This and That

Random bits of my life

A Closer Look at Peppercorns

Posted by Avital Pinnick on January 10, 2011


I don’t have a macro lens. I used my cheap, white-box, made-in-China, no-name extension tubes. Because there’s no electronic connection between the body and the lens, the focus is manual and you’re kind of stuck with the aperture (= very shallow depth of field) unless you use a workaround. (I blogged about the aperture workaround in another posting, Setting Aperture with Macro Extension Tubes.)

If you don’t mind spending a lot more money, you can get Kenko extension tubes. I didn’t have the cash at the time, so I bought a really cheap set that, at the time, was only available from Now I see that they’re also available in the US, so here they are: the $12 Fotodiox Canon extension tubes (you can get them with a Nikon mount).

So if you want to try macros but are still saving up for a decent lens, extension tubes are a cheap thrill. Don’t expect the same performance as the more expensive tubes, though. There are no electronic connections in these tubes (hence, no autofocus or aperture control), they feel cheap, and you need to fit them carefully to your lens and body. They do join securely but you have to make sure that they’re fully coupled before you put your camera on the tripod or you may see your favourite lens in pieces on the floor. There are absolutely no instructions. The tubes come in three lengths with a body mount ring and a lens mount ring.

I also wanted to pass on a couple tips if you’re using extension rings. Use a good table-top tripod. I have a $29 Slik Mini Pro V. It will hold a camera with a long lens, as long as you point the lens over one of the legs so that it doesn’t topple over.

The second tip is, if your camera has a live preview function (i.e., if your DSLR can be set to show a preview of the shot on the LED screen and zoom in), use it for the manual focus. My eyesight isn’t reliable enough to focus this finely, so I find the zoom very useful. Even if you never use your live preview, look in your manual to see whether your camera has this feature, and give it a try the next time you’re faced with a fiddly manual focusing job.

I set up this shot by pouring a teaspoon of peppercorns onto a white ceramic plate and lighting it with a fluorescent desk lamp. My aging Canon Rebel XSi (450D) with a Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS zoom lens was set up about 2 feet from the subject. ISO 100, 2 second self-timer.

Getting this shot was easier than I expected and a lot of fun.

2 Responses to “A Closer Look at Peppercorns”

  1. pam said

    I have never been this up close and personal to a peppercorn before this moment! Beautiful, aren’t they?

    I love the shot!

    My sweetie is trying to figure out how to photograph some of our mineral specimens – many of the crystal lined pockets are no bigger than these peppercorns! Extension tubes may be the answer as the macro 105 isn’t quite cutting it. Thank you!

  2. Definitely with you on the manual focus and zooming in on the live view, as it’s probably the best choice with macro… You’ve done amazing with your budget extension tubes, and it just goes to prove it’s not all about price..

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