Best macro alternative: 5 clever options for photographers on a budget

Best macro alternative: 04 Macro Extension Bellows

Not everyone who wants to shoot close-up photography can afford expensive macro lenses… and nor do you need them! Here we review 5 great macro alternatives for photographers who want to get close without breaking the bank.

Best macro alternative: 5 clever options for photographers on a budget

Any specialist kind of photography is expensive – sports photography needs fast glass with telephoto reach. Wildlife photography requires a camouflage hide and clothing, and fashion photography demands intricate sets, models and access to a whole wardrobe of designer outfits!

Investing in professional gear is always recommended if you plan on specialising in one kind of photography, but what if you haven’t found your niche yet? What if you want to experiment with different genres without laying down your hard-earned cash for equipment that you may only use occasionally?

One type of photography where there are plenty of cheaper alternatives available is macro photography. A professional setup will consist of a sturdy tripod, dedicated macro lens, possibly a macro flash and a right-angle viewfinder. However, when added up, the cost of all this kit is astounding!

A top-of-the-range macro lens can set you back around £700, but there are solutions that cost a fraction of the price. Macro alternatives consist of various attachments that give your standard kit lens extra magnification.

This can be done by joining two lenses together, reversing your lens, adding extension tubes or bellows between your camera body and lens, or even applying close-up filters to the front of your lens.

All of these options are relatively cheap and often give at least as much – and often greater – magnification as a real macro lens. However, there are some drawbacks to these budget macro options; some prevent you from using autofocus, some cause vignetting and some reduce your depth of field down to just millimetres.

We decided to find out which macro alternative was best by taking five budget options to Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in Hampshire to get some shots of the flora and fauna.

Things to consider when seeking a macro alternative

Max magnification
Our macro alternatives were tested with a standard Canon EF-S 18-55mm kit lens. Bear in mind that different lenses will result in different maximum magnifications than those we achieved.

Increase light

Macro add-ons can darken your exposures by several stops. To compensate, shoot in Av or Tv mode and increase your Exposure Compensation. Also use a reflector to bounce more light into your scene. A pop-up reflector can be quite cumbersome with small subjects, so try an A4 piece of card with silver foil attached to one side for a handheld reflector.

True macro

A true macro image has a magnification ratio of at least 1:1. This means the object is recorded at full size on the sensor. However, some macro options can give you extra magnification, so a ratio of 4:1 means that an object that is 3mm in size will take up 12mm on your sensor!

PAGE 1 – Things to consider when seeking a macro alternative
PAGE 2 – Best macro alternative: 01 Coupling Ring (52-58mm)
PAGE 3 – Best macro alternative: 02 Reversing Ring (EF-58mm)
PAGE 4 – Best macro alternative: 03 Kood Close-Up Set (58mm)
PAGE 5 – Best macro alternative: 04 Macro Extension Bellows
PAGE 6 – Best macro alternative: 05 Kenko Automatic Extension Tube Set DG
PAGE 7 – Best macro alternative: the final verdict


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