Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – Reverse Rings

Bubble Wrap

Green bubble wrap shot with Canon 50 mm f/1.8 lens reversed.
Hand-held to the camera body.
• Bubble Wrap • By Archaeofrog on Flickr  External link - opens new tab/page

Anyone can use reverse rings.

Close-up or macro photography is something every photographer should try. However, a macro lens can be an expensive investment. This series covers inexpensive ways to get great close-up results. The first article “Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – close-up rings” discussed using close-up lenses that attach to your existing photographic lens. A second way to achieve close-up results, surprising as it may sound, is to reverse your DSLR camera’s lens by mounting it on backward.

It is possible (but awkward) to simply handhold your lens backwards against your camera body, as in the top photograph. I don’t recommend it, as it can allow dust or other debris into your camera that may affect the sensor. The inexpensive alternative is to purchase a reverse ring camera mount adapter that fits your lens (based on its diameter) and the make and model of your camera body.

Canon Reversed Lens

Canon 50 mm f/1.8 lens attached backwards to a Canon T1i body using a reverse ring. The depth of field preview button is visible underneath the lens release button.
Click image to view large
Canon lens attached in a reversed position by Archaeofrog (Flickr) External link - opens new tab/page

How to use the reverse ring

First, remove any filters you have on your lens. To use a reverse ring, screw the ring securely on to the front of your camera lens filter thread. Hint, it is easiest to screw the ring on while the lens is in the camera body. After attaching the reverse ring to the lens, remove the lens from the camera body. Now reverse it and fit the lens-mount side of the ring into the camera body and lock it in place. You will no longer be able to use the autofocus function of your camera or adjust the aperture of the lens once it is reversed, but you will be able to adjust the shutter speed and ISO. Your camera may display an aperture value of F00 or other default. I recommend that you change the shooting mode on your camera to aperture priority or manual. In aperture priority mode, the camera will calculate and set the shutter speed for you, while in manual, you will set it yourself. Now you are ready to use the lens.

Origami Crane

• Origami Crane •
Click image to view large
Origami paper crane folded from a bite-sized Hershey wrapper.
Captured with a reverse-mounted Canon 50 mm f/1.8 lens
Origami Crane • By Archaeofrog on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

A reverse ring gives better results when used with a prime lens rather than a zoom lens. Prime lens are often faster, which means that they have a wider maximum aperture and can use a faster shutter speed, even in lower light.

You can use any type of lens, although light lenses are recommended. Very heavy lenses may damage the reverse ring mount adaptor or the lens filter thread.

Using a zoom lens, particularly when fully zoomed out, can be awkward to support. Because the lens is reversed, zooming the lens requires you to be further from the object you are photographing and does not give such a close-up view of the subject. The working distance (distance from the lens to the object in focus) is about five inches with the Canon 50 mm f/1.8 lens reversed. Using my Tamron 18-270 mm zoom lens at 18 mm, I have to be within about two inches to get an object in focus, while it is greater than six inches at 270 mm.

Adjusting the aperture

When your camera lens is not attached to a camera, its default position is to be open to its widest aperture. So, for the Canon 50 mm f/1.8 that would be f/1.8, which results in a very shallow depth of focus. In the crane picture above, the neck of the crane is in focus, while the beak and tail are not. When I reverse this lens on my camera, the aperture will still be f/1.8, and I will be unable to adjust the aperture value after the lens is reversed on the camera. But there is a work-around.

Most DSLR cameras have a ‘depth of field preview’ button. The purpose of this button is to allow you to look through the viewfinder and see exactly what your camera will see at the aperture that is set. When you press that button, the blades inside the camera lens close down to the selected aperture. This will allow you to set the aperture for your lens. (Please note: not all DSLRs have a depth of field preview button).

Carnation at F22

• Carnation at F22 •
Click image to view large
Carnation at F22 By Archaeofrog on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Here is the procedure. Using aperture priority or manual mode on your camera, dial in the aperture that you want to use for the shot. Next, depress and hold the depth of field preview button. While still holding down the button, press the lens release button and remove the camera lens. Then you can mount it on your camera body using the reverse ring. The camera lens will maintain whatever aperture you had selected. If you want to return to the default position or change the aperture again, simply put the lens back on the camera the regular way and repeat the process. Tip: if working outside, you may want to set your aperture first and reverse the lens indoors, to avoid dust getting into the camera body and on the sensor.

