If there’s anything I’ve ever felt embarrassed to be lacking, it would be length. But I needn’t worry anymore, with the appropriately named extension tubes from Kenko. The idea of course is that by adding these to what you have currently, you can extend the range of whatever your setup is into the very close macro range. Not being able to get close is no longer an issue, since these tubes are stackable on top of each other, together adding an impressive 68mm to your length (that’s over two and a half inches extra!).
In the hand, these feel to be of quite solid construction, and the larger tube even has a small and thin amount of rubber on the outer barrel to assist you ability to get a good grip. Wrapping your hands around these cylinders reveals a solid yet responsive feel – they are just thick enough that you can’t quite get your fingers to touch. What differentiates these tubes from many other similar extension tubes is that they come with built in contacts which enable the auto focus motors of lenses to be powered, rather than having to manually manipulate things yourself, leaving your full attention to focus on the matter at hand, and allowing you to feel a much better connection with what you’re doing.
My particular tubes were designed for Nikon users. As some of you probably know, some older (but still optically excellent) Nikon autofocus lenses do not contain their own AF motors, instead relying on a servo built into the camera to turn a small screw (if you look closely at the image above, you can see it). Even the fine control of these screws is preserved through the formidable length of these extensions.
A word of caution though – adding the full complement of extension tubes to your length can yield a very unwieldy device which must be handled with care. It allows you to get uncomfortably close to your subject, and for these close encounters, it can often be tricky to get the right lighting. For all this extra effort though, the results are worth it and the magnification you will be able to achieve will impress all of your friends. Even though these tubes are basically hollow, they do add a non-trivial amount of weight to your setup, and depending on how you strap on your camera, bruising on the side of your leg is not unheard of – best to use two hands, or get a tripod. Even so, for added mounting stability, one should exercise care because of the way that so much extra length can throw your balance.
For better illumination, I recommend a ring flash, which is essential for lighting up especially small subjects. Also, because of the immense amounts of magnification, you may wish to use a remote release, or even a self-timer since, when you’re that close, even the slightest movement from an overenthusiastic push can ruin the moment. In fact, all of the tubes together may actually be too much – even if maximum magnification is what you desire, it is advisable to slowly work up to it, to familiarize yourself with your newfound length, and all the unexpected problems associated with it. Also, for certain subjects, to achieve the maximum impact you may wish to exercise restraint and stop short of maximum magnification.
Overall, I recommend this product. I would advise caution however since there’s much more than simply strapping on the extra length to using the tubes effectively. Another word of advice is that you will want to start off with as good a lens as you can get your hands on before applying the extra length. You will want a focal length of at least 80mm, and as large an aperture as possible (to ensure that there is enough light to see what you are doing). Of course, good quality lenses are invariably heavy and adding such prodigious length to an already heavy setup inevitably dooms you to two-handed operation (and bruises at the side of your leg, depending on the length of your strap). Two-handed operation, while it may sound good, is to be avoided of course since you will also want at least one more hand to actually release the shutter.
“The size of the lens is important, but not nearly as important as the skill of the photographer”
So despite the intimidating nature of these extensions, the results can be spectacular. Very small – even microscopic subjects can be magnified to a size that you might even consider publishing in a magazine. Of course, as it is with anything, you really need to know what you’re doing to be able to enjoy the full benefits that the extra length can bring you. In other words – the size of the lens is important, but not nearly as important as the skill of the photographer.