The Alternative to a Macro Lens
By Ryan Watkins
13 Jul 2010
One of the best lens accessories I've ever purchased is my set of three Kenko Close-up filters. Instead of spending more than $600 for a dedicated macro lens, I can now get just as close with a traditional 50mm portrait lens all for under $200! I use a set of filters which have a 1x, 2x, and 4x magnification.
There are many pros to using close-up filters. First of all, they're inexpensive compared to the alternatives. I purchased my set of three for only $40 when the cheapest dedicated macro lenses are $300 and higher quality lenses can be over $1000. There is also no light loss when using these filters unlike extension tubes. Close-up filters can also be added to a macro lens to make the lens focus even closer.
Despite their pros there are some cons to using close-up filters compared to a dedicated macro lens or extension tubes. First of all, the more close-up filters you stack on the front of your lens the less sharp your final image will be. A lens with close-up filters will be less sharp than the same image taken with a dedicated macro lens or extension tubes. Also, close-up filters can only fit on lens with a certain sized filter thread. For example my Kenko close-up filters have a 52mm filter thread and my only lens with the 52mm thread in my Nikkor 50mm f/1.8. Extension tubes on the other hand can be used with any lens.
These images are of several of my fellow church members. Most of these images were taken with the 1x or 2x close-up filters, excluding the extreme eye close-up which I used all the filters stacked on top of each other. I lit them with monolights at full power to let me get an aperture of f/8, or higher, while still letting me shoot at ISO 100. When making macro images, like these, it's critical to use a narrow aperture to ensure sharpness throughout the entire image. I highly recommend using flash for creating macro images because it provides more light and lets you use a narrower aperture at a lower ISO for extended depth of field and lower noise. This also makes it easier to compose your image because you don't have to use a tripod. When you're this close to your subject the camera has difficulty focusing automatically so it is best to use manual focus. Instead of turning the focus ring like most people would I set the lens to its minimal focusing distance and move the camera closer or farther away from the subject. This allows you to get as close to your subject as possible.
Close-up filters are great accessories and will unlock a whole new world of shooting to you at a fairly low cost!