A low-cost and portable option for macro photography

Jorge M. Valdez-Carrasco

Titular researcher, Program of Entomology and Acarology, Colegio de Postgraduados, Campus Montecillo, Texcoco 56264, Estado de México, México

Valentina Díaz-Grisales

Ph.D. student in Entomology and Acarology, Colegio de Postgraduados, Campus Montecillo, Texcoco 56264, Estado de México, México

Introducing an affordable and portable option for macro photography. In the world of macro photography there is a whole range of qualities and prices; however, the system that we present in the following pages prioritizes two elements: low cost and portability. This system proposal arose as a response to the need to photograph important specimens during visits to entomological collections. Although many of the collections have photographic equipment, this can be very sophisticated, and the visitor may have to invest time of their visit -an often-scarce resource- to learn how to properly use the available equipment. It also often happens that at the time of the visit the equipment is being used by other visitors or by the collections curatorial staff. Therefore, we think about the possibility that a visitor brings with them a photography system that allows them to capture quality images and that does not imply very high costs. We present two configurations for this macro photography system, one for capturing images of adult insects and one for photographing genital structures. We provide links to review and purchase each part of the system in its two configurations. Although the links currently redirect to the purchase page of the exact product that makes up the system, a future user could buy the same or look for something similar depending on their needs and budget. Finally, it is worth mentioning that this system can also function as fixed equipment to photograph specimens in laboratories and entomological collections.

First setup: photograph of full insect specimens

(Fig. 1-2)

This setup is intended for shooting insects that are roughly 0.8 to 3.0 cm in size; installing other accessories could work for photographing smaller specimens. The whole set weighs approximately 5.4 kg and it is possible to transport it in a regular back pack. Its cost is about 1005 USD including the camera. The parts that make up this first configuration are the following:

Figure 1. System setup for photographing full insect specimens: 1.1) WeMacro vertical stand 1.2) Micrometric advance rail 1.3) Canon EOS Rebel T7 (EOS 2000D) camera 1.4) Automatic extension tube set 1.5) Canon 18-55mm lens 1.6) LED light lamp 1.7) Insect on a pin.
Photography and edition: Jorge M. Valdez-Carrasco. Plate elaboration: Valentina Díaz-Grisales.

1.1 WeMacro vertical stand. Detachable structure that will support the micrometric advance rail and the camera. Fig. 1 and 3 show the stand in a vertical position, but it is also possible to configure it to work horizontally. The base of the stand measures 27 cm x 17 cm and the arm is 42 cm high. The whole set weighs 4 kg.

1.2 NiSi NM-180 micrometric advance rail. Manual advance rail that provides precise control of the distance between the camera and the sample. It allows images to be taken at different focal lengths to produce a greater depth of field, making it useful for the focus stacking technique. The rail length is 180 mm, and the adjustment range is 160 mm; weighs 0.5 kg. Supports camera/lens combinations up to 5.5 kg.

1.3 Canon EOS Rebel T7 (Canon EOS 2000D) camera. The systems in Fig. 1 and 3 use a Canon camera, but any professional camera can be used, be it SLR or mirrorless. The choice of the camera will depend on the available budget and the user preferences. There are digital cameras of many qualities and prices, but here we present an economic option that has given good results. The Canon EOS Rebel T7 (EOS 2000D) camera is a simple, light and manageable SLR camera; it weighs approximately 0.475 kg, and its dimensions are 129 mm x 101 mm x 78 mm. It is a good option from a quality/price point of view.

1.4 Extension tube set. (*)These are hollow tubes that are inserted between the camera body and the lens, and they allow to reduce the minimum focusing distance of the lens. Since there are no optics inside, the extension tubes do not cause loss of quality in the resulting image; in this way a greater zoom can be achieved without altering the optical quality of the used lens. They can be manual or automatic; the difference between one and the other is that the automatic ones allow electronic communication between the body of the camera and the lens. Maintaining electronic communication means retaining functions such as autofocus (of little use in macro photography) and adjusting the diaphragm aperture. The use of one, two or three extension tubes will depend on the size of the insect to be photographed: the more extension tubes inserted, the closer the zoom will be. If higher magnification is required, the lens can be reversed using a reverse ring. Fig. 1 shows the system configuration with three automatic extension tubes of 13 mm, 21 mm, and 31 mm; the approximate weight of the three tubes used in the setup is 0.145 kg. For the assembly of the systems in Figs. 1 and 3 it does not matter if the tubes are automatic or manual; both will work the same because we are not interested in maintaining communication between the body of the camera and the lens, we only seek to achieve greater magnification. An alternative to using extension tubes is to adapt a macro bellows like the one presented later.

1.5 Canon 18-55 mm lens. This lens comes bundled with the EOS Rebel T7 (EOS 2000D) camera, and while it is often looked down on in photography, it is useful for shooting medium-sized insects. The 18-55 mm lens is a standard zoom suitable for all types of photography; it has a diameter of 58 mm and weighs approximately 0.2 kg. The minimum focusing distance for close-up photography is 25 cm. 

