reversing a lens for cheap macro

Started Aug 24, 2013 | Discussions
Niko Vita
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reversing a lens for cheap macro
Aug 24, 2013

I will appreciate some advice from the pros here regarding cheap macro options. I do not want to buy an expensive macro lens (not yet at least) because I am just an amateur (have other things to do for living) but still enjoy photography very much. Macro is one of the fascinating aspects which lets you see things that you just can't see otherwise. I've read a few tutorials, among them this one

http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/macro-extension-tubes-closeup.htm

which I found really nice. I understand that there are intriguing possibilities here, at a low price. Probably I will get a set of extension rings and experiment (I do not want to put a close-up lens, because a good one is not so cheap, and a bad one doesn't make sense). However, I am thrilled by the possibility to reverse one of my lenses and get a huge magnification. I am thinking about using two lenses, a 55-300mm mounted to the camera (Nikon D5200) and a prime 35 f/1.8 lens attached to it via a reverse ring. I understand that if I reverse just a single lens and attach it to the body all electrical contacts will be lost and I will have to do everything manually. So I don't want to do this. However, if I use two lenses, the one attached to the body in the usual way (the 55-300 in my case) will be perfectly connected. The one that is reversed on the top of it (the 35mm one) will be disconnected, of course, but will this matter? Isn't it true that the camera will be able to do the autofocus and all meterings with the 55-300 one? I can live with a manual focus, which I understand is the way to go in macro anyway, but aperture, speed and ISO controls are a bit too much for me to get right in short time. Isn't this face-to-face configuration of two lenses very much like putting a close-up lens filter in front of a lens when all controls are kept intact?

Michael Benveniste
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Re: reversing a lens for cheap macro
In reply to Niko Vita, Aug 25, 2013

However, I am thrilled by the possibility to reverse one of my lenses and get a huge magnification. I am thinking about using two lenses, a 55-300mm mounted to the camera (Nikon D5200) and a prime 35 f/1.8 lens attached to it via a reverse ring. I understand that if I reverse just a single lens and attach it to the body all electrical contacts will be lost and I will have to do everything manually. So I don't want to do this. However, if I use two lenses, the one attached to the body in the usual way (the 55-300 in my case) will be perfectly connected. The one that is reversed on the top of it (the 35mm one) will be disconnected, of course, but will this matter? Isn't it true that the camera will be able to do the autofocus and all meterings with the 55-300 one?

Using a macro reversing ring to reverse mount your 35mm on your 300mm zoom does not interfere with the electrical communication between the camera and zoom in any way. You'll need a 52mm<->58mm macro reversing ring, but such things are available for less than $5 on fleaBay.

That's the good news. Now the bad news. Since the 35mm f/1.8 is a "G" lens, you'll need to find a mechanical means of holding the aperture lever open on that lens. Otherwise, the 35mm lens will stop down to f/16 and let very little light reach the zoom.  Personally, I'm not comfortable with the idea; I'd be afraid of fouling up the action for standard shots.  But it's your gear and your call.

Here's the in-between news. Under very good conditions, it may be possible to get metering and some autofocus to work. Here is an example I just shot using a D800, 70-300mm VR, and a reversed Pentax 645 45mm f/2.8. Both lenses have 67mm threads; I would have had to use 2 step-up rings to reverse my ancient 35mm f/2.8 PC:

Full Image at 25% size

100% crop of the letter R -- http://sadtrombone.com

To get this shot, I mounted the D800 with 70-300mm VR and reversed 45mm on a Beseler Copystand designed for medium format gear. I then brought a full-spectrum CFL in a reflector as close to the coin and camera as I dared.  Next I "prefocused" by using the copystand adjustments until I could see the lettering in the viewfinder.  I then switched to Live View, moved as far away from the rig as my MC-30 release would allow, held my breath, let Live View acquire focus and took the shot.  The results, as you can see, are not exactly spectacular.

Prefocusing is necessary because the minimum and maximum focus distance of this combination differ by only about 4mm.  With the 55-300mm and 35mm f/1.8, it would be even less. Working distance was probably in the 50-70mm range.

In my opinion, lens quality, vibration, and focus accuracy all contribute to the softness of this shot.  Neither the 70-300mm nor the 45mm is designed for this, and the CA on the right side of the shot is probably just the tip of an iceberg of aberrations.  I shot this on the second floor, and I could quite clearly see vibration in live view when I moved or breathed.  Finally, it appears that live view tried to maximize the contrast of the surface scratches rather than the lettering.

