Simple Reverse Lens Macrography Howto

So you got the fancy new digital SLR but you realise that you can’t take the ‘macro’ shots that you loved taking in your point & shoot cameras without a new macro/micro enabled lens? Are you only able to go as close as this picture of flowers without losing focus?

Here’s the simple and cheap solution.

shot at 55mm NON macroYou must have read that reversing the lens enables you to get high magnification – to the extent of 1:1 (which is where true macrography begins). So how do you go about doing it? Here’s how.

The reversing ringFirst up you will need a reversing ring. It is a ring with a male mount on one side, just like your lens’s mount, which would click into your body’s mount and male threads on the other end, which would screw into your lens’s filter threads. Check the picture to see what it looks like.

Many sites and magazine articles tell you how to make one by using an old body cap and an old filter. If you are okay with that kind of stuff, go ahead with it. I don’t think it is possible to get the precision required in making such a device for photography by hand. Plus the required ring should be available in the market easily. Go to a photography store and ask for a lens reversal ring for your brand. If they don’t have it Extension tube set, ask for an extension tube for your brand. If you don’t get it at an authorised camera store, go to the local photography market, where people go to buy and sell second-hand equipment – the unorganised market. It is a pretty low-cost item. I got my extension tube set for Rs. 600 only. Here is what an extension tube set looks like. The ring we need is an integral part of the extension tube, so if you bought an extension tube, just unscrew the ring that is supposed to be attached to the body’s mount, and you have your reversal ring.

Now attach the ring to your kit lens via the filter threads. Now you can attach the lens with the body both ways, though if you attach it normally, you’ll get a vignette.
The ring with the lens
Attach the lens to the body in reverse – with the focusing ring towards the body and the CPU contacts away from you. Switch to manual mode. Now you have given up the luxuries of autofocus, exposure metering, auto aperture setting etc. You’re gonna love it here! 🙂 Change over the A/M switch on your lens to M, Lens with ring screwed onbecause we need to focus by hand. Now go to your menu and change the settings of your body flash to manual from TTL (through-the-lens) mode – set the power of the flash at around 1/4 or 1/8. Finally, set the focal length of your kit lens around between 40 and 50. Any higher than that and you’ll be getting ‘normal’ magnification. You can go lower than that once you get the hang of this method and are comfortable going really close.

Find any object you’d like to see really enlarged. Frame the object through the viewfinder, activate the flash, Lensfocus by rotating the main barrel (marked B in the picture). Since the effective focusable zone is smaller and much closer to the lens when the lens is reversed, you might see that whichever way you turn the lens, nothing comes in focus. In that case, move closer. You will have to move back and forth quite a lot to get objects in focus. Experiment with the shutter speed. I generally use between 1/5 to 1/200 (a limitation of my camera while using flash).

A problem with this setup is lack of light. If your lens has an aperture adjustment ring, open it up to the lowest f-number it allows. If it doesn’t, which is the case with most lenses today, use The aperture leverthe aperture lever on the mounting side of the lens (see the figure) to open it up, and you’ll see light! This way you get enough light to be able to see the shot clearly, focus properly and ofcourse with so much light coming in, the pictures are also great! One problem we still face is that the more we open the aperture, the narrower the depth-of-field, and this is evident at this scale. Plus, when the aperture is this wide and you are using the flash, pictures might be overexposed. Either reduce the power of the flash, or lower the aperture size a bit just before releasing the shutter.

insect macro from flickrTake care to not block the flash with your fingers/hand while focusing and operating the aperture lever. Unwanted shadows are the last thing you’d want in your photograph.

Hope that helps you click great macrographs. Happy Clicking! (The picture on the right has been taken using this setup.)

And don’t forget to see my macrography set on flickr, and leave your comments and links to your photographs.

Edit: You can also shoot macros without reversing the lens, with the help of the extension tube in place of the ring.