Extension Tube vs Macro Lens

For almost a year I’ve been using Kenko extension tubes as a replacement for my Canon 100mm Macro. I’ve been very happy with the results and the convenience of using extensions and will probably not use my 100mm anymore. An extension tube is not a full replacement for a macro lens for many reasons, but for my wedding photography, it’s perfect.

The purpose of an extension tube is to convert any existing lens (EF-mount for Canon) into a macro lens only. This means the lens cannot focus more than a few inches past macro, so it only has one purpose. It is fast and easy to attach and remove, but can’t replace the convenience of a regular macro lens to focus at any distance. If you don’t already own a macro lens, this could be a great add-on for a fraction of the cost.

The kit comes with three tube sizes, the longer the focal length (mm) the higher the magnification. I only carry the 20mm  for weddings. You can attach multiple tubes together to get even greater magnification. Why buy Kenko versus Canon extension tubes? As one review mentioned, would you rather pay more for Canon air, or Kenko air? The only major difference is Canon’s might feel more sturdy, but I don’t plan on attaching a heavy telephoto lens to it so I am happy. Another complaint from reviews is the release latch might be prone to accidental pushing, but that has never happened to me.

I usually do my wedding ring macro shots with a Canon 50mm 1.4 and a 20mm extension tube, and having a macro with 1.8 f-stop is an incredible advantage while my Canon 100mm 2.8 macro would require much higher ISO to get the same shot. Getting very tight shots produces some distortion almost like a Lens Baby, but it also adds artistic flare to a close up ring shot, it draws your attention toward your focus point. I keep the tube attached to the 50mm in the bag, which saves room and weight of not having to carry another macro lens.

I highly recommend anyone looking to play around with macro but does not have the budget for $600+ lens to buy this kit. Perhaps you can even just buy one tube rather than the whole kit.


Canon 50mm with all 3 extension tubes attached.

Canon 50mm 1.4 (minimum distance)

Canon 50mm 1.4 + 12mm Extension Tube

Canon 50mm 1.4 + 20mm Extension Tube

Canon 50mm 1.4 + 36mm Extension Tube

Canon 50mm 1.4 + 12+20+36mm Extension Tube

Real world shots

Hershey Kisses without extension tube

Hershey Kisses with extension tube


8 Comments Extension Tube vs Macro Lens

  1. Brooklyn photographer June 14, 2011 at 6:45 pm


    Niiice work. I’ve just gone back and forth about getting a Macro close up lens adapter like the Canon 500D, vs an extension tube. 100+ for the former, and $11 for the latter. I ended up getting BOTH! I’ve received the extension tube and the results are awesome, I like the fact that nothing gets between the glass, as in the case using the 500D adapter, but once I get the 500D I can really compare… I hope the 500D with the simplicity of one filter to go over any 58mm lens produces great results to justify the cost. Plus, isn’t it perhaps easier to carry and quickly utilize the 500d filter vs the extension tube – in a wedding especially? Hmm…

  2. Tony Yang June 14, 2011 at 9:00 pm

    The problem you just stated with the filter is it only works with one thread size. The extension tube works with any EF lens.

  3. Thierry June 21, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    Love your simple explanation and most off all , the clear and convincing example-pictures !!!
    Very usefull .
    Greetings Thierry

  4. vic March 15, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    “The purpose of an extension tube is to convert any existing lens (EF-mount for Canon) into a macro lens only. This means the lens cannot focus more than a few inches past macro, so it only has one purpose.”…

    This is something I have always been wondering about, but no site/forum/review/comments has ever said this clearly.

    So you are the first one to say this very clearly! But since you are the only one to say so, I would like to clarify..

    If I use macro extension tubes on an 85mm portrait lens, then while the macro extension tube is still mounted, I can not use my 85mm for any other purpose? That is, it can only focus up very close for macro use, and nothing else? It is no longer a portrait lens?

  5. Tony Yang March 16, 2015 at 11:49 am

    Hi Vic, you are correct. Once you mount a lens on an extension tube, your lens cannot focus anything past a few inches. It will be macro only.

  6. vic March 19, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    Thanks for the info…one last question no one ever really talks about…
    Let’s say I have a 1:1 macro lens, with focus distance of 2 inches from front of lens to achieve 1:1 macro image.

    Could I step back farther, say 4 inches (guessing) to achieve 1:2 macro image?

    Or are macro lenses also kind of like extension tubes, where they can only focus up close at a certain distance, and only in that close range, then for regular shots, they have to be like 1-foot to infinity…?

  7. Tony Yang March 21, 2015 at 2:03 am

    I don’t have exact measurements or ratios for my extension tubes, I bet you can find exact specs or reviews on other websites, but with an extension tube your lens limit is from extremely closeup to just a few inches away. It cannot focus on anything after a few inches. Can you get 1:2 macro image? Most likely. A dedicated macro lens like my Canon 100mm Macro, can focus anywhere from a few cm to infinity. It can be used like any regular lens.

  8. vic March 24, 2015 at 5:42 am

    Muchos Mahalos! Great info and great site! Helps me a lot!
    I am just an enthusiast who shoots in volume, at whatever I fancy at the moment…”Macro-moments” strike me as few/far between as I usually like shooting wide/standard/telephoto, and my lens choices reflect this ….I travel light so I only ever carry 2 lenses with me…one general purpose, and then either a wide-angle or a telephoto. When I’m out, I usually take a look at my up-coming situation, swap lenses, then go with it for the next 15-30 minutes or so, as I feel like I look like a fool if I have to keep swapping lenses every two minutes.
    “Macro moments” I predict would be “on the spot” for a brief moment, so i think I might end up loathing tubes. Maybe a 60mm macro lens would serve me best as my general purpose+macro lens. Thanks for the info! Your site had the piece of info I’ve been looking for, for over a two weeks!

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