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Macro Lens vs Extension Tubes ▶︎ What’s the Difference?

Photo Moment - September 24, 2018

Extension tubes are awesome. They turn any lens into a macro lens, and they're very inexpensive. So, why bother buying a macro lens then? Is it worth having the macro? Or are the tubes good enough?

Products Mentioned In Today's Photo Moment

MEIKE MK-P-AF3A Automatic Extension Tube — Get Yours Here

Panasonic 30MM f/2.8 Macro — Get Yours Here

Panasonic Leica 45mm f/2.8 Macro — Get Yours Here

Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 25mm f/1.4 — Get Yours Here


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Comments from YouTube

Cwuality video sir!
The best comparison by far. Thank you
Nice, thanks!
Great show. Just found this video doing a general search. Will watch more often.
Welcome to the channel!
Greetings from Ft Lauderdale in Florida. Thanks again for another great video. Like the previous ones, I enjoyed it.
Subscribed.....good vid....use my soligor tubes quite a lot....Maybe strange but i like to use them on my tamron G2 zoomlenses...24-70 and 70-200.....can set my aperture with them and even my autofocus works quite well......but prefer manual....and as you said....real world....pretty awsome....and if i want to shoot something further away....i have my other camera standing by....but be real....if you are going to do are doing macro....and not bird or kids shooting....sounds disturbing 😁
Very well explained! The difference in sharpness is however noticeable, although on a rather small level, but noticeable nonetheless. One thing I would add is using a telephoto lens for macrophotography with extension tubes. The minimal focal distance with extension tubes for wide angle lenses will be too narrow. Using a telephoto lens will increase the minimal focus distance and make it more practical.
Captain Flint gives up a life of piracy and embraces photography....;)
Great explanation and informative.
Very helpful video! Thanks!!
Thank you, this was very informative..
ThAnX it was helpful.
So I have the 60mm macro lens from Olympus and it only goes to 1:1. What would I need to get closer to bugs like a 1:6? Would I use extension tubes or reverse macro adapter?
You explain so effortlessly and covered so much . Thankyou ! very very helpful ..every logical question seem answered in one place.
Just close the aperture FFS! :D
What extention tubes would you recommend for my D750 but I have a DX macro lens, the nikon 85mm, thanks.
Get the Nikon version of these. they will have an N in the model #.
Helpful, thanks. I'm almost on board. I have used neither tubes nor macro lenses and trying to learn. My concern with the macro lens was that I have to get so close to the subject that the camera blocks light or casts a shadow. Before this video I misunderstood and thought that there was a sort of "macro mode" on the lens that I switch in and out of, and I assumed that in "macro mode" I HAD to be about an inch or so away.
I still don't clearly understand.
- Are you saying that I can back up and shoot at ANY distance from the subject (1 inch, 2 inches, 4 inches...)?
- If I'm shooting a piece of jewelry with my G9 and that Panasonic 30mm f2.8 and I want to shoot a "macro" shot from 3 inches away to get as close as I can and still get proper lighting, can I do that?
- Is "macro" nothing more than a term that means 1:1 actual size?
Nice questions.
1. Every lens (macro or not) has a “minimum focusing distance”; that’s the CLOSEST you can be when in focus. You can be ANY distance from that closest distance to farther away on a regular or macro lens. So if the lens has a closest focusing distance of 3”, you can be 3”, 4”, 5”, and on to infinity. If you use a lens with a MACRO TUBE, then you can focus more closely, but you lose the ability to focus to infinity. You will have a range you can focus at, say from 1” to 12” but nothing farther.
2. Yes, but as you get closer, lighting can be challenging for the reason you pointed out (the camera can block the light). You need light coming from the side(s) that won’t be blocked. There’s something called a ring flash that you can use as well. But I don’t think I used a flash anywhere in this video.
3. “Macro” simply means very close focusing. There’s no defined distance or ratio. It’s a pretty loose term. You’ll find conventional lenses that say “macro” because they focus closer than most lenses in that category. True macro lenses often go 1:1, but not always.
PhotoJoseph - Great video, great topic, and great answers. Thanks for taking the time to reply. Now, to answer your question... For me, that Panasonic 30mm macro lens looks like the way to go. Can’t beat the price, I’ve seen three reviews and they are all positive, good edge-to-edge sharpness, and as you just explained, I can focus at any distance from the closest on to infinity, so I can use it for portraits as well as product photography.
lens works like human eyes, too close or far from the subject means out of focus. different lenses have different focal length
could I use extension tubes with macro lenses
From what I’ve seen it makes the focus point too close (closer than the front lens element) so you’d need a very small one.
Excellent comparison of the options. Is there any benefit to putting extension tubes on a macro lens?
Usually it puts the focus point too close, but it is worth trying if you’re going for that super macro! Remember depth of field, already tight in a macro lens, may become too shallow to work with.
Slow down man - its coming across as mumble. Especially at the intro
I have been indecisive for about three years now on what system to choose. And the internet doesnt make it any more easy as it apparently is just like a religion to people.
I hope you can help me out here, im dead set on the G9 it just looks like an incredible camera! (You convinced me to choose the M43)
The thing I really dream of doing is macro but I see a lot of negative talk about the two Panasonic macro lenses.
Would i be able to get great macro shots with one of them? Like nice clear shots of the whole bug or whatever it might be.
So here comes a ton of questions:
Which of the two Panasonic lenses should i choose?
Can I in some way use other M43 lenses like the Olympus 60mm? and if yes, then how?
I have seen some very interesting results with the Laowa 15mm f/4 Wide Angle Macro lens, you can get Nikon and Canon M43 mounts for it, but would any of them work on the G9?
Will I still be able to do focus bracketing, focus stacking with any of them?

