Macro photography is a ton of fun and a great way to explore and transform the world around you. It's amazing how true macro can change even the most mundane objects! But you can't do it alone. This macro photography accessory buying guide, an Adorama Learning Center exclusive, can help you create stunning macro photographs, often with a minimal investment! All products mentioned are available at Adorama.
NOTE: Prices and product availability accurate as of April 11, 2014.
Camera Accessories You Need For Macro Photography
Adorama Lens Reversing Ring >
The lowly reversing ring may be the easiest way to get into macro photography if you're on a tight budget. Costing only $8.95-14.95 each and only available at Adorama, Reversing Rings are the least expensive and most portable macro adapter. A reversal ring lets you put your lens on your camera backwards, which converts it into a macro lens. It has a camera mount on one side (make sure you're buying for your DSLR's mount) on one side, and a threaded screw mount that attaches to the front of your lens. Unlike close-up filters, reversal rings do not degrade image quality, and unlike bellows or extension tubes the lost of light hitting the sensor is negligible. The only downside, as with most extension tubes and bellows, is that you lose full exposure automation. So far, there are no reversal rings available for MILCs with the exception of the new Pentax K-01, which takes older Pentax lenses. Check out Carl Heilmann II's stunning work to see what these inexpensive macro attachments can help you produce.
< Pro Optic Auto Extension Tube set
This is one of the least expensive extension tube sets on the market. Available exclusively from Adorama, if you have a Mirrorless Compact you have the option of choosing either a low-cost set of two (10mm and 16mm) for Nikon 1, Canon M, Micro Four Thirds, and Sony NEX (also 10 and 16mm tube sets), for Canon M, Sony NEX, Nikon 1, and Micro Four Thirds. Prices range from $49.95-89.95, depending on mount and configuration, available exclusively from Adorama.
< Raynox conversion lenses
Indie conversion lens maker Raynox offers several choices that are designed to be used on multiple lenses or cameras. The DCR-150 Macro-Scan Conversion Lens provides 1.5X magnification and will snap onto DSLRs or EVF cameras with filter rings of 52mm to 67mm, and costs approximately $69 at Adorama.
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro lens >
Focusing down to 1:1, this is a revised version of Canon's popular macro lens, and focuses through the entire range from infinity to life-size. The built-in USM focus motor is well known for fast, silent operation. The aperture range of f/2.8-32 should satisfy your macro needs, while the 58mm filter ring will handle most screw-on accessories. Available at Adorama for $599.
< Novoflex Balpro 1 Universal Bellows
The Novoflex Balpro 1 works with adapters to turn Canon EOS DSLRs into macro powerhouses. A bellows comes with a distinct advantage over extension tubes: You can vary macro distance simply by increasing or decreasing the bellows extension, without relying on specific levels of maganification. A good bellows, such as the Balpro 1, go well beyond 1:1 magnification (which is beyond the capability of most macro lenses) and are great if you want the most flexible solution. The bad news? Unless you can find used models, there are very few bellows choices other than this one with the Canon adapter. $589.50 plus $87.99 for the EOS reversing ring adapter at Adorama.
Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 DI >
Tweaked for use on both film and digital cameras, this independently-made, 1:1 focusing prime macro is available for Canon, Pentax, Minolta/Sony and Nikon mounts, and comes with a six-year USA warranty. $499 at Adorama. No guide could be complete without mentioning the legendary Nikon 105mm f/2.5 Micro-Nikkor lens, which has been in continous use for decades, available at Adorama for $749.95
Nikon 200mm f/4 ED-IF Micro-Telephoto Nikkor
Keep your distance from tiny, skittish subjects with this 200mm tele lens while still achieving 1:1 (life-size) magnification. This lens features extra low dispersion glass to improve contrast and sharpness. You'll need to use a powerful ringlight flash unit with this one—the closest it focuses is 19.4 inches. Special Adorama price: $1,649.
Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro Photo Manual Focus Telephoto Lens focuses down to 1:5 (five times life size!) for super macro shots. If you are getting serioius about getting close and you're a Canon shooter, this lens, which you can buy at Adorama for $1,049, will get you there.
Learn more about macro lenses from the Adorama Learning Center Macro Lens Quick Buying Guide.
Adorama Macro Flecta Reflector
This bounces any ambient light right into your subject and helps reduce or eliminate shadows, much like a fill flash. It's a 12-inch white disc that fits around most lenses and is held in place by elastic. It won't provide as much light as a ring flash, but the light it reflects will appear flat and soft. $11.99 at Adorama.
