Monday, September 30, 2013

Alternative close-up photography with the Fuji X-cameras

The traditional method of shooting close-up photographs is with a macro lens mounted on the camera, and, no doubt about it, this method provides the highest image quality when this is what is required. True macro lenses focus from infinity down to a 1:1 reproduction and are noted for their high resolution and lack of distortion. Fuji has a 60mm macro in its line up of lenses and Zeiss is planning to add a 50mm to the mix shortly. For precision macro work, this would be the way to go.

Sometimes, however, I like to break the mold and move into some more innovative ways of shooting close-ups. The procedure is simple, but the results can often be visually interesting and, for me, more exciting creatively.

This close-up of a microscope lens and slide was taken with a Fuji 35mm f/1.4 lens on an X-E1. The lens was used at a fully opened aperture of  f/1.4. In addition a +2 close-up filter was added to allow me to get in tight for an image with extremely shallow depth of field and beautifully soft bokeh. A blue filter held in front of the lens provided the color.  
The first part of my equation is to use a very fast aperture lens, usually a normal of portrait focal length, although sometimes I have used an extremely long telephoto for even more dramatic effects. I use the lens wide open, typically at f/1.4. Used in close at this aperture the lens is going to produce an exceptionally shallow depth of field.

For the second part of the equation I add either close-up filters (+1, +2, or +4), or to get even closer I switch to extension tubes. One other advantage to extension tubes is that they do not add an any extra glass into the optical path. as a close-up filter does. That said, sometimes the edge softening of the close-up filters adds something creatively soft to the image. So I choose my close-up attachments according to the effect I want to achieve.

Here is my basic close-up kit, a Fiji X-E1 with 35mm f/1.4 Fuji lens used with an extension tube or close-up filter. With this system auto-focus and is still possible with the Fuji X camera.
This is a set of  Fotga extension tubes for $49.50 at Amazon. I One is 10mm, the other 16mm in length. They are pinned to transfer information between the lens and camera so auto-focus is possible with them. They are made in China, and with many of the adapters I have used from there, the quality control may not be up to exacting standards. The pins on the set I have do not always line up properly. Usually, a little jiggling realigns them and I am on my way without much of a hassle.

Addendum:  Some readers have reported the same problem I had with some Fotga adapters being too tight in their fit to the camera body. I tried loosening the four adapter mount screws by a half turn and found that this did the trick. It allowed the lens pass-through pins to be just a bit farther away from the camera body.
There are plenty of close-up filters available, many of them coming in sets like with one from Hoya containing a +1, +2, and +4 lens. They can also be combined for further magnification, but doing so begins to degrade image quality. Sometimes, though, this sort of softening is just what I'm after. The Fuji 35mm takes a 52mm filter. If you also want to use the filters on another lens, you can get them in a larger size and use a step up ring to adapt them down to the 35mm lens size.
This photo was taken with a +2 filter added to the Fuji 35mm lens.  The glass globe was lit with a single tungsten light from behind. I also placed a plexiglas prism in front of the lens to create some extra blur at the bottom.

This photo of a glass with white wine was also taken with the +2 close-up filter on the 35mm lens. In all these examples the aperture was left wide open at f/1.4.
Here the X-E1 is fit with a 16mm extension tube between it and the 35mm lens. This allows for greater magnification with less distortion that the close-up filters. By stacking the 10mm and 16mm extension tubes together a reproduction ratio of almost 1:1 is possible. Cameras with auto exposure also mean there is no hassle re-calculating the exposure due to light fall off from the added lens extension. Things are so much easier today in photography. 
This close-up photo of an early Leica camera was taken with the 10mm Fotga extension tube mounted between the lens and camera. Lack of optical elements results in a very sharp image, even when used at f/1.4 as it was here.

Close-up of an old type writer key also taken with the 10mm extension tube and f/1.4 aperture.

I usually carry at least a +2 close-up filter in my gadget bag just in case I encounter a scene like this one with an old gramaphone.  The close-up filter takes up much less space than a full macro lens and accomplishes much of I what I need anyway. I tend to prefer my close-up scenes to have a very shallow depth of field as this one does at f/1.4.

A +4 close-up filter begins to add some optical distortion especially when the lens is used wide open as it was here. You can see some of the effect in the gold coin on the bottom. I happen to like this effect, but it might not be to everyone's taste. For the photo below the same combination was used except that the lens was stopped down to f/7.1 because I wanted to see more detail in the old coins.

Both of the coin images above were taken in the same lighting setup. For the top photo I added some warmth to the color temperature setting later when bringing the RAW image into Photoshop from Adobe Bridge. For the bottom image of silver coins I did the opposite by increasing a cool blue color temperature instead.

This is very typical of the softness effect that often occurs with the higher magnification close-up filters -- in this case a +4 -- used with a wide aperture lens setting. 


  1. Beware some of the Fotga extension tubes go too far into the camera body and will damage the contact pins inside the Fuji camera, if it seems tight do not use them, return them. The quality control is very poor.

  2. Beautiful. Love it. Classic looking images here. I was looking for some macro tools to use with my 35 and 18-55 on my XE-1. Glad I caught your article. I was wondering if you had any other issues such as tightness of fit with your extension tubes?

  3. The fit for the tubes is tight, but I haven't had a problem with it other than occasionally it needs a small bit of jiggling to sync the contacts. As Alan said above, quality control on these items is poor.

  4. If they are tight and you are having problems getting the sync, check for wear on the contacts, they may be too tight. Here is what I wrote up and some pics of the contacts.

  5. Some readers have reported the same problem I had with some Fotga adapters being too tight in their fit to the camera body, and one left a comment for a fix. I tried it and it worked for me. Here's what I did:

    I tried loosening the four adapter mount screws by about half turn and found that this did the trick. It allowed the lens pass-through pins to be just a bit farther away from the camera body.

  6. hi tom,

    thanks for your informative post.
    i too pair the 35mm f1.4 with a HMC +4 close-up and am getting pretty satisfactory results with the combo. am not aware extension tube option until i read your post. would like to try it out for some really up-close macro stuff.

    very best regards,

  7. Thanks for this, I too didn't know extenstion tubes were available, have you tried them on
    ether of the stabilised zooms? I'm thinking it would be good to get the MFD of the 55-200 shorter.