A picture of my a6000 with both tubes attached to my 50mm f1.8
This is a guest post by Menachem Goldstein. Please contact me (Andrea) at SonyAlphaRumors@gmail.com if you want to publish an article on SAR. Thanks!
Meike Automatic Extension Tube For Sony E-Mount
Note: Although I had planned to do a image quality test of the sony a6000, I realized that I do not have a fair frame of reference, since I don’t own more than a couple bodies. Instead, I have decided to focus on reviewing the lenses and accessories, that are in my possession, at least until my other priorities take over (like, making a living for my family). I have decided to start with a budget accessory which could be quite useful to the owner of an e mount camera. This evaluation will hopefully be helpful to those who are interested in purchasing a product of this genre.
Introduction- Context and Competition:
As followers of the e-mount system lenses are certainly well aware, the line up, at least at the moment, is less than overwhelming. The options for certain lenses simply do not exist, such as a serious macro lens. (This is a somewhat controversial statement, but I feel that this is still very true. The 30mm f3.5 sony macro, although reasonably priced, is a joke. it can only do 1:1 macro magnification at 1 cm, which creates lighting problems that are almost insurmountable, and destroys any possibility of taking macro shots of live subjects. The lack of OSS, a necessity in macro shots, because of the need to step down due to the diminished field of view (especially this close!) only serves to further push this lens out of any serious claim to macro usability.
The Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8M Lens does provide a more compelling argument towards real macro use, as its focusing distance of 6 inches gives some flexibility for the field of view, and the aperture of 2.8 is sharp in the center even wide open, and sharp all around at f4, which is the aperture that you’ll be more likely to use for macro anyway. The lens even stays sharp until f16, at which point diffraction sets in, so this is actually a usable macro lens. There are several things that keep me from actually buying it though. The first is it’s price, $1000 which is way too much for us simple folk to even think about spending on a lens. The second reason is that for $1000 this thing had better be the perfect macro lens, and it isn’t. For starters, the lens is 50mm, which is the bare minimum of acceptability in terms of macro shooting. The ideal macro lens should be (and is, on competing lens systems) 85mm or 105mm, and 50mm is really a compromise in that respect, and I’m not going to compromise at this price point. Secondly, the lens still lacks OSS (I’m not aware of any e-mount Zeiss lenses that do have OSS, but this does not exonerate them, on the contrary, it makes it even more astounding, considering the amount that they charge for their glass). OSS is critical in macro shots, because of the extreme close up nature that is inherent to the art, and also because of the very low apertures that are often necessary to achieve the desired depth of field (which often requires low shutter speeds or a tripod- which is often not an option). The lack of OSS makes this impossible, and this, coupled with the amazingly high price, shoots this lens out of the running, at least for me.
Foreword- Review of the present methodology, and alternatives:
The aforementioned considerations led me back to the days when I was really on a shoestring budget, and I didn’t have the money to even think about getting anything more than my kit lens and a “nifty fifty” for my t3i. I’ve always loved macro photography, and I had to search for extremely cheap options.
This brings me to my current set of reviews, which will cover the two budget ways of getting macro shots, and my review of two products that enable this photographic medium: the macro (or extension) tube, and the macro filter (or diopter). The macro tube that I will be testing is the [shoplink 27494 ebay]meike automatic focus extension tube[/shoplink], which I found to be surprisingly cheap, at only 29 dollars from a seller on amazon, with free shipping (albeit from China, so don’t wait on the edge of your seat for it) It contains two extension tubes, with focal lengths of 10mm and 16mm, which can be stacked for a total of 26mm.. The macro filter, (the Vivitar 49mm Close Up Lens Set +1 +2 +4 +10 – VIV-CL-49, which is also available for only 12 dollars with free shipping from a seller on amazon, at least at the time of this writing), which will hopefully be arriving soon, will be the subject of my second review, again, only if I have the time.
Update: I have received the macro filters, and I will hopefully have a chance to try them out in the coming weeks, at which point I hope to have the time to write a review.
This overview is somewhat truncated in nature, due to time constraints and the reactions that I got to my previous review in the comments section. I know this review is long, but just imagine how much longer it could be ;). For those interested in more in-depth information, if not a little outdated, I will refer you to an excellent article that explores these subjects thoroughly.
