There are a number of ways in which to achieve macro – that's 1:1 or lifesize – magnifications. One of the most interesting yet challenging is reverse lens macro. Also known as 'poor man's macro', this technique involves simply turning your lens around. How does it work and how do you do it with your Canon EOS camera?
One way to try out true macro photography is to buy Canon’s MP-E 65 lens. It’s the only Canon lens that offers magnifications from life-size to 5x life size in a single focusing action, but like all specialised lenses it comes at a price (rrp £1249.99).
However, there is an alternative that is much easier on the pocket – reverse lens macro. You may not even have to buy another lens to try it out. The idea, as the name suggests, is to turn your lens around and use it in reverse. It may sound strange at first, but in this position the lens acts like a high quality magnifying glass. The image quality with this technique can be very good, matching the performance of a specialist macro lens.
One way to approach reverse lens macro photography is to attach the lens directly to the camera using a reversing ring designed specifically for this purpose.
A reversing ring is a thin metal ring which allows you to attach your lens the wrong way round to your camera body. This means that your lens becomes like a magnifying glass. As reversing rings are available for less than £10, this is a really inexpensive way of achieving high levels of magnification, depending on the lens.
A good place to start is by using a 50mm prime lens or a short zoom lens like the EF-S 18-55mm kit lens. The combination of a 50mm lens and an EOS camera with an APS-C sensor gives you near life-size reproduction, matching the magnification achieved by Canon’s more specialist EF 100mm and EF-S 60mm Macro lenses. A wide-angle lens will get you even closer – when lenses are reversed shorter focal lengths give you greater magnification than longer ones.
The only drawback is that there is no Canon-approved method of stopping down the aperture if you are reversing an EF or EF-S lens directly on the camera. This means that you have to take photos at the maximum aperture of the lens where the depth-of-field is very narrow. Don’t let this put you off trying this technique, though, as you can still get some beautiful photos this way.
The peacock feather (top) was shot with the lens reversed and manually focused. EOS 100D with EF 24-85mm lens reversed. 1/60 second at f21, ISO 400.
Setting the aperture of EF and EF-S lenses
To stop down off-camera EF and EF-S lenses, put the lens on a camera body the correct way around and set the desired aperture in Av mode. Press and holdq the depth-of-field preview button, found around the lens mount (circled below). The iris inside the lens closes down.
Remove the lens from the camera with the depth-of-field preview button held down – the iris remains closed. You can reverse mount the lens and use it at this aperture. It goes back to normal when you remount the lens the right way round.
The problem with this technique is that the camera has to be left switched on when you remove the lens – and electrical charges on the sensor can attract dust. Canon recommends that you don’t use this method, but it’s your call.
When a lens is attached via a reversing ring, there is no electrical connection with the camera. However, the camera can cope with this quite easily. Instead of an aperture setting, you’ll see the figures ‘00’ in the camera’s viewfinder (or the LCD screen). This indicates that the camera is unable to communicate with the lens.
In this situation the camera calculates exposure according to how much light is coming through the lens. If you are using a reversed lens with a manual aperture ring, you can set the aperture to any setting you like. The viewfinder goes darker, making it more difficult to see, but the camera still works out the exposure.
The easiest exposure mode to use is aperture-priority (Av). All you have to do is set the ISO and the camera calculates the shutter speed required.
Program (P) mode also works well. In both of these modes you can use exposure compensation to override the camera’s settings if necessary.
Avoid the Basic Zone macro mode, sometimes shown as a flower icon on the mode dial or found in the SCN modes. The camera takes control away from you by changing the ISO setting and activating the built-in flash if it thinks light levels are too low.
Focusing is tricky at high magnifications. The slightest subject or camera movement will move the point-of-focus. One way to deal with this is to mount the camera securely on a tripod, set the focusing ring to infinity, then move the subject, rather than the tripod, backwards or forwards until it is in focus.
Another option is to buy a focusing rail – this device lets you move your camera backwards or forwards along a metal rail, giving you precision control over focusing.
WIth a reversing ring, you'll be focusing manually. With some patience and careful observation, you can achieve some really spectacular results.
If your camera has Live View, use it to focus accurately. With Live View you can zoom in to see the image at up to 10x magnification, giving much greater control than that offered by the viewfinder image.
With reversing rings only costing a fraction of a macro lens (typically less than £10), it's an easy and affordable way to dip your toes into macro photography. Follow the tips above and enter a whole new world with your EOS camera.
How to Shoot Close-up and Macro with your Canon EOS eBook
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Shooting Close up and Macro subjects can be challenging at the best of times. This eBook from Canon-trained tutor Nina Bailey looks at all the techniques that you need to master to get excellent results. It’s a brand new guide for 2020, bringing the techniques bang up to date, and is relevant for both DSLR and mirrorless cameras in the Canon EOS system.
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