19th 2009f February, 2009

DIY High quality Macro lens out of an Canon EF-S 18-55

by @ 15:57. Filed under
Canon EFS 18-55
Photography is fun. And expensive. Especially when you realize the difference between the different lenses and that there are no shortcuts.If money wasn't an issue then I would probably have something like 7-8 different lenses right now just to have the right lens for that particular moment. But as many of the lenses start at $1200 it doesn't become reality that fast.
One thing that I've always enjoyed is to see things really closeup. Not microscope closeup but you know, just so that you can explore the grooves on your finger. It puts what you can see with the naked eye in a whole new perspective.
To get a decent macro lens you get close to another $800, which is not what I'd like to pay out just to have fun a couple of hours here and there.

The picture to the left; alligator clip closeup with the final lens, Canon EFS 18-55 DIY Macro 18mm f/22 30s
The picture below; the text ‘zoom’ on my 18-200 Sigma lens, taken with Canon EFS 18-55 DIY Macro 25mm f/4.0 1/13s

Zoom - Sigma 18-200 - DIY Macro lens
Enter DIY.
A very well unknown but not new idea about macro photography is to use an SLR camera which accepts you to remove the lens and still operate and then turn the lens back to front. Of course you can't mount it back to front so you'd need to hold it in front of the camera. Then set the lens to the shortest focal lenght and infinite zoom, then place an object about an inch or two (25-50mm) away from the front (back) glass and voila! You just used you standard lens to achieve macro.
Normally you can use an 18mm lens (or zoom set to 18mm) and on a APC size sensor (not full frame) this usually means that an object that is .2 inches (5mm) will fill the whole picture. That is about 4.5x magnification!

Holding a lens if front of the camera creates two problems in itself. To start with it's of course difficult to hold the assembly still and you need to keep it still. And you need to keep it still as the available light creates a need for long exposure times.

Consider this. (Don't hold me to this calculation okay?)
You snap a picture of a coffee cup with a normal lens at 18mm with a shutter speed of 1/60 and the aperture at f5.6. A normal picture like this will fit an object that is about 10 inches (25cm).
Now if you take your backward lens with the same apertue you will fit .2 inches (5mm) which is 50 times smaller (widht wise). So I then need to have 1/60s * 50 = 0.83s in the same lighting contidions, alternativly you need 50 times more light. 0.8 seconds is very long as far as concerned when trying to hold a camera perfectly still in your hand so you need to mount it on a tripod… and then you can't hold the lens anymore.
Secondly you get a very short DOF (depth of field, what is in focus and what is out of focus). Have a look at the last page for samples. At f5.6 the DOF is typically less then 0.04 inches (1mm). This Zoom image is taken with f4 of the text on the front of a Sigma 18-200. The text height is 0.08 inches (2mm) and as you can see the middle of the Z is sharp while the top of the Z is slightly out of focus.
The answer to this problem is to use a smaller aperture, which means that you need longer exposure times. But more importanly – you can't change the aperture when the lens is not electrically connected to the camera.

(Aperture, also known as the f value, describes how large the hole in the lens is in relation to the focal point. The larger the whole, more light, lower value, shorter dof)

(Focal point, also known as the mm value, describes the distance to where the light crosses the lens. Imagine a regular magnifying glass held 2 inches above the table, then the focal point would be 50.8mm (2 inches = 50.8mm). The shorter the focal point, the more you'll fit in the picture, the wider angle from the lens you'll get.)

16 Responses to “DIY High quality Macro lens out of an Canon EF-S 18-55”

  1. Frankie Muniz Says:

    Nice guide, but those initial calculations (which you said I shouldn’t hold you to) aren’t quite right. By the same logic, anything I look at that’s really far away should be really bright, because a huge object can fill the same portion of my field of vision as a small object.

    Of course, this doesn’t happen, because seeing as you’re further away, your eye ends up getting a lot less light (due to the inverse square law).

    Mind you, the overall effect of your calculations is (presumably) true – I’d imagine that turning a camera’s lens around would indeed result in longer exposure times, but probably not as drastically as your calculations show.

    Either way, there’s still a huge problem in having to hold a lens still in front of a camera, so your guide was absolutely great :)

  2. Aleksander ΓƒΛœyen Says:

    OR you can do like I did, and just search for “Canon reversing ring” on ebay, and buy a $9 ring that you screw onto the 58mm threads on the front of the lens, and than the front of the lens has standard a standard canon ring.. πŸ˜›

  3. Chris J. Says:

    Aleksander: Yes you could – but without the electrical connection you can’t change the aperture, so you’ll be stuck on like f/3.5 which isn’t very useful. The main challenge I had for this project was to be able to change the aperture as I pleased when the lens was mounted in reverse.

    Well you could also do this little trick to change the aperture (which could break your camera/lens):
    Mount the normal lens as normally done.
    Change the aperture to like f/11 and press the DOF preview button, then take out the battery of the camera.
    Take the lens off and mount it reverse (with the aperture now stuck f/11 position)

  4. eyrieowl Says:

    completely speculating here…but if you got a reversing ring, couldn’t you add contacts to it and run a cable to the contacts which are now at the front? haven’t tried to look at all at feasibility, but it could be an easier/more flexible way to reverse lenses while maintaining aperture control.

