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Posts: 17
Registered: ‎07-09-2013
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Macro possibilities?

Thanks for reading this.
I really like taking photos of things like insects and little lizards. I found a really cool praying mantis yesterday in the garden and took a few shots of it. I used my 70-200 with the 1.4 tc which was pretty good, but obviously I couldn't get very close 'cause of focus depth limitations. I am considering getting the canon extension tubes: EF 12 II and EF 25 II. Is this a good way to go? Are these something that you'd use as well as a tc on a 70-200? Or is that the wrong kind of lens for this kind of work? I've also had an initial investigation of circular macro flash rings. But I'm assuming they wouldn't work with my 70-200 cause of the large diameter of the front element. There seems to be so many options for macro set ups. What kind if setup should I be aiming for to do fairly decent macro shots? I've been a big fan of Igor Siwanowicz' work for a very long time.

Canon 6D,Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM, Sigma 1.4 x EX DG Teleconverter, Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 macro USM, Canon EF 50mm f/1.8, EF 40mm f/2.8 pancake, Sigma AF 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6 DC HSM, Pentax 400mm f/5.6
Posts: 13,702
Registered: ‎12-07-2012

Re: Macro possibilities?

Extension tubes and tele extenders would not be a great first choice for macro work.

A great place to start is with the EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM is a fine choice for a T3i.


Or it's big brother Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro is first class!


Normal” lenses are not really designed to do macro work. Oh yeah, they will do it but you really need a dedicated macro lens if you are truly interested in this hobby. Otherwise you are just adapting a lens to try and do sonething it wasn'r designed for. IE tubes and extenders.


Another possibility is the very good Sigma 180mm f/3.5 EX DG IF HSM APO Macro. And there are others like my personal favorite, the EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM. You can not go wrong with this lens.


In the world of macro photography the possibilities are nearly limitless. I see guys using all manner of “objects” to obtain the results.  Bellows, extension tubes, reverse mounting, and on and on. Lighting too, just about anything that works is good to go.

Check out a real macro lens first.Smiley Happy


EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and several lenses!
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Posts: 790
Registered: ‎06-11-2013

Re: Macro possibilities?

[ Edited ]



As ebiggs says, there are many ways to achieve macro shots.


Personally I use a number of extension tubes (a Kenko set of three - 36, 20 & 12mm - plus one Canon 25mm and two Canon 12mm). These are always handy to have and I wouldn't be without a few in my camera bag, all the time. They are inexpensive and can allow you to get that macro or close-up shot when you don't happen to have a macro lens with you, or can be used to increase the magnification capabilities of a true macro lens beyond it's 1:1 (typically) potential, or just used to get closer minimum focus distance with a telephoto.


For example, this was shot with EF 70-200/2.8 IS, Canon 25mm extension tube, and 550EX flash (fill)...


 Black & yetllow garden spider


I was out shooting birds and didn't have a macro lens with me.


For the below image, to frame the tiny bush *i* (replace the astericks with "t"... the cyber censors won't allow me to use this bird's actual name) as tightly as I wanted, I needed to add a 36mm extension tube to an EF 500/4 IS lens, to enable that lens to focus closer...


Bush *i* at nest


While they aren't necessarily designed for macro or near macro work, teleconverters (Canon calls them Extenders) change the effective focal length of a lens, but leave it's closest focus distance uneffected.... so will increase potential for magnification. In order to get the below shot of a tiny fence lizard, I had to use both - Canon EF 1.4X II and a 25mm extension tube - on 300/2.8 IS lens...


Fence lizard camo


The longer the focal length of your lens, the less effect any particular amount of extension will give. A 25mm extension tube only slightly changes the magnification and closest focusing distance of a 300mm lens.... But the same amount of extension on a 50mm lens would have dramatic effect.  Following image was shot with 12mm extension on EF 50/1.4 lens...


Rose bud chiaroscuro


Even more extreme, the following was shot with 12mm extension on an EF 20/2.8 lens (I wanted extra depth of field to retain more background detail)....


California poppies


When shooting the above, the flower petals were actually touching the front element of the lens! Can't get much closer than that!


All the above macro or near macro shots were done using "non-macro" lenses that were made to focus closer than normally possible, using extension tubes. Those can work well, but there are some advantages to true macro lenses, too. Personally I use four in my Canon kit: Tamron SP AF 60mm f2.0, Canon MP-E 65mm f2.8, Canon 100/2.8 USM (not the L/IS), and Canon 180/3.5L. I also use a Canon TS-E 45/2.8 for close-up work, and occasionally a vintage, adapted Tamron SP 90/2.5 1:2  macro lens.


When you force non-macro lenses to focus closer than intended, there can be side-effects. For example, the shot of the rose bud above has fairly strong vignetting and softer edges. This is characterisic of the EF 50/1.4 lens when it's made to focus very close and a larger aperture is used.... It's not necessarily a bad thing. I used the lens with extension deliberately for that shot, because I wanted both the vignetting and softening effects.


