. The images in this post are just great.

      October 24, 2014
      • Hi, I have never heard of using converters without glass ( and just googled it) but I am not sure if you can get the same level of magnification. I would have to experiment to see.
        Thanks for the headsup. I am also glad you like the shots.

        October 24, 2014
  12. Question: what is the difference between an extension tube and a doubler? Chris

    October 24, 2014
    • Hi, a teleconverter changes the focal ratio a lens turning a 100mm lens into a 200mm or an 800mm to a 1600mm. Extension tubes increases the magnification ratio of a lens. Of course a teleconverter will let you get closer to a subject narrowing the field of view where as extension tubes increase the magnification of the lens.
      I hope that helps, if you have more questions let me know.

      October 24, 2014
  13. Wonderful images … and so nice to learn about extension tubes. Thank you!

    October 24, 2014
    • My pleasure Julie I hope you took something from the post.

      October 24, 2014
  14. A whole new world awaits us up, up close.. I love shooting macro. Thanks Leanne, for sharing Ben’s photos and tips!

    October 24, 2014
    • Hi, macro really does open a new world, since I got my tubes I have had to learn a lot about insects and flowers. I had previously thought there was one type of fly but there is a huge variety all with different habits.

      October 24, 2014
  15. Good advice on turning off the auto focus, I find myself swaying a lot too… I will try this at the next wedding on those detail shots! I was just thinking… we must look pretty silly dancing around our subjects to try and get that perfect shot with tubes/macro lenses!

    October 24, 2014
    • Hi kelly marie, I am sure that we look a little silly when taking pictures: my wife sometimes has to walk away from me as I lie on the ground in the middle of a path to photograph some mating insects.
      I usually turn off auto focus when I need to get close up, with extension tubes if you try to auto focus the lens will zoom in and out forever because it can’t focus on anything.

      October 24, 2014
  16. a magical macro world!! Wonderful Leanne!

    October 24, 2014
    • The Macro world is really magical, and it is great that Leanne let me guest post about extension tubes.

      October 24, 2014
  17. Great work, as always, Leanne! Bravo!!! Have a great weekend! 🙂

    October 24, 2014
    • Don’t thank me Fabio, Ben did all the work on this one.

      October 24, 2014
      • Ben and you did a GREAT job! Take care, Leanne! 🙂

        October 24, 2014
      • YOu take care too.

        October 24, 2014
    • Thanks Fabio, glad you enjoyed the post.

      October 24, 2014
  18. Beautiful images! I love macro photography also – creating abstract images is my favorite. This is great information regarding extension tubes as I wondered exactly how.

    October 24, 2014
    • Hi, glad you found it interesting. I really like making abstract macro images, I usually do this by manipulating the scene with a shallow depth of field.

      October 24, 2014
  19. Great post on an absorbing , addictive activity. I use extension tubes on my canon and Micro 4/3 olympus.I have a ring flash , but rarely use it , instead I use radio slaves on a strobe at about 1/64 power and diffuser

    October 24, 2014
    • Hi Rob, using slave flash is another way to light a scene and this is great advice, I have done this before with some firebugs, as they were hiding in a dark crevice, of a tree and had to place the flash above. Thanks for commenting.

      October 24, 2014
  20. Reblogged this on Aperture64 and commented:
    I was asked by Leanne Cole to write a Guest Post for her blog about Extension tubes. For those that don’t follow Leanne I have reblogged the post here for you to enjoy. Please remember to visit her blog and like comment and share.

    October 24, 2014
    • Thanks Ben.

      October 24, 2014
    • Thank you, Ben, this was very helpful as I’m a struggling extension tube user myself and I was much in need of good advice!

      October 24, 2014
      • Thanks Mara, I am glad the advice is useful for you.

        October 24, 2014
  21. Great post and photos

    October 24, 2014
  22. Amy #

    Thank you so much, Ben! This is very helpful. A friend of mine told me to get Kenko 2X Teleplus, is this an extension tube?

    October 25, 2014
  23. Ah, so you have a Flextronics product designed by Lady Gaga. Rock on. 🙂

    October 25, 2014
  24. I think one of the fascinating things about macro photography is that it allows us to see things we can’t see with our own eyes. (Loved that ladybug!)

    October 25, 2014
  25. Becky Field, Artist #

    Tomorrow I am out and about with my camera! Inspired! X

    October 26, 2014
    • Fantastic Becky, it is one of the best things, to go out with your camera. Thanks

      October 26, 2014
  26. poppytump #

    Great share of knowledge and expertise with lenses I knew very little about ! Love how you can take sharp images and also be creative with a soft focus too .

    October 27, 2014
  27. Yes, I’ve recently been playing around with some extension tubes. Mine are Kenko and they seem pretty good and have electronic connections. Still getting the hang of using them and having to rely on manual focus. The Pringles tube is a great tip – I shall definitely try that out.

    November 1, 2014
    • Ben has some great ideas, I have the Kenko ones too now and have been using them a lot lately, especially with the macro lens. I think it is like anything new, they always take time to adjust to and get used to. Thanks Stevie.

      November 1, 2014

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