Macro, Landscapes and Seascapes are my favorite genres in photography, but as I don’t travel much, I tend to shoot more macro in my backyard. Last time, I wrote an article on high magnification macro photography on a budget, where I pointed out the fact that I use the reverse lens technique in order to achieve high magnification macro shots. The technique really works great if you give it a try and the good news is that you do not need expensive gear to yield beautiful macro shots – a cheap kit lens will do wonders!
But have you ever thought about why reverse-mounting a lens onto your camera body makes it act like a macro lens? Actually, the truth behind it is that flipping a lens around by itself doesn’t automatically mean converting it to a macro lens. Basically, reverse mounting a lens moves the lens farther away from the camera, giving it the ability to focus at closer distances, which has a similar effect as using a set of extension tubes. Both ends of the lens are not made equally. For an ideal lens, flipping it would make no difference. However, in real lenses, real compromises have to be made. The back part of the lens is typically designed so that it will project the image on a flat plane close to the lens. This allows for certain optimizations in the lens design. Since the front part of the lens is meant to focus on more distant objects, different optimizations can be made there. Simply put, a lens is normally made to take certain field-of-view and project it onto a sensor, which is relatively much smaller when compared to the entire scene. Hence, by reverse mounting a lens onto your camera body, you are simply getting the opposite projection by taking a small scene and projecting it much larger.
With the reverse lens macro technique, focal length is going to behave in a different manner. While in the case of a real macro lens you need a longer focal length to increase the effective focal length, thus enabling you to focus progressively closer, when using the reverse lens technique, zooming in triggers the opposite reaction: it reduces the effective focal length from your lens to the sensor. This means that a shorter focal length in the reverse lens technique would result in much higher magnification, allowing you to focus much closer to your subject, while a longer focal length would result in reduced magnification. To explain this more clearly, I have captured a couple of macro shots at different focal lengths:
From the above shots, you can see how focal length acts in an opposite manner to magnification in our reverse lens macro setup (focal length is inversely proportional to the magnification).
But have you noticed something strange in the above pictures? As my focal length decreases, resulting in greater magnification, my image gradually gets darker and darker, despite the fact that I shot all images at exactly the same exposure settings. Why is that? The reason behind it, is that the lens’ effective f-stop increases, including an increase in depth-of-field, resulting in darker images. I will talk about this in detail in my next article and for now, I hope you found the above information useful!
My lens is not inverted, but the focal length is increasing when you turn it down! Going to opposite way! What’s happened?
Reverse lens technique reverse mounting, could you explain please, I may have missed something
Your articles are very informative and you are doing a great job. I have read your previous posts and seen your you tube video. You have inspired me to take up this genre.
Very informative. Thank you.
I am using an Olympus OMD EM10 Mk2 for general photography and time has come to give macro a try. Before I invest in more gear I would like to get your opinion on how to proceed.
My lenses are: Tamron 14-150mm zoom, f3.5-5.8
Olympus 25mm, f1.8 fixed
Leaving out a seperate, dedicated macro lens what method would result in decent photos for the money? : reverse mount one of my lenses, extension tube or a macro converter/adapter?
Thanks for your thoughts. Really enjoy your writings.
Thanks for the informative article. I have shot macro with extension tubes before, but find that I must get so close to my subject matter (jumping spiders) with the camera that I will scare them off. Does a reverse mounted lens allow you to get macro from more distance away from your subject matter? If I could get close macro from about 3 feet away, I’d have a better chance of getting good shots and video.
I recently decided to do some macro photography using the reverse lens technique. I tried it with the kit 18-55 mm lens as well as the 50mm prime but am getting different results despite using the same focal length. I got much higher magnification with the kit lens than the prime. Could you please help me understand?
Are you sure that while shooting with the 18-55mm you were at 50mm ?
Secondly the 50mm lens you are using is it for DX (croped sensor) or for FX(full frame) ?
If you are using a full frame 50mm lens then yes, the image will be less magnified when compared to the 50mm of the 18-55mm lens.
Thank You !
Thats right spy black ,primes always stand in terms of image quality but I have mentioned in this article that while using a zoom rather than prime for reverse lens macro because I can easily adjust my focal for my required magnification. Where I am out shooting I dont know what I may shot , it can be a 1mm bug or a flower instead or something else…so I also need to change magnification acordingly :-)
Thank You !
Hey Siddhant! Nice article and images. Would have told you so sooner, but I haven’t had wifi for a few days.
Also, I was excited to see that your portfolio was featured on 500px. Congratulations! You certainly deserve it.
Ohh…yes..thank you so much Spencer , appreciate it :-)
Thats true tm1126
I had bought set of extension tubes (non AF) one…but found that AF ones are better. They cost more but are worth it. It is so much difficult to get the exact focus where you want it to be, this is a major in macro..and especially with reverse lens technique..so I would prefer AF ones instead , things get so much easier with it.
Nice images of that flower and the bee :-)
Yup yup, I bought a AF Vello extention tube set and work flawlessly! :D
Looking foward for more of your posts!
thanks for both of your articles both great introductions to Macro photography. i look forward to the next article.
Thanks Wally ! :-)