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Affordable Macro Photography: Kenko Macro Extension Tubes Review

By Michelle Ford on January 9th 2014

To photograph a small object like a pair of wedding rings and fill the frame with it, photographers turn to macro lenses.  Specialty lenses like these unfortunately can be rather expensive.  In this video, we’ll be reviewing an affordable alternative, the Kenko Macro Extension Tubes.

Watch the Video

What are Extension Tubes and How Do They Work?

Extension tubes are hollow barrels with no optics.   They are placed  between the camera body and the lens.  By moving the lens farther from the sensor, the lens moves closer to the object, thereby increasing magnification.

 

Advantages

  • No Optics  – means the quality of the glass on your lens isn’t diminished.
  • Manufacturer specific – made for Nikon, Canon and Sony, each barrel has electronic contact points on both sides allowing your lens’ metering and auto focus functions to still work.
  • Locks securely – each barrel has a locking mechanism to hold and release the lens that’s attached to it.
  • They can be used with almost any lens that you own to turn it into a close up or macro lens.
  • Stackable – you can use any of the barrels in the set with your lens or you can use a combination of two or all three with your lens to achieve the desired result.   CAUTION: When you increase the distance between the lens and the camera sensor you will experience loss of light so be sure to have your object properly lit.
  • Price – sold as a set of three: 12mm, 20mm and 35mm, the extension tubes are extremely affordable at $199

[REWIND: Reversing Rings: Macro Photography On The Cheap]

Disadvantage

The nice thing about a real macro lens is that it doesn’t just work as a macro.  It also operates as a normal lens.  The Canon 100mm macro, for example, is actually an excellent portrait lens as well and there are no switches that have to be flicked in order for you to go from shooting macro shots to a portrait.  With the macro extension tubes attached to your camera, you are stuck in macro mode.  To get your lens to shoot in normal mode again, you would have to remove the extension tubes.

Getting Results

Magnification is controlled by two lens properties, focal length and focusing distance.  Focal length, we know to be the number on your barrel, for example, the 50mm f/1.4 has a focal length of 50.  The minimum focusing distance is the shortest distance from which the lens can focus.  This number you can get from the manufacturer’s specs for the lens.  The 100mm macro lens from Canon has a 1:1 magnification with a .3 minimum focusing distance.  To replicate that level of magnification using the extension tubes, you can use a 50mm + two of the extension tubes stacked together (12mm and 36mm).  Figuring this out was fairly simple when you use a magnification calculator found on MYSTD.DE.  I went ahead and found the numbers for the canon primes in my bag and charted out the following numbers.

kenko-tubes-chart

Conclusion

We love th03-product-reviews-4-starat these extension tubes come as a set of three which gives everyone the flexibility to pick and choose the look they want.  Use one or use them all with whatever lenses you already have in your arsenal.    It can replicate the magnification of a true macro and it’s a very affordable $199 for the entire set.  The only issue we have is the fact that once it’s attached to the camera you are only in macro mode.  But still, it’s too good to pass up so we give this product 4 stars.

Michelle is a Southern California Portrait and Wedding Photographer. When she’s not geeking out with a camera she’s nerding out in her IT world. All other moments in the day are spent with her two wonderful children.

See her work on The COCO Gallery
check out her blog at frexNgrin

7 Comments

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  1. J. Cassario

    Excellent video, just ordered a set!

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  2. joel

    In addition to the DOF preview trick for the cheap non-contact tubes you can also use an older manual aperture lens with an adapter. I’ve had great success with a OM mount 50/1.8 I’ve had since my high school film days with a $15 adapter and $15 metal tubes. The Kenko tubes are really good too though, if I didn’t have access to so many OM mount lenses I would probably go with those.

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  3. Steven

    The lack of contacts on cheap tubes means that you have no control over the focus or aperture of the lens from the camera. This isn’t a big deal for focus, which is simple to accomplish manually (you should probably manually focus at macro distances anyway), but the lack of aperture control has to be overcome using the “DOF preview trick”, which you can easily find how to do with a web search. This an be a bit of a hassle if you want to experiment t with different aperture settings.

    The use of extension tubes also reduces the amount of light the sensor receives, which, combined with the narrow apertures needed for macro work, usually necessitates the use of supplemental lighting or long tripod exposures. Extension tubes will also magnify any defects in the lens they’re used with.

    Overall a good intro to these useful accessories, but it gets me when people don’t use units. No lens has a focal length of 50 or a MFD of 0.3. It’s 50 mm and 0.3 m or it doesn’t mean anything.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      Regarding your last comment on units. You are correct, units are important so that anyone can look at the info and understand. In photography it is easy to short hand it and say 50 instead of 50mm, this is simply because most EVERYONE (ok, not everyone, but you get my point) knows we mean 50mm.

      We will make more of an effort on this sort of thing in the future. Thanks for the comment.

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  4. Ricardo Vaz

    $200,00 is pretty expensive for a piece of metal without glass inside, with this amount of money you can buy a great and sharp nikon 50mm 1.8G. In a quick search in BH I found a extension tube set from Vello, that seems to be similar than this one but for $79.

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    • Michelle Ford

      hey ricardo! i can see that $200 for something without glass could be viewed as expensive but again, the new 100 macro from canon is logging in at over $1k, in light of that, a tool that would convert ANY of my lenses into a close-up/macro including my 70-200 seemed worth it’s weight in bucks to me.

      vello is a new player from what i checked out, they have plastic connectors instead of metal ones with warnings from users about using them with heavier lenses. that extra caution makes me nervous. i would rather trust that my gear is safe and spend the extra cash.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      As always Ricardo, you get what you pay for. These Kenko tube are generally accepted as some of the best that you can buy. Those Vello tubes will work, as will the tubes without metal contacts that I reviewed a few days ago (those were only $15).

      But, if you value quality and plan to give your tubes a lot of use, it is better to invest in a quality set like the Kenko tubes. If you are like me though, and Macro stuff is more of a hobby and is not going to be used a ton then the cheaper brands will usually work just fine.

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