Extension Tube or Macro Lens?

Started Apr 23, 2013 | Discussions
GaryR60
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Extension Tube or Macro Lens?
Apr 23, 2013

I'm contemplating doing some macro photography with my NEX-5N and since I have a Fotodiox MD-NEX adapter that lets me use all my legacy Minolta MD-mount lenses, I'm thinking I might get a cheap extension tube for MD mount and use it with the adapter and the Minolta 50mm lens I have, as opposed to buying a dedicated macro lens. What say you? Any reasons I should go with the macro lens, instead?

Gary

Sony Alpha NEX-5N
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saintz
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Re: Extension Tube or Macro Lens?
In reply to GaryR60, Apr 23, 2013

I'm wondering the same. Is there a substantial difference in sharpness with the dedicated macro lens?

You're already using manual focus and aperture, so no issue there.

Does anyone have a series of comparison shots, one with a macro and one with tubes, to show what you can and can't do with each?

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D Cox
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Re: Extension Tube or Macro Lens?
In reply to GaryR60, Apr 23, 2013

GaryR60 wrote:

I'm contemplating doing some macro photography with my NEX-5N and since I have a Fotodiox MD-NEX adapter that lets me use all my legacy Minolta MD-mount lenses, I'm thinking I might get a cheap extension tube for MD mount and use it with the adapter and the Minolta 50mm lens I have, as opposed to buying a dedicated macro lens. What say you? Any reasons I should go with the macro lens, instead?

Not really. The macro lens will have a flat field at macro distances, which matters if you intend to use the lens for copying flat artwork. If you plan to shoot flowers, insects, etc at f/8 or f/11, the difference will be very small if any.

Another cheap approach is to use a good close-up lens. This gives a much brighter image than extension tubes or bellows.

Yet another approach is a BPM bellows. These legacy bellows take lens or camera adapters at either end. With an M39 adapter at the camera end, and an M39 to NEX adapter, and a Minolta adapter at the lens end, you get a very flexible setup. But this does mean some hunting on eBay.

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Letsgokoulos
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Re: Extension Tube or Macro Lens?
In reply to GaryR60, Apr 23, 2013

GaryR60 wrote:

I'm contemplating doing some macro photography with my NEX-5N and since I have a Fotodiox MD-NEX adapter that lets me use all my legacy Minolta MD-mount lenses, I'm thinking I might get a cheap extension tube for MD mount and use it with the adapter and the Minolta 50mm lens I have, as opposed to buying a dedicated macro lens. What say you? Any reasons I should go with the macro lens, instead?

Gary

I agree with D Cox's recommendations.

A macro lens only is justified if you intend to often practice macro photography.

Otherwise, I would advise close-up lenses of good quality, such as the Raynox DCR-150 (+4.5) and 250 (+8), or Marumi Achromat DHG 200 (+5) and DHG 330 (+3). It is important to find good quality ones (achromats are highly recommended), so that the optical qualities of your lens are not degraded. Note that you do not loose any light with close-up lenses.

One important thing to take into account is that extension tubes, which do not contain any glass that could deteriorate your IQ, will actually loose at least 1 stop (depending on the tube length).

I find the bellows solution to be a good one for high magnification macro, but its downside (for me, at least) is that it is cumbersome and attracts dust on the camera sensor which is unprotected.

Marc

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KM Legacy
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Re: Extension Tube or Macro Lens?
In reply to GaryR60, Apr 23, 2013

Macro lenses are corrected for close-up work, unlike normal 50mm lenses. Also, with a macro you can focus from infinity to 1:2 (1:1 with some lenses), whereas once your extension tube is mounted on a normal lens, you are locked into a specific close range. Macro lenses are excellent general-purpose lenses unless you really need the high speed of "normal" lenses; they are usually among the sharpest lenses in any mfr's line.

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saintz
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Re: Extension Tube or Macro Lens?
In reply to KM Legacy, Apr 23, 2013

KM Legacy wrote:

Macro lenses are corrected for close-up work, unlike normal 50mm lenses. Also, with a macro you can focus from infinity to 1:2 (1:1 with some lenses), whereas once your extension tube is mounted on a normal lens, you are locked into a specific close range. Macro lenses are excellent general-purpose lenses unless you really need the high speed of "normal" lenses; they are usually among the sharpest lenses in any mfr's line.

