Home photography ideas: shoot macro without a macro lens, using an inversion ring

Reversal rings are seemingly obscure accessories for new photographers, but they offer a superb level of added functionality for your existing lenses – they turn a normal lens into a macro lens!

By attaching a reversing ring to the filter thread of a standard or moderate wide lens, it can then be mounted on a camera body in the same way as any other compatible optic. The attached lens, which may not have a macro function in its standard orientation, can now be used at very close focusing distances, allowing for high magnification.

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This method of capturing close-up images is a great entry point into macro photography. Best of all, it also allows photographers who don’t typically need a dedicated (and expensive) macro lens to capture fill-in compositions of small subjects at very little extra cost.

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Front: By not properly compensating for the lack of autofocus and aperture control, insufficient DOF and poor exposure can easily occur in reverse shots

Front: By not properly compensating for the lack of autofocus and aperture control, insufficient DOF and poor exposure can easily occur in reverse shots (Image credit: Peter Fenech)
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After: Using an older generation lens, with a physical aperture ring, allows touch focus and exposure selection.  A lens of around 35-50mm provides the best magnification

After: Using an older generation lens, with a physical aperture ring, allows touch focus and exposure selection. A lens of around 35-50mm provides the best magnification (Image credit: Peter Fenech)

There are, however, certain trade-offs that must be considered when using a reversing ring. Since the lens mount is no longer in contact with the camera body, the electrical contacts no longer communicate information back and forth.

This means that all autofocus and aperture control functionality is lost – and for this reason it is best to use a lens with a manual aperture ring, which allows exposure control and depth of field. This means you can get cheap vintage lenses, which come with an aperture ring as standard.

This situation forces the photographer to adapt their camera workflow in order to access the full range of composition and exposure possibilities, thus getting the best images and the greatest value from their reversal ring.

01 Attach the lens

(Image credit: Peter Fenech)

Rather than attaching the ring to the camera body, first screw it onto the lens filter thread, then attach the complete setup to the camera. This reduces the risk of a loose lens being broken.

02 Choose the shooting mode

(Image credit: Peter Fenech)

Shoot in aperture priority, program or manual mode; shutter priority will not work, as the camera cannot control aperture. Modes A or P will allow you to set f-stop and ISO values ​​while the camera controls shutter speed.

03 Enable live view

(Image credit: Peter Fenech)

If you’re shooting with a DSLR, it’s often better to switch to Live View on the rear screen instead of using the optical viewfinder, as it’s more difficult to gauge focus, due to the size of the preview and the native brightness of the image. Mirrorless users have the luxury of using Live View through the electronic viewfinder.

04 Adjust camera position

(Image credit: Peter Fenech)

Find the closest focus distance possible by focusing the lens and moving the camera until focus is achieved. You can then be sure that you can access the full range of usable magnifications.

05 Zoom in and focus

(Image credit: Peter Fenech)

Use the camera screen to zoom in on the preview image and slowly focus on key areas of the subject using the focus ring. Use the lower focal length for the greatest magnification and the higher to zoom out.

06 Preset aperture

(Image credit: Peter Fenech)

Once the composition is set, turn the aperture ring to the desired setting. It’s best to do this last to minimize darkening or noise in the preview image, and you can simply reshoot if a depth of field estimated in step 5 is inaccurate.

Read more:

The best macro lenses in 2020: Get closer to your subjects like never before!
Create stunning macro panoramas with your camera
Best ring flash for macro photography in 2020

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