Not quite ready to shell out for a macro lens but want to try shooting extra close-up objects? An extension tube can increase the magnification ratio of your lens to offer a closer minimum focus distance. The result is you get the macro effect without the macro price tag.
While even the best extension tubes are no real match for a high-end, dedicated macro, you can get surprisingly good results when you pair the right tube with the right lens. “The right lens”, by the way, doesn’t necessarily mean the most expensive one.
Different focal lengths and manufacturers react in different ways to extension tubes, so some trial and error is to be expected. In some cases, you may find that the trusty favorite prime lens you got on sale delivers with a certain extension tube even better than the most expensive one in your gear bag.
Fortunately, extension tubes are, on the whole, rather affordable as photography equipment goes. If you stick to the top extension tubes listed here and go into the experience with an open mind, you should be just fine (and get some great, macro-eque shots in the bargain).
1. Kenko Extension Tube Set DG (Overall Winner)
If you’re a photographer who likes a lot of options, the Kenko Extension Tube Set is a good bet for you. There’s a Canon EF option and one for Nikon F mounts, as well as both Sony A and Sony E full-frame versions along with one for Micro Four Thirds (each of these options are purchased separately).
Like many of the other extension tubes you’ll see on this list, the Kenko DG kit offers multiple tubes. You can get 12mm, 20mm, and 36mm tubes to go with Canon EF, Nikon F, and Sony A mounts (the Sony A also fits Minolta Maxxum). And 10mm and 16mm tubes are available for Micro Four Thirds and Sony E mounts.
The fit of these tubes may vary depending on your lens, but electronic elements like autofocus should work the same.
Compatible with Canon’s EF lens mount, including EF-S lenses, this tube can also pair with TS-E lenses for tilt-shift work. The maximum listed focal length is 55mm. In almost all cases, metering and autofocus functions are preserved through the eight electronic contact points on the unit.
This is one of the tougher extension tube builds, with a high level of resistance to both dust and moisture. (In some places it is advertised as ideal for use in heavy rain, though we suggest using protective gear as a safeguard just in case). For Canon users who want their accessories to match their camera manufacturer, it’s a solid tool.
Another great option for Canon users is this extension tube kit by Fotodiox. With 13mm, 21mm, and 31mm tubes in one bundle, this pick offers extra versatility. Each tube can be used individually or stacked with any of the others. Electrical functions of your lens like aperture control and autofocus will be maintained, thanks to a set of electrical contacts.
This kit is currently listed on Amazon as #1 Best Seller in Camera Lens Adapters and Converters and is advertised to work with a wide variety of Canon models, including the entry-level Rebel series all the way up to the 7D. The tubes are reported to fit a little snugly on some EF mount lenses, but not to the point of becoming unusable.
Offering a similar range to our previous pick in a 12mm, 20mm, and 36mm kit, but geared instead for Nikon DSLRs, you’ll find many of the same features as the Fotodiox Pro. For example, the different units can be used in multiple combinations or alone to get just the right effect. You’ll also find a comparable set of electric contacts to maintain autofocus.
Cameras with TTL automatic exposure should get full usability, as long as you aren’t combining it with an electronic flash AE unit. Users recommend connecting the tubes to the camera body before a lens for best results.
This one’s just for you, Fujifilm fans. Choose between an 11mm and a 16mm extension tube with high-grade solid metal mount rings and electric connections that are designed to work exclusively between Fujifilm X Series camera bodies and Fujinon X-mount lenses. When used between these two components, these extension tubes deliver beautiful macro-like results.
6. MEIKE MK-S-AF3-A (Budget Winner)
Durable metal mounts set this model apart from the all-plastic MK-S-AF3-B. The barrel is a sturdy, plastic construction, so it adds very little weight when in use. This unit is intended for use with Sony mirrorless cameras, both APS-C and full-frame, but there are also variations for Fujifilm and Nikon’s mirrorless counterparts (the middle letter references the corresponding manufacturer).
You’ll get a 10mm and a 16mm with the MK-S-AF3-A, which can be used together or separately. The unit fully supports autofocus, but some exposure settings may work best in manual mode. This extension tube is currently listed as #1 Best Seller in the Lens Extension Tubes category on Amazon.
Getting Started with Extension Tubes
Once you’ve selected an extension tube that works with your camera setup, the next thing to do is start playing around with it! You may experience some darkening in the overall image, which can be compensated for by manually adjusting your exposure settings.
Be aware also that it may require some practice to achieve perfect sharpness, due to the dramatically shallow depth of field. You may not be bothered by this at all if you’ve done macro work in the past, or you may find it to be a hindrance. If that is the case, keep at it until you find what works for your setup. If you’re consistently having issues achieving sharpness, it’s time to return your extension tube and try another one.
Overall, with the right extension tube, you should be able to achieve quality results that closely mimic, if not directly compete with, those of a dedicated macro lens.