Harlo fellow macro enthusiasts! Looks like the rainy season is here; I hope you get to photograph a lot of awesome creatures this time around! Today I would like to address some simple techniques worth knowing if you are planning to take your macro photographs using manual (non-electronic) Extension Tubes (ET) or Reverse Rings (RR). IF you are using auto Extension Tubes, then this article is not relevant to you.
Most beginners tend to buy cheap manual macro accessories (~RM30) like these to hone their skills before really moving on to the big guns. However, unlike most would have expect, these accessories don’t always work straightforwardly when paired to your DSLR or lenses, regardless of the brand.
To be honest I have never really thought of writing this article until I have got some beginners asking for help quite recently. I have always thought that there were plenty of similar guides around, but to my surprise there weren’t a lot; and some solutions found on the web are simply ridiculous!
Inquirers using manual accessories usually have problems getting the lens (be it kitlens, prime lens or even macro lenses) to employ the appropriate aperture values when Extension Tubes (ET) or Reverse Rings (RR) were used. In short, when a manual ET or RR is used, the electronic connectivity or communication between the lens and the DSLR body becomes cut off, and the DSLR body decides to “act smart” and (i) automatically block changes of aperture value; (ii) close the aperture to its minimum; OR (iii) disallow photo snapping entirely.
Unfortunately, at the time of writing I am only familiar with Nikon and Canon systems, so I will just focus on these two (I don’t mind testing on new systems provided there are “tributes” hehe XD).
*You should not have any problems using manual ET or RR if you are using manual lenses with aperture rings e.g. Nikkor 50mm F1.8d.
For Nikon DSLRs, whenever manual Extension Tubes (ET) or Reverse Rings (RR) are used, the DSLR body can no longer detect the lens and will automatically indicate the aperture value as “F0” (or F– in older models).
If you are using lenses without manual aperture control (most newer Nikkor lenses do not have these anymore), you will not be able to manually adjust the aperture size; and since Nikkor lenses will close the aperture down to its minimum (e.g. F22) when not connected to the DSLR body, the very small aperture means very little light can pass through the lens, so users will notice that everything looks very dark via the optical viewfinder, even on a very sunny day! Since you can barely see a thing through the viewfinder in addition to not being able change the aperture size, you cannot shoot any macro.
This issue lies with a rectangular, metallic lever behind the lens which controls the aperture blades (see photo below): You need to use something to hold it in place i.e. plasticine, tape, paper clips etc. so that it does not close the aperture as usual.
**Note: Please take note that if you are not careful, you might end up damaging the Autofocus capabilities of your lens! I usually set the AF on both the DSLR and lens to Manual whenever I use manual ET or RR.
By using an apparatus to move the metal lever and keep it in place, you can observe and adjust the size of the aperture opening. Still, you should avoid opening the aperture to its largest i.e. lower F value (F1.8 for 50mm F1.8, F3.5 for 18-55mm F3.6-F5.6 kitlens etc.). This is because the very wide apertures will translate to ridiculously shallow Depth of Field when shooting Macro, where you will have a very hard time keeping subjects in focus. For more info about Aperture, Magnification and Depth of Field, please read here: Overcoming Shallow Depth of Field in Macro Photography.
The usual aperture values for Macro shots are F11-F16. Of course, by setting the metal lever, you will not be able to guess the exact aperture value, so its basically just a guestimate.
**Note: Using more layers of Extension Tubes (ET) will cut the amount of light going into the DSLR, so the optical viewfinder may still look dark even when you have open up the len’s aperture blades using the technique above. Reverse Rings, on the other hand, do not suffer from this issue.
*I do not own a Canon system (Sorry guys, no photos huhu) but I was fortunate enough to briefly play around with one.
Using manual Extension Tubes (ET) and Reverse Rings (RR) on Canon DSLRs is relatively straightforward. Unlike Nikon counterparts, Canon lenses do not have aperture levers so you do not get any “F0 or F–” values when these macro accessories are connected. The only issue is that you cannot change aperture settings since most common Canon lenses do not have manual aperture controls. However, as far as I know, Canon lenses tend to return to their widest apertures when unattached, so if you are pairing a EF 50mm F1.8 II via manual ET or RR, you will get an aperture of F1.8 which will generate a Depth of Field (DOF) too thin for proper macro shots. For more info on DOF, again please refer to this article: Overcoming Shallow Depth of Field in Macro Photography.
This can be solved by using the DoF Preview button on your DSLR. All you need to do is attach your 50mm prime lens (or any other Canon lens) normally (i.e. without ET or RR) onto your Canon DSLR and then set the aperture to the value desired (usually F16 for macro shots). Holding the DoF Preview button on your DSLR body, remove the lens and then install the ER or RR and you will be able to shoot at the aperture value set (e.g. F16).
Alright, I guess that’s all for now, will update if I have any more info, especially those pertaining to different camera systems. Although cheaper and of lower quality, manual Extension Tubes share the fundamental functions as more expensive counterparts, which means that you can take equally good macro photos if you know what you are doing XD Various techniques for Manual shooting can be found in the following two articles: Macro Photography- Auto Focus or Manual Focus? and Taking Better Macro Shots Part 5- Sharpness.
Okay, before I end, I would like to emphasize that although these plastic macro accessories can be very affordable, there are risks to using them, especially so for Nikon systems. If you are really into Macro Photography, it would be a better idea to opt for sturdier Extension Tubes with electric connectivity (i.e. Meike@~RM350 or Kenko@~RM500). These higher quality Extension Tubes can support heavier lens (e.g. macro 90mm, 100mm, 105mm F2.8 etc. or any other lens), and more importantly enable autofocusing for faster and more accurate captures (particularly good for fast-moving subjects)! Definitely worth the money you pay for.
That’s all for today I guess hehe, with these simple accessories, you are on your way to become a Macro Photographer. One of the best ways to take great macro shots is to use a proper flash and diffuser, which will not only make your subjects pop up more, but also “freeze” moments (for uncooperative, moving subjects).
PS: Took one shot of a ladybug using the setup above (Nikon D90) but with a standard Nikkor 18-105mm F3.5-5.6 kitlens instead:
** All photos in this website are taken and owned by me. The use of any photos here is not allowed without my permission.