Is that sharpness difference typically noticeable when shooting closeups of, say, a baby's fingers or  the peel of an orange sitting on a table? Or more noticeable when trying to get a flat image of a stamp (which would be better done on a scanner anyway)?

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saintz
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Re: Extension Tube or Macro Lens?
In reply to Letsgokoulos, Apr 23, 2013

Letsgokoulos wrote:

GaryR60 wrote:

I'm contemplating doing some macro photography with my NEX-5N and since I have a Fotodiox MD-NEX adapter that lets me use all my legacy Minolta MD-mount lenses, I'm thinking I might get a cheap extension tube for MD mount and use it with the adapter and the Minolta 50mm lens I have, as opposed to buying a dedicated macro lens. What say you? Any reasons I should go with the macro lens, instead?

Gary

I agree with D Cox's recommendations.

A macro lens only is justified if you intend to often practice macro photography.

Otherwise, I would advise close-up lenses of good quality, such as the Raynox DCR-150 (+4.5) and 250 (+8), or Marumi Achromat DHG 200 (+5) and DHG 330 (+3). It is important to find good quality ones (achromats are highly recommended), so that the optical qualities of your lens are not degraded. Note that you do not loose any light with close-up lenses.

One important thing to take into account is that extension tubes, which do not contain any glass that could deteriorate your IQ, will actually loose at least 1 stop (depending on the tube length).

I find the bellows solution to be a good one for high magnification macro, but its downside (for me, at least) is that it is cumbersome and attracts dust on the camera sensor which is unprotected.

Marc

It looks like good adapter lenses cost as much as a legacy macro lens. At that point I would probably just get a legacy macro. I was trying to avoid cheap adapter lenses to avoid quality degradation.

I figure the tubes will lose light, but so would a f2.8 or f4 macro lens compared to faster regular 50mm lenses.

Personally, I'm wondering if I should get a M42 tube for my Takumar 50 f1.4, or go with the Takumar 50 f4 macro.

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Letsgokoulos
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Re: Extension Tube or Macro Lens?
In reply to saintz, Apr 23, 2013

saintz wrote:

It looks like good adapter lenses cost as much as a legacy macro lens. At that point I would probably just get a legacy macro. I was trying to avoid cheap adapter lenses to avoid quality degradation.

I figure the tubes will lose light, but so would a f2.8 or f4 macro lens compared to faster regular 50mm lenses.

Personally, I'm wondering if I should get a M42 tube for my Takumar 50 f1.4, or go with the Takumar 50 f4 macro.

It is true that a good close-up lens is not so cheap, but it has the versatility of being adaptable to several lenses... A Marumi in 49mm can be adapted to most of the E-mount lenses, and it is very light and small to carry with you.

I can't imagine taking a macro shot at f1.4 in any case. The depth of field is very shallow when you are at 1:2 or 1:1 magnification (sometimes under 1mm), and you will find yourself more often trying to deepen the DoF by going to f8, f11 or even smaller apertures. And at these apertures, your problem will be shutter speed...

This problem is getting worse with extension tubes, because you loose 1 stop at least. Your only chance is then to use some pretty good light solutions, such as external flashes, ring flashes, etc... to regain some shutter speed.

Between adding a tube to a Takumar 50mm f1.4 and getting the 50mm f4 Macro, I would use the dedicated macro lens without hesitation. As KM Legacy explained, one advantage of the macro lens is that your are not limited to a specific close range and can vary your shooting distance with the amount of magnification you wish to use. Macro lenses can also be used as regular lenses, are very sharp and often have good bokeh qualities.

I use all the solutions detailed above, except for the extension tubes that I quit using. Each method has a specific purpose. Again, the main question is how serious you want to be with macro photography and whether the investment can be justified.

Marc

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KM Legacy
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Re: Extension Tube or Macro Lens?
In reply to saintz, Apr 23, 2013

I don't think the difference is just that macro lenses have a flatter field. Any lens design is a compromise, and lenses are optimized for different subject distances. Fast 50s are optimized for medium distance out to infinity; when you extend them closer than their focusing mount allows, they get even worse. Macros are designed to be better close up, yet most do very well indeed at infinity as well. Legacy 50mm macros are cheap and abundant. Fast 50s were popular in the film days because film was slow and SLR OVFs benefit from large apertures; today, when the base ISO of most sensors is 200, and we're talking about mirrorless cameras, they make less sense. They are not sharp wide open, and nobody is going to shoot macro at F1.4-2 anyway.

