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How to Set Aperture for Macro Extension Tubes in Photography

Updated on December 14, 2013
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Macro Extension Tubes that Do Not Have Electrical Connections for Your Camera and Lens

Macro photography can be done through several routes and one of them is the use of macro extension tubes. Without getting technical macro extension tubes change the focal length of the lens so you can achieve a closer look at the world. It is generally accepted that macro photography has a 1:1 ratio. That means if the tiny object you are photographing is ¼ inch big in real life it will take up at least ¼ inch on the camera’s sensor.

Macro extension tubes are made by many Pacific Rim manufacturers. Macro extension tubes vary in quality as well. The more expensive ones from manufactures like Kenko are the best and have electrical connections that allow your lens to use autofocus and aperture adjustment. The least expensive of the lot are simple pieces of plastic that have a camera mount the same as your manufacturer’s camera. You purchase a Nikon mount set of macro extension tubes for Nikon lenses and Canon macro extension tubes for a Canon set up, etc.

Think of the cheap lenses you own with plastic mounts. Macro extension tubes are the same. Lower quality means all plastic and lower quality may mean no locking mechanism (the click you hear when attaching your lens) to securely hold everything together.

Right now if you have been thinking about getting a set of macro extension tubes for your camera go with the metal attachment variety and go with the ones that are wired to provide the connections so your camera can talk to your lens. These macro extension tubes are distinguished by having a number of metal dots that match your camera’s electrical connections. They also have a tab on the side that locks the macro extension tube to the lens. If you’re an eBay or Amazon shopper you can get a decent set of electrically connected macro extension tubes for about $100 and up. The cheapo ones are about $10.

Now let’s say that you just want to try out macro photography for a few weeks before you make a serious purchase or let’s say that your great grandfather gave you a set of macro extension rings that magically fit your camera (this was the time before DSLR lenses had electrical motors in them) (I know go to a museum and see for yourself!) You try to use the cheap extension tubes and the depth of field is almost non-existent. Your subject cannot be on a perfectly parallel plane to your camera sensor and you just can’t get enough focus. “I’ll just stop down the lens” you think to yourself. Dang it! There is no connection to the aperture motor! It doesn’t work. What do you do?

Try these steps:

  • Remove the macro extension tube from the camera and reattach your lens so you have a normal camera to lens connection. Now the electrical connections work.
  • Set your aperture as you normally would to get a greater depth of field.
  • Press and hold down the preview depth of field button found close to the lens on the front of most DLSRs
  • Contort your chubby little fingers and press the lens release button and take the lens off.
  • Keep holding down the depth of field preview button. (Is your hand cramping up yet? Good, it’s punishment for not getting the better macro extension tube set)
  • Keep your finger on the depth of field preview button and attach the cheap macro extension tube.
  • Attach your lens to the macro extension tube and make sure the lens clicks into place

Hang on to your lens when using this set up as the least expensive models of macro extension tubes will break sooner than later and your lens will fall off onto the floor.

From my research this set up should work for Nikon and Canons. You will have to find out if it works for any other brands by checking out forums for the brand of camera you are using. All kidding aside if you enjoy macro photography after a few weeks of learning it and trying different things go and get a higher quality set. The inconvenience of using non-electrically connected models combined with the fragility of the cheaper models outweighs the higher cost.

© 2013 JanMaklak

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    • agvulpes profile image

      Peter 4 years ago from Australia

      Thanks for these great tips on Macro extension tubes. I will be trying that 'depth of field' trick next time I use an extension tube :)

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