Do Extension Tubes Reduce Image Quality?

Do Extension Tubes Reduce Image Quality

If you have just started dabbling in photography and are interested in close-up shots of insects, flowers, or even coins, an extension tube is a great purchase to help get started. That being said, you might wonder whether using one will affect the quality of your images.

Extension tubes will not reduce the quality of your images in most situations. If you are using a quality lens, know which type of extension tube purchase, or are experienced with working your camera manually, you can take quality shots with this device.

Extension tubes can be an inexpensive way for new or seasoned photographers to enter the world of macro photography. This type of photography allows users to take close-up shots of objects without disturbing the item being shot. Read on to discover in which situations extension tubes work best while maintaining image quality.

Extension Tubes Will Not Reduce Quality – In Most Cases

Will using an extension tube to magnify an object reduce the quality of the shot? The short answer of any reduction of quality using an extension tube is no. This is mainly because of what an extension tube is made from (or that is, is not made from) and what the materials essentially do. Basically, the tube extends the distance of the lens.

Extension tubes connect between the body of the camera and the lens, and an extension tube is simply just that, a long tube. There is no glass inside of it, so the optical quality of the lens is not affected. Extension tubes are also flexible and adaptable to nearly any lens. They extend the lens towards your subject and eliminate distance.

These devices come in an assortment of focal lengths and can be used together to make an even longer extension towards your subject. If you are sticking too short to medium focal lengths, you can improve the magnification of your subject without losing quality. You can get closer to your subject without losing focus.

For example, say you are taking a picture of a butterfly using a camera with a minimum focus distance of around one-and-a-half feet. Being more than a foot away will not be suitable for a close-up shot of a small butterfly. You also do not want to get too close and scare it away. Using an extension tube will solve both of the problems.

Advantages and Disadvantages of an Extension Tube

There are many advantages and disadvantages of using an extension tube, each of which you should keep in mind when determining whether it is worth using. Common uses are for shooting close-ups, professional portraits, and macro photography. However, there might be times when an extension tube can reduce image quality.

Some of the advantages you should consider are:

  • It works with nearly any type of lens.
  • It is less expensive (hundreds to thousands of dollars less) than a macro lens.
  • It is not made of glass, so the quality of the image does not suffer.
  • They are effective with f-stop – the numbers that control the aperture (the opening that lets light in the camera).

Some of the disadvantages you should consider are:

  • It does not work well with a telephoto lens.
  • It is difficult to control the aperture with manual lenses, which may cause photos to be blurry.
  • The higher the magnification of the subject, the lower the quality compared to the more expensive macro lens.

Extension Tubes vs. Macro Lenses

Because an extension tube’s main job is to get you closer to your subject by reducing the distance between the subject and the lens, it has sometimes been compared to that of a macro lens. A macro lens is a distinct type of lens that can take clear, sharp pictures of very small things. However, the cost of each product is vastly different.

Extension tubes are an inexpensive way to venture into the world of macro photography versus starting with a macro lens. They can connect manually, which means it does not control the focus and exposure, or electronically connect to automatically use autofocus and other aperture settings. Keep these prices in mind when determining where to start:

  • Beginners only need to spend between $12 to $40 for an extension tube.
  • Higher-end extension tubes cost $70 to $150.
  • Macro Lenses range from $300 to $2,000.
  • Prices for extension tubes may vary when choosing manual versus electronic.

Extension lenses do not work well with a telephoto lens, but they will work absolutely fine with most other lenses. Will the image quality be as sharp as with a macro lens? Probably not. Will an amateur photographer or viewer notice? Probably not. And, saving thousands of dollars is a main benefit of the device. Lens choice, though, is still key.

Since extension tubes can fit nearly any type of lens, photographers do not need to make an extra lens purchase. For close-up shots, an extension tube is an economical choice for those who are not professional photographers. However, the type of lens you are using may still distort the quality of the shot, even with an extension tube.

How an Extension Tube Would Affect Image Quality

The lens you are using could affect image quality, even with an extension tube. Every lens works differently with this device, and you may need to try a few different ones to see which has the best quality. Because extension tubes do not have any optics in them, the optics will rely on the lens itself and may still distort the quality.

When you are trying to take a close-up shot, your lens will either automatically or manually focus. This means the optics are moving inside the lens to help with the image quality. However, the quality of the shot usually depends on how close you are – the closer you are, the less distorted the shot should be. This is where the tube comes in.

Every lens also works differently with the minimum focus distance (that is, the distance between the camera and your subject). If you already have a lens that works inadequately on its own with the minimum focusing distance, you will probably notice that the extension tube will also have poor quality with your close-up shots.

The minimum focus distance and the quality of a lens can be tested by simply measuring the distance (usually in inches) between the camera and the subject. Then test which lens works best before adding the extension tube. This can help with maintaining quality and focus when using the tube for the close-up shot.

Manual vs. Electronic Could Affect Quality

Finally, a quick note on manual versus electronic extension tubes could affect quality. However, this is due to user error, not the quality of the extension tube itself. Using an extension tube increases the aperture – the opening in the lens where light passes through. It works well with f-stops, but an electronic tube could help with quality.

A manual extension is less expensive, but the user should be able to control the focus and exposure. Otherwise, the manual extension tube may still distort the quality of the shot. An electronic extension tube may help reduce this distortion and, in turn, affect the quality since it is electronically controlling and regulating the aperture settings.

Conclusion

If you have just delved into the world of photography and, more specifically, macro photography, using an extension tube is a great device for close-up shots. They are inexpensive and can help create beautiful photographs of flowers, insects, or people. Macro photography takes practice, but at least you can train without breaking the bank.

There are many different types of extension tubes to choose from, and the main decision one must consider is manual versus electronic. After that, you can begin using your new device for close-up macro photography. Do not worry about spending thousands of dollars on a macro lens when an extension tube will deliver quality photos.

Roy Davis

Roy Davis is the founder of YourPhotoAdvisor. He is a hobbyist photographer that loves the business side of things. He blogs about IT, cybersecurity, business, and more at BestofRoy.com. Follow him on social media at Twitter | Instagram.

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