There is no other way around it; if you need a macro lens, you need a macro lens. Though, sometimes, you don't.
Dedicated macro lenses can be expensive and, in many cases, they can end up being a one trick pony. For example, not having especially fast apertures, they might not be extra useful in low light or limited DoF portraiture.
Someone with limited macro/close-up needs may seek other options. A number of zooms provide a "macro" function, although this is usually 1:4 to 1:3. Adapting an older manual lens is another possibility. There are also cases where one needs even larger than the 1:1 reproduction, that regular macros offer.
All these needs are usually addressed via a number of "lens modifiers":
- Extension tubes/bellows of varying lengths, that are fitted between the lens and camera body. You can lose some light and they are most often manual focusing only; although there are some AF options available.
- Lens reversal rings; again manual only
- Conversion lenses, such as the Raynox, being fitted in front of the lens.
Conversion lenses, in general, have gotten a bad rap with most modern photographers. The reason being, they are usually associated with cheap attempts targeted at consumer level camcorders and compact cameras. Indeed, this was the target group for macro, wide-angle, fisheye and other converters, through the initial phase of consumer digital photography/video. And, undeniably, many of the gizmos in the market, were/are kind of crappy in final image quality.
Raynox is a manufacturer of specialized conversion lenses, located in Japan. In contrast with the aforementioned cheap conversion lenses, Raynox makes some good quality items and has a loyal following. I've had the Raynox DCR-250 for some time now, although other work prevented me from doing any kind of extended presentation. Here is a short review and some samples though, for anyone considering this piece of gear.
The DCR-250 can be used in front of a number of lenses, to increase their magnification. It clips quite easily, although it may need the addition of a number of step-down rings to be fitted to lenses with small filter threads. Be advised that this is not meant for larger lenses; it is mainly targeted at kit zoom lenses, to be honest. But, it can also be used with many smaller mirrorless camera lenses easily.
This lens has a magnification of 2.5x. For most lenses, this means you can get to 1:1 reproduction. With zoom lenses you can get maximum magnification by shooting towards the telephoto end. Now, if you happen to have a true 1:1 macro lens, it gets even more interesting, because you can then go 2:1 or more, which is perfect for those close up bug photos.
A few caveats, which are unavoidable, as you might imagine.
- There can be quite visible vignetting with a lot of lenses; this is because of the adapter being smaller than the front lens element. It's not tragic but you definitely need to crop the edges of the photo to get rid of it.
- Some lenses extend their front element further away than the end of the lens. These lenses have trouble with a number of filters and may also have issues with the DCR-250. This can be resolved with adding an extension "spacer" ring in front of the lens.
Focusing distance is dependent on focal length, but can get quite short; be advised if you're concerned with nervous critters.
I used the Raynox mainly with the 18-55 "kit" lens on the Fuji X-E2, at the telephoto (55mm) end. Autofocus can be retained with such lenses, which is a great advantage. In fact, what happens is, you move your camera close to the proper focusing distance and, once you start seeing the image clearly, you fire the AF.
Using the converter with a proper macro lens, the Zuiko 50mm f/3.5 (here is a review of this lens adapted on the E-M1), one do serious magnifications work (don't forget, this lens is 1:1 on the E-M1). Here are some shots, with and without the converter, to show the amount of magnification one can achieve.
In any case, image quality was excellent with the Raynox. I personally have no fear of image degradation, and it seems that the DCR-250 is optically great. Distortions were also somewhat eliminated, although more testing would be needed to determine if this is true of any lens combination.
I can easily recommend this lens for its convenience and adaptability to a number of different lenses. I find it especially useful for doing super-macro work, mated to a proper macro lens. I am actually tempted to test Raynox other conversion lenses, such as their fisheye; but this has to wait for the intermediate future.