Guide to Inexpensive Macrophotography – The Gear

Do you know what I love more than macro-photography? Inexpensive macro-photography.

As much as I’d looooooooooove a $4,000 camera with a $1,000 macro lens, I have three kids.

End of story.

So I work with what I have!

I use a very basic entry-level DSLR, the Nikon D3300. This has been the perfect first DSLR for me! Lightweight with easy to use controls, yet has all the bells and whistles you’ll need starting out, taking gorgeous photos and HD video. I bought the camera kit with an extra 55-200mm lens and – to be honest – I don’t really use that lens. 

HOWEVER, I am known to drop my camera, and I have already broken my 18-55mm lens TWICE now, so in the in-between times after the lens is broken and before the frantically-ordered-new-one arrives, I do use it.

It’s never a bad thing to have a back-up!

I loooooove the kit lens … the Nikkor 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6g Vibration Reduction Lens. Really, it’s a great all around lens.

I also looooooove to take macro pictures. And as much as I love the Nikkor 18-55mm, it needs a little help to get as close as I’d like to the subject.

THESE babies are what brings the magic.

Nikon Extension Tube set for Macro photographyOff-brand extension tubes. Less than fifty bucks on Amazon. The Xit XTETN Auto Focu Macro Extension Tube Set for Nikon SLR Cameras are the ones I work with, and they’ve been fantastic. Extension tubes are just that – tubes. There is no glass involved, so they are light and durable. I usually have one or two in my pants pocket while we are in the woods…just in case!

Extension tubes go in between your camera and the lens, effectively making your focal distance smaller. You can be closer, yet still be in focus.

Did I mention a set is less than $50?! Another great aspect of these is that there are three separate tubes – the 12mm, the 20mm and the 36mm. You can use one, or two, or three at a time depending on how much magnification you want!

You’ll need light!

Now, there are some cons by going the inexpensive macro route. Unlike when you are using an expensive macro lens, you lose a lot of light when using extension tubes. Additionally, depending on how many tubes you are using, your built-in flash may be useless (between the long lens and the short focal distance, the flash may not reach your subject).

An inexpensive ring light is a great additional to your camera bag for this purpose. As you might expect, I use an inexpensive off-brand! These ring lights can be attached to the end of your lens, but I oftentimes keep it off and hold it to the side of the subject, or in front of the subject, or above the subject….

Small and battery powered (oh, and inexpensive), a ring light should be in your bag!

You’ll need to stay still

I should use a tripod more often than I do.

As much as I THINK my hands are rock steady and I lean my camera hand against a log and call it steady…. I drink far too much coffee for that to be realistic.

I have a hand-me-down tripod which fits in my budget, but I really want this one:

The AFAITH Portable Folding Ultra Aluminum Alloy Tripod Compact Desktop Macro Mini Tripod Kit with Ball Head.  How about that for a name!

Still budget friendly, but light-weight yet sturdy, can contort into lots of cool positions, and comes in black, red or blue. As you can tell, I’m going to choose red!



the proof is in the pictures!

Callosamia promethea moth scales close up, macro,Dirty Botany

The scales of a Promethea moth wing. This image shows an area about 3mm in diameter.
Metatrichia vesparium slime mold

Metatrichia species, one of the most photogenic slime molds out there! This specimen is just a few millimeters tall.

Next time I’ll go into the HOW these extension tubes work, WHY you need additional light, and, of course, hints and tips for taking macro photos!

All Amazon links are, of course, affiliate links.


the dirty girl at dirty botany
Head dirty girl at!
Bug worshiper.
Slime mold fanatic.
Macrophotographer in training.

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3 thoughts on “Guide to Inexpensive Macrophotography – The Gear

  1. Pingback: How to Take Snowflake Pictures!!! - Dirty Botany

  2. John Levesque Reply

    This is great! I’m on a low budget too and didn’t know about the extension and light ring. It’s off to Amazon. Thanks.

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