So there ya go.  What you propose to do is possible, but requires very good support gear, decent lighting, and above average patience.  For my troubles, I ended up with indifferent results; I wish you luck in doing better.

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The Big One
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Re: reversing a lens for cheap macro
In reply to Niko Vita, Aug 25, 2013

I have done reverse lens mounting macro, but I found that for my interesting subjects (insects) it was just too much... just about impossible to get things focused, and the optical quality was not great.

I found that extension tubes on my Sigma 50-150 gives much better results.  You should have similar experience with your 55-200.  I use two of the Kenko-style extension tubes (metal mount, bought from eBay for about $70).  (It comes in a set of three; I use the two thicker ones and leave the 12mm one off).  Stop the lens down all the way (DOF is more important than the sharpness loss from diffraction IMHO).  Use an off camera flash if possible, or some sort of diffuser which lets the light illuminate the subject.  You focus by zooming.  This is a shot I got last weekend:

D7000, Sigma 50-150/2.8 @ f/22 + two extension tubes, ISO 100, flash + homemade diffuser, all on tripod.

Cheers

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Leonard Migliore
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Nikon's miserable Live View
In reply to Michael Benveniste, Aug 25, 2013

Michael Benveniste wrote:

To get this shot, I mounted the D800 with 70-300mm VR and reversed 45mm on a Beseler Copystand designed for medium format gear. I then brought a full-spectrum CFL in a reflector as close to the coin and camera as I dared. Next I "prefocused" by using the copystand adjustments until I could see the lettering in the viewfinder. I then switched to Live View, moved as far away from the rig as my MC-30 release would allow, held my breath, let Live View acquire focus and took the shot. The results, as you can see, are not exactly spectacular.

Prefocusing is necessary because the minimum and maximum focus distance of this combination differ by only about 4mm. With the 55-300mm and 35mm f/1.8, it would be even less. Working distance was probably in the 50-70mm range.

In my opinion, lens quality, vibration, and focus accuracy all contribute to the softness of this shot. Neither the 70-300mm nor the 45mm is designed for this, and the CA on the right side of the shot is probably just the tip of an iceberg of aberrations. I shot this on the second floor, and I could quite clearly see vibration in live view when I moved or breathed. Finally, it appears that live view tried to maximize the contrast of the surface scratches rather than the lettering.

What you ran into is Nikon's horrible live view. Unless the D800 does things differently from older Nikon DSLR's, what happens is that when you press the shutter in live view, the mirror comes back down (to check exposure), the shutter closes, the mirror goes back up, the shutter opens to take the picture, the shutter closes and the mirror comes back down.

Now the stuff that happens after the shutter closes has no effect but when you use live view, you get two mirror actuations and two shutter actuactions before the exposure. It's nearly impossible to get sharp high-magnification images when the camera is shaking around like that.

I have given up on Nikon for macro and use a Canon instead. Canon's silent mode does not move the mirror or shutter prior to exposure and produces excellent sharpness at high magnifications.

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Niko Vita
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Re: reversing a lens for cheap macro
In reply to Michael Benveniste, Aug 25, 2013

Thanks for the valuable advice. It looks to me that you focused on the background rather than the letters. Anyway, it looks to me that my 35 mm 1.8G lens is not the best one for this because of the lack of direct aperture control, and I don't have any other prime lens. I understand that one should not put a zoom lens in front, also because it is heavier (I only have G lenses anyway). Reversing a lens is too tricky and I may damage the front lens. I think I will try with extension tubes, which I understand work well for small focal lengths. Maybe also with close-up filters with my zoom lenses. What about Hoya +4, which are available in the nearby store, do you know if they will keep the IQ? Is +4 enough or should I get +10?

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Niko Vita
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Re: reversing a lens for cheap macro
In reply to The Big One, Aug 25, 2013

Great picture! I think I will also get a set of extension tubes from ebay, they are named Meike (never heard of this) and look like Kenko but much cheaper.

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clarnibass
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Re: reversing a lens for cheap macro
In reply to Niko Vita, Aug 25, 2013

I'm not sure how expensive is the expensive lens you don't want to buy, but another option is a lens like a Nikon 55mm f/3.5 AI. This is an old manual focus lens that you can get for lenss than $100 on ebay. It gets to x0.5 magnification. To get to x1 magnification (if you really need it) there's the PK-13 extension tube which you can also find used on ebay usually. This is what I bought when I wanted to start shooting macro on a Nikon (I was using a Canon before).