Advantages and limitations of reverse rings

The reverse ring is a fun and easy way to experiment with close-up photography. The ring itself is very inexpensive, usually less than $10 USD (around £7-£8 UK), and is small enough to fit in a purse or pocket. Depending on the lens that you reverse, you can get very close to macro-level results.

Ruler

• Ruler •
Click image to view large
This photograph of a ruler demonstrates the scale of a reverse-mounted Canon 50 mm f/1.8 lens, which gets down to an image of about an inch and a quarter wide and has a working distance of about five inches.
Ruler • By Archaeofrog on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Like other close-up techniques, using a reverse ring does require you to be physically close to the objects you are photographing. Depending on your lens and your comfort level, however, you may still be able to capture detailed shots of slower moving insects, such as the bee below. A reverse ring is also ideal for indoor shots or other stationary details.

Bee

• Bee •
Click image to view large
Bee photographed using a reverse-mounted Canon 50 mm f/1.8 lens.
Bee • By Archaeofrog on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

You will lose some of the automatic functions of your camera, including autofocus, with a reverse ring. The electrical contacts that normally carry signals to the lens are not in contact with a reversed lens. This is not that much of a disadvantage. Generally, with close-up shots, you get better results when using manual focusing.

While you can adjust the aperture (on some cameras), there is an additional step of setting the aperture using the ‘depth of field preview button’ before reversing the lens.

As with any close-up or macro technique, the depth of field (area in focus) will be very shallow. You can maximize sharpness by keeping the camera lens parallel to the object being photographed. In the photograph of the bee, above, the body of the bee is parallel to the camera lens and stays in focus. The flower is perpendicular to the lens and falls out of focus quickly.

Another technique to maximize sharpness is to use a smaller aperture like f/22, but this may require a longer shutter speed than you can easily hand-hold. You can solve this problem by using a tripod for stationary objects, which allows you to use a longer shutter speed to achieve the desired sharpness.

All close-up techniques benefit from the additional stability of a tripod. Although, as you can see from the shots above, you can get effective results from hand-held techniques.

A flexible option

Overall, a reverse ring is an inexpensive and portable way to use your existing lens for close-up photography. Depending on the lens you reverse, there is enough working distance to photograph insects, flowers, or any other small subjects that interest you. There is flexibility to adjust the aperture value before reversing the lens, which gives you a little control over the depth of focus. It is an inexpensive option to get you started in the tiny world of close-up photography.

Buyers guide

The inexpensive nature of these rings makes a quick purchase worthwhile. Remember that you will need to buy the ring that suits your specific camera mount (eg. Canon, Nikon etc). The size of the filter thread on your lens is important too. On the following link you can find a range camera mount types as well as thread sizes…
Reverse ring camera mount adapter products  External link - opens new tab/page

A great lens for doing close-up work is a 50mm prime lens. More information on buying 50mm prime lenses including product links can be found in…
Are your pictures distorted? Considered a 50mm?

For general reference: 50mm Prime lens product listing  External link - opens new tab/page

Lego

• Lego •
Click image to view large
Lego explorer mini-figure.
Using a reverse-mounted Canon 50 mm f/1.8 lens at f/1.8.
Lego • By Archaeofrog on FlickrExternal link - opens new tab/page

Articles on Close-Up and Macro Photography
by Katie McEnaney

Part 1 of this series focused on using close-up lenses. Part 3 will cover extension tubes, and Part 4 will bring all these techniques together with a range of close-up ideas and tips.

Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – close-up rings
Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – Reverse Rings (this article)
Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – Extension Tubes
Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – Tips and Tricks

By Katie McEnaney (contributing author)

Katie is an elementary school teacher in Wisconsin, USA. She is an avid photographer with wide interests. She is always interested in learning more and growing in her photography. Katie is in the third year of her 365 project as ArchaeoFrog (profile)  External link - opens new tab/page. Her 365 project can be found at 365Pproject.org  External link - opens new tab/page and she has a growing body of work on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page.
By Katie McEnaney :: Profile on Google+

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