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Why Extension Tube Macro is a Great Alternative to Traditional Macro Lenses

A few years ago, I had an opportunity to travel to Costa Rica as part of a professional development program for work. Because I was traveling for work (not for photography), packing lightly was a must. I brought a 24mm pancake lens with a 12mm extension tube for all my macro work. My handy Graslon Spark flash diffuser tagged along for proper flash diffusion. I also brought my 10-22mm wide angle lens, but only took two photos with it. With my light packing, all my photo equipment fit nicely in the bottom of a small backpack under my other travel necessities.

Results of the Extension Tube Macro Setup

Grasshopper nymph taken with extension tube macro setup.
Close up of caterpillar taken with extension tube macro setup.
Close up of ant taken with Extension Tube Macro.

The Canon EF-S 24mm pancake is specifically designed to work with Canon APS-C cameras (cropped frame). It boasts a profile of less than one inch with a minimum focal distance of 6.24 inches. Paired with the 12mm extension tube, however, the minimum focal distance of this setup becomes less than 4 inches (with a 1:1.4 magnification ratio). It’s worth mentioning that you lose infinity focus when using an extension tube. So plan ahead and have another lens on hand for non-macro shots, if needed.

Low Cost

An added benefit of the pancake macro setup is the cost. Traveling with camera equipment is not without risk. Had something happened to my lens or extension tube, I would have been out just over $200. Add about $40 if you like the idea of a flash diffuser to reduce harsh hotspots on shiny insects. Using the camera’s built-in flash with a diffuser resulted in sharp handheld shots.

Close up of snail on leaf.

Final Thoughts on Extension Tube Macro

In the end, I captured some great macro photos in Costa Rica without the hassle of carrying around a lot of expensive equipment. The setup was extremely lightweight and fit comfortably in my small backpack for easy transport. And by always having my 24mm pancake lens, I felt prepared for most situations, from group shots to landscapes.

If you’re looking for a versatile and inexpensive macro setup, a pancake lens with an extension tube may be worth looking into. But don’t stop at pancake lenses. Because extension tubes work with just about any type of lens, try it out with your existing equipment and see how you like it!

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