One thing you don't need to worry about with "true" macro lenses is image quality. In general, they are all very capable of making great images. It's more down to the other features of macro lenses that set them apart from each other.


Focal length is probably the main consideration. Too short a macro lens can put you awfully close to your subjects, which might scare living critters away, or cause you to cast an unwanted shadow on the subject, or even get you bit or stung! . A longer focal length gives you more working space, but too long a lens is difficult to get a steady shot and renders extremely very shallow depth of field.


If I could only have one, I'd choose my Canon EF 100/2.8 USM macro lens. It's the best all around for my purposes, on both crop cameras (like yours, though I use 7Ds) and full frame (5D MkII). 90 to 105mm gives reasonable working distance, yet is pretty easily handheld for quick shots. DOF is still shallow, but pretty manageable without having to resort to ridiculously small apertures where lighting is a problem and optical diffraction robs fine detal from images.


Here's an example shot with my 180/3.5L, that demonstrates how razor thin depth of field can get with such a long focal length....


Golden bee 


Even though that's a fairly large bee, the plane of sharp focus is only a few mm deep. This was shot near 1:1 on full frame (with a film camera, actually). The lens and camera were resting on the ground to help keep them steady. Something closer to 100mm is much more easily handheld, not too big and renders a little more depth of field.


There are other features of the Canon EF 100/2.8 USM that make it a great macro lens, IMO.


It's "internal focusing" (IF), which means it doesn't grow in length when you focus it closer, so doesn't cut into your working distance (note: the 100L, Tamron 60/2  and 180/3.5L also are IF lenses). There's no such thing as a free lunch, though, with optics. In order for the 100/2.8 to be IF, it starts out larger than some other lenses of similar focal length. And, the focal length actually changes a bit as it's focused closer. I have heard that at max 1:1 magnification it's closer to 70mm lens.... but this isn't particularly noticeable in the field working with the lens.


100/2.8 USM macro lens on crop sensor camera, with 550EX flash, handheld...


Praying mantis


The 100/2.8 version I use has got USM focus drive, which gives it reasonably quick auto focusing for a macro lens. Macro lenses tend to be slower focusing for a couple reasons. One is that they have to move their focusing elements a long, long way to go all the way from infinity to 1:1 magnification. Another is that most emphazise precision over speed, so use what's called a "long throw" focus mechanism. In the old days of manual focus, you would have to turn the focusing ring a lot farther with a long throw lens. Short throw lenses were built for speed and might be used for sports photography. The 100mm's USM drive (which the EF-S 60/2.8, 100L and 180/3.5L also have) makes it more of a dual purpose lens, more usable for non-macro purposes. In spite of having USM, the 180/3.5L is noticeably slower focusing and not as useful for non-macro work.


I make the distinction between macro and non-macro focusing because often macro shooting is more easily focused manually. I use AF sometimes, but just as often or more often use manual focusing of one method or another.  But if you want to use the lens as a non-macro, moderate telephoto too, it can be nice if it's reasonably fast focusing. Another benefit of USM is that you don't have to turn off AF before overriding it manually. (Note: there was an earlier version of EF 100/2.8, discontinued years ago, that doesn't have USM).


To me, one of the most important features of the Canon 100mm macro lenses is that they can optionally be fitted with a tripod mounting ring. The 100/2.8 USM uses Tripod Ring B (b) and the 100L uses Tripod Ring D. I'm not aware of any other macro lenses shorter than 150mm that an be fitted with a tripod ring, and to me that's a very important feature. A lot of macro photography is done from a tripod or monopod. Which is one reason I don't really feel the need to upgrade to  the newer, IS version... plus it costs a lot more. Besides, stabilization is of limited effectiveness when shooting macro.... though it might be very nice when using the lens for non-macro purposes (except that I have several other lenses, so don't rely on the macro for dual purpose that much). The 180/3.5L and most other 150mm and longer macro lenses come with a tripod ring.


Speaking of stabilization, the Canon 100L uses a hybrid form developed especially for macro, which by all accounts is one of the most effective. Even so, at 1:1 mag it might only be good for one or two stops of assistance. For non-macro shots, the IS might give three or four stops assistance.


I got the Tamron SP 60/2.0 recently because it's quite small and light, easy to pack in my camera bag when I don't know if I'll be taking any macro shots or not, have other gear to haul around. The same is true of the Canon EF-S 60/2.8 USM, it's equally compact. I opted for the Tamron for it's f2 aperture,  mostly in order to use the lens for portraiture, as well. Both the Canon and the Tamron 60mm lenses are "crop only" (all the other macros mentioned are FF capable).  I don't have images uploaded online from it yet, but  have found quality to be quite good. It is a little slow focusing.... no problem for macro or portraits, but not a lens I'd use for sports and action shooting. I imagine the Canon with its USM is faster focusing.


