High magnification macro photography

This article on high magnification macro photography is written by Junaed Rahman (websiteflickr):

Quite sometime ago I wrote an article on macro photography, which explained how to modify a regular short zoom lens for macro photography. This time I'll explain how do I achieve high magnification. For most of my close-up work I use AF Micro-Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D lens. To me the benefits of using a 60mm instead of 105mm macro lens are:

  1. A 60mm lens can be used as a Normal lens
  2. It's a very good lens for copying object without distortion
  3. An excellent macro lens for small insect and static object. (So long I don't have to bother about working distance)

For shooting skittish butterfly or dragonfly I use AFS Nikkor 70-200/2.8 VRII with 12mm extension tube.

With a regular macro lens we can take picture of a 36mm long object directly and this is known as 1X magnification or 1:1 or Life size. For higher magnification beyond 1:1 Canon has a unique macro lens MP-E 65mm f/2.8 that can give 5X magnification of life size (5:1) at a cost of 1000 USD. This is not an affordable and meaningful purchase for most of us. And Nikon doesn't have anything equivalent. As a long time Nikon user I try to find my way pass these hurdles.

Gear that I'll be using are as follows:

  1. AF Micro-Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D
  2. AF extension tube (12mm + 20mm + 36mm + 26mm = 94mm)
  3. Nikon TC-14E II (1.4x) Tele-converter (normally I use it for bird photography with AFS Nikkor 300/4 lens)

With all extension tubes attached with Nikon 60 mm/2.8 macro lens I can take picture of a 12mm long object. That is 3X magnification. To get higher magnification I decided to use a 1.4X Tele-converter Nikon TC-14E II. However there are two obstacles that prevent user from stacking a Tele-converter on a macro lens.


Nikon TC-14E II Tele-converter has a tab in its front side of F-mount. This prevents it from being attached to most lenses except the compatible ones where a groove in rear flange allows this tab to pass through.


The front element of a Tele-converter bulges out, so it can't be attached with the AF Micro-Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D lens as it will damage the rear element of the macro lens.

Solution to first problem

The only solution to this Tab problem is to remove it. Tools needed:

  • Good star Screwdriver
  • Compact electric grinder


*This procedure voids the warranty of the product & should be done at your own risk*

1. Remove the 4 screws that hold the front ring of the F-mount.

2. Carefully lift the ring without disturbing the components below it. (There are 4 thin metal plates below this ring - if they are disturbed you will have problem engaging the AI aperture coupling).

3. Now use the fine tip of the electric grinder to grind away the tab. Don’t try to remove at one go. Take it off bit by bit. It will give a nice finish. Be very careful not to damage the surrounding parts.

4. Clean the ring properly so it doesn’t have any dirt and screw it back in right place.


Solution to the second problem

Attaching an extension tube in between the lens and Tele-converter creates space so the front element of Tele-converter will no longer hit the rear element of the lens. I found out that Kenko extension tubes are better choice for this purpose since Vello extension tubes have narrow inner hole, which doesn’t allow the Tele-converter to fit in.

After fitting the parts together I get 4X magnification with a FX or full frame camera and 6X magnification with a DX or APS camera. At high magnification its easy to use a focusing rail for precise focusing. Here are some pictures with this setup taken at various magnifications.


Magnification - 1X (36mm) = Camera - Nikon D700; Lens - 60 mm/2.8


Magnification - 3X (12mm) = Camera - Nikon D700; Lens - 60 mm/2.8; AF Extension tube


Magnification - 4X (9mm) = Camera - Nikon D700; Lens - 60 mm/2.8; AF Extension tube; Tele-converter - TC 14E II


Magnification - 6X (6mm) = Camera - Nikon D200; Lens - 60 mm/2.8; Extension tube; Tele-converter - TC 14E II


Magnification - 1X (36mm) = Camera - Nikon D700; Lens - 60 mm/2.8


Magnification - 6X (6mm) = Camera - Nikon D200; Lens - 60 mm/2.8; Extension tube; Tele-converter - TC 14E II

Magnification Chat

Magnification Chat

This chart clearly shows which combination will give you how much magnification. This technique gives excellent result at high magnification. An alternate for Nikon users to expensive Canon MP-65E macro lens, which doesn't have a focusing ring.

