Fun with Tubes

On a whim, I recently purchased a set of extension tubes for my Pentax SFX. For those unfamiliar, these are simple hollow tubes that can be arranged in multiple lengths to set the lens further forward from the film plane. The purpose is to allow closer focusing; a bellows would offer even more adjustability, but would also be more cumbersome and more expensive. The extension tubes are easy to use, especially with normal lenses.

I didn’t really have any intended purpose for these – I actually bought them to bring an Amazon order up to the “free shipping” threshold – so I figured I’d just throw one on the camera with my SMC-A 50/2, put in a roll of film (Fuji Superia 200), and see what happened. The results were interesting to say the least.

Pentax SFX, Pentax SMC-A 50/2, Fuji Superia 200
Pentax SFX, Pentax SMC-A 50/2, Fuji Superia 200

There were some odd color casts in some frames. I’m not really sure what this is due to – it could be gross overexposure, which is possible as the tubes do cause some light loss and I think the camera’s meter was overcompensating (I was shooting in aperture priority, not knowing exactly how to set things up with these), or it could be internal reflections (the inside surfaces of the tubes are shinier than they should be). Whatever the case, some frames were better desaturated to black-and-white.

Pentax SFX, Pentax SMC-A 50/2, Fuji Superia 200 (desaturated)
Pentax SFX, Pentax SMC-A 50/2, Fuji Superia 200 (desaturated)

Where the color was good, though, it was really good. The tubes allow you to focus so closely that colors that are otherwise not particularly visible come into play. It’s worth noting that the color frames shown here were not adjusted in any way except to remove dust, and none of the photos was otherwise altered – the effects you see are as they are on the negatives.

Pentax SFX, Pentax SMC-A 50/2, Fuji Superia 200
Pentax SFX, Pentax SMC-A 50/2, Fuji Superia 200

These were all shot between f/2 and f/4. The depth-of-field is paper thin, and the out-of-focus areas dissolve very quickly. There’s a softness almost like an impressionist painting in some shots, particularly in those taken wide open. The lack of sharpness that comes from minuscule movements of the subject and camera, as well as using large apertures, is in some ways an asset here – the look would not gain anything from being razor-sharp, and it might well lose something. It was a fascinating experiment, and one that will be repeated soon. Well worth the price of admission.


5 thoughts on “Fun with Tubes

  1. I use extensions tubes a lot on the Hasselblad even for portraits and I remember that “back in the days”, when I was in college, I had something for my Nikon called and inversion ring which allows the lens to be mounted the other way around on the camera body and thus taking advantage of the huge magnification.

    It’s fascinating to see the world like this. Love the pictures and I agree, the softness really helps the dreamy feel.

    Please forgive my poor English.

    1. Nothing at all wrong with your English; frankly, it’s better than a lot of native speakers.

      I’ve heard about inversion rings – I wonder how the magnification compares with the various tube lengths (the set I got has 7, 14, and 28mm rings). Time for a little more research….

      Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed the photos.

    1. Well, it all depends on what you want to achieve. Certainly, there are more clinical ways to go about using extension tubes (and pretty much any other photographic technique), but as I noted in the original post, the soft, Impressionistic look works for me. I’m not really after sharpness, especially in what for me is an experimental technique, and one I don’t use very often at that, so I’m happy enough to just throw the aperture open, fire away, and see what turns up.

      Your comment reminds me to dig out my extension tubes – the leaves are changing and there might be some opportunities to be had.

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