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Reverse Coupled Macro Photography: Two Lenses Become One

lens1

Feel the need for magnification? Reverse coupled macro photography grants you unfathomable POWER! Imagine taking a glamour shot of a red wasp. Not your thing? Imagine floating over a flower petal and seeing: textures, colors, boulders of pollen—details normally overlooked by a mere mortal’s senses.

Strap yourself in! Let’s see what happens when we stick two lenses together!

 

What Is Reverse Coupled Macro Photography?

 

Yes—it’s really possible to attach two lenses together—a special adapter ($12.00) is all that you need. The lens filter size needs to match the adapter. Research the specific adapter designed for your lens. Fotodiox sells a variety of adapter sizes: find the one you need.

Keep in mind: reverse coupled macro photography is different from reverse-mounted photography, which includes only a single lens, reverse-mounted on a camera body.

The adapter is similar, but not quite the same.

You might be thinking to yourself: “Why the hell would anyone want to attach two lenses together?!”

Great question! I’m glad you asked!

Attach adapter to lens

Attach adapter to lens

To put it simply: a backwards secondary lens acts like a magnifying glass.

That’s it. Grand mystery solved. The exact magnification is determined by the specific lenses involved. A short focal length lens provides a greater magnification compared to a longer focal length lens. Reverse couple macro photography is potentially a cost-effective way to boost your magnification (if you choose to reach life-size ratios).

 

Lens34

  • Adapted Attached To Lens

 

    lens236

 

 

  • Secondary Lens (50mm) Is Ready To Be Attached To Primary Lens (100mm)

 

 

    Attatched lens

  • Secondary Lens Attached To Primary Lens

 

Locked 'n' Loaded!

Locked ‘n’ Loaded!

Reverse Coupled Macro Photography

 

 

Dedicated macro lenses are obscenely expensive. Lex Luthor would be intimated if he flipped through a Canon catalog. I literally shit my pants when I read some of the prices of these godlike lenses. Some macro lenses are more expensive than apochromatic refractors, which is puzzling.

If you’re like me, and don’t have the green to purchase the latest and greatest glass, then you’ll appreciate the raw power of reverse coupled macro photography.

Some of you out there may already own a few cheap prime lenses. If you happen to fall under this category, and you desire a magnification boost, then there’s no reason you shouldn’t try reverse coupled photography.

Here’s what you need to begin your journey:

 

 

That’s it. Done.

See? That wasn’t so difficult! Now you don’t to sacrifice $1400.00 toward a viable upgrade!

 

Two Lenses in One

 

Reverse coupled macro photography offers the ability to adjust the primary lens aperture.

If you don’t own a manual aperture lens, then reverse coupled macro photography, is superior to reverse mounting a lens (in my opinion). Adapters are far cheaper compared to purchasing a manual aperture ring lens.

Extension tubes typically suffer from a ‘fixed aperture’ hindranceimaging wide open may not always be practical. Increased magnification is not worth losing the ability to adjust aperture.  You can quote me on that. If you want to travel the extension tube route, I highly suggest purchasing a tube, which maintains the camera’s electrical contacts.

Needle Eye

 

 

I understand there are hacks involved, which allows you to program the aperture with an extension tube, but that is not always practical, especially if you image animate objects (insects, bugs, etc.). Reverse coupled photography allows you to change the aperture as you normally would on any other lens, granting you the power of true aperture control.

 

 

Reverse coupled macro photography provides a substantial magnification boost—you’ll appreciate being able to shoot at f/32 and up. Trust me.

 

 

Sticking two lenses together packs on the weight! Some lenses can be a bit obese, so a particular set-up could be quite heavy. You’ve been warned.

 

Image quality marginally suffers with reverse coupled macro photography. Dim image and color fringing could be an issue. These problems can easily be fixed with post-processing, so it’s not a total deal breaker, considering any issue will be minor.

Strawberry Seeds

Strawberry Seeds

Again, depending on the exact lenses involved, expect to need plenty of photons. Images tend to be dimmer due to the piece of glass in front of your primary lens. There’s nothing that can be done about this: counter back with a high ISO or a longer exposure.

Benefits:

  • Cost Effective

  • Aperture Control

  • High magnification

 

Hindrances:

 

  • Possible Color fringing

  • Heavy

  • Darker image

 

The Magnified View Of Reality

 

 

Now that you understand the mystery behind reverse coupled photography, you should next be aware of the harsh reality involved with using this method of imaging the world. The increased magnification of your desired subject will also magnify any subtle mistakes:

 

  1. Camera shake / vibration

  2. Angle of approach

  3. Proper exposure

  4. Composition

 

Any of those 4 examples will ruin a magnified image. Simple as that. End of story. No room for discussion.

Orange Sprinkle

Orange Sprinkle

A highly magnified image may need some depth.

Since reverse coupled macro photography often involves extreme magnifications—depth of field cannot be ignored.

I reverse couple a Canon EF 50mm Macro and a Canon EF 100mm Macro lens. I can’t quite quantify how much magnification this particular set-up provides, but I provided images, so you can get a feel of the scale involved.

Decide for yourself if the images would of been better with less depth.

 

A Matter of Depth

 

Don’t be afraid to raise the camera’s ISO. If you need depth and need to retain a speedy exposure rate, raising the ISO, is a viable option.