The advantages of macro tubes over maco filter lies in the fact that there is no optical element being used to achieve the focal length, so the IQ (image quality) is no less than the lens that is being utilized affords. This advantage cannot be overstated, as the quality of the glass on your lens is almost certainly less than that of the glass on a macro filter, and if you’re paying enough for quality macro filters, you may as well get a dedicated macro lens (and a good cause to give charity to, because evidently you’re loaded, just kidding, I can’t help it sometimes-(unless you really are loaded, in which case I’m not kidding; give some money to charity- helping others is a wonderful thing ;) ). More on this in the coming paragraphs (The aspect of IQ, not the virtues of charity :D). Lastly, extension tubes do not need to be appropriately fitted to the filter size of each lens, as it mounts to the camera body itself. Thus, one might have a secondary body to which they can affix any lens as needed, and have a dedicated macro camera.
The disadvantages include a loss of light entering the sensor, which has to do with the increased focal length resulting from the extension tube, as well as the way that aperture is measured, but we’re not going there today, instead look at the article linked to above for some head spinning mathematical explanation. Additionally, this lens setup can be cumbersome if one is planning on using the lens without the extension tubes, because switching the tubes out involves exposing the sensor of the camera during the trade out process, which is subject to varying amounts of paranoia/concern on the part of the camera owners when doing this on the fly (i.e. outside during a walk).
The second option is the macro lens, which, in converse to the first option, involves an inherent degrade in IQ, which is multiplied by the amount of filters, as well as the strength of those filters.
The glass is not as clean as the glass in your lens (see above) and even if it is, the lens architecture is not designed to accommodate additional glass on the end, which contributes to the degradation.
The advantages of the macro filter method include the camera having accurate exif info, as the focal length is not changing, rather only the minimum focus distance of the lens. Additionally, it is far easier to change a filter, which only requires unscrewing it from the thread of the lens, than it is to switch out the lens, as mentioned above. This would be relevant to those who only shoot with one camera body (i.e. most of us).
I should mention that there is technically a third way of getting macro shots out of your existing lenses, but I do not consider it a viable option. It is possible to achieve a macro effect by reversing the polarity of the lens; that is, to mount the lens on the camera backwards. The lens can be secured in this position by means of tape or a dedicated adapter ring, but the disadvantages of this setup are numerous and severe. It is not within the purview of this article to discuss this method at length, so I will suffice by saying that no electronic connection between the lens and the camera is possible with this method, rendering the process of taking a picture cumbersome in the extreme.
Review: The Meike Automatic Extension Tube
First Impressions- Packaging:
The impression that I got from the packaging was underwhelming, to say the least. Not because of the tastelessly designed packaging, as it’s not the packaging that counts, it’s the product. It also wasn’t the lack of any type case to hold the extension tubes, which, although I would have appreciated it, could be forgiven at this price point. The instructions, which had grammar that looked straight out of google translate, is also par for the course at this price point, and I was just thankful that I could deduce the meaning of the directions at all. Instead, my consternation concerned the the dust that was found all over the tubes, both inside and out. Getting dust inside the lens barrel is an easy way to get dust on the sensor, which can potentially be a large hassle to remove, and will affect your pictures until you do. This level of thoughtlessness is unforgivable at any price point, and I would not spend $29 to ruin my $650 camera. Any company that produces accessories for expensive items is obligated to make sure that their accessories do not damage the item that it is supposed to enhance, and the lack of Nevertheless, I used a can of compressed air to remove the offending dust, and continued with my review.
The extension tubes seem to be made of medium quality plastic, and while they do feel somewhat hollow, I would not be concerned about mounting a heavier lens at the end of the tubes, even when they are stacked together.
While not overly impressed with their quality, I can at least say that they are very much in line with what I would expect from a $29 piece of kit.
Once I had mounted the extension tube onto the camera, I got my favorite lens, the 50mm f1.8, and mounted it on the tube. As I was threading on the lens, though, I felt the contacts of the tube scrape against the contacts of the lens. It wasn’t a harsh sensation, but it was definitely different from the smooth feeling of the native mount of the camera body. I definitely felt that I would hesitate before swapping lenses off of the tube on a regular basis. It was probably a difference of a few micrometers, but the fact remains that the machining of this equipment could be more precise, and I would not advise anyone to change the lenses on the tube very often.
