Punks of Macro | XF 56mm & XF 90mm with Fujifilm MCEX-11/-16 Extension Tubes

 MCEX-11 & MCEX-16, shot with the XF 90mm @ f/2 and its minimum focusing distance. 

MCEX-11 & MCEX-16, shot with the XF 90mm @ f/2 and its minimum focusing distance. 

Now my Fuji gear is mostly portrait work oriented and for that purpose I own the XF 56mm and the XF 90mm. With a X100S as a complementary wide angle view I feel pretty good covered. In terms of "getting close": Due to the superior nature of the XF 90mm (better minimum focusing distance, shallower depth of field, even sharper) over the XF 56mm I also use it for close-ups like the picture above. Or the one below.

 Lily, shot with the XF 90mm @ f/8

Lily, shot with the XF 90mm @ f/8

I've never invested time into serious macro-photography. I talk about the truly sensational images of flies, spiders and all sorts of animals that turn into lethal aliens by the magic of focus stacking photography. So if you dead serious about this genre those extension tubes might not deliver the results you're looking for.  

As for my part I'm more a shooter of "punk macro". Which means that I'm looking for a quick option to extend my already existing and well known equipment to shoot - most of the time handheld - images that are pretty much intuitive and spontaneous yet a bit closer than the normal reach of the lens. Because of that I never felt the need to get me a macro-lens or any of those weird macro-focusing-rails and I just played around with focus stacking in a trail version of Helicon Focus (though this software seems to be instant fun and delivers great results). 

Enter: Fujifilm MCEX-11 and MCEX-16 Macro Extension Tubes

I first bought the MCEX-16 and used it primarily on the XF 90mm. After reading in Patrick La Roque's excellent blog about the more versatile MCEX-11 I also ordered the shorter tube. Recently I tested both tubes on the XF 56mm. Until then if favored the XF 90mm since this lens is just unbelievable sharp. Seriously! It's pure madness how sharp this lens is! Anyways. To my surprise all the math behind the usage of those tubes adds up to one result: From my point of view the XF 56mm outperforms the XF 90mm in terms of minimum focusing distance and its overall handheld usability. And in this case the little less sharpness of the XF 56mm is just negligible. I'm pretty sure for the experienced macro-photographer those results are evident the moment they read the corresponding table on the Fujifilm website. For everybody who - just like me -  has problems to imagine the real word results behind the math of the tubes here is a little - not very scientific - test. The state of the art setup: Avocado seedling with a sophisticated backdrop and some daylight (for scaling reasons everything next to a X100S):


 Avocado seedling, backdrop out of black cardboard and for scaling reasons my X100S. Shot with the XF 90mm @ f/2

Avocado seedling, backdrop out of black cardboard and for scaling reasons my X100S. Shot with the XF 90mm @ f/2

I shot the avocado seedling with the XF 56mm and the XF 90mm each with the MCEX-11, the MCEX-16 as well as the both of them stacked. For each combination I checked the minimum focusing distance (meaning: "you can't get any closer to the seedling") and the maximum focusing distance (meaning: "you can't get any further away from the seedling"). To each pair there is also a 100 % zoomed in view. In the end I added two macro shots, one with the X100S (23mm) itself and one with the TCL-X100 teleconverter lens attached (33mm) to the X100S. And since I'm very lazy I didn't use my tripod and shot everything handheld: 

So what's the bottom line?

First of all, if you a proud owner of a X100: Go keep it simple and try your X100 first! I bet - as I still do from time to time - you totally underestimate the ability of this little wonder machine. OK, I produced some nasty lens flare at 23mm but that's more a result of the setup and my angle to the subject than a real issue of the X100. And check the so-called soft TCL on the X100. I think the result holds up pretty remarkable against the more sophisticated combinations.   

Second: As long as you don't have a bright lit subject with detailed contrasts don't even bother to use the autofocus. Focus manual once and than use your back/butt/hip to get your subject in and out of focus. In very tricky situations you can activate the drive mode of your camera and shoot through your slow movement towards the subject. Usually this will give you at least one picture where you caught the focus in the right place. That's of cause if you are also a lazy punk and shoot this kind of pictures handheld. If you use a tripod get yourself some nasty macro-focusing-rails because otherwise you have to scratch your tripod over the floor to find the minimum focusing distance and this - trust me - will drive you insane.   

Third: Better to use the XF 56mm in combination with the extension tubes over the XF 90mm. If you're a happy owner of the XF 35mm 1.4 you should give this one a shot as well. The XF 90mm - though I swear on it for regular portrait work - I wouldn't recommend it in combination with the extension tubes. At least not handheld. In particular with the stacked tubes attached and at pretty much every maximum focusing distance it's quiet hard to handle due to the nature of the lens since it's heavier and just longer than the XF 56mm or the XF 35mm.

Fourth: The extension tubes MCEX-11 and MCEX-16 are well build, attach very solid to the camera and to the lens. Yet they seem a bit overpriced considering the quirks with the autofocus, but I guess that's more an issue the camera (XT-1 in my case) has and can't be really blamed on the tubes. For those who wonder: I always use the camera in the high-performance mode that drains the battery in a heartbeat, so the autofocus issues with the tubes seems to be inevitable. Another minor issue: The camera doesn't save any data about the usage of the tubes in the RAWs or JPEGs. If you check your images later on and wonder what tube you were using in a particular picture you will be just lost. Finally Fujifilm doesn't include some lens/mount caps with the tubes. Since dust is always an issue and considering the price of the tubes this is plain-spoken just cheap.  

 So that's about it. In summary I can strongly recommend to give those or similar extension tubes a test drive. You will be surprised how much new photographic options you'll suddenly find within arms reach. If you're very lazy and/or a full-blown misanthrope you don't even have to leave the house to find a fresh and fascinating new look for some of your images.     

Coming up are some random shots I took the last days to exaggerate the practical use of shooting handheld close-ups. Those images are pretty much all straight out of camera JPEGs, developed with the in-camera RAW converter. In Lightroom I just added some meta data, flipped one image over and added once +0,5 exposure value and that's about it.

I hope this helps, for any questions or remarks feel free to drop me some lines. Most of the time you can also find me on Instagram