DIY: How I built my own super macro rig for less than $250
Last year I bought a macro lens for the summer—just a normal one with 1x magnification—and I immediately found myself in a beautiful and mesmerizing world of minuscule flowers and bugs. I found that in macro photography, you don't have to travel to beautiful places to take beautiful photos—you can just walk around in your backyard, and discover a whole new world. Also, you don't have to wake up at 4 AM to catch the golden hour...
This year, however, I decided I wanted to take things to the next level. I wanted a super macro lens with 2x or more in magnification, so that I could take closeup portraits of ants and bees. I started Googling around for the right lenses and soon discovered that there are only a couple of them out there. The best known is the Canon MP-E 65, but it costs north of $1,000. There is also a 2x macro lens from Venus Optics, but it's still $400 for the lens alone... and then you need to add some kind of flash setup.
I thought this was way too much money to just try super macro photography, so I decided to look around for cheaper solutions.
That was when I discovered this excellent article on a Swedish site. It describes how you can build your own super macro rig with cheap parts off Amazon or eBay. This build works with any Canon EF compatible camera, meaning most Canon cameras and also mirrorless cameras with adapters. After some browsing, I was able to find all the parts on Amazon and I ordered them.
The rig is based around the Canon 40mm f2.8 STM lens. This lens is excellent for this purpose as it is very cheap, small, light, sharp and has beautiful bokeh (possibly more beautiful than the Canon MP-E 65). For this particular setup, the lens is mounted reversed to get more magnification using a Meike reverse adapter. The adapter, in turn, has a cable that allows you to keep control over aperture despite having the lens reversed.
You will need a 52-58 mm step-up ring to fit the Canon 40mm with the Meike reverse adapter. Then, if you put an extension tube before the Meike adapter, you have a super macro lens! Just add more extension tubes for more magnification.
I have found that 36mm of extension tube is my sweet spot—it gives me 2.3x magnification, meaning that the subject will be 2.3x bigger on the sensor than it is in real life. So a bug that is 10mm tall will cover all 24mm of a full frame sensor.
The rest of the parts are the flash and parts needed to mount it in a way that puts it as close to the subject as possible. You should also try to make some kind of diffuser, as shown in the video.
All essential parts:
- Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM Pancake Lens (around $50 used)
- Meike reverse adapter (around $55)
- Meike MK-300 Flash (around $33)
- Vello CB-600 Straight Flash Bracket (around $10)
- Articulating arm, 7” (around $14)
- Fotga Extension tubes for Canon EF (around $40)
- Vello TTL-Off-Camera Flash Cord for Canon EOS 0.5 m (around $20)
- Goja 52-58MM Step-Up Adapter Ring (around $8)
In total (if you buy the Canon lens used): $230 USD
See the video up top for detailed instructions, and scroll down to see some sample photos. The parts can be put together in a few minutes, as shown in the video.
Lastly, a small tip for shooting super macro insect shots with this rig: use a slow shutter speed, such as 1/40s. That way you will get a lot of color and light in your photo, making it more interesting and beautiful. Don't worry about sharpness, the flash is a lot faster than 1/40, and it will make sure to freeze your subject in most situations.
Micael Widell is a photography enthusiast based in Stockholm, Sweden. He loves macro and nature photography, and runs a YouTube channel around these subjects. You can also find him on Instagram and 500px.
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