Today’s question came by email. I am posting the question and my answer below. The person asking the question uses Canon gear but the information below also applies to Nikon and other brands.
Question From “D”: I have been looking at a 58mm closeup lens for my Canon camera. I am also looking at closeup filters for my 28-55mm or 55-250mm Canon lenses. What do you recommend I get?
I am not aware of a 58mm macro lens made for Canon cameras so I am guessing you are looking for a closeup filter for one of your lenses, and not another lens. Part of the confusion is that some screw on closeup filters are also called lenses.
There are several ways to do closeup photography. Closeup filters, extension tubes, and macro lenses are the most commonly used options.
Single element closeup filters are the least expensive way to get started. It is also the way I recommend most people start out because of the low cost involved. You can get a set of four single element closeup filters for $20 – $30 depending on the filter size you need for your lens. Single element closeup filters are marked with their diopter (magnification) strength. A typical set could be +1, +2, +3, and +10. The higher the number, the stronger the magnification. You can also stack them using 2 or more filters but with a drop in image quality. It is best to use just one or at most two of them. Single element closeup filters work best on normal focal length lenses from 40-80mm. They would work well on your 28-55mm lens. The brand of single element closeup filters doesn’t matter a lot but I am a bit partial to the Vivitar sets.
There is one disadvantage and that is optical quality. Single element closeup filters are reasonably sharp in the center of the frame but soft toward the edges. So the most economical way to do closeup photography has the poorest quality. But, you can do respectable work when photographing thee dimensional subjects. They don’t work well with flat subjects like a stamp collection. Still, the price is so low that it is the way I recommend most people get started. If they really love closeup photography they can move up to a more expensive option. If they don’t, they are only out $20 – $30.
Double element closeup filters are much better in optical quality than single element closeup filters, but they also cost $90 – $140 depending on the filter size you need for your lens. One of the best options is the Canon 500D double element closeup filter (which Canon calls a “lens”, but they really do screw on to the front of your lens like any other filter). Although made by Canon, the Canon 500D closeup “lenses” will screw on to any brand of lens provided you get the right size. Canon 500D double element filters are designed for lenses with a longer focal length, ideally around 200-300mm. A Canon 500D would be ideal for your 55-250mm lens. Canon 500D closeup filters are very sharp in the center of the frame and pretty sharp out to the edges. If you decide you really like closeup photography, this is a great option.
Extension tubes are another great option. The longer the tube, the more magnification you will get. They work with any kind of lens, but you need an extension tube that works with your brand of camera and lenses. The shorter the focal length of the lens, the more magnification you get. So you get four times as much magnification using an extension tube with a 50mm lens as you as you would get using the same tube with a 200mm lens. Quality is very good, right up there with double element closeup filters. The big disadvantage is working distance. Using an extension tube can put the front of your lens within mere inches of your subject. That is fine for stamps or coins or flowers or a spider too busy eating its prey to pay attention to you, but it won’t work for butterflies and other skittish subjects.
In comparison, a double element closeup filter on a long lens can give you the same magnification with a working distance of about 18 inches to 2 feet (or more) on a typical telephoto zoom lens.
A set of extension tubes will cost about $125 and you get three extension tubes. You can stack the tubes for more magnification (which could put the front of your lens less than an inch away from your subject).
Finally there are macro lenses. This is the highest quality way to do closeup photography but also the most expensive. A 100mm macro lens will cost several hundred dollars and a 180 or 200mm macro lens will cost well over $1000. The optical quality is as good as it gets from the center to the edges of the frame.
So I suggest you get a set of single element closeup filters and use them on your 18-55mm lens. That might be all the closeup gear you will ever need. If you decide you want to step up to a higher quality option, double element closeup filters or extension tubes is the way to go depending on the subjects you like to shoot.
Here are some links to closeup gear at Amazon via my photography store. Same great Amazon prices and guarantee. [Both Nikon and Canon links are in the Links section below.]
This link is to several single and double elements closeup filters in various sizes.
And this link is to a Vivitar filter set with four closeup filters in a 58mm size for $22.99. I think both of your lenses take 58mm filters but I would check the front of your lenses to be sure.
This is an extension tube set that works with Canon digital cameras and EF mount lenses.
Let me know if you have any questions.
Photo Data: Canon 5D Mark III. Canon EF 100mm macro lens. 1/10 sec, f/9, ISO 400.
Several single and double elements closeup filters in various sizes. These will work with any brand of camera lens. Make sure you get the right size for the filter threads on your lens.
Kenko extension tube set for Canon digital cameras and EF mount lenses. Unfortunately, Canon has discontinued their own brand of extension tubes. Kenko is a respected alternative brand for extension tubes.