Let’s face it, it wasn’t easy to obtain good information when it comes to equipment related to Macro Photography, simply because the gears are expensive and diverse- no one simply has the time and money to test them all, let alone write detailed reviews about them. In this article I will write about how I feel about my Extension Tubes and Macro Conversion Lens (Raynox) when it comes to Macro Photography. I have had these Macro Accessories for around 2 years. Hopefully the details here will help dedicated Macro Enthusiast venture into the Macro World without breaking his or her pocket!
You are pretty much limited to advice and comments from people when it comes to choosing Macro lenses and accessories, and they all seem to have different opinions! After getting myself really confused, I started off with a set of Kenko Extension Tubes because I know them plastic ones won’t survive hardcore usage, and simply because I needed the Autofocus capabilities. At that time (~2 years ago), I have heard of Raynox but not Reverse Rings. To learn more about these macro-capable accessories, kindly read Getting Your First Macro Camera.
Automatic Extension Tubes
Extension Tubes (ET) are hollow tubes that, when attached, increase magnification. Generally, the more you attach, the higher the magnification. After two years of rough usage, I have already changed two sets of Kenko Extension Tubes, equalling to ~RM1000. The tubes come in three levels: 12mm, 20mm and 36mm.
Although Extension Tubes offer great versatility when it comes to photographing Nature Photography (suitable for bugs of all sizes), they are not very reliable. Mind you, Kenko is one of the best, and more expensive 3rd party ET in the market. The 12mm and 20mm were always the first to go, losing electronic link between the lens and the DSLR body. This happened because of the heavy weight of the lens.
I purchased a second set of Kenko ET not because I knew they will eventually spoil, but rather because I wanted higher magnification (like all beginners do T___T) by pairing 2x 36mm ET. I have never expected my first Kenko 36mm ET to fail, considering the relatively thick and sturdy build.
Based on this experience, I would say that 3rd party ET (from Kenko and the slightly cheaper Meike) are not sturdy enough for long-termed Macro usage. I have heard comments that first party ET (Canon, Nikon etc.) are of even better quality. However, considering the steep price, and also the fact that there are better Macro Accessories out there, it is rather unlikely that I will get any of those any time soon.
- Versatility in magnification due to the 3 tube levels
- Wide focus distance for each tube level
- Autofocus capable
- Portable and easy-to-use
- Can be used with short Macro Lenses (e.g. 40-60mm focal range)
- Loses light with each tube (especially challenging during night field trips)
- Not sturdy especially with all 3 levels attached
- Image quality seem to be affected slightly
Verdict: Extension Tubes are great Macro Accessories to start your Macro Journey. However, ET should not be paired with heavy Macro Lenses (>1kg) to ensure reliability (It took me 2 years of rough usage to actually “destroy” my 36mm Kenko ET).
Macro Conversion Lens
Macro Conversion Lenses (MCL) are clip-on lenses that offer instant magnification. The two most common MCL are Raynox-150 and Raynox-250, learn more about them in Raynox 150 vs. Raynox-250. I bought the Raynox-250 (2.5x magnification) a few months after I got my first Kenko Extension Tubes, mainly because some other Macro Photographers say that its good, and they were right. The Raynox-250 offers really high magnification without any loss of light, and the resulting photos are tact sharp.
The biggest issue I had with the Raynox-250 was that it didn’t suit my shooting style. The really close focusing distance and ultra high magnification means that it is only suitable for small subjects (<~1cm). Anything larger you will have to make do with photographing certain body parts of the subject. At that time I only use the Raynox-250 when subjects are very small. It is not until recently that I’ve discovered the existence of the Raynox-150 which allows slightly less magnification (1.5x) but a wider focusing distance, it suited me perfectly.
- No loss of light
- Portable and easy-to-use
- Photos are sharp
- Autofocus capable
- Relatively shorter focusing range (compared to ET)
- The view may be blocked if clipped inappropriately
- Fogging issues
- Raynox-250 not practical for short Macro Lenses (e.g. 40-60mm focal range)
- Lens accumulates dust easily
Verdict: Depending on your Macro Lens and also your shooting style, MCL offer good performance for the price. Although most people always start with a Raynox-250, I would encourage potential buyers to test out both the Raynox-150 and -250 first to determine which one is more suitable. Take note that the very short focusing range of the Raynox-250 means that it is not suitable for short Macro Lens e.g. <60mm.
After 2 years of shooting Macro, I guess I can say that MCL are in fact, better than Extension Tubes in the long run, mainly because of their reliability. They are cheaper as well. On a side note, you can actually purchase cheap converter rings for your Raynox so that they no longer need to be clipped on and off.
That’s all for this very short article, I hope you find it useful 🙂