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ebookman
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Re: Extension Tube or Macro Lens?
In reply to KM Legacy, Apr 24, 2013

I have two sets of extension tubes and a two macro lenses. I will only use the extension tubes on the macro lens. The macro is much better in most cases. My one exception is a focusing macro adapter on a Leica M mount lens which is awesome. I found that you can get a really good used macro lens between $75 and $100 dollars. I  have a 50mm Canon FD 3.5 macro which is superb. Cost $100 on eBay

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KM Legacy
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Re: Extension Tube or Macro Lens?
In reply to ebookman, Apr 24, 2013

I agree that the Canon FD 50mm macro is great. You can often get them for well under $100; sometimes about half that.

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GaryR60
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Re: Extension Tube or Macro Lens?
In reply to saintz, Apr 24, 2013

Yep, that's pretty much my question.

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GaryR60
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Re: Extension Tube or Macro Lens?
In reply to D Cox, Apr 24, 2013

Thanks. I hadn't considered that. My interest is primarily in abstract macro views of flowers, plants, etc; i.e., anything small.

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GaryR60
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Re: Extension Tube or Macro Lens?
In reply to Letsgokoulos, Apr 24, 2013

Thanks for the suggestions. I'm not really concerned so much about the light falloff from an extension tube, as I can always increase my exposure time and/or ISO to compensate.

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GaryR60
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Re: Extension Tube or Macro Lens?
In reply to saintz, Apr 24, 2013

Yep, that may be the route to go, I believe. Just an MD mount macro lens, which would fit on my adapter, and problem solved. Thanks!  

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GaryR60
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Re: Extension Tube or Macro Lens?
In reply to KM Legacy, Apr 24, 2013

Yep, which is why I'm leaning toward getting a macro lens instead of the extension tube. The latter is cheaper, but you get what you pay for.

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GaryR60
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Re: Extension Tube or Macro Lens?
In reply to KM Legacy, Apr 24, 2013

Good points. I think I'll look for a legacy MD mount macro lens, then.

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GaryR60
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Re: Extension Tube or Macro Lens?
In reply to ebookman, Apr 24, 2013

Thanks, good to know.  

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D Cox
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Re: Extension Tube or Macro Lens?
In reply to saintz, Apr 24, 2013

saintz wrote:

KM Legacy wrote:

Macro lenses are corrected for close-up work, unlike normal 50mm lenses. Also, with a macro you can focus from infinity to 1:2 (1:1 with some lenses), whereas once your extension tube is mounted on a normal lens, you are locked into a specific close range. Macro lenses are excellent general-purpose lenses unless you really need the high speed of "normal" lenses; they are usually among the sharpest lenses in any mfr's line.

Is that sharpness difference typically noticeable when shooting closeups of, say, a baby's fingers or  the peel of an orange sitting on a table? Or more noticeable when trying to get a flat image of a stamp (which would be better done on a scanner anyway)?

No, it is not noticeable.

I did a set of macro shots of the same subject, using Nikon 50mm f/1.4; Micro-Nikkor 55mm; Topcon f/1.4 and Macro; Nikon, Minolta and Wray enlarger lenses. All at f/11, shooting RAW.

The subject was some little brass nuts and bolts.

On A3 prints, the difference is not enough to tell which lens is which - there is no point in posting them as an on-screen view would not show any difference.

Certainly a Macro lens is convenient as the long focus range is like having built in tubes. So if you can get one cheap, it is worth while. In my case, I have had most of these lenses for many years.

One of the Wray lenses is not coated. This gives a slightly less black black - easily corrected in PP.

Beware of stopping down beyond f/16 as diffraction becomes a problem sooner at macro distances than at infinity.

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D Cox
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Re: Extension Tube or Macro Lens?
In reply to GaryR60, Apr 24, 2013

GaryR60 wrote:

Thanks for the suggestions. I'm not really concerned so much about the light falloff from an extension tube, as I can always increase my exposure time and/or ISO to compensate.

If your subject is still. Flowers and insects move a lot.

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