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Adventures in Lens Stacking

Cross-posted from my main picture threadhttp://www.terraforums.com/forums/showthread.php?t=129443.

So I bought a Canon nifty fifty (Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II) and decided why not get a 58mm - 52mm reversing ring as well to try out some extreme macro photography. Man, am I impressed. The nifty fifty is a legendary lens because it has incredible glass for extremely cheap, so I figured pairing it with my 100mm f/2.8 macro would still give me incredible quality, and it did. The magnification is crazy. Then I decided to ALSO throw on 35mm of cheapy extension tubes to pump up the magnification even more. Below are some of the results, as well as some pictures with just the 100mm macro.

The following shots are of a plant I got labeled as U. welwitschii, but after a little talking with Ron, I'm pretty sure it's U. warburgii.

Also, all of these are uncropped. I failed to save them properly in Photoshop, so the backgrounds on most aren't pure black. But I kinda like it anyway, lol.

Canon 50mm f/1.8 at closest focusing distance:

Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro at closest focusing distance (1x magnification):

Canon 100mm f/2.8 and Canon 50mm f/1.8 stacked on the end at closest focusing distance (2x magnification):

Canon 100mm f/2.8 and Canon 50mm f/1.8 stacked on the end WITH 35mm of extension tubes (2.4x magnification):

The following set of examples is of D. spatulata x capensis.

Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro at closest focusing distance (1x magnification):

Canon 100mm f/2.8 and Canon 50mm f/1.8 stacked on the end at closest focusing distance (2x magnification):

Canon 100mm f/2.8 and Canon 50mm f/1.8 stacked on the end WITH 35mm of extension tubes (2.4x magnification):

The following are of a small leaf on P. 'Titan'.

Canon 100mm f/2.8 and Canon 50mm f/1.8 stacked on the end at closest focusing distance (2x magnification):

Canon 100mm f/2.8 and Canon 50mm f/1.8 stacked on the end WITH 35mm of extension tubes (2.4x magnification):

And that's enough of the comparisons. My verdict on the nifty fifty: It's an absolutely fantastic lens on its own, extremely good bang for your buck; but pair it with a macro and it becomes something incredible. So, so, so happy with that purchase. I literally could not be happier.

Here are a couple more shots.

D. dichrosepala subsp. enodes "Scott's River" at 2.4x:

D. adelae flower at 2.4x:

EDIT: I forgot to add, anybody that's also experimented with lens stacking, please do share your picture with us. I think this is a fantastic way to get ridiculously close up shots.
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Wow. That is nothing short of amazing. What detail.
Absolutely amazing. :0o: Just.. wow. fantastic photos. The last one would make a great print!
Incredible! Do you have any shots of your whole rig set up? It must be a beast!
Thanks, y'all.

@Natalie: Why yes, yes I do. I took one and forgot to post it, lol. Here's the setup:


And here was a pretty awful shot I got of how close the subject needs to be to the final element in the reversed lens:


With this setup, I am extremely careful when I move things around. That's an awful lot of weight awfully far out from the body mount point. O_O

EDIT: Oh, and I also had to lock the mirror and turn my music off for the extreme macros. The sound caused enough movement in the plant to blur the final picture. LOL.

Very tempted to do something like that for my camera. I'm sick of regular old 1x magnification! LOL.
Holy cow that's a whole lotta lens!
For $100, the 50mm f/1.8 is incredible. It's a lot of fun to shoot with because it "sees" stuff the same size the naked eye sees it. And for another $6 (in my case anyway), a reversing ring makes the nifty fifty super versatile. Like I said, I couldn't be happier. Probably the best $106 I've spent on photography to date.
very nice pics
  • #10
Thanks, Mickey.

Decided to try stacking the 50mm on the end of the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS that comes as the kit lens with the Canon Rebel series. This is definitely more budget friendly but still gives some pretty impressive results.

