How To Get Up Close And Intimate (Part II) – Close Up Filters

It’s a long held belief of mine (and not just as a photographer) that the beauty of life is in the tiny details.

So for as long as I’ve been photographing with intention (since around 2006 with Sony camera phones), I’ve been drawn to photographing up close and intimate.

This is a short series on ways I’ve used cameras to get within breathing distance of that beauty. 

You can see all posts in this series here.

Part II – Close Up Filters

The first method I came across for getting closer than a standard lens will allow is to use close up filters.

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These can only be used on lenses which have a filter thread, so it rules out many, but not all, digital compacts.

I found them useful first with 35mm film SLRs where the minimum focus of perhaps 0.5m was not close enough in some situations.

In simple terms, close up filters are like a magnifying glass. 

They’re available individually or in sets, and typically the magnifying ratios are +1, +2, +4 and +10.

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I returned to using close up filters after pondering why I hand’t used my Panasonic Lumix GF1 more since I bought it.

A major factor was the only native lens I have, a rather good, light and compact 12-32mm zoom (equivalent to 24-64mm in 35mm money) only focuses down to 0.2m.

Having got used to the sub 0.1m range of most digital compacts (and down to an amazing 0.01m in the case of my two Ricohs), most times I went to focus with the GF1 it wouldn’t, because I was closer than the lens could focus.

Looking at prime lenses like the 20/1.7, they too only go down to about 0.2 – 0.25m, so for this purpose spending money of one of those would be money wasted.

So I looked up the filter ring size (37mm) of the 12-32mm lens to see if close up filters were available, and found and ordered a set of four from Amazon for £12.99.

After a little experimentation, I’ve found the +4 filter is most useful all round for me. 

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It means at a focal length of 17mm (34mm) where I shoot most with this lens, I can get down to around 0.07m away from the subject. But I can still back up to around 0.6m away, and lock (auto)focus too.

With this +4 filter, my typical shooting range is covered, and I can leave the filter on all of the time.

I only need to remove it if I want to focus on something further away than 0.6m, which doesn’t happen often, and if it does it’s very easy to unscrew the filter for a moment.

The +10 of course gets me a little closer, but because of the extra magnification, the range of focus is far more limited, so it needs to be removed more often.

Aside from being cheap, small, light, easy to use, and giving extra protection to your lens, another neat factor with these filters is the ability to stack them for additional magnification – in any combination. 

But for me mostly just using the +4 on its own works very well.

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Someone with more expertise might talk about a loss of image quality and how the magnification narrows the field of view, but I’m not interested in these things for my needs.

For me, using close up filters means I can very happily use lenses I otherwise get frustrated with because they don’t get me the intimate shots I look for, and this is a massive plus that outweighs any downsides pixel peepers might point to.

The photographs in this post (aside from those of the filters themselves) were made with my Lumix GF1, with the Lumix G Vario 12-32mm lens and a +4 Polaroid close up filter.

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Have you tried using close up filters? 

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking.

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8 thoughts on “How To Get Up Close And Intimate (Part II) – Close Up Filters”

  1. I have used closeup lenses (filters) with a number of my film cameras – both 35mm and medium format. A big advantage over other closeup arrangements for us troglodytes still using battery-free three-control (focus, aperture, shutter speed) cameras is that no exposure adjustments are necessary, as they are with extension tubes, bellows, etc.

    1. Yeh good points Doug, I love simplicity, if you’re lens doesn’t focus close enough, these simple, light, filters give you that range with virtually no difference in your (or your camera’s) shooting technique.

  2. Another approach I’d not thought about in years before reading this post was use of a reversing ring with a manual-focus prime lens and SLR body A wonderful and very inexpensive means to macro – I used my old F2, a so-so 50, and loved the results.
    Wonder what the state of reversal ring use is nowadays with modern kit; I can’t think why not.

    1. Hi William, thanks for your comments. Yes, macro reversing rings are something I’ve used and plan to explore more again in the coming weeks. I have a half written post in draft for later in this series.

  3. Hey hunter .
    I wanted to ask for your advice …
    I am currently looking for a flash for my film camera – Canon A-1 .
    What is your opinion about the – Speedlite 155A of Canon .
    Maya

    1. Maya, thank you reading and commenting. Unfortunately I have no idea, I’ve never had a Canon A1, and have never used a flash on any film camera!

  4. In addition to diopters I have also used a few other techniques limited to removable-lens cameras: lens reversing rings and bellows. Frankly such extreme close-up capacity is fun, but frustrating at the same time as depth of field goes out the window and lighting becomes a challenge.
    But the experience makes me appreciate the built-in macro capability of my P610. 🙂

    1. Marc, thanks for your further input.

      I have used adapters that flip the lens around and screw into its filter thread, and like you say they are fun but exactly, the narrow depth of field makes it rather tricky.

      I was going to write another in this series about these, but after trying them again they are not something I will likely return to, given the other, easier options.

      Never tried bellows though!

      Three of my four favourite cameras focus down to 0.01m, so it eliminates the need for anything extra, and with the other camera I use a close up filter.

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