Tools & gears in macro photography. What are Extension tubes,bellows, Reversal ring, couplers?
Nature Photography Macro Photography Digital Photography
August 13, 2019

In today’s world, professional photography is highly dependent on the freshness of your content. People are really attracted to stuff they haven’t seen before. Your success will depend on how unique you are and how unique you can be. Macro photography is a wonderful example of this. Macro photography is all about getting really close to the object and magnifying it. The viewers may have seen the object but have they seen it magnified? Most probably not! And therein lies your chance to amaze them. We are normally awestruck when we see a magnified version of a very common household object; something we see every day. Macro photography is normally done with specialized macro lenses. These lenses produce the best results but obviously at a significantly high cost. Not all beginners can afford a dedicated macro lens. There are workarounds to that. These come in the forms of extension tubes, bellows, reverse rings and couplers. All of these have the potential to produce nice and sharp images but it is a request from my side to not compare the results with that of a macro lens. The reason is simple. While a macro lens can cost you more than a $1000, these will cost you less than $20. Let us take a look at some of the tools and gear in macro photography namely extension tubes, bellows, reverse rings and couplers.


                      Image courtesy: Fstoppers

Extension tubes:

Each lens has a minimum focusing distance. This is the distance below which the lens will fail to focus. You may have tried to get close to a subject but the lens failed to focus. This has perhaps happened with all of us. Different lenses have different minimum focusing distances. Now, the job of extension tubes is to decrease this minimum focusing distance so that the lens can actually get a lot closer to the subject. This in turn increases the magnification of the object. Extension tubes are hollow plastic or metal tubes that fit between the camera and the lens. This increases the distance between the lens and the camera sensor while reducing the minimum focusing distance. The closer you can get to the subject the more the magnification. The ratio of magnification is determined by the ratio of the extension length to the focal length of the lens. A 50mm lens when extended by 50mm will give a 1:1 magnification or true magnification. There are two types of extension tubes.

Extension Tube, Increase, Zoom, Optics

Dumb tubes:

These tubes do not have any electronic connection in them. As a result the camera cannot communicate with the lens. This means that the autofocusing will not work and neither will the aperture. The aperture has to be manually set in the lens. You have to operate on manual focusing.

Macro Extension Tubes, Photographic Equipment

AF tubes:

AF tubes or autofocus extension tubes are smart tubes that have enough electronics in them to enable a communication between the camera and the lens. As a result of this, the autofocusing mechanism works. Aperture changes can also be done. However, autofocusing with the extension tubes is a real pain and should be avoided. 

Asahi, Pentax, Bellow, Macro, Close Up, Close-Up


Bellows are quite similar to the extension tubes. In fact the concept is pretty much similar. Just like extension tubes, the purpose of bellows is to reduce the minimum focusing distance of the lens. Similar to the tubes, the bellows also fit in between the camera and the lens. However, unlike the extension tubes, the bellow is not a solid tube. It can be expanded and retracted like a spring. This is controlled by a knob. In macro photography, the focusing is often a matter of millimeters. A millimeter here and there, and you lose the focus. In such cases, this flexible mechanism of a bellow can come in very handy. In case of extension tubes, it is not this easy.


Reverse rings:

Reverse rings are cheap alternatives to macro lenses. It is a ring which enables you to mount the lens onto the camera in the opposite direction. The concept is quite simple. Normally a lens will focus on the light far away and give a normal image. When it is reversed, the results get reversed too. It starts acting like a macro lens. While this is a really cheap alternative and can produce nice results, the main challenge lies in aperture control. If the lens doesn’t have a manual aperture ring, you will not be able to control the aperture of the lens from the camera body. This is because the camera will not be able to communicate with the lens when it is reversed. You will have to operate with the previously used aperture itself. When you want to change the depth of field, you will have to unmount and mount the lens every time. This is highly improbable. Thus for this to function smoothly, you will require lenses with manual aperture rings.



These are quite similar to reverse rings. In fact these are a type of reverse rings only. The only difference is that this enables two lenses to be attached to one another. The coupler acts as a bridge between the lens that is mounted on the camera and the other lens. The lens with lesser focal length is reversed and attached to the other one.  The ratio of magnification can be calculated by calculating the ratio between the longer focal length and the shorter one. The real downside to this is that the light has to pass through a huge number of glass elements (double lens). The image quality suffers as a result of this. It is due to this reason that couplers are not used as much as the other options. If the lenses are of good quality, you may still achieve sharp images in such a low budget. 

Macro photography requires immense patience and dedication. It used to be a very expensive hobby but with the arrival of these tools, it has reached out to commoners. Start experimenting!

Nature Photography Macro Photography Digital Photography
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