To break down the cost:
Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS = $112
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II = $109
58mm - 52mm reversing ring = $7
Cheap set of extension tubes = $12
Total: $240

So, for $240 you get two fantastic lenses, one of them pretty legendary and the other a very nice entry zoom lens; you get a reversing ring to stack the two for macro photography; and you get extension tubes to pump your magnification up even higher. That is a WHOLE lot of bang for your buck if you ask me. But enough rambling, here are a couple quick and dirty examples.

50mm stacked at the end of a 18mm-55mm:

I think the vignette-ish artifact is because I set the zoom wrong, but don't take my word for that. The next one doesn't show anything of the sort. Like I said, these shots were quick and dirty, lol.

50mm stacked at the end of a 18mm-55mm with 35mm of tubes:

As you can see, not too shabby for $240.

EDIT: I don't feel like doing the math to get the magnification level right now, but it looks like >1x to me. This is a fantastic site to use to calculate magnification in macro photography.
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  • #11
Maginfication is roughly the ratio of the two lenses focal lengths. A reversed 50mm on a 100mm lens is roughly 2:1 (2x). 25mm on the 100mm is 4:1. 50mm on a 200mm lens would also be 4:1.

Reverse rings for close-up work are as old as interchangeable lenses themselves. I have a circa mid 1960's adapter for my Minolta film cameras. The current wrinkle is to mount them on the front of your lens using the filter threads.

You can always pick up manual focus fixed length lenses for relatively cheap. Orphan mounts like Canon FD, Minolta MD, Konica a few others have a lower resale value (unless it is a "cult" lens) since the adapters for them to be used on current DSLRs requires an optical element for infinity focus. This degrades image quality. In some cases you can get glassless adapters but then the lenses can only be used as a close-focus/macro. With the advent of mirrorless interchange-able lens camera bodies (4/3 and micro 4/3) these mounts have found new life and prices are going up accordingly. You might try buying problem lenses (sticky, oily aperture blades, etc.). As long as the optics are fine (no fungus, clouded lenses) or the filter ring damaged these should be perfectly usable.

A caution or two with using the reverse rings. Many of the modern lenses are using plastic for the mounts and lens bodies. The additional weight on the end of the lens might damage the plastic mount or helicoid of the lens. Manual focus lenses pre-early 80s are use metal entirely for the bodies. The rear-elements of your lens (optics, mechanical or electrical linkages) will also be exposed and vulnerable to damage. You might consider buying a cheap 3rd party end cap and cutting out the center.

There are always close-up lenses. These are relatively in-expensive. They attach to the front of you lens like any screw-on filter. While they do degrade image quality you can still get stunning images with them. Multiple element close-up lenses with much better image quality exists but they are rare and expensive.
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  • #12
Wow Great shots.

I have a reversing ring I bought years ago and was going to try that technique and never have. I may have to see if it will fit my lens. I just use a nice set of extension tubes.

My new camera and extension tubes:
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  • #13
Does using extension tubes without another reversed lens actually increase the amount of detail a lens can resolve within a given area? Or does it just blow up the image on the sensor but not actually make it so you can see any more detail than you could without the extension tubes?

I would like to try shooting at higher magnification, but until I can afford the MP-E 65mm I'm going to have to make due with my 100mm lens. I was thinking instead of getting the 50mm and reversing it (simply because the "nifty fifty" tends to have a lot of chromatic aberration on the edges), couldn't I use much longer extension tubes and get good results? That is, if I somehow managed to get 100mm of extension tubes on my 100mm macro lens, would I get 2:1 magnification without degradation in optical quality (aside from the slight defects in the macro lens's glass itself)?
  • #14
there are a ton of old great nikon f lens around cheap high quality lens in every size
  • #15
Mickey has spoken of bellows before. Like extension tubes they'll give many lenses close-up/macro capabilities. Unlike extension tubes you can adjust the length of extension without having to disconnect anything. You cheap ones new for around $40-60 US. A set with electronics for aperture and focusing control will run you around $600 US. You find a used set. Prices vary wildly depending on the condition of the bellows and make an model. Buy a model that has a lens mount that you can find glassless adapters for you DSLR. If you have a Nikon or Pentax DSLR existing bayonet mounts can be used without an adapter.

