Macro extension tubes in food photography

Macro Extension Tubes & 85 1.2

Using macro extension tubes in food photography

Welcome back, today we’re going to take a look at macro extension tubes and how they are helpful in food photography.

Have you ever taken a photo of something and you found you couldn’t get as close as you’d like because the lens can’t focus so close to the  subject? You could step back then crop the image afterwards but that doesn’t always give you the desired effect.

Food photography, almost always, requires you to get a tight shot, this can create a problem with some, none macro, lenses. Their minimum focus distance often has you pulling back to get focus which is why most food photographers use macro lenses.

You could run out and buy yourself a lovely new, macro lens, or you could pick up some macro extension tubes for a fraction of the price.  I did the latter and have been pleasantly surprised at how well they have worked.

Macro Extension Tubes


They are basically tubes which lock into the camera body, as a lens would, you then attach the lens onto the extension tube as normal and it simply moves the lens away from the sensor in the camera. There are connectors inside the extension tubes which carry the camera information to the lens, as if it was attached directly to the body.

Macro Extension Tubes showing connectors

Moving the lens away from the camera sensor brings the minimum focus distance significantly closer to the lens.  Now I can use beautifully sharp, none macro lenses, to get really close to my subject.

Macro Extension Tubes mounting 85mm 1.2 lens


The extension tubes I bought came in three sizes, 13mm, 21mm and 31mm as a kit. You can also connect the different extension tubes together in any combination of the three, depending on how close you want to be.

These extension tubes, I picked up from Amazon for about £27, they are mostly hard plastic but do carry the autofocus info to the lens where some do not.

You can also buy metal extension tubes which are obviously more robust, do the same job but cost quite a bit more. Make sure you get extension tubes compatible with your system, you can find them for most of the main brands. I will be picking up macro lenses soon but these are a great alternative and a priceless backup if you’re in a pinch.

I hope this has been helpful. Here’s a BTS (Behind The Scenes) shot, using the macro extension tubes with an 85mm 1.2 prime lens.

Macro Extension Tubes & 85 1.2

That’s all for now, thanks for stopping by.

Have a fantastic day.

JT 🙂

8 Comments on “Macro extension tubes in food photography”

  1. Hi Jonathan,
    Now that you have a real 100mm macro, how do these compare? I have the canon 25 extension tube that I can put on my 24-105 lens, but I’m wondering how that compares to the real 100mm macro. Thanks!

    1. Hi Justin,
      Great to hear from you and it’s a good question. The extension tubes definitely allow you to get in close and personal but when you want to pull back for a shot, the extension tubes takes the lens out of it’s focal adjustment range. Therefore you need to take the lens off the extension tubes, remount, and continue shooting. The Macro lens has focus range settings on the barrel. You can tell the lens in what range is the subject you’re focusing on. It allows you to pull back from the subject, effectively using it as a 100mm prime lens.
      I always recommend renting a piece of kit before splashing out the cash, after all, what works for me may not work for you. That said, I’d highly recommend the 100mm L Macro. She’s a seriously sharp lens which I also use for portraits as the 100mm has a nice compression.
      One more thing before you run out and buy anything. The none L 100mm macro is also a great lens, not quite as nice but far less expensive. Either will be sharper than the 24-105 L which I’ve sold now. The new 24-105 L II is apparently really nice and a big improvement, but wouldn’t give you the macro unless you continued to use it with extension tubes. If I used them with the 85 1.2L I will continue to get beautiful results.
      I still carry my extension tubes in my bag, just incase. They take up very little space and are light weight.

      Having the 100mm macro is a big bonus for me, allows me to work faster and I always know it gives mw the image I need. Let me know which choice you make and how you get on with it.
      Thanks for the question and enjoy the rest of your weekend.


      1. Hi Jonathan,
        Thank you so much for all the details. Such a great idea to rent to try before buying. I looked up the local rental shop and they have the 100mm L for $40/day and $120/week. That’s definitely not cheap and since I’m pretty sure that I will want the lens, I’m wondering if I should just save that and buy it when I can. I would probably pick one up soon, but I just upgraded from a 5D II to the 5D III.
        I have the 25 extension tube and will play around with it on my 24-105mm until I can get the 100mm Macro. I see what you mean about having to take the extension tube on and off in order to focus at a further distance. That could be cumbersome during a shoot.
        Just starting to work on getting my name out there so I can start shooting restaurants around here. 🙂
        Thanks again,

        1. Hey Justin,

          How about sticking a prime 50mm or 85mm on your macro extension tube and having the 24-105 on for longer shots. That way you’re just quickly swopping one lens set up for another without fiddling about taking extension tubes off and on. It wouldn’t be too dissimilar from when I shoot as I have a 24-70 on the camera with the 100 macro standing buy to quickly switch. It could work for a while at least and when you get the funds for the new glass you can make the switch.
          This all hangs on you having a prime lens of course. Glad I could be some help. You may also get some good advice from a food photography summit I took part in, here’s the link
          I hope it all goes well and let me know how you get on.


          1. Hi Jonathan,
            I did watch your segment on the food photography summit. It was fantastic!
            Just stuck my extension tube on my 50mm 1.4. I have to get so darn close to the subject (within inches) that I’m not sure it’s going to work. That was just some objects on my desk, I will have to try it on an actual food shot.


          2. Hi Justin,

            You can get different extension tubes. I have a cheap trio. 13mm 21mm and 31mm. I mostly used the 13mm if I remember correctly. The 25mm may take you too close for what you want to shoot.

            Have a great week


  2. Hi there Jonathan,

    I was wondering, when using the extension tubes, does it have the same effect of the 100mm macro in terms of the background compression?

    If I use the extension tubes, say I want to set up the food on the table about 1.5ft distance from subject to my camera, will there be a background compression as compared with the 100mm macro?

    Hope I was able to ask it clearly enough. Sorry for my english.

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Gio, thanks for the question.

      When you have a macro lens the focus range is significantly greater than that of a regular lens. So the macro can focus really close up and as far away as you can be. A regular lens has a smaller focus range. The very close up distances it cannot focus in. This is why lenses state a minimum focus distance. What the macro extension tubes do is use the same focus range but shift it along the focus distance scale. So now it won’t be able to focus farther away because you’re now using the same focus range but in the closer distance range. Does this make sense?

      Now the compression you mention which is characteristic to the 100mm Macro is something specific to the lens. If you used an 85mm with the macro extension tubes as I did, the compression is the same as that 85mm would give but the focus is now available close-up due to the macro tubes. So compression is lens focal length specific.

      I hope that’s helpful. If not, let me know and I’ll explain it in another post or video.
      Let me know how you get on

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