Thursday, April 26, 2012

Using Macro Extension Tube for Nikon

Yes, I am still using my manual macro tube, and this is my second blog post about it. I had no plans of writing another but due to a recent "discovery", I am beginning to really love macro photography. Before I go any further, let me remind you that I am a Nikon user, but of course Canon users will get the idea all the same.
So, that is this discovery I am talking about? In my first post, I mentioned about how inconvenient it is to use a manual macro tube on lenses without aperture ring. I own a 18-55mm G lens, and as a first time macro tube user, I was disappointed due to the loss of light you can barely see your subject. This is because G lenses are always in their narrowest aperture (smallest opening) by default. Focusing was impossible so all your shots are hit and miss. Until I discovered that it is possible to manually open my lens aperture ring. By sticking a small folded piece of paper on the aperture slider (I'm not really sure about the name) to block the aperture from closing, I managed to open it wide. Voila! Let there be light! I can now clearly see my subject through the  lens.

Piece of paper blocking the aperture slider

My DIY Built-in Flash Diffuser for Macro Shots.
Just a simple plastic plate with a hole at the center.
You can use Styrofoam plate but there will be less light.
For plastic plate, I set my flash to 1/2 power, with styro, set it to full power.

So that's it, my easy workaround for using the macro extension tube. Just remember though to move your subject closer at about 2-3 inches when on 50mm focal length, and even closer for lower focal lengths, but it will just produce bad results since only minimal parts of your subject will be in focus. It is recommended you just stick with 50mm and up.

Note: Some people are still asking about "No Lens attached" especially with beginners. When using Macro Extension Tubes (manual type), everything is manually set, including your flash. Set your camera to manual mode, turn on your flash set to manual at around 1/2 power, attach your DIY diffuser (above photo), then go and fire it off on your subject, remember to get close in order to get a good focus.

It is slightly difficult to focus on your subject when you use all 3 macro tubes. Sometimes you get shots with out of focus areas while some areas are tack sharp. So what I did was I removed the 14mm tube and just used the 28mm and 7mm tubes. This will give me less magnification but at least out-of-focus areas are minimized in my photos.
- For moving subjects, like spiders, I usually set my shutter speed to 1/200, which is the fastest I can get with flash turned on.
- I always set my ISO to 100 for sharp images, during my macro shots at night, I set it to 200-400.

Here are sample shots, well, they're not the best, but they'll get better in time given a better subject. hehe..

Small butterfly (approx. 1 inch in size). No cropping made.
Used all 3 tubes (49mm), notice some out of focus areas on eyes and legs.
It is actually laying its eggs when I took the shot. No cropping made.

Some kind of spider. Used a plastic plate wrapped around my lens as a diffuser, as with all my macro shots.

A cute larva. Only used 2 tubes (28mm and 7mm). Out-of-focus areas are less visible.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Testing Macro Extension Tube for Nikon

To view a more recent post about macro extension tube, go to Using Macro Extension Tube for Nikon.

First of all, this is not a tutorial on how to use a macro extension tube. I just learned that using an extension tube is not at all that easy, so I thought of posting here my "experience" on how I finally came up with a good macro shot using the tube. By the way, I used a generic, non-AF Macro extension tube, the one with no optical components and/or contacts, as seen in this photo:
For this setup, I used:

  • Nikon D3100 
  • Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR (kitlens)
  • Macro Extension Tube 7mm, 14mm, 28mm - I used all tubes, so total of 49mm

The first thing I did was to attach the tube into my camera body, then connect the lens to the tube. This was fairly easy since the tube has a red dot on each side as mark for alignment. Now, I turned on the camera and as expected, "No Lens Attached" flashed on the screen, which is normal since you have to go full manual when using the tube. Full manual means manual exposure, manual focusing, and manual flash, and so I changed my settings accordingly. Now I tried to take a shot, but heck, it was all dark! I popped my built-in flash and took a shot at something only to find out that I have a blurry, out of focus photo. For about 1 hour, I was desperately finding a way to get that clear shot of my subject. Until finally, on the verge of giving up and throwing the damn metal thing, I got the shot I was hoping for. Yay!

Below is a shot taken without the tube. The minimum distance I could take between my subject and the tip of my lens was 5.5 inches. Focal length at 55mm.
Shot at 55mm within minimum subject distance (about 5.5in.), no cropping made
Now, here is the shot using all 3 extension tube sets (49mm). With the tube in place (the extension tube is about 3inches long), the tip of my lens is now closer to the subject at about 2inches (without the tube, my kitlens and all other non-macro lenses couldn't get close to a subject distance like this).

Shot at 55mm with 49mm tube set, no cropping made

Now, how did I got this macro shot?

  1. I used my built-in flash. I don't have a flash gun unit but it could have been better with it. When shooting macro using the built-on flash, the lens could shadow your subject due to the close proximity between each other.
  2. I set my focal length to the longest. Setting your focal length below 50mm will make it too difficult to have the right focus on your subject. In this case, I set my focal length to 55mm, the longest in my good old kitlens.
  3. I switched  my lens to manual focus and turned the focus ring to the farthest. I am not really sure about this but by turning the focus ring of my lens on a full counter-clockwise, I got a sharp focus.
I didn't have enough time to test more but this was how I did it. I only had 1 lens to test, but I am pretty sure other lenses including the longer zoom lens like 18-105mm will make a good macro shot.

Here is another subject:
Without Macro Tube
Shot at 55mm, no cropping made

With 49mm Macro Tube
Shot at 55mm, no cropping made
At the last photo above, notice the contrast of light with the upper portion brighter and the lower dimmer. This is the effect of using the built-in flash in macro photography. The lens barrel will create a shadow on the subject because of the close proximity between the two. Better use a flash gun unit or a macro led ring flash.

Important Note:
When you use a macro extension tube, it is either you will be shooting macro or nothing. The idea of using an extension tube to serve the purpose of making far objects nearer is absurd. A friend once asked me if he could  use an extension tube so he could shoot a distant bird. I just giggled.

Buy macro extension tube at my eBay store.

EDIT (April 17):

I have been asked about the added magnification of this macro extension tube. Got myself on a little research and here is what I found.

To get the magnification ratio of an extension tube, just divide the total focal length of the extension tube you will be using by the lens focal length.

Hence, in my setup:

Extension Tube Magnification = 49mm/55mm = .89x

The 18-55mm kitlens has a maximum reproduction ratio of 0.31x at the longest focal length of 55mm. Just add that ratio to the extension tube magnification and you will get a total of 1.2x magnification (lens + tube).
By just using a cheap hollow bare metal, I got a high 1.2x magnification from a lens with just .31x magnification. Gotta love my tube!

Another thing:

I got puzzled and quite worried when I tried to detach the tube from my lens. It just won't! No matter how I twist it, I can't get it to move. Thank God for Google, I got to know how to unlock it. Well, we can be stupid sometimes.. ;)

Just slide that button towards your camera body and twist your lens. Done.
I knew that little thing was there for a purpose!

EDIT (April 20):

With the tube in place, I just found out that it is easier to focus when you are using a lens with an aperture ring. Nikon's G lenses for example, do not have an aperture ring, hence, the ring is always at its narrowest aperture by default which makes it so dark and impossible for you to focus. With a mechanical aperture ring on your lens, you can manually open it wide enough for you have a good peep at your subject, although still you will lose some stops of light.

Another thing I learned, the more focal length you use on your lens, the less magnification you will have.  Sounds weird right? Let Rick Bell explain it for you.

To view a more recent post about macro extension tube, go to Using Macro Extension Tube for Nikon.





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