Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – close-up rings

Wood Violets

Wood violets shot with a +10 close-up lens and Canon EF-S 18-55 mm kit lens.

Close up Lenses…

Photographers are often drawn to small, fascinating details in the world around them. Dedicated macro lenses can cost a lot of money, but you don’t need one to get started with close-up photography. This article will explore a way to use your current DSLR and lenses for close-up photography using “close-up lenses”.

How to Use a Close-Up Lens

Close-up lenses are used like filters. They screw on to the front of your existing photographic lens. They are a magnifying glass and act to change the minimum focusing distance of the camera’s lens. It allows you to get closer to the object you are photographing and to capture more detail.

• Close-up lenses •

• Close-up lenses •
Close-up lens product list  External link - opens new tab/page

Close up lenses are usually sold in sets of four. They offer varying strengths of magnification, with +1, +2, +4, and +10 dioptre strength being the most common. You can use more than one at a time. This allows you to choose how you want to compose and focus your image. One set of close-up lenses can work on lenses of different diameters. When picking out close-up lenses, choose ones that will fit the largest diameter lens you have. If the size you buy does not fit your lens exactly, you can purchase an inexpensive step-up or step-down adapter ring External link - opens new tab/page to use your close-up lenses on a lens with a different diameter.

Lego comparison

• Lego comparison •
A visual comparison of four strengths (+1, +2, +4, and +10 dioptre) of close-up lenses on a Canon EF-S 18-55 mm kit lens at 55 mm. The Lego mini-figure and clear ruler demonstrate the change in scale with each lens.
Click image to view largeExternal link - opens new tab/page

• Comparison Graph •

• Comparison Graph •
a visual comparison of four strengths (+1, +2, +4, and +10) of close-up lenses on a Canon EF-S 18-55 mm kit lens at 55 mm. The Lego mini-figure and clear ruler demonstrate the change in scale with each lens.
Click image to view large

Advantages and Limitations of Close-Up Lenses

A close-up lens allows you to use the full functionality of your camera. That includes autofocus and to adjust any settings such as aperture and shutter speed. While the close-up lens adds an additional layer of glass it only reduces the light reaching the camera’s sensor by a small amount. This makes it easier to maintain a faster shutter speed in less-than-ideal lighting situations.

Close-up lenses are much smaller and more portable than an additional camera lens such as a macro lens. Many sets of close-up lenses come with a small carrying case, making them easy and convenient to transport, and a single lens can slip into a pocket. Finally, close-up lenses and lens sets are quite inexpensive allowing you to experiment with close-up photography without a large cost.


• Eye •
An eye photographed with a +10 close-up lens on a Canon 50 mm f/1.8 lens.

The limitations of using close-up lenses mirror those of any macro or close-up photography technique. Even at small apertures like f/22, the depth of field will be quite shallow. Manual focus is a more reliable means of achieving the focus you want. If available, you can use the Live-View function on your camera to fine-tune your focus by using the display screen rather than the viewfinder.

A tripod is recommended for stationary objects. Macro subjects require good lighting. So it is difficult to hand-hold your camera unless you use a short exposure. For that you will need bright lights or high ISO to achieve sharp results. A tripod will enable longer exposures and still maintain the sharpness you need.

The greatest limitation is the close focusing distance, which requires you to be physically close to the object you are photographing. This makes close-up lenses impractical for shooting quickly moving or skittish subjects, such as butterflies. The close-up lens is better suited for more stationary subjects like flowers, a still life, or other controlled situations.

• Drip •

• Drip •
Drip of water photographed with a +4 close-up lens on a Canon 50 mm f/1.8 lens.

Close-up lenses are an easy way to begin close-up photography. They allow you to use the equipment you already own by buying inexpensive ‘accessory lenses’. For an investment around 20 Dollars or 10 pounds you can achieve near-macro level quality. At the same time you are able to use all the functionality of your camera.

More after this…

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Close-up lens products

There are a range of close-up ring products on the market. Why not take a look at the “Range of available Close-up Lenses”.

Articles on close up and macro photography
By Katie McEnaney

Part 2 of this series will focus on using a reverse adapter, Part 3 will cover extension tubes. In Part 4 I will bring all these techniques together with a range of close-up ideas and tips.

Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – close-up rings (This article)
Inexpensive Close-Up Photography – Reverse Rings
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.
By Katie McEnaney (Archaeofrog)

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