If you have an interesting idea for a guest postyou can contact me here.

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  • Spy Black

    Great article. For shìts & giggles once I took my 20mm f/4 Ai Nikkor, put a reversing ring on it, and threw on an old Spiratone extension bellows I’ve had laying around since the ’70s. I grabbed a quarter and maxed out the extension. Because the depth of field was so insanely narrow at that point, I elected to put the lens at an optimum aperture of f11, and created an image stack using a focus rail. You can see the product of my boring afternoon below…

    • BernhardAS


      • Spy Black

        It might take Disqus a while to process the images. They’re really slow like that.

        • BernhardAS

          Hmmm either manual moderation or they use the sattelite link via the back side of the moon. I will wait to see it tomorrow then.

        • BernhardAS

          Hmmm either manual moderation or they use the sattelite link via the back side of the moon. I will wait to see it tomorrow then.

          • Spy Black

            Sometimes it takes a day to post the images. It’s rather annoying actually.

            • Eric Calabros

              Yes inserting image is one feature I love and I hate about Disqus

          • Spy Black

            Sometimes it takes a day to post the images. It’s rather annoying actually.

    • Paul H.

      That would be an image worth waiting to see (I’ll check back later). Lens reversal is a fun/interesting macro option…

    • Spy Black
      • Joshua Boldt


      • Bulletcalledlife


      • neversink

        Love the edge of the coin in the last image….
        Bellows is a great way to work with macro for static images. Now try catching the wings of a buzzing bee with this setup!!!!!! Less boring subject but I doubt you will get the same quality with a moving image.
        Good work!!!

        • neversink

          Well, perhaps with some strobe setup, you can catch the action….

          • Spy Black

            While I suppose you could say never say never, I think it would be technically impossible to do. You’re looking at image stacks, each something around 15 frames to construct. If you were to see a single frame of the stack, you’d realize how little is actually in focus. With that razor thin depth of field, the slightest movement (from wind, say, in an outdoor environment) would shift your focal point.

            The light loss from the bellows extension also requires a very bright light source just to set up your shot, like an LED ringlight (I used an LED flashlight right next to the coin to side-light the frames to increase contrast), because you can’t see anything at all otherwise.

            These aren’t so much photo-macro shots as they are photo-micro shots. I don’t even know what the magnification level is. I suppose I could set up a ruler and shoot it, but taking a quick look at the rule dividers on my steel Gaebel ruler against the ridge of a quarter, it appears they about the width of the ridges you’re seeing in that edge shot of the quarter!

            • neversink

              Good points…. You could always get closer by setting up an extension tube to a microscope, but then again your subject matter will be limited, but it is fascinating what you can capture through a microscope. My Dad (RIP) used to do astro- and microscopic photography with an old Exacta vxiia (which he eventually gave to me.) I still have his old Kodachrome slides of all sorts of bacteria and of the heavens. It’s stuck in storage in the states, but eventually I will get to scan the best ones and print a few.

            • Spy Black

              Sounds very interesting. Good film scanners are nonexistent nowadays. All modern units are “prefocused”, and rely on digital sharpening to make up for deviation from the actual focal plane. I have an old Minolta Dimage 5400, which I believe is the last series of film scanners that could focus.

              I’ve been wanting to get a used Nikon Coolscan 9000 for my 2-1/4s, but they’re a bit more expensive than I can afford at the moment. The ‘9000 is the last great scanner, as it could not only focus, had great optics, but had a glass carrier option that allowed for perfectly flat film across the live area. Nothing else even comes close.

  • RIT

    My favoured setup for focus stacking or macro video (D800e) after much T&E is Nikkor 80mm f/1.8N or the 105mm macro VR (which has loads of DoF for higher ASA video work) with a Raynox M-250 adapter in a filter ring. Extension tubes get used as well sometimes but it helps to have some distance to the subject in the field. I’ve tried a Sigma 180 APO but found it didn’t match the Raynox adapters so well for sharpness, seemed OK for video but not so fine for cropped stills. Benchwork is easier, when teleconverters and higher dioptre adapters can be used. Lighting is really important too, for that I use mini led torches mounted on a home made baseplate attached to the tripod mount. A good fast/bright flash with plenty of diffusion and bounce for stills but sometimes movement doesn’t freeze if flash duration (“brightness”/power) is too long.

