Close-up photography is very enjoyable and does not
have to be costly. Canon’s high performance double-
element close-up ‘D’ lenses are relatively inexpensive
and easy to use.
Camera compatibility: all EOS cameras
When is a lens not a lens? You may think that a close-up lens, like every other type of lens that Canon makes for EOS, attaches to your camera’s lens mount. But a close-up lens is different – it screws into the filter thread of an existing lens just like a filter. For this reason they are also known as close-up filters or supplementary lenses.
In effect, a close-up lens is a high quality magnifying glass positioned in front of your existing lens. Canon makes two close-up lenses, the 250D and 500D (not to be confused with the EOS 500D camera).
Close-up lenses are an economical way into macro photography, but as with most things photographic there can be a trade off – here it is with optical quality.
There are two types of close-up lens; those with a single element construction and those with a double element construction.
Single element lenses have one element that magnifies the image. They tend to suffer from chromatic aberrations and poor definition at the edges. Single element lenses are inexpensive and a good way of trying out close-up photography if you’re on a budget or you just want to have some fun without worrying too much about image quality.
Double element close-up lenses have two elements. The second element corrects the chromatic aberrations of the first element. The image is sharper, especially at the edges, which is important if you’re photographing flat objects like postage stamps or postcards. Double element close-up lenses are heavier and more expensive than single element lenses. The Canon 250D and 500D close-up lenses are both double element lenses (it’s what the ‘D’ stands for).
The optical quality you get from a close-up lens also depends on which lens you use it with. We tested the close-up lenses with a range of different Canon lenses, both zoom and prime.
Left Canon’s 250D close-up lens mounted on the end of the EF 50mm f1.4 lens. Close-up lenses give the best results with prime and zoom lenses at 50mm and longer focal lengths.
If all a close-up lens does is decrease your the minimum focusing distance of your camera lens, then why does your lens not have this capability in the first place? Turn the focusing ring on your camera lens and you will see that the front element extends as the distance between the sensor plane and the focal point decreases.
The minimum focusing distance is reached when the front element is fully extended. It could be decreased by allowing the front element to move further forward. But doing so creates its own problems. Non-macro lenses are optimised for optical performance at regular focusing distances. Quality decreases as you move the lens closer to your subject. Macro lenses are optimised for close-up performance. They contain a group of moving elements which change position to ensure sharp photos all the way through the focusing range. This design makes the lens more expensive to make, and impractical to include on all lenses.
This diagram shows what happens when you use an EF 85mm f1.8 lens. The minimum focusing distance of the Canon EF 85mm f1.8 lens is 85cm. It cannot focus on anything closer than that distance. Its maximum focusing distance is infinity – the same as all Canon EF lenses.
Attaching a 500D close-up lens to the front of the lens reduces the minimum focusing distance to 43 cm. Moving the lens closer to the subject makes the subject appear larger in the frame. The maximum focusing distance is also reduced – from infinity to 65cm. The lens cannot focus on anything further than 65cm from the sensor plane.
A 250D close-up lens reduces the minimum and maximum focusing distances even further. The lens can now only focus on objects between 33cm and 45cm from the camera.
Above 85mm lens, with no close-up lens attached
Above 85mm lens, with 500D close-up lens attached
Above 85mm lens, with 250D close-up lens attached
Benefits of a close-up lens
The most obvious benefit of close-up lenses is price – they are an economical way of trying out close-up photography. But they also have several other advantages over extension tubes, macro lenses, and reversed lenses.
• There is no light loss. Extension tubes and macro lenses suffer from light loss as the lens approaches its minimum focusing distance. With close-up lenses, you can use a faster shutter speed or a wider aperture with a lower ISO.
• Autoexposure metering and autofocusing is retained The reverse lens technique breaks electrical contact with the lens, making it more difficult to set the lens aperture.
• They are smaller and lighter than macro lenses and extension tubes Close-up lenses are easy to store in a gadget bag or pocket, ready for immediate use.
• They work well with zoom and telephoto lenses
Close-up lenses give more magnification at longer focal lengths. Extension tubes give more magnification with shorter focal lengths. The decision on which to buy may depend on the focal lengths of the lenses you already own.
• They are easy to use There are no complex techniques to learn – you just screw the close-up lens into the filter thread of the lens on your camera.
Just how close can you get?
The photos taken with the 50mm lens show that you don't get the same level of magnification as the 85mm lens with the close-up lenses. This is why close-up lenses work best with short to medium length telephoto lenses.
Below EF 50mm lens used on its own (left), with a 500D lens(centre) and finally with a 250D lens (right).
We also took some photos with the Canon EF-S 60mm f2.8 macro lens. You can get much closer with this lens, especially when combined with one of the close-up lenses. With regard to image quality we couldn’t tell the difference between the photo taken with the 60mm macro lens and the 85mm lens with a 250D close-up lens. The macro lens required two stops more exposure to cope with light fall off at such short focusing distances.
Below EF-S 60mm macro lens, same sequence as above
Then we took some photos with a Canon EF 28-105mm f3.5-4.5 II lens. This zoom lens says ‘Macro’ on the side, but it’s not true macro (which would be a 1:1 reproduction). The use of the word macro by Canon simply indicates that the lens can focus quite closely, in this case 50cm from the subject. The photos from this lens weren’t as sharp as the others, which is to be expected (prime lenses give sharper images with close-ups).
Below EF 28-105mm lens at 105mm, same sequence
Finally we took some photos with a Canon EF-S 18-55mm kit lens. This lens doesn’t have a dedicated manual focus ring, making it a little harder, but still possible, to use manual focus.
Below EF 18-55mm lens at 55mm, same sequence
Another difference we noticed between the lenses is that the 50mm and 85mm primes were easier to use because the lenses have wider maximum apertures and the viewfinder image is brighter. The 60mm macro and 24-105mm zoom were more difficult to focus (all focusing was done manually).
The results from using a close-up lens and the prime 50mm and 85mm lenses with close-up lenses were as good as those from the 60mm macro. However, the 60mm macro lens gave the most magnification. For even more magnification you can combine the close-up lenses with extension tubes or, if you have one, a true macro lens like the 60mm macro.
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