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Lenses: Close-up lenses

Close-up lenses screw into the filter thread at the front of a camera lens. Because of this, they are sometimes called close-up filters. However, since they do not filter light, this is not strictly correct. At other times you will see them referred to as supplementary lenses because they are used in addition to another lens.

Whatever you call them, a close-up lens takes up very little room, yet can transform the capabilities of your other lenses. It is an ideal accessory to carry when you want to travel light.

Over the years Canon has made a range of different close-up lenses. First, there are two designs − single element and double element. The double element items are identified by the letter ‘D’. Second, there are four focal lengths − 240mm, 250mm, 450mm and 500mm − that affect the magnification. Third, there are four filter mount sizes − 52mm, 58mm, 72mm and 77mm. Not every permutation is available.

The most important factor when choosing any close-up lens is performance, and this depends on the construction. Single element close-up lenses are relatively inexpensive and may be adequate for occasional use, but they are not as good as their double element equivalents.

In simple terms, all single element lenses show aberrations, usually chromatic. By adding a second element, the aberrations from both elements can be made to cancel each other. The resulting double-element, or ‘doublet’ lens may not be completely free from of aberrations, but it will usually be a lot better than the single element lenses.

The increased performance is particularly noticeable at the edges of the image. This means that if you are photographing a flower, where the subject is mostly in the centre of the frame, a single element close-up lens might be adequate. However, if you are copying a flat subject that extends to the edges of the frame, such as a postcard or stamps, a doublet lens will give much better sharpness at the edges, especially at wider lens aperture.

A close-up lens will help you to fill the frame with your subject, and has the advantage that it does not reduce the light reaching the digital sensor. This means that you can retain a fast shutter speed to help reduce the effects of camera shake and subject movement.

Facts and figures

When you attach a close-up lens to your camera lens it acts a little like reading glasses for a far-sighted person.

The camera is no longer able to focus on infinity, but it has a clear vision of close subjects that were previously outside its focusing range. A general guidance, the Type 250D is designed for camera lenses with focal lengths from 35mm to 135mm. The Type 500D is more suited to lenses with focal lengths from 70mm to 300mm. However, good results are possible using the close-up lenses with focal lengths outside these prescribed ranges.

The power of close-up lenses is sometimes expressed in ‘dioptres’. The dioptre power is obtained by dividing 1000 by the focal length of the close-up lens. This means that the Type 500 lens has a power of +2 dioptres. The Type 250 lenses are twice as powerful at +4 dioptres.

Working distance is the distance between the front surface of the close-up lens and the point of the subject on which the lens is focused. Do not confuse this with the focusing distance, which is the distance between the focal plane and the subject. Most cameras indicate this film or sensor position with a symbol - a circle with a line through it - on the top of the body. If you are shooting with a close-up lens on the front of a telephoto lens, the difference between the two distances can be considerable.

The focusing distance is needed in some close-up calculations. The working distance lets you know how much space there is between the front of the camera and the subject for positioning lighting.

Using a Speedlite on-camera is generally not recommended for close-up work. First, the minimum working distance for most Speedlites is around 0.7 metre. Second, at close distances the difference in position of the Speedlite and the lens means that most of the light from the flash is likely to miss the main area of the subject. Some Speedlites try to avoid this problem by having a flash head which can be angled down by a small amount. However, you run the risk of the subject being in the shadow thrown by the lens.

One solution is to use the Speedlite with the Off Camera Shoe Cord. With the Speedlite away from the hot-shoe, you can tilt it so that the light is aimed directly at the subject. You can also move the Speedlite back (up to 60cm from the camera) to bring it within its normal working range. Using the flash away from the camera gives better texture lighting to the subject.

Built-in flash is also unsuitable for many close-up shots, as there is a risk of the illumination being partially obstructed by the lens barrel.

For simple photographs with a close-up lens, the best illumination is daylight. The camera’s normal exposure metering is not affected by the addition of the close-up lens and no increase in the amount of exposure is required. Just remember to use a tripod to avoid the effects of camera shake at the increased magnifications.


Fitting a close-up lens to a camera lens increases the maximum size of the image that can be produced. The size of the image compared to the size of the subject is called the magnification (even though the image is usually smaller than the subject).

For example, if the image is one-tenth the size of the subject, the magnification is 0.1x. If the image is one-half the size of the subject, the magnification is 0.5x. When the image and the subject are the same size, the magnification is 1x.

When using a close-up lens, it is very easy to calculate the magnification for a camera lens set to infinity focusing. Simply divide the focal length of the camera lens by the focal length of the close-up lens. Conveniently, the focal length of the close-up lens is the number which Canon uses to identify the lens. So if you are using a 100mm camera lens with a Type 500D close-up lens, the magnification at infinity focusing is 100/500, which is 0.2x. The same close-up lens with a 200mm lens will give a magnification of 0.4x.

