Big Fun with Macro Filters

The following post is by Andrea Thomas of Speechless Photography.

Big Fun With Macro Filters

I love drooling over other photographers’ amazing photos taken with macro lenses. There’s just something about seeing tiny things (or a tiny part of something) large and in detail that can take the most ordinary subject and make it into something extraordinary.

I’d love to have a macro lens someday, but honestly there are quite a few other items on my wishlist that are higher up as far as priorities go. For now the best I can do is zoom all the way in with my 24-105mm lens, get as close as possible and then crop in some more, but my macro-loving heart knows it isn’t the same…

Then one day, a local wedding photographer that I admire shared that she doesn’t use a macro lens for her gorgeous, up close and personal ring shots. Instead, she uses (drum roll please) an inexpensive set of macro filters! A quick check on Amazon and I found out that these little miracle workers could be mine without breaking the bank!

Before anyone chimes in with warnings of how cheap glass will degrade my image quality, I am already aware of this fact. I’m not trying to take crystal clear, tack sharp, award winning images here, I just want to have some big fun for a small price.

You can find macro filter sets online at a variety of price points, from super cheap to significantly more expensive. After reading reviews of various brands, I decided to go with an AFGA set that fell somewhere in the middle, but was still under $25. This set came with a cool storage wallet that was a nice bonus.

I went with the 77mm size set, because that is the largest filter size of the lenses that I own (the Canon 24-105mm f/4 lens takes a 77mm size filter). My other lenses (the Canon 50mm f/1.4 and 85 f/1.8) both use a 58mm size filter, so I purchased an inexpensive Step Up/Down ring (77mm threads on one side and 58mm threads on the other) which will allow me to use these filters on all my lenses.

Macro Filter Set with Wallet and Step Up/Down Ring

The set that I purchased came with 4 filters, labeled +1, +2, +4 and +10. Below you will see my Canon 85mm lens with the step up ring and the +10 filter attached.

Macro Filter Set, +10 filter on Canon 85mm f/1.8 lens

It’s important to understand that these macro filters don’t “zoom” your lens, and your focal length doesn’t change. They work by reducing the minimum focusing distance, allowing you to focus on a subject that is much closer to the end of your lens than you normally would. The +10 filter allows you to get the closest to the subject while the +1 filter allows you to get just a little bit closer. Here are some examples to show you exactly how much the scene changes with each filter.

In each photo, I got as close to the orange as I could while making sure that I could still focus. With the +10 filter attached, the front of my lens was almost touching the orange. With no filter attached, I was at the minimum focusing distance for this lens, just under 3 feet away.

Macro filter examples on Canon 85mm lens

As you can tell from the examples, the +4 and +10 filters made the most difference. My auto focus did struggle a little bit with the +10 filter, but I had good luck with manually setting my focus to the smallest distance (2.8′/0.85m) and then actually moving my camera closer to or farther away from the subject. If you have Live View on your camera, where you can see the subject on your LCD instead of through the viewfinder, turning that on can help you see when focus is achieved. You’ll also want to use a small aperture (large f/number) when you are really close to the subject. I used f/11 in all of the orange shots above.

Here are more examples using the +4 and +10 filters on my 85mm lens.

Macro filter cabbageMacro filter sunflowerMacro filter yellow and purple pansyMacro pale purple pansy

So if you love seeing the world in macro, but a true macro lens isn’t in your budget, consider a macro filter set. Then I won’t be the only one running around looking like a crazy person taking close-up photos of all the flowers in my yard!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.
About Andrea Thomas

I'm Andrea. I'm a Canon-shooting mom to a little boy who runs from my camera and a baby girl born on Halloween. I'm also a wife to a husband who usually obliges me when I yell at him to pull over so I can take a picture! I love learning about photography and editing and am passionate about sharing what I've learned with others.

Comments

  1. 1
    BeckieK says:

    Great post! Thank you for sharing! I have often wondered about these filters! :-)

    • 1.1
      AndreaT says:

      Thanks, Beckie! Me, too! I had heard of them a long time ago, but assumed that they wouldn’t work that well or would be just another gadget gathering dust in my “stuff I don’t use” pile, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well they work and the quality of the images.

  2. 2

    I love macro but don’t own a lens so this post really caught my eye. I ran over to Amazon to check out the filters and then a light bulb went on! I actually HAVE one of those filters that I bought when I purchased my camera 6 years ago! I have never really known what it was for or how to use it. It is a +3 and I payed $12 for it! That is almost as much as one of these sets that you showed but back then I didn’t even know what I was buying lol You have made my day and you better know I will be using that filter a LOT more now!

  3. 3
    Elizabeth says:

    Perfect!!!! I will be putting this on my Christmas list! :)

  4. 4
    Jeanita says:

    Amazing!!! thanks for sharing….

  5. 5
    Joanne C says:

    Thank you!!

  6. 6
    Jeanie says:

    I recently got macro filters for my 85mm lens. I have +1, +2, and +4. I’ve had them for two weeks and only played with them for a bit in the yard. I took an amazing photo of a pendant I was wearing. All I could think was ‘why didn’t I have these when I was selling jewellery’. The detail they showed was amazing! Really impressed and glad I got them. I really need to put aside an afternoon to play with them =)

    • 6.1
      AndreaT says:

      Glad you’ve had a good experience with the macro filters also, Jeanie! I’d love to see your pendant picture! Do you have it anywhere you could link to?

  7. 7
    Jeanie says:

    Hi Andrea, Sure I used one of the photos on instagram.
    http://instagram.com/p/SAKs4ajK1A/

    Excuse the focusing. I used my (new) 85mm lens which I’d only had a few days more than the filters. I really was playing with the new toys.

    One of the photos made my skin look like a mannequin. I found it really amazing. I’ve just put 4 macro photos onto Flickr.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/inspiredwish/sets/72157632062937477/

  8. 8
    melissa says:

    These look like fun :) this may be a silly question but how would i find out what size filter my lens would need? i have a sigma 30mm 1.4 thanks

    • 8.1
      AndreaT says:

      Hi Melissa, there are no silly questions! :-D I usually just go look my lens up on Amazon (or the lens manufacturer’s website) and then look for something that tells you the filter size. In this case, the Sigma 30mm 1.4 lens uses a 62mm filter. Is that the only lens that you have? If so, do you have any other lenses on your wishlist? If you do, you might want to take the filter size of those “wishlist” lenses into account and make sure that you buy macro filters large enough to work for that lens, too. You can use the Step up/down rings to make a larger filter work on smaller filter size lens, but it won’t work the other way around.

      • 8.1.1
        melissa says:

        Thanks so much! I do have a 50mm and I’m saving for a 24-70 so I will check for filter size on those too. Again, thank you so much. I’ve learned so much from your site. :)

  9. 9
    Kim L says:

    Great article and examples! I agree these look like fun! Happy Thanksgiving!

  10. 10
    Lucille Matte says:

    I get some really amazing close ups with whatever lens I have on my camera. If you practice enough, bend enough, get in really awkward positions and don’t mind the neighbors and passerby’s staring at you, your regular lens, whatever it might be can render some amazing close up shots as well. Just my personal observation, but I’ll probably try these out as well. :)

  11. 11
    Sarah says:

    I got some of these and they are wonderful! Thank you for reminding me to get them out and dust them off. Macro is so fun!

  12. 12
    Joevimalraj says:

    Thanks so much for this very useful information.. this is very informative.. Great one indeed…

Speak Your Mind

*