Post last updated: June 14th, 2019

Rather than purchase an expensive macro lens for your DSLR camera, buy an accessory known variously as a close-up filter, close-up lens, macro filter or diopter. These screw-on lenses attach to the front of the lens or lens adapter to extend the close-up range of a camera (I don’t know whether or not they can be used on digital point-and-shoot cameras). The quality is not as high as a macro lens but close-up lenses are small, lightweight and inexpensive.

Many years ago, I purchased a set of three for a Nikon SLR camera for my everyday lens of choice. They came in a small 2.5” x 2.5” hard leather case with a “tab” on the back. To this tab, I attached a key ring and put the ring on my camera strap. Thus, I always have the lenses with me and I hardly ever grab a camera bag. I don’t know if this hard leather case is available nowadays. It definitely protects the lenses from the wear and tear of being hauled everywhere the camera goes.

Close-up tab and key ring
Close-up tab and key ring

It would be safe to say I never use the 18-55 mm lens that came with the DSLR camera so my 52 mm Vivitar close-up lenses (made in Japan) include a No.1, No. 2 and No. 4  lens for my everyday 50 mm lens. Close-up lenses have diopter ratings such as +1, +2, +4, +10 that can be purchased individually or in sets.

Close-up lenses
Close-up lenses

When stacked, they provide more magnification than the built-in macro mode found on many digital cameras. When you stack filters, it is important to place the filter with the highest number closest to the camera lens, then the next strongest lens. If you use a standard filter and a close-up lens at the same time, place the close-up lens first and the filter last.

Keep in mind that close-up lenses decrease depth of field as you get closer to the subject meaning that very little will be in focus. To bring more into focus:

  1. Set your mode dial on top of the camera to the flower icon.
  2. Use a small lens opening, such as f/16, to allow less light through the lens opening and get more depth-of-field. You may have to compensate for this lack of light by using ISO or shutter speed.
  3. Set the camera lens to M (manual mode) and twist the focus ring on the lens to get your focus as close as possible then move the entire camera back and forth until you find the sharpest image.
  4. You can use tripods and clamps to keep the camera and the flower still but, frankly, I’m too lazy to do this.

I would encourage you to check online reviews to help you decide which brand to buy. You don’t want a lens with aberration. To find the current brands, check Adorama or Amazon by searching for “close-up lens filter.”

Lastly, I am the WRONG person to ask about photography techniques so don’t. I’m an amateur of the first order but I did want to make sure that you knew about this frugal way to get close-ups because I have happily used my close-up lenses for more years than I have been howling at the Crooked Moon (circa 1990).

Thanks to Poppie for loaning me his camera to take these photographs.


  1. Hay, Crooked Moon howler, I was wondering how you took these pics because I knew for a fact that I have never seen you with anything other than what you photographed.

    1. Had you going there, eh? Dad has the same camera but he hasn’t used it as much as I’ve used mine so his works better although he doesn’t have the everyday lens. All of the low-end Canons and Nikon DSLR cameras eventually develop shutter button problems. Yet I have a Nikon SLR that still works to this day if I were into film. It was a much better camera.

  2. I had these for my old Nikon F2 ever since my college days and made it through photography class just fine. I was the only one who had them, everyone else paid big bucks for “real” lenses. Some times the depth of field can be a bit short but making a narrower aperture and increasing exposure time fixes that and makes for a much better quality photo anyway. You can also stack them and multiply the magnification that way too. If I used all three screwed into a regular all purpose lens, I could get a nice macro shot of some very tiny subjects.

  3. That’s what I like about decent cameras… they are expandable with so much stuff. Even if I don´t own a DSLR yet, I have read so much to be prepared and it is really a different world and there are so much more possibilities than with a point and shoot. By the way, with my digital camera I can´t use stuff like this.

    Your suggestion is good. If you have saved up enough for a decent DSLR, a good macro lens might cost the same or at least the half of your DSLR. Now your suggestion comes into play… I saw the filters on youtube in a review and considering that they cost nothing… I would try the filters out, too, when the time has come. I thought the results were not too bad in the review video.

    1. Dennis – I bought my close-up lens filters many years ago after I bought my first Nikon SLR. When I switched to the Canon DSLR, I bought an inexpensive 50 mm everyday lens and used the SAME close-up filters on the Canon. I consider those zoom lenses that come with the Nikon and Canon “kit” cameras to be just about useless. Every close-up photo you see on my blog, whether bug or flower, has been taken with those filters. I’m glad you had already learned about the filters. Not everyone is aware that they are out there and it’s a sure-fire money saver.

      1. Yea, it’s funny… I anyhow want to be prepared and I usually prefer to inform myself before I dig deep into a new hobby. I did the same before I started to learn to play guitar two decades ago, and before I actually bought a guitar. For photography I do now the same… love to read about the stuff even if I don’t have a decent camera yet but I think it´s just my starting interest. A few weeks ago I talked with a photographer and he asked me what kind of camera I use… he was quite shocked when he heard that I still take photos with a smartphone and digital camera… but not because I take photos with that kind of equipment but because he meant that I know already a lot considering that I don´t even have the equipment we were talking about 😀

        That´s the fun thing about internet. Youtube for example, you can learn about anything there. Then all the photographer blogs here on wordpress and so on. Good to get basic knowledge, if not even beyond that.

        I have already seen several of your images and your work is stunning. It´s impressive that the photos are shot with a close-up filter. I didn´t expect this, to be honest. I thought you would use special lenses.
        Now that makes me put the filters on my wishlist, too. Anyway, I think I just saw a tiny amount of your photos but I will look deeper into your blog again with more time and I am nosy about your future work as well. 🙂

        1. Dennis – I was out of town when your comment came through and I had to hold it until I got home because I wanted to look at Adobe’s Lightroom to be able to discuss your comment. I use Lightroom 4.4 rather than Photoshop. I do not have a full grasp of all of its capabilities but on every photo, I crop, sharpen, and hit “Clarity” and “Vibrance.” I seldom hit “Saturation” because I want my colors to be natural. Sometimes, if the photo is too dark, I mess with the exposure or color settings. I find this program better for photos than Photoshop plus it’s cheaper. Thus, my photos are not really my work other than framing them in the viewfinder and shooting to remove distracting things, if possible. Just wanted to clarify that I’m getting help fixing my photographic errors. My Canon dates back to 2004 and now has focus button problems. Drives me nuts. That’s more of corporate america’s planned obsolescence. I bought a Nikon Nikkormat SLR film camera in 1972 (yes, I’m a pre-geezer) that worked without problems up until the day I bought the Canon. I would like to have one of those new Canon DSLRs with the capability of filming short videos but its not in the foreseeable budget.

          I’m with you on YouTube. You can learn SO MUCH there on every possible subject and it is often helpful to see someone actually DO something than read instructions for it.

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