Neat Trick if you Need a Macro Lens in a Pinch

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No macro lens? No problem! Now you can get those lovely, detailed close-up shots without investing in another pricey lens. How? By converting one of your regular lenses into a macro lens with an affordable accessory: a reversing ring. It may sound strange to the uninitiated, but a reversing ring allows you to mount your lens onto your camera backwards. Somehow, (we won’t explore the physics of it here) this arrangement allows your lens to capture surprisingly impressive macro images. Photographer Mike Browne, who regularly puts out online tutorials, demonstrates this clever trick in the following video:

The only downside is that this setup disables all automatic functions, so you’ll have to adjust focus, exposure, etc. manually. Browne takes viewers step-by-step on how to shoot macro with a reversing ring.

1. Buy a reversing ring.

Make sure it matches the lens you plan to use it with (i.e. 50 mm ring for a 50 mm lens).

2. Attach the ring.

Screw the ring onto the front of your lens of choice (where filters would normally go); be careful not to do it too tightly.

3. Attach the lens.

Screw the end with the ring on it onto your camera as you would any lens. Make sure you’re in manual mode before you begin shooting.

4. Fix the aperture.

To let enough light in, you’ll have to force open the aperture lever the front of your reversed lens (the side that is normally attached to the camera). A bit of masking tape can do the trick.

5. Fine-tune your settings.

Adjust your exposure and fine-tune your focus using the focusing ring. To get the correct exposure, increase your shutter speed until your camera indicates that the exposure is balanced.

macro shooting without a macro lens

A macro shot of a snail shell captured using a reversing ring

Expert tip: If you’re using a zoom lens with your reversing ring, you can still utilize the zooming, which Browne considers to be an advantage over macro lenses. Additionally, though it might seem counterintuitive, shooting at a lower millimeter setting allows super-macro capabilities. See below for examples.

Shot at 70 mm:

macro photography with a reversing ring

A macro shot of lichen using a zoom lens with a reversing ring (shot at 70 mm)

Shot at 18 mm:

A super-macro shot of lichen using a reversing ring (18 mm)

A super-macro shot of lichen using zoom lens with a reversing ring (18 mm)

Though this technique may take a little extra work, it kind of sounds fun, doesn’t it? (And can certainly save a few hundred dollars.)

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3 Comments

  1. Kevin says:

    You can also get diopters to screw into your filter threads. They come in different strengths to increase magnification. Extension tubes are also useful…

  2. Jacques says:

    The nice thing about the reversal ring is the fact that it ends up working like a MP-E 65 which only Canon has (market to small to justify or some other story for you non Canon shooters). Though I am a Canon shooter, I have a 100mm Macro and not wanting to shell out for the MP-E 65, I use a reversal ring on my 70-200 and 24-105, putting the 24-105 at the back and keeping it wide open and zooming with my white monster.

    • Jacques says:

      When I say “putting the 24-105 at the back”, I mean that the 70-200 is attached to the camera, in case there is some confusion.

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