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Reverse lens technique — Poor man’s macro

Vidhu S

Vidhu S

Editor/co-founder at Shutterstoppers
Vidhu is an enthusiastic photographer from Kerala, India. His desire to share his knowledge and experience on photography was the motivation for creating Shutterstoppers. His dream is to provide a platform for people all around the world to exchange ideas and information on everything related to photography. In addition to photography, he also has a keen interest in traveling, philately and science.
Vidhu S
Vidhu S

Reverse lens technique is very easy to set up. It is a cheap solution for macro photography. One normally goes for a dedicated macro lens for macro photography or they may switch to ‘macro’ mode available in their cameras. While buying a dedicated macro lens is not affordable for most people, and using the macro mode may not give you a good magnification. However, one can go for various inexpensive techniques for macro photography like  close up filters, macro converters etc. I follow the lens reversal or reverse lens technique for my macro photography.

Read: Introduction to Macro Photography

What is reverse lens technique?

It is basically mounting your lens backwards onto the camera. Doing so, the magnification a lens can capture increases. I am going to show you how to reverse a 50mm prime lens. You can follow the same technique to reverse any type of lens you have. I prefer reversing a prime lens for macro since prime lenses give sharp images and have good color rendition.

Read: Top 8 Reasons Why you should buy a 50mm lens

Equipment Required

  1. A DSLR/SLR camera. This technique will not work for point and shoot cameras.
  2. A lens you want to reverse.
  3. A reverse ring for your lens. A reverse ring is used to reverse mount the lens. A reverse ring has two sides — a filter thread side and mount side. If the filter diameter of your lens is 52mm, then you should buy a reverse ring which has a filter thread diameter of 52mm (the filter diameter of the lens is written on the front element of the lens)

Steps to reverse a lens

NOTE: If you don’t have a reverse ring, you can just reverse your lens,  hold it in front of your camera and see how it works.

50mm lens and 52mm reverse ring

Canon 50mm f1.8 lens and a 52mm reverse ring.


Step 1: Attach the reverse ring to the front element of your lens via the filter thread.

Reverse lens attached to front element of 50mm lens

Step 2: Detach the lens and mount it backwards. Now the back side of the lens is exposed outside.

50mm lens reverse mounted on canon 1000D -- reverse lens technique


Here is the comparison of magnification:

Comparison of magnification of 50mm lens normal and reverse mount


What’s the trade-off?

  • Since you are reversing the lens, it loses its electronic communication with the camera. So auto focus will not work and you cannot change the aperture of the lens either.
  • You lose the ability to focus when reverse mount the lens. There will be only one fixed focal plane and you have to physically move yourself to focus the subject.
  • The lens cannot focus at infinity.
  • The depth of field becomes extremely shallow.
  • Reversing lens causes accumulation of dust and particles in the sensor.

Read how to overcome the challenges while using this technique: Secrets of Macro Photography using the reverse lens are

Learn how to take high magnification macro photography using the reverse lens technique:

Below are some of the images I had taken using the reverse lens technique:

Photo of Jumping spider  taken with 50mm reverse lens

Crab spider on orange flower

Pink flower  in 1:1 magnification




Vidhu S

Vidhu S

Editor/co-founder at Shutterstoppers
Vidhu is an enthusiastic photographer from Kerala, India. His desire to share his knowledge and experience on photography was the motivation for creating Shutterstoppers. His dream is to provide a platform for people all around the world to exchange ideas and information on everything related to photography. In addition to photography, he also has a keen interest in traveling, philately and science.
Vidhu S
Vidhu S
Displaying 44 Comments
Have Your Say
  1. i have been trying to get hold of this reverse ring for a very long time now! its available on amazon, but m not sure of its availability in india. m residing in chennai, can u give some online e-commerce site links where i can buy this reverse ring. thanks! :)

  2. […] doesn’t use any expensive gear for high magnification macro photography. He uses Canon 50D and reverse mount Exakta 28mm f2.8 prime lens. He focus stack the images to extend the depth of field. Below are some […]

  3. Amir M says:

    Great Article, Thanks. What happens with a long focal lens? more magnification or less? 50mm lens vs a 200mm lens? which will give more magnification? Thanks Amir

    • Vidhu says:

      Hi, Amir. Thanks for reading. When the focal length of the reverse lens decreases, the magnification decreases. If you want to know more about magnification of reverse lens setup, please read:

      • Narayan says:

        Sorry but using a longer focal length reduces the magnification. When you shoot with normal lens orientation, a longer focal length means a larger magnification. When you reverse the lens, the opposite happens. Using a lower focal length gives you maximum magnification and of course, a better depth of field for sharper images.