Phoenix SmartFlash RF46C Macro Ringlight
One of the least expensive ringlights currently available, the RL-59N has a guide number of 46 at ISO 100 and is available for Canon models, and comes with 55, 58, 62 and 67mm adapter rings so you can use it on several different lenses. Special Adorama price: $89.
Photoflex Litedisc 12" Circular Collapsable Disc Reflector
You don't necessarily need flash to illuminate your tiny subjects, but there are times when you may need to bounce in something. The PhotoFlex 12" Lite-Disc kit consists of a white/translucent disc that can be held above your subject to diffuse harsh direct sunlight, while the white/gold and white/silver litediscs can bounce in light as you need it. With multiple discs that can be used simultaneously as needed, it provides a lot of inexpensive flexibility for $19.95 from Adorama.
Olympus SRF-11 TTL Ring Flash
Olympus DSLR owners are limited to Olympus-made ringflashes--no independent label models are available. But the SRF-11 is a good one, with a guide number of 26 feet at ISO 100. It's designed for use with the Zuiko Digital 50mm f/2.0 macro lens via the lens' bayonet mount. $559 at Adorama.
Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX
This E-TTL ringlight flash offers twin tube design so the tubes can be flashed together or separately so you can control lighting ratio. The ringlite is designed to work with the EF 50mm f/2.5, EF 100 f/2.8 Macro, and other Canon macro lenses via an adapter. Canon says that when the E-TTL system is used the flash emits just the right amount of light, balancing flash and ambient light automatically. Guide number? 46 at ISO 100. That's bright! $499 at Adorama.
Nikon R1C1 Wireless Close-Up Speedlight System
This spare-no-expense, full-control muscle macro flash system, consists of two SB-R200 Wireless Remote Speedlight, an SU-800 Wireless Speedlight commander, and a host of adapter rings, handles, and adapters to position and angle each flash just right. Output is controlled individually so you can have full control over lighting ratios in an intuitive manner. The R1C1 produces a blinding guide number of 33 at ISO 100, and works in i-TTL, D-TTL, TTL and M flash modes. Recycle time is a zippy six seconds or less. The system is compaible with all Nikons, but you'll get the most out of its features if you have a D2X, D2HS, D2H, or F6. $719 at Adorama.
In order to get good, sharp photos, a steady support will be required more often than not. But, since many macro subjects are low down and/or hard to reach, you need flexibility. Here are three candidates.
The compact, lightweight Manfrotto MT055 CX Pro 4 ($499.88 at Adorama) has a center column that can be switched to horizontal with a simple flip of a button, while leg angles can be changed. A level bubble is integrated into the top plate; these three things give the user precise control. The head is sold separately.
A less expensive alternative is the Velbon VS-443D ($229.95), a 4-section aluminum tripod with a center column that can be inverted, and can rotate a full 1080 degrees with positioning at any angle. The tripod can stand as low as 9.5 inches, and comes with the AHD-53D ballhead, which also has a quick-release plate and bubble head.
If you're on a budget and need to get down low, the 3Pod PTT1H Table Top Aluminum Tripod, at $24.95, may be all you need. Standing at a low level of 7.5 inches and weighing half a pound, this is a very reasonable, affordable choice for macro placement.
More good stuff for macro shooters
Novoflex Flexible Gooseneck 17.7" flash extension arm
Extend the range of your macro flash! These 17-inch long arms can literally wrap a light source around a small flower or insect. You can use in conjunction with a ring light handheld off- or on-camera and independently control light output to create lighting ratios for added drama. Ideal for slave units! $68.99 at Adorama.
Novoflex Rod Support System
Do you find yourself running out of hands while shooting macro? The Novoflex will reduce your juggle load with a flexible system of arms, rods and clamps that can be assembled and combined in any direction to hold flowers, backgrounds, etc. The package includes a spike that you can stick in the ground. Use this system to build a mini-structure to support your subject, hold a slave flash, or hold a small background in place. Available from Adorama for $193.50
Adorama Budget Macro Focusing Rail Set
This rail set fine-tunes camera position and focus for small items, and is an essential tool when depth-of-field is razor-thin. 4-way camera movement makes this ideal when mounted on both tripods and copy stands. Available exclusively from Adorama for $54.95.