Accessories Lenses

Macro Converter Lens – for “Broadening Photography Skills on the Cheap” – By Salman Rameli

September 15, 2020

“Here, your father bought you this at the airport during transit” said my uncle one evening way back in 2013. My father, my uncle, and my cousin went to a mining company in Borneo island, and my father stayed back to finish the project while my uncle and my cousin flew back home. I wonder what kind of thing has my father bought me, given the unusual location. He fished something out of his bag and handed me a small box. “NiSi Pro Digital Conversion Lens” is written on the box. I opened it and found a wide angle filter accessory to screw in front of camera lens.

I have seen something like this used by a girl in same grade as me a while back. I asked my friend what was that weird contraption she put on her Nikon DSLR lens, and he answered that it’s a wide angle adapter. “It makes the images look like they were taken with a fisheye lens”, he told me. “Ah, I see. Looks kind of silly though”, I replied, not realising that karma would get me in the end.

I think it's fair to say that the setup looks goofy with the wide angle filter attached.

I think it’s fair to say that the setup looks goofy with the wide angle converter attached.

On a call with my father after receiving his purchase, I asked why he had bought me it. He said that it might broaden my photography skill on the cheap. Given I only have 3 lenses for my Nikon D5200; the standard 18-55mm kit, a Nikkor 35-70mm f3.5-4.5 (a lens that the consensus said as a mediocre one), and a Nikkor 70-210mm f4-5.6, which focal length is too narrow for my taste. I thanked him and asked myself whether this filter really could give me something unique. Boy I have no idea how wrong I was to question it. It has ended up being my favourite equipment to pair with my Nikon. Though it’s not the wide angle converter that become my favourite, but rather the macro converter lens sneakily attached to the back of the wide angle converter.

Macro filter attached to the 35-70mm lens.

Macro converter lens attached to the 35-70mm lens.

You see, the wide angle filter works in conjunction with the macro converter lens. If you want to use the macro converter lens, just unscrew the wide angle one. Initially, I was eager to try using the macro filter, but didn’t immediately find the correct subject. On the other hand, the wide angle filter found itself to be a favourite among my classmates, particularly with my female friends. They LOVED the fisheye aesthetic. I’m not fond using it to take photographs of them, but who am I to complain if the subject loved the results? I just took pictures anytime they asked me to…

The first time I finally tried the macro converter lens was an unexpected one. It was around May or June 2014, when my class went on a trip to celebrate the end of final exams. We went to a restaurant that also offers outbound training accommodation. We enjoyed our time together for the last time before we separated to chase our own dreams at university. At the end of the day, we were sitting lazily, exhausted after playing all day. Several of my classmates started to debate whether I’m a good photographer, which was fine, but weird? I did enjoy the attention though, so I listened as they exchange their opinion about me.

Finally one of them said “Let’s just settle this. Salman must take a picture around us. If the picture impresses us, then he’s a good photographer. If not, then nothing special about him”. Half of me wanted to say that I’m just a run-of-the-mill amateur photographer, nothing special about my photography skill. The other half were always down for a challenge. “Fine, I’ll take one for you”, I finally said.

At first glance, I couldn’t think of anything special or unique composition around where we sit that I can photograph to impress them. However, there was a line of shrubs nearby that interested me. Upon closer inspection, I saw that there are several ladybugs walking on the stems, two of which attracted my attention. I thought to myself that the macro converter lens would be an immense help in taking the picture that I needed. I quickly screwed the filter on my 18-55mm lens, and took the picture shown below:

Mating ladybug

It seems that they weren’t disturbed by my presence. [55mm, f6.3, 1/160]

I showed the image to my friends while chuckling, and they were impressed and amused that such activity happened near us. And thanks to that image, they agreed that I am a good photographer – at least in their eyes anyway.

Another angle of the mating ladybugs

Another angle of the mating ladybugs. [55mm, f6.3, 1/160]

It also taught me important lesson that there are many small interesting things happened around that I didn’t give enough attention to. Since then, every time I got bored or want to take a memorable picture, I always stop and get down low to observe things that happened around where I stand. I also challenge myself to take macro pictures of plants and animals limited to the yard surrounding my home, which are the other images featured in this post.

Sample Pictures – Flowers & Insects

Aster flower

Aster. [38mm, f3.3, 1/320]

A grasshopper vibing after heavy rain.

A grasshopper vibing after heavy rain. [30mm, f10, 1/100]

I have no idea what kind of flower is this.

I have no idea what kind of flower is this. [35mm, f5, 1/320]

This praying mantis was actually hanging upside down. Image is rotated 180 degrees.

This praying mantis was actually hanging upside down. Image is rotated 180 degrees. [35mm, f6.3, 1/160]

I think this looks like a painting.

I think this looks like a painting. [35mm, f7.1, 1/200]

A fly on a cable.

A fly on the end of a cable. [70mm, f6.3, 1/200]

Another one chilling on a leaf.

Another one chilling on a leaf. [70mm, f10, 1/320]

Poor baby bird rescued after one of my cats tried to eat him/her.

Poor baby bird rescued after one of my cats tried to eat it. [35mm, f5.6, 1/40]

Ants surrounding silverleaf whitefly, at least that's what my aunt said about that white thingy.

Ants surrounding silverleaf whitefly, at least that’s what my aunt said about that white thingy. [60mm, f10, 1/125]

A flower that hasn't bloom because it's in early morning.