Here is a Minolta Auto-bellows III on my Pentax DSLR using a glassless Minolta MD to Pentax PK adapter. This bellows goes for around $150 used because it has many unique features. The useful is being able to reverse a lens without using an adapter - well actually I had to use a 49mm to 55mm step up ring due to changes in filter ring size but these are cheap and easily found.

AB-III with Minolta 28mm f/2.8 lens mounted

With lens in reverse position

Bellows with a Spiratone Macrotar 35mm f/3.5 lens. I picked this up for about $20 US. It is threaded with a T-mount thread so it can be used in a T2-mount adapter for just about any lens mount

25mm Ultima f/3.5 enlarging lens. Again I paid ~$20 for this. Enlarging and macro lenses are flat-field so you don't get as much corner or edge curvature distortion that you'll get with regular lenses. Many enlarging lenses use the Leica 39mm thread so I used a generic Minolta MD to M42 (Pentax screwmount) with a M42-M39 adapter. $12 for the adapters. I've since picked up a genuine Minolta to Leica adapter for $12 but I'm not using it here

Here are some magnification tests at full extension. Target is a 1mm grid. Sensor size on the Pentax K10D is listed as 23.5 × 15.7mm:

35mm 23.5 / ~4.3mm = ~4.5x

28mm (reversed) 23.5mm / ~4mm = ~5.9x

25mm 23.5 / ~2.5mm = ~9.4x (slightly out of focus)

I could always add add extension tubes for even more magnification :0o: However I'm looking into eyepiece projection using telescope eyepieces - the method used for astrophotography. The advantage of this along with getting magnification >4x you can get much more working distance between the subject and lens.
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  • #17
Awesome post, thanks NaN. The 23mm lens reversed in particular produces excellent results. I wonder if I could get something similar by using my 20mm reversed mounted on a bellows. Would I get greater magnification with the 20mm reversed on the bellows or with the 100mm macro on the bellows? Trying to figure out how all this works has me scratching my head. I am a bit worried about the degradation of image quality at that sort of magnification though...

Here's a 100% crop of an image I took with my 100mm macro, and I think the slight haziness is the result of minor imperfections in the glass? I feel like I would need something with better quality glass than the 100mm macro, but I don't know what that would be since this lens is supposed to have some of the best glass Canon makes.

(image probably got resized when I posted it)
  • #18
wow great picture
  • #19
Some quick tests I did with my Minolta 50mm f/3.5 macro lens

With 1:1 adapter (the lens mount adapter adds ~9mm extension factor)
23.5 / ~19.4mm = ~1.2x

Lens without 1:1 adapter on bellows full extension. Light falloff is actually the shadow of the lens. Too lazy to move the light or adjust the leveling of the camera.

23.5 / ~6.6mm = ~3.6x

Haze can be caused by lens flare, lens needing cleaning, reflections within the lens and camera body etc. You could always tweak the contrast.
  • #20
Excellent posts, NaN, thanks for your insight. I've not heard of eyepiece projection, I'll have to look into that a bit. Sounds interesting. The teeny tiny working distance you get with a reversed lens is kind of irritating. Gotta be super careful not t get dew all over the lens, lol.

@Natalie: The cheap set of tubes I use includes a 7mm piece, a 14mm piece, and a 28mm piece. The 14mm piece stays in my bag and the 7mm and 28mm pieces stay assembled with the lens and body mount pieces. When I use the full set, I can definitely pick up some degradation, so I always just use the 35mm. I would imagine if you bought multiple sets and got 100mm of extension, you'd notice pretty severe degradation, but I don't know. Oh, and that's also using the Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro, so it's with the same lens you've got.