        • Vidhu S says:

          Sorry for the mistake. I meant to say, when stacking a reversed lens on a longer focal length lens, the magnification increases since the distance between the lens and the sensor increases. Thank you for correcting me, Narayan. I have made the corrections. And thanks for reading. Cheers! :)

  4. Praveen says:

    Hi ,
    Thanks for the great article on macro photography. am unable to set the aperture on the lens using the suggested method. I am trying this on canon eos 450D using 50 mm 1.4 lens. Please help.

    • Vidhu says:

      Hi, Praveen. Glad you liked the article. Is your 450 D has a DOF preview button? If you don’t know, can you please refer it to the camera manual to find the button? DOF button helps in closing down the aperture to the f-number you set. So, you might want to locate the DOF preview button of your camera. Once you find the button, follow these steps:

      Set the desired f-number –> Press and hold the DOF button –> while holding the DOF button, detach the lens from the camera. Now your lens is closed down to the aperture you set.

      • Praveen says:

        Thanks for the quick response, Vidhu.

        The camera does have the button and I tried exactly the same thing as you mentioned. After the lens is reversed, would the camera settings show the closed down aperture? or would it still show F00?

        I checked my image, it shows F00.

        Please help.

        • Vidhu says:

          Ok. As I mentioned in the post, for canon lenses, you cannot change the aperture once you reverse it. It shows F00 because the camera has no communication with the lens. So, in metadata it cannot add the aperture information. So, if you want to change the aperture again, you need to mount it normally and redo the whole process. It is frustrating, I know. But once, you get the hang of this technique, you will know which aperture you need to use when you see the lighting conditions.

  5. papon says:

    I have EOS 550D. My qn is whether it is harmful to dislodge a lens while turning the camera on.

  6. Rishi says:

    Thanxx Bro its grt article
    bt i would like to knw i have 50mm f1.8 with simple uv filter n 550D
    do i need to buy any filter ring ? ?
    waiting fr reply thanxx

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  11. jamid says:

    Thanks Vidhu, Its a great article and really helpful. Just one quick question can we do this technique with the other lenses as well like 55- 200 mm (Nikon D5100)

    • Vidhu S says:

      Yes, you can. But when the focal length increases, the magnification decreases for a reverse mounted lens. So, if you want a 1:1 magnification, reverse a 50mm lens. And if you want a magnification beyond 1, use a lens which has focal length smaller than 50mm.

  12. Guru says:

    nice and helpful article chief! was wondering if I could use the reverse lens technique with the same ring for the standard 18-55mm and 75-300mm lenses. Will using this technique on the 75-300mm give better macro visibility?

    • Vidhu S says:

      Thanks for reading :) As I mentioned in the post, reverse ring can be attached on the front element of the lens. So the diameter of a reverse ring should be same as the filter diameter of the lens. So for a 18-55mm kit lens, the filter diameter is 58mm. So only a reverse ring of 58mm can be used with this lens. But the filter diameter of a 75-300mm lens is more than 58mm (if I am right, I think it is 62mm or something. Please check it on the front element of the lens) So you can’t use the reverse ring of a 18-55mm lens on a 75-300mm lens.

      Regarding the magnification: As I mentioned before, the magnification a reversed lens can give depends on the focal length. A reversed 50mm focal length lens gives a 1:1 magnification. And if you reverse a lens with a focal length smaller than 50mm, it gives a magnification above 1X. Similarly, if the focal length of the reversed lens is more than 50mm, the magnification will be less than 1x, which is not good for macro. Thus, an advantage of reversing a 18-55mm lens is that you can change the magnification (from 1X to more than 3X) by the changing the focal length. Hope this helps :)

  13. Light Tent Photography Tips says:

    I’d like to find out more? I’d like to find out
    some additional information.

  14. Nishank says:

    A very simple and lucid article indeed. When I checked on eBay there were 49 mm, 50 mm, 52 mm and a 58 mm lens provided. So fpr a 50 mm prime lens what size do I use ?

  15. aman says:

    we can change the aperture!!!!!

  16. kalathi says:

    hello sir, just now received my reverse ring adapter for my canon 600d(18-55)mm lens and mounted it…but i cant see anything…when i look into my viewfinder its full blurred….pls tell me the solution

  17. Yogesh Kamra says:

    Hi, i am using the reverse ring 52mm for my Nikon d5100 with 18-55, but on screen it is coming “no leans attached” and black screen is coming …..

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  19. unmesh mandal says:

    Respected Sir,
    I want to use the reverse ring for my Nikon D5100. I have two lenses one 18-55 and another Nikon 55-300 VR. So in which lens should I use the ring to get better result.
    Please Reply.
    Thanks in Advance

  20. […] fantastic macro images, but instead of using a dedicated macro lens, he uses a technique called a Reverse Lens Macro where he takes his 50mm prime lens and actually flips it around, mounting it in reverse on his […]

  21. […] me to hit on both of the techniques.  In the capture phase, I went back to trying the “reverse lens technique.”  With post processing, it was a good subject to work on a kind of look I’ve been […]

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