The following post is by Andrea Thomas of Speechless Photography.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!