A group of flowers that haven’t bloom because it’s early in the morning… [35mm, f9, 1/60]

And the same flower already bloom in the afternoon.

…and the same flowers in the afternoon. [35mm, f13, 1/125]

An ant that I assume is finding nectar. There are plenty of flowers as this one scattered in the yard which make it a solid subject to take photograph all year round.

An ant that I assume is finding nectar. There are plenty of flowers as this one scattered in the yard which make it a solid subject to take photograph all year round. [52mm, f13, 1/640]

Sample Pictures – Spiders!

A jumping spider on my car's rear right bumper

A jumping spider on my car’s rear right bumper. Image rotated 90 degrees counterclockwise. [70mm, f4.5, 1/100]

Someone said that it looks like Lucas the Spider.

Someone said that it looked like “Lucas the Spider”. [70mm, f13, 1/500]

Poor spider had to step back because I try to take a photo too close.

Poor spider had to step back because I try to take a photo too close to it. [70mm, f13, 1/640]

I like to imagine that it's smiling to me because of the faint black line under its two big eyes.

I like to imagine that it’s smiling to me due to the faint black line under its two big eyes. [70mm, f10, 1/250]

This is my first time seeing this kind of orange spider in the yard.

This is my first time seeing this kind of orange spider in the yard. [70mm, f13, 1/160]

Problems with Macro Converter Lens

However, it’s not all perfect. The autofocus on my 18-55mm lens died in 2015, and it has been very difficult to nail focus with macro filter attached. Initially, I exclusively used the macro filter with the 18-55 due to the autofocus to aid in taking picture, but after the autofocus died I use it with the 35-70mm lens. I don’t have to stand too close to the subject which might disturb it (such as taking pictures of house flies), and I found that the 35-70mm produced sharper results with the macro converter lens compared with 18-55mm in manual focus mode.

Examples of missed-focus images

Examples of missed-focus images.

I miss using autofocus-enabled lens, as anytime a slight breeze occurs, the subject that I’m trying to photograph will swing wildly. I feel like I can manually focus faster after years of (forced) training, but several times I found myself ran out of breath and was sweating heavily due to the needs of standing still to minimize blur.

Other problems that I encountered with using the macro converter lens instead of dedicated macro lens is the chromatic aberration. In several instance it’s not too visible, other times it is so bad that it make the picture unusable, even for my already low standards. I have no prior experience using dedicated macro lens, but I found that stopping the lens down to f/10 or even f/13 is necessary to nail focus, as my usual setting of f/5.6 or f/8 returned depth of field that is too shallow. And as I love to take pictures of spiders and fast-moving insects, I need to set fast shutter speed to capture them without blur. To balance fast shutter speed and small aperture means that I have to crank ISO value up which leads to noise.

Example of underexposed and missed-focus image.

Example of underexposed and missed-focus image. [70mm, f8, 1/250]

My father was right that the macro converter lens might help broaden my skills on the cheap. He bought it for equivalent of $30 back then. A quick Google search returned many macro converter lenses with various magnification index, which mine doesn’t even show. I don’t use the macro converter lens frequently enough that might make buying dedicated macro lens justifiable, so for now it’s perfectly acceptable for me even with drawbacks I mentioned above. Several people have asked me on how to find such creatures to photograph, and I always replied the same:

“Stop, get down low, and observe. It might surprise you how many interesting things happen around us without us knowing”.

You can find my Instagram account here, and you can view my portfolio of my programming projects here.

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    Patrick Abe
    September 15, 2020 at 6:29 pm

    I remember using a Spiratone “fisheye conversion lens” back in the 1970’s. It did produce a not-quite-180-degree circle on the 35mm frame which was interesting for about a week, It also “did macro on the cheap,” which was useful, though it was the limiting factor in image sharpness. I didn’t have a Macro lens at the time, so I used it for the usual “flowers and bugs” images. It would fit most of my lenses at the time, via various adapter rings, and I quickly discovered that “working distance” for skittish bugs was a problem.
    Eventually, I did get a 55mm Micro-Nikkor for Ye Olde Nikkormat and Nikon F2, and Kodachrome slides got much sharper. I did consider a longer macro lens, but a 105mm Nikkor was pricey, and I wondered about Tamron’s Adaptall system. (I’d bought a Canon EF by then.) I settled on Tamron’s lens 52A, a 90mm f/2.5 macro that close focused to 1:2, which was OK.
    I was taking Kodachrome slides of local Orchid society-awarded blossoms, and the normal+short tele macro lens set was fine. Then I was asked if I could take similar photos of Orchid species flowers, which could be positively tiny. After trying this and that, I settled on a reverse-mounted 28-70mm zoom lens+double cable release+ring flash for location shooting at night under dim auditorium lights. (But that’s another story.;)

    • Reply
      salmanrameli
      September 16, 2020 at 9:26 am

      Wow, sounds like you have various experience experimenting with lenses & accessories! I just remember my grandfather’s bequest to me was his photography gears, including dedicated macro lens and “macro reverse ring adapter” for his Canon AE-1. Unfortunately I can’t use it because almost all of the lenses were stuck or had fungi which rendered them unusable, which is a shame really as he had invested serious amount of money on it.

  • Reply
    DeeDee
    September 16, 2020 at 5:31 am

    Well done. Great set of images. The Aster, upside down praying mantis and “Lucas” the spider are my favorites.

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