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. You need to make a minimal investment in order to focus close enough, stabilize your subject and camera, and add sufficent light if necessary. Here's a look at what you need to get going.
Prices and product availability are accurate as of March 19, 2015.
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. 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. 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 $63.95 at Adorama.
< 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.
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 wrap around your subject for a soft flattering result. $11.99 at Adorama.
Phoenix SmartFlash RF46C Macro Ringlight
One of the least expensive ringlights currently available, the RF46C 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 an excellent 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. $558 at Adorama.
Canon Macro Ring Lite MR-14EX II
This E-TTL ringlight flash offers twin tube design so the tubes can be flashed together or separately so you can control lighting ratio. A pair of LED focusing/modeling lights let you preview the lighting effect. This 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. 12 custom functions and E-TTL wireless support is included, with improved recycle time. Guide number? 34.4 ft 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. $694 at Adorama.
Macro-Friendly Tripods and Object Supports
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 $19.95, 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.
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
Wimberly The Plamp II Loc-Line Arm
The Wimberly Plamp measures 23 inches, and is designed to hold flowers and branches still during a shoot, even when the wind is blowing. One end clamps to a tripod leg, and a screw clip stabilizes the object. Foam jaw inserts protect sensitive stems and twigs. The thumbscrew clip is strong and precise, and can hold objects up to 1 inch wide. Available from Adorama for $43. Not long enough? A 12-inch extension is available for $8.00.
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 $44.95.
Kaiser Digishield Folding 3-Inch LCD Hood
Designed for digital cameras with touchscreen LCDs, this folding hood blocks direct sunlight from hitting the monitor's surface, making it easier to verify focus, which is a critical factor when shooting macro. Available from Adorama for $24.99