Can I Use Extension Tubes with a Zoom Lens? Demystifying the Possibilities

Extension tubes, those simple yet powerful accessories, have long been a favorite tool for macro photographers. But can you use them with a zoom lens? This question often arises, particularly for photographers venturing into the realm of close-up photography. The answer, thankfully, is not a simple “yes” or “no.” It’s a bit more nuanced, and the decision ultimately depends on your specific lens and your photographic goals.

This article dives deep into the world of extension tubes, exploring their compatibility with zoom lenses, the pros and cons of this combination, and the things to consider before making the leap. We’ll also delve into practical tips and tricks to get the most out of your setup.

The Basics of Extension Tubes

Extension tubes are hollow cylinders that fit between your camera body and lens. They essentially increase the distance between the lens and the sensor, effectively reducing the minimum focusing distance of your lens. This allows you to get closer to your subject and achieve higher magnifications, essentially turning your lens into a macro lens.

Zoom Lenses and Extension Tubes: A Match Made for Macro?

While extension tubes are widely used with prime lenses, their use with zoom lenses is less straightforward. The primary reason for this lies in the internal workings of zoom lenses. While prime lenses have a fixed focal length, zoom lenses contain moving lens elements that allow you to adjust the focal length. This internal mechanism, coupled with the addition of extension tubes, can sometimes lead to unexpected results.

The Challenges of Using Extension Tubes with Zoom Lenses:

  • Autofocus Issues: One of the biggest challenges is the potential disruption of autofocus. Extension tubes can affect the lens’s ability to autofocus accurately, especially at close distances. While some lenses might maintain autofocus with tubes, others may lose it entirely.
  • Magnification and Focal Length: Adding extension tubes to a zoom lens can result in unpredictable magnification changes as you zoom. The magnification isn’t always directly proportional to the zoom setting, making it difficult to control the subject size.
  • Increased Minimum Focusing Distance: While extension tubes do reduce the minimum focusing distance, they don’t necessarily make your zoom lens suitable for true macro photography. The magnification achieved might not be high enough for close-up shots.

When Extension Tubes and Zoom Lenses Can Work:

Despite the challenges, there are instances where combining extension tubes and zoom lenses can be advantageous:

  • Gaining a Closer Perspective: If your primary goal is to simply get closer to your subject without needing extreme magnification, extension tubes can be helpful. They can be particularly useful for nature photography where you need to maintain a safe distance from skittish animals.
  • Exploring Creative Compositions: Extension tubes can be used to create unique perspectives and compositions by allowing you to isolate a particular element of the scene. For example, you could focus on the intricate details of a flower while blurring the background.
  • Budget-Friendly Option: If you’re on a tight budget and don’t want to invest in a dedicated macro lens, extension tubes offer a cost-effective way to experiment with macro photography.

Selecting the Right Extension Tube Set:

When choosing extension tubes, opt for a set with different lengths (e.g., 12mm, 20mm, 36mm). This will allow you to experiment with various levels of magnification and find the right balance for your needs. Additionally, look for tubes with good build quality and features like electronic contacts to maintain communication between the lens and camera for features like autofocus.

Practical Tips for Using Extension Tubes with Zoom Lenses:

  • Manual Focus: Be prepared to switch to manual focus, as autofocus may not be reliable.
  • Practice and Experiment: It takes practice to master the use of extension tubes with zoom lenses. Start by experimenting with different zoom settings and tube lengths to find the sweet spot for your compositions.
  • Stabilization: If your lens has image stabilization, utilize it to minimize camera shake, especially when shooting at longer focal lengths.
  • Lighting: Adequate lighting is crucial for close-up photography. Consider using a dedicated macro flash or a ring light for better illumination.


Using extension tubes with zoom lenses can be a challenging but rewarding experience. While it might not be the ideal solution for true macro photography, it offers a versatile and affordable way to explore creative possibilities and capture unique perspectives. By understanding the limitations and leveraging the tips mentioned above, you can unleash the potential of this combination and create stunning close-up images. Remember, the journey of macro photography is an exploration, and the key is to experiment and learn from your results.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Use Extension Tubes with a Zoom Lens?

Yes, you can use extension tubes with a zoom lens. Extension tubes are essentially hollow tubes that fit between your camera body and your lens. They do not contain any glass elements, so they don’t change the focal length of your lens. Instead, they simply move the lens farther away from the sensor, effectively increasing the magnification. This allows you to get closer to your subject and create a more dramatic perspective.

While extension tubes are often associated with macro photography, they can be used with any lens, including zoom lenses. This is especially useful if you want to create a close-up shot without having to physically move closer to your subject, or if you want to achieve a more pronounced bokeh effect. Just be aware that using extension tubes with a zoom lens will limit the zoom range, as the lens can only be zoomed in as far as the extension tubes allow.

What are the advantages of using extension tubes with a zoom lens?

Using extension tubes with a zoom lens offers several advantages:

  • Increased magnification: The primary benefit of using extension tubes is the increased magnification they provide. This allows you to get closer to your subject and create a more dramatic perspective, ideal for capturing intricate details.
  • Flexibility: Extension tubes can be used with a variety of lenses, including zoom lenses. This gives you more flexibility in your photography, allowing you to experiment with different perspectives and create unique images.
  • Affordability: Compared to dedicated macro lenses, extension tubes are a more affordable way to achieve macro photography.

What are the disadvantages of using extension tubes with a zoom lens?

Using extension tubes with a zoom lens also has some disadvantages:

  • Limited zoom range: One of the primary drawbacks of using extension tubes with a zoom lens is that the zoom range will be limited. The lens can only be zoomed in as far as the extension tubes allow.
  • Reduced light transmission: Extension tubes can also reduce light transmission, requiring you to use a slower shutter speed or a higher ISO setting to compensate.
  • Autofocus issues: Depending on the lens and camera combination, autofocus may become less accurate or slower when using extension tubes.

How do I use extension tubes with a zoom lens?

Using extension tubes with a zoom lens is relatively straightforward.

  • First, choose the appropriate set of extension tubes for your lens and camera.
  • Attach the extension tubes to the lens mount of your camera body.
  • Attach your zoom lens to the other end of the extension tubes.
  • Now you can adjust the zoom and focus as usual.

What kind of extension tubes should I use?

The best extension tubes for your zoom lens will depend on the desired magnification and the lens’s minimum focusing distance.

  • You can find extension tubes in various lengths, from a few millimeters to several centimeters.
  • Longer extension tubes provide more magnification but also reduce the zoom range further.
  • Make sure the extension tubes you choose are compatible with your camera and lens mount.

What are some tips for using extension tubes with a zoom lens?

Here are a few tips for using extension tubes with a zoom lens:

  • Start with a longer focal length: When using extension tubes, it’s often easier to start with a longer focal length on your zoom lens. This will give you a more manageable working distance and prevent the need to focus too close to your subject.
  • Use a tripod: Extension tubes can make it difficult to handhold your camera due to the increased magnification. Using a tripod will help you keep your shots steady and avoid blur.
  • Experiment with different settings: Don’t be afraid to experiment with different aperture settings and ISO levels to find the best combination for your shooting conditions.
  • Consider using a remote shutter release: Using a remote shutter release can help avoid camera shake and ensure sharp images when shooting with extension tubes.

Do extension tubes work with all zoom lenses?

While you can use extension tubes with most zoom lenses, some lenses may not be suitable.

  • Lenses with a minimum focusing distance that is too short may not be able to focus when using extension tubes.
  • Additionally, some lenses may have internal focusing mechanisms that can interfere with extension tubes.
  • Always check the specifications of your lens to see if it’s compatible with extension tubes.

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