Thread: Extension Tube vs Diopter vs Macro Lens

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  1. #1 Extension Tube vs Diopter vs Macro Lens 

    just came across PL extension tubes that allow closer focus and thus increased magnification. While I am familiar with them from stills photography, I have never seen them used on a film set, as opposed to diopters and macro lenses. RAF camera and Duclos make them in different sizes. I didn't find a whole lot information about them online in regards to film use, so I was wondering if there are any downsides to them except losing infinity focus? The smaller weight and lower costs without the optical degradation that some diopters introduce this seems like a no brainer for smaller productions where I might encounter the occasional macro shot, no?

    Really looking forward to hearing some first hand experiences!
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  2. #2  
    Moderator Phil Holland's Avatar
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    Apr 2007
    Los Angeles
    I use both and both have pros and cons.

    Diopters = Adding optics into the mix that may add funk or not.
    Tubes = Notable light loss at long tube lengths and are in turn magnifying in on the lens itself.

    Generally, cleaner modern lenses do well with tubes at the extreme side of things. But I'd say most of how people generally use these you'll likely be fine.

    One interesting bit. If you use Diopters on a zoom you still get a familiar zoom effect. However, using Tubes on a zoom you open up some weird behavior and magnification and it does depend on the zoom design itself. In that way Diopters are more predictable, but Tubes might add some more "fun".

    Both lose Infinity Focus.
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  3. #3  
    Phil, appreciate the detailed response!

    Is there any way to estimate the light loss of the tube or is it different depending on the lens it is paired with? Is there a general rule of thumb?

    "Magnifying in on the lens itself" - do you mean that because of the increased focal length the sensor only gets a smaller center crop of the lens projected image? Or is there something else going on?

    Only looking to use them on primes, but interesting to hear about the zoom effects as well.
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  4. #4  
    Senior Member
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    Jul 2009
    San Clemente, CA
    really depends on the lens. I've used extension tubes quite a bit but you need a really sharp lens to get good results. A master prime is ideal, ultra primes will not hold up unless stopped down and you are already losing light so you will be creating a light deficit issue.

    Macro lenses are ideal but a decent one designed for motion purposes isn't cheap. The zeiss cp2 50mm macro is decent and widely available. I've shot with the IBE raptor series a bunch and they are solid albeit on the pricier end for rental. I recently bought the cooke 65mm macro panchro and although it's a $12k lens I think it's in a league of it's own for cost and performance.
    Last edited by brian hanson; 08-11-2020 at 06:15 AM.
    Weapon/ Ultra primes
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  5. #5  
    Senior Member Blair S. Paulsen's Avatar
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    Dec 2006
    San Diego, CA
    Was not aware of the Panchro Macro 65mm. I like the idea that in addition to macro work it might be a nice portrait lens with that "Cooke look". I could easily see using one on the A camera for interviews, or perhaps for a romantic low key scene.

    Cheers - #19
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  6. #6  
    Senior Member Satsuki Murashige's Avatar
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    Aug 2009
    San Francisco, CA
    There’s one other option in-between a dedicated macro lens and diopters:

    I’ve only played with them at Cinegear, but these produce a very clean image with no funkiness that I could see. Dwight Lindsey put them on a Zeiss Compact Zoom 70-200 and showed how you can zoom thru the focal range and maintain focus, which you can‘t do with diopters.

    I had to do an ECU eyeball shot earlier this year on an Alexa Mini and tested all the local options available to me: Canon 30-300 zoom, Canon 30-300 zoom+diopter, Fujinon 85-300 zoom, Fujinon 85-300 zoom+diopter, Canon 30-105 zoom+diopter, Cooke S4Mini+diopter, and the Zeiss Master Macro 100mm lens. The Master Macro was the only one which was usable. The rental houses didn’t have any Achromats or IBE Raptor Macros, but we also considered sub-renting those. Ultimately went with the Master Macro. But if the Lindsey Optics were available, I would have gone with those on a longer focal length to get a more comfortable working distance. We ended up only a few inches away from the actress’s eye and lighting to T8, which was uncomfortable for all involved.
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  7. #7  
    Senior Member Michael Lindsay's Avatar
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    Apr 2007
    London UK
    I often use Extension tubes… and when they work well they can work very well. (And cheaply)

    But I disagree with some of the above... Phil in noteing some oddness with zooms I think is in similar territory as my findings

    Basically with ext tubes: (and actually very crudely)

    if a lens is simple and moves as one group these are often great!

    if a lens has 2 groups but they move in the same direction at similar(ish) speeds these are good.. but I often try and use as small a ext as possible and have the lens set near min focus…

    if a lens has multiple groups and one stays static ext tubes may be ok (same advice as above) but watch the corners as it may be pretty ‘interesting’ or crap

    At the extreme ...If the lens has a group that moves in the opposite direction to another the result needs to be checked careful as it will probably not be clean in the corners and even the centre may suffer..

    In lockdown I have tested 18 macro lenses and have been fascinated and surprised by the results.. often testing them again signatures with master diopters and other lenses with extensions tubes so if I get some time later in the week I will post on my reflections?

    But my short answer to Paul would be yes both extension tubes and what are called diopters can be excellent tools to achieving very high quality macro imaging...
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  8. #8  
    Lindsay, I appreciate the long and detailed response! Very interesting to hear how different types of lens design react differently. I went ahead and ordered a 15mm extension tube off Ebay for around 80 bucks. At that price its simply too cheap not to throw in your bag and have it ready for the odd, unplanned macro shoot that might arise on smaller projects where I don't carry diopters or macro lenses.

    Would be very interested in hearing your reflections if you're willing to share!
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