To expand my options in my closeup photography, I decided to get some extension tubes (adapters with no optics that go between your lens and camera body and reduce the minimum (and maximum) focus distance).
I opted for extension tubes over a macro reverse adapter (a simple adapter that mounts your lens in reverse), because:
- I did this over 25 years ago in high school by duct taping the lens backwards and didn’t like the effect (too distorted)
- Extension tubes work with all your lenses. Macro reverse adapters fit specific lens filter sizes, so either multiple adapters or multiple filter size adapters would be needed.
- The back of your lens becomes the front, and I didn’t like the idea of the internal elements being exposed to nature if I ended up using this outside especially since the back could be millimeters from flowers, bugs and dirt.
Some extension tubes have contacts to maintain autofocus and data and some do not.Since Fuji lenses are fly-by-wire and require power to manually focus and change aperture, I wanted one with contacts.
Since I didn’t know how the images would turn out (I might not like the effect) and I didn’t know what size I wanted (Fuji makes two – 11mm and 16mm at almost $100 each), I decided to buy a pair of cheap, generic tubes, and boy am I glad that I got generics first! (More on this later.)
I got my generic tubes (10mm and 16mm) for under $30 for both on eBay. There are marketed as Neewer, but not labeled that way on the tubes.
I read somewhere online that some generics can damage contacts. I was extremely careful when testing these with my lenses and the pins on these tubes appear to do some minor damage, so if I end up using them with my Fuji lenses often, I will probably get the Fuji extension tube(s).
However, the contacts on the generic tubes appear to be more easily damaged by either each other or the Fuji pins.
Unlike the Fuji’s extension tubes which are the same high grade metal that they use on their lenses, these generics are plastic and cheap metal…
…so I would be extremely cautious if you are using these with heavy lenses. I, personally, don’t plan to use these with my heavy lenses (more on this later).
Impact on focal distance:
(This table doesn’t include when you stack extension tubes and what impact these tubes have on exposure — extension tubes increase the distance between lens and sensor and therefore reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor.)
But I’m a really hands on person, and this table really doesn’t give me an idea of how shooting big lenses with such close distances would be like. My only experience with distances so small (less than 1 inch) was with my Sony T900 and Canon G15 point-and-shoot cameras (which is fun to do).
If you look at the table, the wider the lens, the closer you can get with extension tubes, but would being under 2 inches away from the subject with a wide lens give me a better effect than being over 2 inches away with a telephoto lens? You be the judge!
Let’s start with my 50-230mm — first at 230mm (no extension, with 10mm, 16mm, then both 10+16mm):
You will notice that there isn’t much difference.
Then at the wide end (50mm):
Wow! What a difference! 230mm without extension tube and 50mm with 10mm extension look nearly the same — the difference is the lens distance from the subject. 3ft vs 7in.
55mm on my 18-55mm gives me a similar result (sorry for changing keyboards on you. This was my first test and I didn’t properly plan for needing more light as I stacked extension tubes – thus the added flashlight):
But what really makes you think is the 18-55 at 18mm.
I’m nearly on top of it with the 16mm, but with both 10mm and 16mm extension tubes stacked, I literally cannot get close enough to the subject to get it in focus (any closer and the flashlight would not light the subject). The bokeh balls are the dust on the lens!
The most magnification
For those of you curious about the maximum magnification you can get while balanced with practical distance, my informal tests show with both 10mm and 16mm tubes stacked you get the best somewhere between 35-40mm.
f/4.5 vs f/1.8 (Fuji 50-230 at 50mm vs old Nikon f/1.8)
The difference in the first shot is primarily the difference between lenses. The Fuji’s minimum distance is about 3ft, but the old Nikon lens is about 5-6 inches, but all goes out the window once you stick extension tubes on them.
Canon G15 f/1.8 (approx f/9.5 equiv.) vs Fuji f/4, Nikon f/4, Nikon f/1.8
- A tiny, light point-and-shoot is much easier to use to get a macro shot.
- To get the same depth of field as G15 but with big lenses, apertures would need to be around f/8-16 and shutter speeds would go much slower than with tiny Canon G15. That’s because the physics of using a tiny G15 sensor also means getting wide depth of field performance at what seems like lower apertures.
- Whatever quality the lens has prior to extension tubes appears to get exaggerated. The old Nikon lens really took on a halo/crescent moon bokeh and swirly/radial blur quality.
- No dramatic benefit was made by moving up to an XF 50-140 f/2.8 lens, and the lens is too heavy to be supported by the plastic generic extension tube.
- Contrast tends to soften and exposure tends to darken
- Because of the very limited focal range (often less than a few inches to as small as a few millimeters), one lens and zoom-with-your-feet won’t cover all sizes of subjects.
- Manual focus is easier than autofocus, so extension tubes with contacts are only useful if you want to record the focal length, but, unfortunately, the data won’t show that you used an extension tube.
- So what does an old Nikon 50mm f/1.8 + Nikon>Fuji adapter + two extension tubes look like? Very long.
Not-very-durable generic extension tube should be ok for occasional use with light lenses.
Artsy use: For me, this is a fun option for high-grain black & whites (see below). The incredibly shallow depth-of-field and exaggerated “imperfections” from using old manual lenses is distracting in color for me, but takes on an interesting quality in b/w.
This would have been great on my 50-230mm when I shot that water drop. The shots from less than an inch away were interesting, but the shot that I wanted required me to be several inches away, but none of my long lenses could get close enough (my 50-230mm can only get 3ft away). With the 10+16mm stacked, it is now about half that.
Practical use: If you want low ISOs, more subject in focus (smaller apertures)*, then tripod and/or more light is needed.
*Heavier lenses (with wider apertures) are therefore less useful.
More samples (old Nikon 50mm f/1.8 10mm extension)
How did I get that cover photo? It’s my office chair with some backlight from a desk lamp. I used my old Nikon 50mm f/1.8 on my Fuji X-E2.