  • Paul H.

    Excellent tutorial. I would like to ask the author about image degradation from using the teleconverter, however, since those don’t magnify in terms of resolution. And I’d like to ask what he feels is the best recipe for maximizing depth of field with decent magnification.

    • Junaed

      The 1.4X teleconverter doesn’t seems to degrade image quality. A compare with Cannon MP-65E would have been better but I don’t have that. Shooting 6 mm was quite tricky. I used aperture 16 in second last image take with D200. Another example – http://junaed.com/resources/Compare.jpg

      • Paul H.

        What would you say is the best recipe for maximizing depth of field with decent magnification?

        • Junaed

          My choice for will be = a full frame body + 60mm micro lens + 1 set of AF extension tube + Aperture at leat 22 or more + keeping the plane of focus parallel to the sensor plane. The depth of field start to reduce significantly beyond this.

  • Radek_42

    I was wondering which extension tubes are used. I believe ones from Nikon do not allow AF. OTOH, I understand Kenko ones are made of plastic and can flex substantially especially with 70-200 f2.8 lens.

    • Spy Black

      The Kenko automatic extension tube set will allow full function of AF lenses:

    • peter w

      Plastic Kenkos flex drastically, especially with a heavy lens like the 105 micro on top. Both lens and camera need to be supported to attain a controlled view and to avoid motion blur.

      The fact that the axis will rotate and give a tilted effect could perhaps present a problem in a focus stack, but focus stacking has far bigger problems due to instability, every time you touch the set, you will see a different composition.

      With a 300 F4 AF-S old version 😉 – good for butterflies and dragonflies – it flexes so much that the mechanical diafragm coupling looses contact and the camera goes FEE. (G-lenses will not have this problem.)

      A set of 1,4 TC, 60 F2,8 and the Kenko rings are almost the same price as the Canon MP-E lens. I am sure most pictures of the MP-E lens will be very much better, and made with less effort. Effort should be read as strain.

      For this work, I’d consider to get the contacts out of the Kenko’s and put them into a Nikon bellows. Or I would consider to spent 1300 euro on a MP-E and a 1000D.

      I like the article, and it can be great fun doing this. I am sure it will yield some great pictures, eventually ;).

  • “After fitting the parts together I get 4X magnification with a FX or full frame camera and 6X magnification with a DX or APS camera.”

    This is a little confusing on the magnification, at least when magnification is considered as an optical concept. Life size optical magnification (1x or 1:1) means that if the focused object in front of the lens is 1cm, it is also 1cm on the sensor/film, behind the lens. And 2x or 2:1 magnification means that the 1cm focused object is 2cm on the sensor/film.

    In the film days it was obvious. 1cm object to be photographed -> 2cm on film (doubters could easily verify with a ruler…) -> 2x or 2:1 magnification. On digital it is not different, but the megapixels and sensor sizes confuse the concept. Optical magnification never changes because of MPs or DX crop vs FX 135 format.

    On the final print or screen it’s a bit different. If the actual 1cm object is 10cm on the print/screen, then it’s a 10x magnification, in a way… Camera lens optical magnification is a different thing. Such optical magnification doesn’t need to reach even anywhere near to 10x to do that trick.

  • Toshik

    Maybe it’s good thing to try (and modify if needed) new Venus Optics 60mm f/2.8 Ultra-Macro with 2:1 magnification with infinity focus.

    • I will have a review of this lens online soon.

      • Toshik

        looking forward to reading it.

  • jtan163

    As soon as he said tab and groove that most lenses don’t have I knew we’d see power tools and abrasion.

  • Camaman

    So what is the minimum working distance on this setup?

    • Junaed

      Minimum working distance is 4 cm.

  • Dave Pijuan-Nomura

    I’ve had success with a 50/1.8D reversed on my 105/2.8D for 2x magnification, and adding a tc-201 for 4x. I can get 6x with swapping the 50 for a 35/2. A geared head and a good focusing rail is pretty much required at these magnifications. Here’s an example at 6x. You can make out details of individual mould spores at this magnification.

  • WorkonSunday

    is that rubber that is holding the lens up @.@

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