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Stack a Reversed Prime Lens for Macro Photography

Macro Photography Lens Stacking

High quality macro pictures

If you have read some of our photography pages, such as those devoted to reverse lens technique or extension tubes, you will certainly agree that it’s not difficult to feel attracted and involved in macro photography and, which might sound as a plus to many, there is no need to buy expensive devices in order to take high quality pictures of tiny subjects.

Let’s see here one more step towards the easiest macro photography way, with a bonus added: extra magnification.

Stacking two regular camera lenses…

…the front one reversed

So, you have a digital reflex camera, you want to shoot high quality macro pictures and you do not want to shop for special macro lenses.
Also, you want to keep it simple.
Here it is, an easy way to get to high magnification, which can work with lenses you already have in your bag.

This is all you have to do:

  1. Take your camera and mount your regular lens, could also be a zoom; focus it to the closest position
  2. Stack a prime lens on the first lens, in a reversed position, infinity focused and aperture wide open; keep it in place with some duct black tape
  3. Compose your picture with care and shoot!

Learning-by-doing macro photography

Stacking a second lens greatly shortens the minimum shooting distance of the combined lenses.
There is really not too much to say about it, and all you have to do is probably experiment a bit with your specific gear.
If, instead of black tape, you feel like behaving a bit more professionally, you can pair a reversing ring (that is, a coupling ring with male threads on both sides) with either a step-up or a step-down ring set to keep the two lenses joined.

Reversed 50mm lens stacked on a 70-300mm lens — Photo by Ted Burch

Photo ©© Ted Burch

You see here above how things should work: stack a reversed prime lens on top of your camera lens.
Join your lenses with a reversing ring (and step up/down ring if needed), or just tape them together by means of some black tape.

Granted, not all lens combinations are good: some lenses just do not fit, and some other lenses generate a nasty vignetting effect.
Just try. Any lens, by any brand or make can be stacked. Take advantage of the many occasions at your local flea market.

All in all reversing a prime lens, either stacked on another lens or not, is a (next to) zero budget solution which makes for very high quality images.

A few hints more

  • Should your main lens be a zoom, try and set it to its longest focal length.
  • The shorter the front lens, the greater the magnification factor.
  • Too much difference in lenses diameters may induce vignetting and other image quality problems.

Moving the camera back and forth while checking composition on the rear display (live-view mode) is the best way to achieve focus. Alternatively you can try and move your subject. On a standard scenario the lens to subject distance is really lilliputian:

  • be creative in the challenging job of lighting the scene
  • be careful as not to let your lens hit and scratch

Do not forget to double-check focus by shooting a test picture and then carefully scanning it with your eyes at the best magnification, always on the rear camera screen.

One might notice that such a lens stacking approach is somehow similar to the close-up lens method, in that an extra lens is added on top of the primary lens.
The good thing here is that you do not have to buy any piece of equipment; you just take advantage of the optics you have at hand.

Mind that, despite the apparent simplicity of this tutorial, still the basic macro tips apply: we warmly suggest you go and read them before starting to juggle with your gear.

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