Cheap and easy macro photography


Many web sources tell you that macro photography is difficult and/or expensive. They tell you that you will need to manually focus and use a tripod at all times, and if you do not want distorted images, you need to use an expensive macro lens.

If you want to dabble cheaply in close-up photography without having to jump through any technical hoops, I find that a 50mm prime lens (that every photographer has, right?) fitted with a x10 macro lens works wonders.

For example, the shot above was taken on a windowsill in semi shade using no additional lighting, via a hand held camera that was able to auto focus.   For the shot, I used a Sony Alpha A200, Sony SAL-50F18 SAM 50mm lens, extended with an inexpensive 55mm Opteka x10 macro diopeter (fitted to the main lens using a 49-55mm adapter).

Camera Settings ISO200, f/6.3, shutter priority mode (aperture priority is usually used in macro photography but bearing in mind I’m using hand-held rather than a tripod, I wanted to avoid shake), exposure +0.3 (to avoid the glass appearing too dark/grey).

No post production at all (other than converting the original RAW image to JPEG in Lightroom).  Really pleased with how the neutral background pops the yellow out.

Per pixel detail below for the pixel peepers. Most of the blur is due to being hand held. As I was less than 1/80s on shutter I can fix this blur by slight sharpening, but did not to present an unedited image.

Buttercup, 1:1 detail
Buttercup, 1:1 detail

Update July2010: As some retailers of the Opteka seem to be linking to this blog entry (and because I’ve recently been experimenting with faking high end product lighting using HDR photography), here’s some detailed images of the kit I’m using for the above shot.

Opteka x10 Macro lens and accessories
Opteka x10 Macro lens and accessories

The image above shows what you get with the Opteka x10 macro – the lens, a pouch and a lint free cleaning cloth. Note that the non-branded versions that you will find all over eBay are not as good (in fact, they’re useless!).

Opteka x10 Macro attached to my prime lens
Opteka x10 Macro attached to my prime lens

Here’s the prime with the x10 macro attached via the step up ring.

Update August 2010: I’ve updated my macro kit and describe it in a new post.


7 thoughts on “Cheap and easy macro photography”

  1. Thanks for your review of the Opteka on Amazon and the extra information you’ve provided here on macro photography in general. Very kind of you to publish your advice and experience. I’ve just ordered the Opteka to give macro a try.

    Best wishes, Bob

    1. Hi Bob

      Hope you find the Opteka useful in your photography. I certainly did so; taking macro photography around my garden has helped me to see just how much of our gardens we just can’t appreciate. After all, flowers are designed to appeal to the small eyes of insects, and not those of lumbering hairless apes!

      It is always difficult to see whether people actually find my photography blog useful or whether it is just a vanity project, so I’m glad to see that at least one person is finding it useful 🙂

  2. Hi I have just purchased one of the x10 macro lenses exactly as the one shown. I have been practising with it using my Nikon D5000 using the stock lens. I am finding that at close range the overall focus of a picture is lost particular on anything other than completely flat surfaces, will only focus to a fraction of the image window. anything else on even a slightly different plane goes out of focus.
    I’ll see how I get on with it using the manual settings. My first impressions are that this will be useful for the purposes which I need it.

  3. Hi Andy

    You are quite correct in your comment.

    The issue of low depth of focus is common in all macro photography. You will only be able to focus on objects a few mm either side of the focus point in macro photography, and this is still the case with expensive macro lenses.

    Although you can fix the problem somewhat via software (Google on ‘focus stacking’) or high f-stops (which only gets you so far as anything above about f16 starts to give you other problems to do with glass quality), I prefer to think that successful macro photography includes the ability to incorporate the effects of low depth of focus into the composition.

    In the image of the buttercup for example, I focus on the centre stamens of the flower. You can see from the closeup that the petal immediately behind the stamen is horribly out of focus. The outer edges of the petals however are in focus (because they are at the same distance from the lens as the stamens), so the hope is that the viewer will not notice the out of focus areas.

    One thing is for certain; macro photography is certainly challenging!

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