Tamron SP 90mm Adaptall on 7D


I used to use the vintage (25-30 year old) Tamron 90mm as my "compact" macro (shown on one of my 7Ds, above).... and it served well for that purpose but was less useful for portraiture. Still, for a lens that cost me all of $60 US. That was $20 for the lens - like new with hood, 1:1 adapter, caps and a Nikon Adaptall mount - plus $40 for an Adaptall-EOS mount from China.  It's slower to work with. Manual focus, as well as manual aperture control, but does a pretty good job (here with 36mm extension tube to increase magnification)...


Bee on orange poppy


 The other lenses I mentioned using are more specialized. The Canon MP-E 65mm macro is an ultra-high magnification, manual focus lens. The least magnification it can give is 1:1, where most other macro lenses are at their maximum (unless you add extension tubes to them). It goes up to 5:1 or 5X life size, so essentially can fill the frame on one of my 7Ds with a grain of rice.  Below image made with the MP-E 65mm is of a tiny, newly hatched snail that was smaller than the nail on my pinky finger, at about 2X magnification...


Baby snail


I gotta say, I wouldn't recommend the MP-E 65mm as a first macro lens. It's mostly going to be a tripod-only lens. Depth of field is incredibly shallow. Due to the extension of the lens, it's smallest f16 aperture becomes something like an effective f96 at the highest magnification. I'm going to have to work on focusing stacking techniques with this lens (and will need something a lot slower moving than a snail, to shoot those!).


I use the TS-E 45mm "Tilt Shift" lens primarily for small product close-ups.... Tabletop studio shoots, such as this which was one of hundreds done for a client's website...


Ghosa's soap products


Magnification with the 45mm alone is not really macro territory, but it allows unique control over the plane of focus with the tilt movements, as well as means of dodging reflections with the shift movements. It's manual focus lens, too. For higher magnfication work, the TS-E 90mm might be a better choice, and either lenses' magnification can be increased using extension tubes.


As to flash, there are choices with those, too. There are specialized macro flashes, or ways to use standard flashes for macro shots.


I used a Canon MR-14EX Ringlite for the snail shot, above. I mostly only use a ring light with really high magnificatioin shots.... at lower mags the light just seems to flat and "clinical" for me. As far as I know, the MR-14EX is pretty much dedicated to Canon lenses, since it clips directly onto the lens, latching in a groove only found on the Canon lenses.


MR-14EX on MP-E 65mm lens, on 7D...




More often, especially for 1:1 and lower magnification shots, I either use Canon MT-24EX Twin Lite or a single,  standard flash with some minor modifications. The Twin Lite is great, but a rather large kit and not widely useful for non macro purposes. It also is designed to clip onto the front of Canon lenses, but is more flexible in that it can be used with a more generic dual flash bracket, too.


LH image: MT-24EX normally mounted. Center: Lepp/Stroboframe dual flash bracket. RH image: MT-24EX on Lepp bracket.


MT-24EX clipped on Lepp/Stroboframe dual flash bracket  MT-24EX on Lepp/Stroboframe bracket


But you don't have to use a dedicated macro flash either. Often I'll simply use a single, standard flash, on an off-camera shoe cord so that I can hold it off to the side of and/or above the subject...


Macro with a standard flash


Note that I've put a couple layers of white qauze bandage over the flash head, held in place with a rubber band. This reduces and diffuses the flash output so that it can be used close to a small subject. A single flash works surprisingly well, because relative to a small subject it's like a giant softbox in the sky. This mantis was shot using something similar to the above setup (and EF 100/2.8 USM macro lens)...


I'm ready for my close-ups, Mr. DeVille



 Have fun shopping!


Macro is a lot of fun... and a lot easier today than it was back in the good/bad old days of film! One of my old rigs...


Konica T3 with macro bellows and 105/4 Hexanon




Alan Myers

San Jose, Calif., USA
"Walk softly and carry a big lens."
GEAR: 5DII, 7D(x2), 50D(x3), some other cameras, various lenses & accessories


Occasional Contributor
Posts: 12
Registered: ‎01-04-2014

Re: Macro possibilities?

Alan - this should be a"sticky" for macro usage! What an incredible detailed post.
Thank you so much for this.
Occasional Contributor
Posts: 17
Registered: ‎07-09-2013

Re: Macro possibilities?

Wow, thank you so much. I love this forum. So many people willing to share their experience. I have much reading and digesting to do. I'm blown away by your generosity.


Canon 6D,Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM, Sigma 1.4 x EX DG Teleconverter, Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 macro USM, Canon EF 50mm f/1.8, EF 40mm f/2.8 pancake, Sigma AF 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6 DC HSM, Pentax 400mm f/5.6
Posts: 108
Topics: 1
Kudos: 23
Solutions: 3
Registered: ‎10-17-2012

Re: Macro possibilities?

[ Edited ]

A simple option for your 70-200 would be a Canon 500D closeup lens which screws on to the filter threads. I prefer this to extension tubes with zoom lenses. 


Do a search for "Canon closeup lens" for more info. 

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