How to Use Extension Tubes


Introduction to Macro Photography


Lesson Info

How to Use Extension Tubes

So those are lenses. Let's talk about some other inexpensive ways to do macro photography. Maybe you've heard of extension tubes before? Extension tubes? So we've got... (slight pause) I've got a variety of extension tubes over here. What extension tubes are - I think I'll just use this set here - what they are is basically ways to move the lens farther away from the camera. They're like spacers for your lens. They go between the lens and the camera body. So you can use an extension tube on, say, something like a, something like a 50mm, a regular 50mm lens. And you can take these extension tubes, and you just mount them like this, there, and then you put it on the camera, and now I've got myself a very inexpensive, high-quality, macro set-up. So now I've got this 50 on a...don't worry too much about the 20mm thickness here, but I've got this 50mm lens on this extension tube, and now I've got fundamentally equivalent to a 60mm macro lens, that I would have had to pay, let's say six, sev...

en hundred dollars for, when in reality I just paid, for these lenses you can these lenses for maybe like a hundred fifteen bucks, a hundred twenty bucks, and these extension tubes you buy them they're less than a hundred dollars. So for about $200-$250 overall you've got yourself a very high-quality macro kit. Why do we have multiple thicknesses of the extension tubes? Well, the reason why is because each lens requires a little bit different amount of extension to become a macro lens. So maybe you have, let's say like a 70-200 f/2.8? You can turn that into a macro lens but you're gonna have to put a lot of spacer between the lens and the camera body. So for my 70-200 f/2.8 I love that lens for macro work, I usually put one of these really thick tubes in there, or sometimes I'll even stack them together. You can stack two, three, or even more together to get the extension and the magnification that you want. Yeah, question. [Male Audience Member] Does it reduce any sort of quality? Does it reduce quality in any sort of way, to have an extension tube? Awesome question. So, optical quality, no. You don't lose any optical sharpness or clarity or contrast. You don't lose any of the optical property of the lens. But what you do lose, is brightness. So this is a 50mm f/1.8, and if I put an extension tube on there, let's say like this one, this is a 20mm extension tube, I lose about one stop of light. So what does that mean, to lose a stop of light? Well I go from, we'll call it f/1.8 to about f/2.something, maybe 2.4 or 2.5, so this is a full stop. Then if I go with this really thick one, maybe I lose a stop and a half, and if I start stacking them then I lose two stops or three stops. What I'm going to say now is a little bit technical, but I think you can handle it, you can handle it. You don't lose the depth of field of f/1.8. You still get f/1.8 depth of field, but you get the equivalent amount of light as, let's say, f/4. So why does that matter to us? Well it matters because in macro photography stillness of the image really matters. You have to be super stable, and so if you have to shoot maybe a one second exposure of a flower, or a one second exposure of a bee, you know it ain't gonna happen. So you'll have to bring in some other ligths, maybe flashes to freeze the motion. So great question, and the real answer to the question is no optical change in quality but you do lose brightness. So I use extension tubes quite extensively. I love them, because they're very inexpensive. There's a few brands that I recommend, one of them is called Kenko - actually let me start on the top bullet. You can use the OEM brands, like the Nikon and the Canon and the Fuji, they all make extension tubes. But in the Nikon world, which is what I'm most familiar with the interesting thing is that they don't translate auto-focus and auto-exposure. It basically makes your lens into a full manual lens. Whereas the off-brand lenses, like Kenko, Xit, and Vello, and there's a whole bunch of others, you find them online, you just enter 'extension tube for canon' you'll see a lot of options. These all translate the data from the lens, and they're a lot less than the OEM models, so I'm like c'mon brands. Nikon, Canon, Fuji, make me an extension tube that has your brand on it that works as well as these guys do. So this is an Xit, and then I've got Kenko tubes over there. They all do the same thing, they just move the lens away from the camera. So how much did I pay? I think I paid maybe $75 or $80 for this three extension tube kit. And when I travel, and I do travel a lot, typically I will bring maybe two of the shorter extension tubes, rather than bringing a full lens, another lens with me. You know when you go to Africa or the Galapagos, or wherever you're going, weight is often times an issue. These are really lightweight, and they're durable. You don't have to worry about, you know, coddling them or babying them so I love using these. And they work pretty much with any lens that you have. So, extension tubes.

Class Description

Learn how to unlock the fantastic world of macro photography. Instructor Mike Hagen details the gear, techniques, and software you’ll need to capture extreme detail in everything from flowers to insects to jewelry. Create larger than life images with intricate detail using methods that Mike clearly demonstrates in this class.


Amy Vaughn

Good class, but I want more. CreativeLive, please get Mike Hagen to come back to do a full 1-2 day macro class. I'd love to see a deeper exploration of all his macro gear, diy toys, demos of Helicon Focus and Zerene Stacker, and maybe showing live examples beyond flowers like bugs, abstracts and shooting through water.

ESther IGlich

A good intro course.I learned a lot in a short period of time, but really this class needs to be longer. It felt rushed. Would have liked to seen more on lighting specifically. However given the time Mike had to work in he did a great job and I enjoyed his insights.


I appreciated Mike's suggestions for DIY macro equipment. There is a lot of money you could save with those ideas alone. Great class and I agree ​it would be great to see more!