- And I know im not just gonna pop the lens on and go get good shots, it´s gonna take practice, time and probably a whooole lot of frustation, but im more than willing to do that. I spend most of my free time in the outdoors and always have. So far I have used my phones and with great results actually! But I want to get even closer, I want those extreme details on bugs, critters, moss, fungus and so on.

Im sorry for the whole load here.. But i just get so many contradicting answers when I google this stuff that i get even more confused.
Great video but WAY too long for something that could be explained in less than half the time
This video isn't getting enough attention
Well done mate!
Thank you, I appreciate that. Help spread the word; share it on twitter or tell a friend!
Best explanation of difference between tubes and macro lenses.
What about pairing the extension tube set with the macro lens
I think I tried that and very quickly you can’t focus on anything.
i used this on my sony emount 18-105mm G lens, i used both tubes and no wonder i have difficulties on focusing.. now i know why.. THANKS a BUNCH i feel blessed to watch your tutorial
I use rings for Nikon , and thinking about macro lens, I use 12mm(20 mm) meike plus nikon af-p 70-300mm and i am satisfied with result, I thinking about sigma 105 os hsm macro can you tell about that?
I use d3400
I don't have any experience with that lens sorry
@PhotoJoseph ty anyway
I am thinking about scanning my 35mm negatives with my canon 70D, would extention tube and my sigma 50mm 1.4 art lens do the job or will quality not be great?
@Micke Jönsson It's possible but also time consuming. Negative lab pro is really great if you want to make it good and quick
RAW FILM hi, yea I know but if you have a preset then most of the work is done and only need one click, maybe just some tweaking with white balance etc .....?
I guess labpro is better but trying to find a way around that cost 😎
@Micke Jönsson nah, inverting negative to positive with keeping color characteristic of your film is not that simple. Even with negative lab pro you need to edit each single shot after conversion. There is no way to one click workflow with negatives, even with proper scaner
RAW FILM kinda thought so but still is a hope you know 😜. Thank you though and have an awesome day
@Micke Jönsson You're welcome! ☺️
Information is good but you talk so fast I missed half of what you were saying.
You can ........change............the!!!!
I need to photograph cannabis flowers, and plants for my medical cannabis cultivation business. What lens would be ideal for me?
If you're going to be shooting macro often, get a real macro lens. The extension tubes are great but as you see in this video, they have limitations.
Nicely done video. Is there any light loss using these tubes? Thanks............
yes you loss of light, you need external speed light sometimes
you look like david bowie
Awesome video Joseph, I learned quite a lot, but I have a question.
I'm very new in photography, ridiculously new, I'm just learning to handle a camera Canon Rebel T6 with kit lens, my hobby is making jewelry of gems stones, crystals. I have an extensive collection that would like to make some money with them. But I photo good photos, I've tried my kit lens 18mm 55mm which also says it is a macro o.25mm/.08ft. Here is my question if I get a macro lens extension tube which works better with my kit lens and which brand should I buy.
Get the same brand I used here. Meike and find the Canon version. I believe they make one.
Did you try using the tubes with the macro lens to get even closer?
What about using macro bellows with an enlarger lens for macro work?
@PhotoJoseph Pre-digital it used to be a standard way of duplicating transparencies. I used Bowens Illumitran slide copiers for many years. Here is a link to a PDF of a Bowens Illumitran slide copier manual.
On page 13 it discusses the best lenses to use.
This cleared up a few things for me thank you. I had a 90mm Tamron macro and loved it. When it was stolen along with my 7D and L series lenses I had to slowly replace my lenses. I tried the extension tubes due to the low cost. I like them but I feel like they are just ok. My dedicated macro was much easier to use and I was able to get better pictures with it. After watching your video it makes more sense why the pics were better with the true macro lens. Liked and subbed!
Just to say I am a Joe sub and came here after you show together. So i have olympus but i have a panasonic lens 14-42mm which i like more than the pan cake olympus version due to it motor extends when turn on.