The IQ of the pictures was as excellent as the lens, which is only to be expected on an accessory that has no optical elements to it. The relatively matte black surface of the tubes effected a shooting experience that was not marred by any unwanted flares, which does speak to at least some forethought on the part of Meike, (although it could also just be a happy coincidence).
A nice macro shot of a flower. If I recall correctly, this was taken with only the 10mm ring attached.
The autofocus system on the camera, however, seemed to be confused, as it thought it was communicating with a 50mm lens at a minimum focus distance of 15.36 inches, when in fact the lens was now a 76mm with a much shorter minimum focus distance (>4”), although I couldn’t calculate it, because of the challenge of attaining proper focus at all. With both tubes stacked, the lens became very difficult to focus, even at smaller apertures, and I had to resort to using my hands to position the camera at the distance which was in focus, and take the pictures at that distance. I switched to manual focus, (the distance indicators were no longer accurate) and I was able to attain a reasonable level of productivity, but the focusing performance was disappointing nonetheless.
A nice abstract macro shot that I took, using the reflected light off of the bottom of a dessert cup
With a single tube attached, performance increased dramatically (note: this entire review was based on an a6000 body using the 50mm f1.8 lens). The 10mm tube gave me all of the macro ability that I needed, and let the camera focus reasonably. The 16mm tube pushed the camera a little further, but still gave me usable autofocus. With both tubes however, I did notice a bit of back focusing, at a rate that was enough to visibly affect my IQ. This backfocusing was still well within the range of a quick correction using the DMF (Direct Manual Focusing) on my camera, and I was still able to take great shots, using the original composition that I had intended to use from the outset. (This is as opposed to the use of the stacked tubes, whereing the focus was too far off for me to effectively use DMF, and I had to resort to moving the camera to the intended point of focus, resulting in a different composition).
I do have one point of merit for the Meike system, and that is the electronic connections (excluding their fit, which has been discussed above). Although I was not able to test this in a definite manner, I will hypothesise that the a6000 is able to use its phase detection autofocus system while the tubes are mounted, for two reasons. Firstly, the camera was able to focus at a speed that suggested the use of a faster focusing system. Secondly, the backfocusing that I experienced seemed to be indicative of a miscalculation of a distance, which is something that is particular to a phase detect system (;a contrast detect system would try to attain the highest contrast between the individual pixels in the focusing point). The optical stabilisation worked without issues, and the auto-focusing was at least present, and even usable to some degree.
Overall, I would say that the performance when using both tubes together rendered the camera almost unusable, at least using the focal length that I had chosen. The use of one tube, especially the 10mm, would be acceptable for inanimate or slow moving objects. Fast moving objects are a challenge, but I was able to get at least one such pictures that was only slightly out of focus using the 10mm lens, so it’s not impossible.
A macro shot of one of my disc weights: note the extremely shallow depth of field.
I feel that it is also appropriate to comment on the design of the extension tubes. Although one would be correct in assuming that it is not terribly difficult to design what is essentially a plastic pipe with some metal contacts running through the inner wall, Meike has seen fit to disagree. Although design is definitely a matter of personal opinion and taste, and I respect those who disagree with me, I do feel that Sony puts significant effort into creating a common design language among their mirrorless cameras, and Meike has strayed from that considerably. When I look at modern Sony Alpha mirrorless bodies, I see smooth, understated lines, and a compact, minimalist discipline (although you may feel differently, and I am not saying this objectively). The Meike tubes have a similar smoothed, matte black finish, but the larger, gaudy lettering feels out of place when mounted to the camera. I realize that it’s hard to be picky about these kinds of things when you’re at this price point, but I feel that this design decision could have easily been made correctly at Meike, but was instead ignored. Additionally, I would imagine that photographers, who are usually people who appreciate beauty and aesthetics, would want to be aware of this before they purchase this accessory.
In summary, I feel that the Meike extension tubes leave much to be desired in design, packaging, and performance. The notion of a low end accessory potentially causing permanent damage to a camera or lens is an absolute deal breaker for me, and I cannot recommend it for that reason alone. The performance issues, as well as the flawed design, only serve to strengthen my impression of this product as one that was both ill conceived and badly executed.
I think that it would be helpful to break this review down into a score, to serve as a quick reference for those who need one.
Value: 5% – Has potential to cause damage to your equipment
Performance: 35%- Excellent IQ, significant focusing issues
Build Quality: 70%- The plastic is adequate to the task
Verdict: Not Recommended