  5. Chris J. Says:

    eyrieowl: The problem in that would be that you don’t have the necessary connectors on the camera piece (the ring) and you still need to connect the wires to the lens (on the front)

  6. eyrieowl Says:

    i don’t think you’re understanding what i’m suggesting: step 1) take reversing ring: it does not have connectors on the ring. granted. so, step 2) drill and modify it to add connectors. now, step 3) take a rear-lens cap. step 4) dremel out the center and step 5) put appropriate connectors on it as well. step 6) run cable from connectors on reversing ring to connectors on rear cap. step 7) put lens in between the ring and cap and step 8) mount on camera. I find it hard to imagine that this couldn’t be done and made to work. of course, i freely admit i’m being an armchair hacker here, and there may be some insurmountable difficulty. but it *seems* like you could get full control of the lens without modifying the lens at all.

  7. Glen Says:

    Or you buy a nikon body and every lens made in the last 50 years will work on it. The 55mm Vivitar Macro lens is great and can be had on ebay for 20USD add the matching 2x teleconverter to it and you have a 110mm macro and ad in the 1.56 crop factor and you get a 160mm macro that will focus at the end of the lens for oh say 50. And the cool part is the focus and the aperture work like they are suppose to.

  8. Chris J. Says:

    eyrieowl: Of course that should work. It’s just the trouble in getting the actual connectors onto the lens cap and the ring that will stop you. I mean, how do you actually go about to facilitate this?
    That’s why you’ll probably be easier off by cannibalizing an existing lens to get to the connectors with the right fittings.

    Glen: I can only say this… This reminds me about the old PC vs Amiga war back in the 80’s/90’s. πŸ˜‰

  9. Nikos K. Says:

    Scrappy! You could buy a cheap 50mm standard and mount it with a ring converter in front of your zoom.
    No damage, low price solution!

  10. Rob McD Says:

    Hi Chris, nice work, i would be interested if you get the electrical connections workingat a distance. I am considering adding being able to control the lens from a PC instead of the camera, then operate the shutter remotely. But i still have the problem of getting at the signals and working out what they are.

  11. Hel Says:

    I’m with the others here that say you should go find an old, fully-manual lens. I don’t know if this is possible with your current camera. I shoot with a Pentax (I know, not a Nikon or Canon, but I’m just getting started), and found an old Tamron “Adaptall” zoom/macro lens that is fully manual, aperture ring and all (Though with the right Adaptall mount, the Aperture could be chosen automatically). With a 2x teleconverter I can fill the shot with about 0.4 to 0.6 inches of subject from about 3 inches away.

  12. Netdigger Says:

    i have to say that i tried it and it didnt work out too well. the depth of feild sucked

  13. stewart Says:

    Connectors? Wires? What are you going hook these wires to? 3v lithium cell? It just gets more and more rube goldberged or more like mickey moused. For gods sake use a lens with a manual capability. Most crappy amatuer photographers like uncle jack who swears he can shoot princess’ wedding and the only cost will be walmarts hillbilly express processing fees. Has enough sense to have a bulletproof fully manual 35mm camera that can produce kickass pictures from a bowl of fruit in a dim kitchen to horses crossing the tape for a photo finish. (Film+f/stop+shutter speed) come on people you start drilling and have wires soldered on connectors in a camera is a recipe for disaster. Plus if anyone gets a glimpse of your creation of the making of, they’ll swear you’re either certifiable or wacked out on drugs. Well cause you probably are now stop it!

  14. Adam Says:

    Give the guy a break.

  15. Alex Says:

    You can buy a decent set of macro lens adapters on eBay ( for almost nothing. Image quality is bound to be a little less than the lens itself, but it’s negligible.

    Here are a few sample photos taken with a Nikon D40X with a 10x macro adapter mounted on a Sigma 30mm at f/1.4:

  16. Chris J. Says:

    Hi Alex,
    I agree and disagree.
    Of course a commercial solution is ‘easier’ and ‘cleaner’ but there are two things you miss out on.
    1. That’s no fun! Besides not being ‘that fun’ to twist on your purchased solution, it’s not available anytime. The reverse lens thingy is.
    2. Compare the zoom factor. I don’t know what you’d get with your 10x macro adapter on an 18mm, but the posted solution here provides 4.5x magnification – on the sensor. That is an object will be 4.5 times larger when reflected on the sensor. That translates to an object of 1/5″ or 5mm filling the frame on an APC size sensor.

    Did you take these pictures? DSC_0004.jpg is just great!


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Host your project

Write for Grynx:

Do you have what it takes? If you're the right person then email us.


Support Grynx:

Help us continue our work with a donation

Website promotion SEO Managed Advertising

5 Most popular articles:



Do it yourself - DIY
Our projects collection

23 queries. 0.348 seconds