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.