1.6 LED light lamp. (*), (*). This system is designed not to use external flash. The option of illuminating the insect closely using a simple lamp is taken and thus avoiding the use of flash. There are many options for lamps, the important thing is that they have the shape of a ring to be able to capture the images and, preferably, that they have white light. The lamp in Figs. 1 and 3 is approximately 30.5 cm high, is rechargeable, and has three intensities of white light. The neck can be adjusted to direct the lighting to suit the needs of each sample, and the light is activated with a touch switch located on the base. Two additional lighting options should fulfill a similar function to the lamp in Figs. 1 and 3: the first one also has a flexible neck, and the base has a clip-type design that allows it to be attached to different surfaces; the second option is an illuminator ring that weighs 0.048 kg and fits to the camera lens.

1.7 Insect on a pin. To locate the insect near the lens we can use any element that allows to gain height, e.g., small empty cardboard boxes, wooden blocks, polystyrene foam, among others.

Fig. 2 shows the result of the habitus photograph of a weevil taken with the first configuration of the system.

Figure 2. Habitus of Heilipus atomarius (Champion, 1902) (Curculionidae: Molytinae: Hylobiini). Photographs: Valentina Díaz-Grisales.
Images edition and elaboration of plates in GIMP: Jorge M. Valdez-Carrasco.

Second configuration: photograph of genital structures 

(Fig. 3-4)

The second setup is intended for taking pictures of much smaller structures (about 400-2000 µm) and requires fitting a microscope objective. It shares parts 1 and 2 with the first setup, as well as the camera, extension tubes, and lamp or lighting system. Approximately, the whole set weighs 5.6 kg and its cost is between 1097 and 1289 USD depending on the microscope objective that is chosen. The parts that make up this second configuration are the following:

3.1 WeMacro vertical stand. 

3.2 NiSi NM-180 micrometric advance rail. 

3.3 150 mm clamp plate. Plate needed to adapt the macro bellows to the vertical stand. It is made of aluminum, measures 150 mm long and 38 mm wide; weighs 0.094 kg.

3.4 Canon EOS Rebel T7 (EOS 2000D) camera. 

3.5 Macro bellows. Like the extension tubes, the macro bellows is used to alter the minimum focusing distance by extending the distance between the camera body and the lens. The advantage of the bellows over the extension tubes is that it allows to modify that distance in a precise and continuous way, without the need to couple and uncouple tubes of different sizes. The bellows in Fig. 3 has a maximum extension of approximately 13 cm and weighs 0.262 kg.

3.6 Extension tube set. Fig. 3 shows the second configuration of the system with a set of 7 mm, 14 mm, and 28 mm manual extension tubes; the approximate weight of the three tubes is 0.109 kg. 

3.7 Objective adapter ring. Necessary accessory to adapt the microscope objective to the extension tubes. They come in various diameters, but the configuration shown in Fig. 3 uses a 58 mm aluminum adapter ring. 

3.8 10X microscope objective. (*) A microscope objective with a magnification of 10X in the second configuration allows to photograph genital structures with a size between 400 and 2000 µm. An important element to consider when using microscope objectives is the working distance (WD), which corresponds to the maximum distance at which the objective can focus; it is measured from the front lens of the objective and the top of the sample when in focus. The WD decreases as the magnification power of the objective increases. A microscope objective with a larger WD makes it easier to manipulate the sample to place it near the lens, but it is more expensive; the longer the WD, the more expensive the objective. The system in Fig. 3 uses a 10X objective with a WD of 17.7 mm. A 10X objective with a larger WD (e.g., 33.4 mm) can also be used, which makes sample handling more convenient, but increases the cost of the system.

3.9 LED light lamp.

3.10 Syracuse watch glass with the sample. In our laboratory, we frequently make temporary montages in alcohol to photograph genital structures. To do this, we fix the structures in a Syracuse watch glass and add alcohol. Subsequently, we place the sample near the objective, respecting the WD, since the front lens of the objective must not come into contact with the liquid.

Fig. 4 shows the result of photographing the genital structures of a species of Heilipus sp. (Curculionidae: Molytinae: Hylobiini) with the second system setup.

Figure 3. System setup for photographing genital structures: 3.1) WeMacro vertical stand 3.2) Micrometric advance rail 3.3) Clamp plate 3.4) Canon EOS Rebel T7 (EOS 2000D) Camera 3.5) Macro bellows 3.6) Manual extension tube set 3.7) Objective adapter ring 3.8) 10X microscope objective 3.9) LED light lamp 3.10) Syracuse watch glass with the sample.
Photography and edition: Jorge M. Valdez-Carrasco. Plate elaboration: Valentina Díaz-Grisales.

Fig. 4 shows the result of photographing the genital structures of a species of Heilipus sp. (Curculionidae: Molytinae: Hylobiini) with the second system setup.

Figure 4. Sternite VIII, coxites and spermatheca of Heilipus sp. (Curculionidae: Molytinae: Hylobiini).
Photographs, image edition and plate elaboration in GIMP: Jorge M. Valdez-Carrasco.

Additional requirements to capture images in either of the two configurations:

In a future document we will share a manual on  how to use the  equipment to take photographs with the two configurations. 

For doubts, questions, or comments, please contact us via email at

Suggested citation: Valdez-Carrasco JM & V Díaz-Grisales. 2023. A low-cost and portable option for macro photography. Methods in ROSTRUM.

Last updated March 17, 2023