Guide to using Extension Tubes for close up photography


your complete guide to macro photography

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Using Extension Tubes

auto extension tube set
Extension tubes or extension rings are hollow tubes designed for use in macro photography.
The tubes are usually supplied in a set of three lengths (eg 12mm, 20/25mm and 36mm) and fit between the camera and lens to offer a choice of macro magnifications.

Some manufacturers produce them singly too for those who have a specific requirement, but a set of three offers more versatility because you can use the tubes in any combination to give six magnifications.

auto extension tube set
As there are no elements inside the tubes, quality is as good as the original lens and the size and versatility is perfect for the nature photographer who may be humping a load of kit around.

Their only real drawback with tubes is that there is a loss of light and this increases the more extension you add. Fortunately modern cameras with through-the-lens metering automatically compensate, even when using flash (providing it is dedicated). If you are using an older manual camera or a non TTL flash system you will have to make adjustments manually.

photo taken using small extension tube
12mm Extension tube + Pentax 50mm.
photo taken using medium extension tube
25mm Extension tube + Pentax 50mm.
photo taken using large extension tube
36mm Extension tube + Pentax 50mm.
Using extension tubes is easy. Select the tube or tubes you want to use, remove the lens from the camera body, attach the tube or tubes to the body and reattach the lens. The tubes have markers on them to show where the lens aligns to the body.

Once in place adjust the lens focusing as normal. If you cannot fill the frame with the subject add another tube or when the magnification is too high, remove a tube.

When used in conjunction with a 50mm lens, a 25mm tube gives you half-life-size image, and a full set 1:1 reproduction. If you want incredible magnification you could combine more than three tubes. Two sets would give around 140mm of extension which is similar to a standard set of bellows.

If your camera has TTL metering use the suggested exposure, compensating as normal when the subject is predominantly light or dark. If the camera has manual exposure you need to calculate the extension used and increase the exposure to compensate. Check out this exposure table.

Macro Photography Technique

You will find everything you need to know about macro photography in our easy to follow technique guides to help you take great close ups.