Get Two More Lenses Out of Your 50mm Lens for Cheap

A 50-mm lens is just about the second thing every photographer should have in their kit after a camera body. It’s compact, sharp, and versatile, and it's possibly the least expensive lens you will ever buy. But did you know you could also turn it into two additional lenses for less than $100?

That’s right--for some relative chump-change, you could turn a prime lens into a multitasker. You could turn your 50-mm into a macro lens for those extreme close-ups or into a telephoto lens to see farther away with just a few attachments. It's a great way to have a little fun with your DSLR, to save yourself from having to buy specialty lenses, and it's a perfect way to pack light if you are going away for the holidays.

The rig I used for testing and my shots includes a Nikon D7000 DSLR (with a 1.5x crop sensor) and a Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D lens.

50-mm Prime Lens

Bokeh!

Is there anything a 50-mm lens isn’t good for? It works great in low light and when stopped down, and it can make any shot dramatic with a shallow depth-of-field and bokeh (the aesthetic blurring of out of focus areas). It’s also the lens that most closely mimics the human eye in terms of magnification and field of view--minus a great deal of peripheral vision--which allows it to capture “natural” looking pictures that make it seem as though you were actually there. The photo above is an example of what this particular lens can do without any modification.

Macro Lens

Really complicated bokeh!

Turning your 50-mm into a macro lens is as simple as flipping it backwards. That’s it. Easy, right?

Well, not quite. I mean, sure, you could just flip it around and hold the lens up against your body or you could do something more practical and buy a simple reverse ring adapter for $8. It’s an extremely cheap and fun way of experimenting with macro (close-up) photography without having to buy any specialized macro glass.

Once you’ve reverse-mounted your 50-mm lens, you might notice that everything is blurry and think that you’ve just broken your lens. Nothing is wrong; you just need to get close--and I mean really close--to your subject. To take a good macro shot, you should be between 1-to-3-inches away from what your photographing.

I closed the aperture to f/16 on this one to show that the reverse mounted 50-mm lens can do really detailed macros too.

Another thing you might notice is that the inside of your lens and the metal contacts are now facing outwards. This means that the lens is no longer communicating with the camera, so you won’t be able to use the autofocus or any electronic aperture control. You can always use the manual focus ring, which I usually just set it to infinity. However, adjusting your aperture on a new lens without an aperture ring is impossible, and this makes reverse mounting practically unusable.

Luckily, there are other methods to get a macro effect, such as using extension tubes. These are just hollow rings that move your lens farther away from the camera body and allows them to focus closer than normally would--the end result is an magnified image. Another great thing about extension tubes is that you can also use them with your other longer lenses to give them that extra telephoto reach.

The tubes come in sets that add multiple levels of length, and some even include wiring that allows the lens to connect electronically with the camera body. In this case, we recommend avoiding cheaper rings that lack circuitry, thus creating the same problem that exists when you use reversing adapters with newer lenses. Instead, buy a set from Zeikos that runs for $67 on Amazon (as of 12/14/2011); it gives you 13mm, 21mm, and 31mm extension tubes that add 0.26x, 0.42x, and 0.62x factors of magnification, respectively, to a 50-mm lens.

Telephoto Lens

There is surprisingly little to no loss in detail; just look at those the roof shingles and the tree branches.

Telephoto lenses are big, hulking, expensive pieces of glass. But if you just want to add that little bit of optical reach to your 50-mm lens, you could buy an Opteka 2.2x telephoto lens adapter for $50.

This lens adapter screws to the front of your lens along the filter threads, and basically acts as a magnifying glass that doubles your lens's focal length. So with this add-on, your nifty 50-mm essentially becomes a 110-mm; if you are using a crop-sensor DSLR, an 85-mm becomes a 187-mm lens.

The quality of the images is just as sharp as what you'd get with a naked 50-mm, and you’ll still that shallow depth-of-field even when you’re focusing on something far away.

The bokeh also seems to translate well, especially on the right rack and objects in the background.

And There’s More…

This is just a taste of what you can do with your 50-mm lens. If you have a spare lens cap lying around, you could always drill a hole in it and make yourself a digital pinhole camera. Opteka also makes other adapters for lenses, including a 0.45x wide-angle adapter that turns a 50-mm into a 22.5-mm lens for those landscape photos.

What are you waiting for? Get out there and play around with these lens tricks!

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