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How To Take *Good* Macro Photos On A Budget


Californian in DC
I've posted about this before, but never with photos and in such detail. I hope it helps somebody out there.

I figure I'll share my technique with the world here.

What you'll need:
1 Digital Camera (compact or DSLR)
1 50mm fixed focal length lens
-It's best to use a lens made for an old film camera. They have wide apertures, are comparably small, and can be found for very cheap.
1 Small Sundew to practice on :)
1 Adapter Ring (If using a DSLR)

We'll start out with the compact digital camera since it's the easiest and cheapest.

The compact digital camera featured is a KODAK MD853 Easy Share camera. Rest assured, there is no smoke and mirrors here. This camera cannot take anything close to a macro photo by itself. The black thing to the right is a 50mm lens from an old nikon EM.


Here is the holding "technique." Just do whatever comes naturally. It doesn't matter if you hold the lens reversed or not. You can also use a magnifying glass in place of the lens.


And that's all there is to it! Here are some of the results I've gotten. A lot of seasoned photographers couldn't believe I got these on a compact.
D. muscipula typical

D. graminifolia

Fly on S. oreophila

Fun stuff, right?

Alright, for the people out there with DSLRs: this part is for you.

First, you need to figure out the barrel diameter of your camera's lens and the barrel diameter of the 50mm lens you're reversing.
My 40-150mm lens on my Olympus E-510 has a barrel diameter of 58mm. My 50mm lens has a diamter of 52mm. So i got a 52-58mm ring. You can find these on ebay for pretty cheap.

Here's the order these go in.

So then you just screw in matching diameters.....

Now it's ready to shoot. Focus will be VERY close. Your plane of focus will be extremely thin at large apertures. When shooting at smaller apertures for more depth of field, a tripod is often helpful.
To adjust the magnification, change the focal length on your zoom lens.

You will probably notice moderate to severe vignetting depending on the zoom lens you use and the focal length you're using. You will always need to crop your photos. I won't claim that this isn't limiting, but you can still get some incredible shots. Here are some results.

D. admirabilis

D. multifida "Extrema"

D. echinoblastus

I hope you found this informative. Now go out and take some photos!

Those are cool pics! Maybe someday...
I want to try that with my Kodak. Awsome pics! I like the multifida "Extrema". Thankyou for sharing. :)
About how much are those excessories?
Wow, thanks DrWurm. I've always wondered how you get such amazing macros. Now I gotta find a magnifying glass...
About how much are those excessories?

The adapter rings can be found on ebay for 4 dollars with free shipping.

My 50mm lens came from an old box in the garage. Check your local craigslistings and garage sales for one. If that fails, pawn shops often have old dusty camera equipment they'd like to get off their hands. Ebay has decent 50mm lenses for around 50 bucks.

I will caution you to stay away from canon FD lenses. They're good lenses for the cameras, however, when not attached to a camera body, the aperture diaphragm closes halfway, and cannot be manually adjusted. This would cause severe vignetting with any use.

Holy crap!! Those are awsome man! the last two shots and that amazing final camera assembly.....that was just wicked. DAMN!!!!!!
Holy crap!! Those are awsome man! the last two shots and that amazing final camera assembly.....that was just wicked. DAMN!!!!!!

Haha, thanks a lot!

I use that technique as well, I've found tape works just as well as the adapter ring :D.

<img src="http://api.photoshop.com/home_b1f14c9a330743eaa84fea7d5563b312/adobe-px-assets/1ff76b40a521468cbf6104e1f8cad97e" width="640" height="812"/>
  • #10
Wow, thanks DrWurm. I've always wondered how you get such amazing macros. Now I gotta find a magnifying glass...

Where does one get a decent magnifying glass? I have the cheap (2x) ones.
  • #11
Where does one get a decent magnifying glass? I have the cheap (2x) ones.

Not sure about that. Everything I've ever used I just found in old boxes of crap in the garage.

  • #12
Reversing the lens is an old trick for macro photography when using bellows. The main reason was because the front element is often recessed and with macro photography the working distance from the front element to the subject is often only a few millimeters.