As you can see, the magnification increases with the focal length of the camera lens. Even greater magnifications are possible if the camera lens is focused closer than its infinity setting. The Type 250 close-up lenses give double the magnification of the Type 500 close-up lenses.

Close-up lens or extension tube?

Close-up lenses have more effect when they are used on a camera lens with a long focal length than on shorter lenses. This is exactly opposite to the effect of extension tubes, where the amount of magnification decreases as the camera lens focal length increases. In practice, you may find that extension tubes are more useful with short lenses (up to 100mm, say) whereas close-up lenses are more useful with longer lenses.

When you require greater working distance, the combination of a telephoto lens with a close-up lens will usually be the best choice, provided they are both of high quality.

In addition, close-up lenses do not reduce the amount of light reaching the film, whereas extension tubes do. This can sometimes be critical when you need a reasonably fast shutter speed or a small aperture (or both).

Zoom and macro lenses

If you have a long telephoto zoom, you can make good use of a close-up lens and, in practical terms, it is a better option than using extension tubes. If you use extension tubes with zooms, you will find that the focus changes as you zoom in and out, which means you continually have to re-focus. This doesn’t happen with close-up lenses. Once you have focused, you can change your composition by zooming in and out, just as you can with any zoom used normally. Always use the camera on a tripod. The increased magnification will also increase the effects of any camera shake.

If you have a macro lens, you can make good use of a close-up lens to bring about even larger magnifications. The best combination for this is the EF 180mm macro in combination with the Type 500D close-up lens.

If you’re aiming for really high magnifications, try using a macro lens + extension tubes + a close-up lens!

Close-up lens magnifications

Lens 500/500D Normal Type 250D Type 500D
EF24mm f/2.8 0.16x 0.25x 0.20x
EF28mm f/2.8 0.13x 0.24x 0.19x
EF35mm f/2 0.23x 0.36x 0.30x
EF50mm f/1.4 0.15x 0.35x 0.25x
EF50mm f/1.8 II 0.15x 0.36x 0.25x
EF50mm f/2.5 Macro 0.50x 0.68x 0.59x
EF85mm f/1.8 0.13x 0.50x 0.31x
EF100mm f/2 0.14x 0.57x 0.35x
EF100mm f/2.8 Macro 1.00x 1.41x 1.21x
EF135mm f/2.8 0.12x 0.70x 0.41x
EF200mm f/2.8L 0.16x - 0.57x
EF300mm f/4L 0.13x - 0.70x
EF400mm f/5.6L 0.11x - 0.91x
TS-E24mm f/3.5L 0.14x - 0.19x
TS-E45mm f/2.8 0.16x - 0.25x
TS-E90mm f/2.8 0.20x 0.69x 0.49x
EF35-80mm f/4-5.6 III 0.23x 0.49x 0.36x
EF35-105 f/4.5-5.6 0.16x 0.60x 0.37x
EF35-135mm f/4.5-5.6 0.15x 0.54x 0.32x
EF35-350mm f/3.5-5.6L 0.25x - 0.70x
EF70-200mm f/2.8L 0.16x - 0.55x
EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS 0.17x - 0.56x
EF70-210mm f/3.5-4.5 0.17x 0.85x 0.51x
EF75-300mm f/4-5.6 II 0.25x 1.54x 0.89x
EF80-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II 0.16x 0.99x 0.57x
EF100-300mm f/5.6L 0.26x 1.59x 0.92x
EF100-300mm f/4.5-5.6 0.26x 1.22x 0.70x
EF100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS 0.20 - 0.80x

The magnification given by a close-up lens varies with the focal length of the camera lens. This table provides a comparison of the normal maximum magnification of different EF lenses and the increased magnification possible with the addition of a Canon close-up lens.

All values are for the lens set to its closest focusing position. For zoom lenses, the maximum focal length is set. The Type 250D lens is not available in the required size for some of the EF lenses.

This table does not include all Canon EF lenses. If you have a close-up lens and want to find the magnification it gives when attached to a lens, you can determine this quite easily. With the close-up lens in place, set the focus on the camera lens to the value you want (maximum or minimum are the best values).

Find a ruler that has a clear scale marked in millimetres. Move the camera back and forth in front of this ruler (which should be positioned at right angles to the lens axis) until the scale comes into sharp focus. Move the centre of the viewfinder over the middle of the scale, so that the millimetre markings run the full length of the frame. Now take a picture.

Take a look at the processed result and count the number of millimetres visible. Let us say there are 72. The length of a 35mm frame is 36mm, so the magnification is 36 divided by 72, which is 0.5. This means that the magnification for that set-up is 0.5x.

Unless you are using an EOS 1 series camera, do not take the test shot with the zero point of the ruler lined up with the edge of the viewfinder focusing frame. The viewfinder coverage of non-professional EOS models is less than 100% and you will end up with a gap between the zero point and the frame edge on the film.