The Basics – Close-up filters

What is a close-up filter? Close-up filters are basically reading glasses for your camera lens. They are a nifty, and extremely inexpensive, way to turn any lens into a macro lens.

You heard me right. You can change the focal length of your lens by simply screwing on a close-up filter. Think of them as reading glasses for your lens.

I love my 90mm Sony lens. In fact I adore it, but it never seems to get me as close as I want to be to my subject. While I love the incredible details in LEGO mini figures, i’ve been unable to capture them adequatly. It is these small details and flourishes that inspire me to photograph these toys.

After I read:Β Read This If You Want To Take Great Photographs of People, I knew I wanted to attempt portraits of a few of my favorite figures. What do the details on a particular figure tell the viewer about that character? What kind of story will I be able to tell while only showing a portion of the mini figure? I’ve been stumped about how best to approach this project. While I love my trusty 90 mm macro lens, it doesn’t achieve the level of closeness that I want.

When I heard about close-up filters from Brian Lane, I knew immediately that I had to try them. This cheap solution might allow me to get the detail I desire, without resorting to cropping. Plus, if I was lucky, the cheap glass on the filter could give me some interesting chromatic aberrations.

Close-up filters are usually sold in sets of four. They include magnification 1x, 2x, 4x and 10x. You can use the filters individually or mix and match to get the level of magnification and distortion you desire. All this photo fun for less than $10 (US)! If you purchase a set make sure you purchase a pouch to hold them. If you like the results, you will want to add them to your photo bag. A pouch will make them easy to carry around and keep your investment safe. πŸ™‚

Here are the results from my initial tests using a close up filter on a Sony 90mm lens set to an aperture of 2.8 (which is my default setting):

2x close-up filter
I used the 4x close-up filter for this image.
I love the distortion created with the paper thin focal plane.
You can see some chromatic aberrations with the 4x close-up filter in the highlights and around the edges. I wonder what would happen if I combined 2x with the 4x filters? I think this deserves some more experimentation!

To make a complicated subject ultra simple, these filters allow me to get even closer to my subject and still be able to focus.

Why you should consider adding these inexpensive filters to your tool box:

  • You want to explore the world of macro photography with an existing lens before investing in a dedicated macro lens.
  • You want to give an existing lens macro capabilities – like a 35mm or 50mm
  • You’re interested in exploring the world of distortion and chromatic aberrations inherent in less expensive optics
  • Like me you’re intrigued with ultra close-ups and are looking for an inexpensive solution
  • Of course, you could solve all of these problems with an extension tube or reverse mounting your lens, but there is more flexibility with mix and match filters and no chance of harming your lens with dust.

Photographically, it’s not often that you find an inexpensive accessory that turns out such satisfying results. I couldn’t be more pleased with my investment and I look forward to exploring the world of portraiture with my mini figures and these close-up filters.


What do you think? Would you use a close-up filter as an alternative to a macro lens or to get even closer to your subject?Β 

And if you’ve made it this farΒ I encourage you toΒ sign upΒ for our weekly email round-up.Β OrΒ join our G+ Community were we hold monthly contests with prizes for the winner!Β 


    • I figured I would be the last one to figure out such a neat trick. Im often asked what kind of macro lens to get, but I think now I will recommend this cost effective solution until the photographer knows what they want to do. I also think this is a great way to move away from these modern lenses that are super crisp. I know a couple of people who have ordered a set, it will be interesting to see what they come up with too. πŸ™‚

  1. Stefan K / fubiken

    I used this kind of filters when trying out macro. I could the close GI-nyheter flowers I took images of but didn’t like the distorsion in the edges. Got myself a Canon 100mm macrolens ( my baby!! ) Love the sharpness of the Canon lens. But in the end: filters are a good start when trying out is a mattor of what the artist want in the image πŸ˜‰
    Stefan K

    • Stefan, I feel the same way about my Canon 100mm as well. I cradle it when I carry it. πŸ™‚

      But when I moves to the Sony and its 100mm, it was so CRISP! I was inspired to try to break that up with these close up lenses. So I guess for me, the filters are just one more ‘brush’ I can pull out and give my images a unique look.

      But I wouldn’t give up my dedicated macro lenses. Nope, never!


  2. Brickprawnz

    Thanks for sharing! Can’t imagine the number of times i needed a closed up shots πŸ˜› You wouldn’t happen to know if there are such filters for camera phones, would you?

  3. This is all so interesting and helpful. Thanks everyone. I love how alive our community is — even when I’m very late to the comments (such as here). I may get the phone lens kit to hold me over. I feel like the “real” camera purchase is coming in 2018. I’m overwhelmed by the choices…

    Hope everyone is having a happy October.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.