Cameras these days are well adapted to shoot north of 1600 ISO. A modern DSLR can get away with shooting north of 2000 ISO. I’ve seen plenty of images taken with what some people would consider “too high of an ISO”, and you know what? The overall image quality wasn’t really degraded too much.

All of the images I provided was taken at 1600 ISO.

Brass Plated Safety Pin

 

Shooting at f/32 (and up) requires a healthy source of light. Unless you’re using a tripod, don’t expect to leave your camera on ISO 100—it’s not going to happen.

I leave my camera on ISO 1600 and never change it. Keeps things very simple. The ISO dance is not practical. Six legged creatures will not wait for a slow photographer. I leave the aperture set at f/32 and ISO 1600. The only thing I change is the exposure. How is this information relevant? The point I’m making is this—don’t be afraid to shoot at a high ISO (if depth matters. Which it does).

 

 Mind, Body, and Lens

 

Stacking a long focal length lens requires muscle memory, especially if you want to image six legged creatures. At first, you might not intuitively know how close to put the secondary lens toward a particular subject. You might be unaccustomed to the proximity the lens needs to be, in order to properly focus the subject.

I like to call this ability, ‘Intuitive Framing’. After you make enough mistakes, you’ll eventually develop an instinctual intuitiveness, which will automatically guide the lens toward your desired subject. I believe it took me about 4 months to acquire this skill.

Brass Plated Safety Pin

 

Reverse coupled macro photography could involve hefty lenses. Take the time to physically adapt and you’ll discover that you won’t mind the awkward weight—in fact—you’ll learn to love it.

If your primary lens has a relatively short focal length (50mm), the overall weight will be light, but probably still a bit awkward.

It’s important to be able to accurately focus on a subject—you may only have one chance.

 

Balancing the Scales

 

Macro photography utilizes a reproduction scaling system, which allows you to figure out how large a subject will appear in a photograph. A true macro lens will reproduce a subject at a 1:1 ratio.

For example: Canon’s EF 100mm Macro USM has a 1:1 reproduction ratio, which means a house fly will appear life-size.

Reverse coupled macro photography increases the primary lens magnification quite a bit. The large increase in magnification could be difficult to quantify. My particular set-up seems to go beyond life-size, but I can’t comment on the exact ratio. I think it’s a 2:1 ratio, but I’m probably wrong. My Canon Rebel XSi crop sensor complicates things due to the 1.6x focal length increase.

Let’s take a gander at a some real world examples:

Beetle-5

This beetle was small. I would say about 1mm. The image was taken with a Canon Rebel XSi and Canon EF 100mm Macro USM.

Here’s what happens when I attach my secondary lens:

Beetle-904

Run!!!!! It’s a giant beetle!

No need to worry! This is the same 1mm beetle as before. Reverse coupled macro photography might cause your subject to bust out of the seams of your camera’s frame. You’ve been warned.

Let’s take a look at some magnified every day objects, shall we?

blade-1

This is the edge of a knife. You thought a typical edge was smooth, right? Don’t lie.

Ccane-1

Do you want to take a guess at what this is? No? Fine, fine—it’s a candy cane.

thorn-1

Look! Your favorite! A giant prick! Haha.

pencil-1

A giant pencil needs no explanation.

pen8

Need a pen?

I’m sure you have a sense of scale by now, right? I wasn’t joking when I said the magnification is difficult to quantify.

 

To Magnify, Or Not To Magnify, That Is The Question

 

If you need a power boost—reverse coupled macro photography might be something to consider. The adapter ring is fairly inexpensive and it might be all you need to become face-to-face with your desired subject.

Reverse coupled macro photography is not a silver bullet solution.

There are limitations and drawbacks:

 

  1. Possible Color fringing

  2. Lower resolution

  3. Dimmer image

  4. Shallow depth

 

That being understood: reverse coupled macro photography could be your passport into the microcosm. No need to pack a suitcase—you’ll never fit inside any of the hotels. Sometimes all you can do is enjoy the view…with enough magnification.

 

Common Questions and Answers

 

Q. The secondary lens rear element is exposed! Won’t the glass be ruined?

A. No—the chances of you ruining the lens—is dictated by your own clumsiness.

Q. Can the primary lens aperture really be changed?

A. Yes.

Q. Do you need to use a tripod?

A. No, but camera shake should be monitored.

Q.  How can you attach two lenses together? Impossible!

A. Ring adapters, such as those sold by Fotodiox, are designed for a variety of filter thread sizes. Any lens, which matches the appropriate filter size, will easily attach to the ring, and thus, to your lens.

Q. Do short focal length lenses really provide more magnification?

A. Yes

Q. What about the secondary lens aperture?

A. Set the secondary lens to its widest aperture.

Q. What about focus points? Do they work?

A. Yes.

For more information: EOSMagazineOnline

 

 Are you interested in macro photography? Check out these lenses!

Canon EF 100mm Macro USM

Canon EF 50mm Macro

 

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About FlyTrapMan (189 Articles)
I have no idea what I'm doing.

2 Comments on Reverse Coupled Macro Photography: Two Lenses Become One

  1. Amazing post. I’ll have to come back and reread once I can take mine off automatic. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading the guide! Reverse-coupled macro photography may seem complicated at first, but it’s well worth looking into further.

      If you have any questions: feel free to let me know in the comment section, or you can email me (my address is in the sidebar).

      Liked by 1 person

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