Macro: Reverse Lensing

Hey! Long time, no see! We promised a video on ultra-macro photography a little bit ago on our youtube account (here), so here is an article introducing one of the methods I have been testing. It is the exciting, budget-friendly technique of reversing a lens to shorten the minimum focusing distance (and in some cases, increase focal length). The end result looks a little something like this:

DSC_0036

The above setup gives you a fixed magnification of about 7:1. Note that I said fixed magnification! This means that unless you are using bellows where you can change the extension from the camera’s sensor, you can not change how zoomed in you are or how far away you are focused. What you have is what you get. However, there are ways to change magnification that involve adding and removing from the lens system or by changing items. First, I’ll go over what I used in the setup shown above and then I will be going over other setups or things to consider.

Above, from left to right, I am using a Nikon E series 50mm f/1.8, fotodiox reverse lens ring, 68mm of fotodiox extension tubes, 68mm of kenko extension tubes, a Sakar 2x teleconverter, and my Nikon D300s (using commander mode to control the Nikon SB-700). Using an old lens is actually better in reverse lens photography because old lenses have manual aperture controls and you need to be able to manually change the aperture (i.e. have an aperture ring) due to the lack of electronic connections. The types of extension tubes that you use almost don’t matter because they wont be connecting to the electrical components of the lens anyway, so cheaper is better even (think $10 fotodiox tubes over $170 kenko tubes). In fact, a $40 set of bellows from amazon.com is probably the best solution because you can easily change the amount of extension on the go. The teleconverter will cut the amount of light entering the camera in half as it effectively doubles the f/# because it is a 2x teleconverter. Teleconverters raise the f/stop to the degree of their respective magnifications (f/3.5 becomes essentially f/7.1 with a 2x teleconverter, and f/3.5 becomes about 5.6 with a 1.7x teleconverter).This can be made negligible if you use a flash, but it is still something to consider. Teleconverters will magnify the focal length without compromising minimum focusing distance (this means that you get to multiply your magnification, but with some drawbacks – mainly in picture quality). The camera, of course, doesn’t matter too much as long as you know what you’re doing and are using an SLR. Lighting is always key, so use a good flash or flash ring or whatever means of diffused lighting you can to adequately light your subject and/or background.

In general, the wider the focal length of a lens the more zoomed in it will be when reversed. This means that a 28mm prime lens (or even a kit lens) would be more zoomed in than the 50mm I was using. However, the 50mm was cheap and suited my needs. REMEMBER, YOU ARE EXPOSING THE FRAGILE REAR ELEMENT OF YOUR LENS TO A LOT BY REVERSE LENSING, SO BE CAREFUL OR DON’T INVEST TOO MUCH INTO THE LENS YOU ARE USING. The quality of a lens in the same forwards or backwards, so the quality of the picture depends largely on your lens. The fact that my reverse lensing pictures are slightly less sharp than my macro lens pictures is due to the quality and age of the glass in the lenses. Another factor that contributes to quality is whether or not you use a teleconverter. They always reduce sharpness and contrast (even the really high end ones, or so I’ve heard).

So, let’s wrap some stuff up. The wider the lens the better, but try and keep these lenses cheap and old. Movable extension is better, otherwise you have a fixed magnification to work with. Also, teleconverters complicate the lighting and quality but can easily magnify things (a lot!). Here are some example pictures at varying magnifications with varying setups for you to compare.

Mugshot
Bee’s profile at 3.5:1 – 50mm reversed with 136mm of extension tubes

Jackson (3.5:1)
Orb Spider at 3.5:1 – 50mm reversed with 136mm of extension tubes

Jackson (7:1)
Orb Spider at 7:1 – 50mm reversed with 136mm of extension tubes and 2x teleconverter (note the drop in sharpness even after post processing to sharpen and boost contrast

Magnifying
Fly at 7:1 – 50mm reversed with 136mm of extension tubes and 2x teleconverter

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Fly at 3.5:1 – 50mm reversed with 136mm of extension tubes

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Fly at 2.1:1 – 60mm Nikkor micro lens with 68mm of extension tubes

onetoone
Fly at 1:1 – 60mm Nikkor micro lens

AND AGAIN, NOTE THAT ALL OF THE REQUIRED EQUIPMENT, INCLUDING LENSES AND A FLASH CAN BE PURCHASED FOR UNDER $100 AND WORK JUST AS WELL AS A $700+ DEDICATED MACRO LENS. HOWEVER, REMEMBER THAT WITH ALL RATHER DIY, BUDGET SOLUTIONS THERE ARE SOME DRAWBACKS. I WONT SAY THAT REVERSE LENSING IS AS EASY AS USING A DEDICATED MACRO LENS, BUT IT IS STILL VERY WORTHWHILE.

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One response to “Macro: Reverse Lensing

  1. Good Article. I bought extension tubes, reverse lens adapter. Works well in Nikon D5000 with 18-55mm kit. You can control aperture via the small lever near connection points.
    – venkatx5

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