you say the tubes cant be more than the lens so with this a 100mm lens would mean you could but it would propably go really bad put on up to 100mm worth of tubes so how many tubes can you really use before the result goes bad or unacceptable.
since tubes are not all you can get you can get screw on front lens lenses with times what would be the best between lenses or tubes
Best explanation on the internet as far as i know!
Great video. I have a Sony a7r3 and I want to try some macro food photography with the zeiss 55 1.8 and the extension tubes. Any thoughts ?
Sounds like a good plan to me! Just remember not to let the tube length go beyond the focal length and you’re good. The longer the tubes the more limited your focus range seems to be, so having the option to stack them is key.
Great video, thanks a lot !
Minimal focal length / tube length limitation was a very good point that is not mentioned in another videos of that kind.
I think this is the best video I've seen on this subject. You've definitely helped me feel better about my macro lens purchase. Thank you!
can i use the extension tube for 50mm?
As long as the tube is a lower mm size than the lens, then yes.
it means you didn't watch the video? didn't you lol
I use the Olympus macro 60mm. The other macro lenses were too close to the subject, which requires pushing a lot more light around the lens to compensate. A little overpriced, but the Olympus 60mm Macro has the best lens hood I've ever used.
Speaking about the difference between a macro lens and a non-macro lens, another aspect is the optimization of the optical schema to a certain focusing distances (at least it was in the pre-CAD era). It is quite hard to create a lens that would be equally sharp/aberrationless through the whole range of the focusing distances at all its aperture values. Instead a trade-off is usually made according to the most likely usage scenario. For example, a wide lens (say, <30mm full frame equivalent) will most likely be used for shooting scenery, being focused at or near infinity mark, so it makes sense to optimize such a lens for that. A 135mm lens, on the other hand, would most likely be used for portraiture, with focusing distances from a meter to a few meters, which allows optimizing for that focusing distance range at the expense of having lower IQ at infinity. For macro lenses the optimization would be around the minimal focusing distance and that would result in lower IQ at other focusing distances. So, macro lens not only differs in its AF's speed, but also in its optical performance at focusing distances from mid of the range to infinity.

I'm not sure if the above is still valid for the modern lenses, which are created using CAD. Perhaps it is still valid for the cheaper ones, but I haven't verified that.
I bought a set of macro tubes from Amazon not that long after you last macro video that were cheaper than the Meike ones were where. I personally think they are made by the same company just with different branding on them as the ar identical and they work great. All of the m43 mount ones listed on Amazon Australia are 2 piece sets of a 10 and 16 which is a shame as combining them for 24mm to use with the 25mm primes would have been great in some situations but often find the FOV too tight.
One specific issue I have found with using the tubes is with chromatic aberrations on some mostly zoom lenses often when shooting flowers there is a large red/orange border to some petals which can be more than Lightroom can fix.
One tip I have found useful when handholding is to manually focus often somewhere in the middle of the range and "zoom" with your body in a burst and hopefully you will get one where you wanted it focused.This is better than trying to use the AF most of the time as it is faster and if you take enough similarly framed images with different focus you can stack them to increase the DOP without getting too much of the background in focus. I would also use a shutter speed as fast as you can get it (500+) without needing to push the iso too high and in general especially if you are shooting flowers you will want to be using an aperture of at least f8 too.
I don't have a dedicated macro lens and am not sure I need one now as the 25mm with the 10 or 16mm tube on are good enough for now. I would also say any edge softness is in probably 90% of cases an advantage as long as the softness doesn't start where your subject is as it will help make the background or other framing parts of your images more soft and less of a distraction.

On a side not as you are a Panasonic ambassador I hope you are going to be releasing a video about the new full frame cameras that are going to be announced in just over 4 hours from the time I am writing. I am sure many like myself would be very interested in seeing what you think about it and maybe seeing you test it like you did with the GH5. As it is a different mount I would be interested to know if you think you would likely switch to it or at least shoot partly with it and partly m43? I know I am mostly like to be interested in the 24mp version as that is all the resolution I need but not sure if I want to start a 3rd system especially as I could also get a Z6 as I shoot with Nikon gear too.
Thanks for your comments. And to answer your questions, see today’s video!
I like the bokeh balls you got from both. I didn't know a M43 camera could give you bokeh balls. Thanks
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