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clarnibass
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Re: Nikon's miserable Live View
In reply to Leonard Migliore, Aug 25, 2013

I would say Nikon Live View is far worse than Canon's in general... but regarding this specific issue, isn't this solved by using Mup? I always use this mode when I take macro photos anyway.

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Leon Obers
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Re: reversing a lens for cheap macro
In reply to Niko Vita, Aug 25, 2013

I should not worry about losing electric contacts. Just set exposure by manual settings, make a test shot and check the image by LCD-monitor using helping adds as histogram and highlight blinking clipping tool.

Get some simple extension tubes by E-bay, an old fashioned Nikkor, Rodenstock, Schneider, Fujinon, or Tominon enlarger lens (out of darkroom age), plus connection ring, and you have a nice starting kit for a tight budget.

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Michael Benveniste
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Re: reversing a lens for cheap macro
In reply to Niko Vita, Aug 25, 2013

Niko Vita wrote:

I think I will try with extension tubes, which I understand work well for small focal lengths. Maybe also with close-up filters with my zoom lenses. What about Hoya +4, which are available in the nearby store, do you know if they will keep the IQ? Is +4 enough or should I get +10?

Without knowing the type of subject you wish to shoot, I can't say what will be "enough" for you. The higher the magnification, the more difficult the challenges of vibration and lighting. All I can do is give you some rough numbers on maximum magnification:

All three "eBay/Meike" extension tubes: 0.56x

Canon 500D close-up lens: 0.89x

Marumi 330 DHG close-up lens: 1.2x

Hoya +4 close-up lens: 1.5x

Hoya +10 close-up lens: 3.32x

The Canon 500D and Marumi 330 are multicoated 2-element (achromatic) designs. The Canon is a well-established product with an excellent reputation. I own the Marumi -- it's very similar in quality and strength to the Nikon 6T.

The Hoya's are single-coated single-element designs. They are stronger but not as good optically. Century Optics makes a 2-element +7 close-up lens -- it costs about as much as your 55-300mm.

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Sergey_Green
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Reverse lens is the hardest type of macro photography,
In reply to Niko Vita, Aug 25, 2013

But it can also be the most rewarding if you are patient enough. See Mark Dijstelberge's blog for detailed setup,

reversed lens' click on the information (1) link.

This is what he gets with it (from his signature),

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+--+--+--+--: http://www.dijstelberge.nl/ :--+--+--+--+--

--+--+--+--+--: http://www.mdsign.nl/fotos/D70 :--+--+--+--+--

He has not posted on dpr for quite a while.

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StillLearning
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Re: reversing a lens for cheap macro
In reply to Niko Vita, Aug 25, 2013

6 years ago I was experimenting with my 105 and 50F1.8 reversed.  It wasn't easy.  Had to manually move my camera an tripod to focus.  I used a flash on a macro bracket with Fong diffuser to eliminate the vibration concern.

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Leonard Migliore
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Amost solved
In reply to clarnibass, Aug 25, 2013

clarnibass wrote:

I would say Nikon Live View is far worse than Canon's in general... but regarding this specific issue, isn't this solved by using Mup? I always use this mode when I take macro photos anyway.

Some of the problem is solved. But it keeps you from using live view. Or, at the very least, it makes you back out of live view and then go to mirror up. And you still get the vibration from the first shutter curtain, which you don't get with Canon or Sony.

Having done macros with both systems, I find that the Canon with live view is much easier to work with and produces generally sharper pictures.

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Michael Benveniste
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Re: Amost solved
In reply to Leonard Migliore, Aug 26, 2013

Leonard Migliore wrote:

Some of the problem is solved. But it keeps you from using live view. Or, at the very least, it makes you back out of live view and then go to mirror up. And you still get the vibration from the first shutter curtain, which you don't get with Canon or Sony.

I can't speak to the shutter curtain, but unlike older models the D800 doesn't perform the "bang-bang" mirror operation in live view mode.

Quoting http://imaging.nikon.com/lineup/dslr/d800/features03.htm:

"As a result, shutter release can be operated with mirror-up position during live view. Because mirror-down movement is not required, you can expect even quieter still live view shooting."

You can also use live view in MUp mode without backing out of anything, but I'm not sure there's any benefit in doing so.

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