A shorter lens should give you more magnification. Try a 35mm or shorter lens.

Words of caution:

Put a "skylight" or UV filter on your camera lens to protect it from being damaged by the other lens.

Lens to subject distance can be very short. Be careful not to damage the lens or subject.

The additional weight on your camera lens can damage and wear the focus threads and motors.

As for me, I use a dedicated macro lens or macro bellows with my old film camera. Bellows can be used with digital cameras with interchangeable lenses with proper adapter but you will have to focus, set exposure and aperture manually. Bellows will allow you use a variety of lenses including enlarger lenses. Enlarger lenses like true macro lenses are corrected to have a flat field of focus so there will be very little pincushion or barrel distortion - very important if you are photographing flat subjects such as stamps.

Here is a list of some of the lenses and optical magnification I can get with my bellows:

100mm macro bellows lens - 1.2x
50mm - 3.1x
35mm macro - 5x
28mm - 7.8x
25mm enlarger lens - 10x

Magnification is defined as to how large the image appears on the full 35mm frame. Thus at 1x an object 35mm wide would fill the entire 35mm frame of film. At 10x a 3.5mm object would fill the full 35mm frame.

For those who have never seen macro bellows here is my latest acquisition, the Minolta Auto Bellows III with auto bellows 100mm macro lens and X-700 body. The AB-III was one of the ultimate in bellows development having swing and shift capabilities so that you can get greater depth of field and perspective correction:

Straight up:

Swing mode:

Shift mode:

Here is my older Auto Bellows I with focusing rails (no shift, swing, fixed rear mount) with the same camera body, macro ring flash and 50mm "normal" lens. I picked up the bellows and rails with a 35mm macro lens off eBay for about 80 bucks, 20 bucks for the lens and the flash for about $100 (much sought after - allows through the lens metering with this camera, flash tubes can be turned off (4) to create shadowing). I only bought this lens so I could use the slide copier attachment. If I bought this stuff new mid 80s-mid 90s it would have been around $700. Focusing rails are critical with macro work because the depth of field can be only a few milimeters.


Here is a photo I took of a Pinguicula cyclosecta using a 28mm lens with a reverse mount. Leaf was maybe 1-1.5 centimeters across. You can see how shallow the depth of field can be.:

(nearly) Full frame (~7.8x):

Crop of same frame:

Here's the same plant a couple days earlier using the 100mm macro lens (~1x magnification). Plant is in a 52mm pot (2.25 inch), edges of the pot are slightly outside the frame:
  • #13
Sweet setup Warren! I really need to get some focusing rails and a decent tripod so I can do some digital focus stacking. They're so damned expensive though!

I picked up an old macro zoom lens in a pawn shop a while back for my Canon AE-1 Program. I was lucky enough that it fit the set of closeup lenses I have. I haven't used it much lately, but here's one from when I visited the huntington a while back.
<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/drwurm/3251565694/" title="Huntington Botanical Gardens: Bee on Flower by DrWurm, on Flickr"><img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3500/3251565694_acd2599ac2.jpg" width="500" height="395" alt="Huntington Botanical Gardens: Bee on Flower" /></a>

  • #14
LOL! I think it's easier to have one of you visit me, at regular intervals, and take some pictures!
  • #15
Nice photographs everyone. Wow.
  • #16
great stuff guys.....though its a tad cheaper if yah live somewhere bigger than me and have alot more places to cruise for the parts to put this kinda stuff together....ill be buying a dedicated macro lens this year rather than playing the ebay gamble and all that.....

another thing on the focusing on stuff so close to the lens light gets interesting which is why they use ring lights.......if your going to be doing some of these without a ring light i would highly recommend in investing in a couple LED book lights with the positionable lights......IIRC i bought one for $7......buy 2 of them so yah can place one on either side...
  • #17
NaN, lets see more pics from your cool setup!

Below: extension tubes +100mm +reversed 50mm +photostacking
  • #18
wow! That is truly amazing! You can see the hairs so clearly!