Budget Close Up Photography

by Nigel Cliffe.

Most lower price digital cameras have a "macro" facility. This allows much closer work than most film cameras. However, though a massive improvement over most people's experience of film, one problem often seen with macro settings is distortion of the subject, typically a barrel like appearance.

There is a way round this, if your camera can take a closeup lens. These look like filters used on SLR cameras, and, if chosen carefully, can be very cheap. The best quality are reported to be those by Hoya; typically £50 for a set of three (+1, +2 and +4). However, discount suppliers such as 7DayShop.Com offer their own brand filters for £4 each (or less). If looking for more savings, you probably won't make much use of the +1.

Ideally the camera needs a filter adaptor; some models have the screw thread as supplied. Others take a manufacture's special adaptor. But, even without an adaptor, just holding the closeup lens infront of the camera lens can work fine. Or make a holder which fits on a tripod along with the camera. (A word of caution if using/bodging something which isn't the maker's "official" kit; check that the zoom and focus movement of the camera doesn't cause the end of the camera lens to colide with your filters (or bodge). Jamming the zoom is an easy way to trash a digital camera ! )


These two pictures show the possibilities.

The first is taken with a hand-held closeup lens (i.e. holding camera and lens in hand, no tripods or mounts anywhere!), setting the zoom to a fairly long setting, and standing back around 1ft from the bogie. It has low amounts of distortion, and a decent depth of field.

If I'd used a tripod and spent longer composing/focusing I expect I would have achieved better results.


The second was taken without the closeup lens. The zoom was set fairly wide (as camera cannot get as close on macro mode at longer zoom settings). Camera a few inches from the bogie. Has problems of barrel distortion. Also has problem of shadow cast by having to be too close to the subject. To get as close as the first shot, I would have been around 1 inch from the bogie, and the distortion would have been very serious. (The camera will focus that close).

Both images are reduced to 25% of their original area, and then compressed.


Camera in question; £140 Canon A710is (on special offer + cashback deal). I'd recommend any Canon A series as giving good results, easy to use on automatic, having far more manual overrides than most comparable makers when needed, and a reasonable price. There is a screw-on lens adaptor available for my A-series at about £15, but hasn't turned up in the post yet.

Similar experiments with a much posher Leica V-Lux, which costs well over £500, worked equally well.

The bogie is a Chris Higgs design which will be going under some LNER suburban coaches.


Bottom line; relatively cheap close up filter lens allows you to stand back further from the subject and removes much of the barrel distortion from the image. Biggest impact at the longer end of zoom range, so cameras with exceptionally long zoom ranges have the most to gain.

( If you camera has image stabilisation, check the manual for advice if using a closeup adaptor. If there is no advice, suggest turning off Image Stabilisation as the closeup lens may well confuse things. Experimentation will give the best settings. )