Two Lenses Become One: Stacking Macro Lenses


Reverse coupled macro photography offers the ability to mix and match a variety of lenses. This post specifically discusses the advantages and hindrances when stacking Canon’s EF 100mm macro lens and EF 50mm macro lens.

Let’s delve into the details, shall we?


A Matter of Limitations


Two macro lenses can be stacked together: take a look and see for yourself.


Attach adapter to lens


See? It’s not a matter if they are able to be attached—it’s a matter of practicality.

What would you use a set-up like this for? Think about it. The magnification increase creates a slurry of potential problems:


  1. Depth is shallow (even when imaging at f/32).

  2. The added weight may hinder potential photographic opportunities.

  3. The Canon EF 50mm Macro exhibits minor color fringing.

  4. Focusing may have a slight learning curve.

  5. Constricted angle of view.

  6. Dim image

  7. Possible Vibration / camera shake.

  8. Close proximity working distance.

  9. Vignetting (dark corners)


Parading around the world with this optical duo takes practice, but it can be done.


The Way of the Glass


Despite the hindrances—it’s possible to stack and use these two macro lenses. You will most likely develop your own photographic system, however, there are a few tricks, which will make the process easier. The idea is to be aware of the issues and do whatever it takes not to exaggerate them. Got that?


  1.  Vibration / Camera shake


Camera shake is a common issue regarding any form of macro photography. Magnification not only magnifies your desired subject, but it also magnifies subtle vibrations: burps, farts, coughs, breathing—no one wants to record these things, right?

stacking together these two lenses comes with is the a built-in monopod. Since the rear element is centered toward the back of the lens, it’s possible to rest the rim of the 50mm upon a particular surface, and use that as extra support. Technically, you can photograph your desired subject with one hand while using the environment as a solid foundation.

If all else fails—break out the pods and remote.

With enough practice, you can shoot as slow as 1/8 second (handheld), assuming you don’t mind not breathing, and you’re resting the secondary lens upon a solid surface. Who needs comfort and oxygen? Certainly not you.

Built In Convenience


Canon’s 50mm macro lens has a special ability—a built in extension-tube-thing.

When reverse mounted on a primary lens, twisting the 50mm barrel extends the length of said barrel, which allows the lens to be placed closer to your desired subject. Extending the barrel introduces a variety of new issues:


  1. Heavy shadows

  2. Lack of light

  3. Strange composition

  4. Too close to subject


The longer the barrel, the more these issues is exaggerated, unfortunately. If the barrel extends too much, then you run the risk of touching your subject with the rear element.

You’ve been warned.



They Call Me Fly, James Fly


I’ll now present to you the major problem with this particular set-up. Keep in mind: what I’m about to show you can easily be avoided, but certainly needs to be understood.

I’ll use a common fly as an example. Let’s take a look:

Nothing too usual, right? Not my best work, but it will still illustrate my point. This image was taken with the primary lens set at 1:1 ratio.  You would think that by twisting the barrel, the image would become less magnified, like a macro lens should work.

Let’s see what happens:

Hmmmwaitdoesn’t that look familiar

They call me Fly, James Fly.

There’s really no need to explain why you shouldn’t ‘zoom out’ with the primary lens. If you don’t mind the nasty vignetting, then feel free to set the primary lens ratio to whatever ratio, as you see fit.

The simple solution: attach the 50mm macro lens and keep the primary lens (Canon 100mm macro lens) at a 1:1 ratio, then don’t touch it.


** Secret Tip **  Use the camera’s self timer and brace yourself before the camera takes the image.


The Magnified View Of Reality


Try not to be discouraged by what you can’t do—pay attention to what is possible. I’ll share a few images, which were all taken with a Canon Rebel XSi, stacked with Canon’s EF USM 100mm macro lens + 50mm macro lens (no flash).

Burned Match Head
Coffee Bean
Coffee Bean
Kettle Cooked Potato Chip
Kettle Cooked Potato Chip
Weird Fly
Cute Spider
Cute Spider
Stink Beetle Portrait
Stink Beetle Portrait
Rain of Leaf
Rain on Leaf


You can look at a few more examples—here.

Are these images pure bullshit? I’ll let you decide.


The Verdict


So, do I recommend that you spend $900, specifically to stack these macro lenses together?


I can’t honestly say that you should, sorry. If the lenses were cheapermaybe. I recommend putting that kind of money toward a single, high quality macro lens. If you can spend $900 on two lenses—why not save an extra $200—and purchase a badass piece of glass? (Say that three times fast!).

Now, if you happen to already own these lenses, then that’s a different story.


IF you fall under that category: read this guide.



Published by FlyTrapMan

I have no idea what I'm doing.

4 thoughts on “Two Lenses Become One: Stacking Macro Lenses

    1. My camera is almost obsolete. Any DSLR made after 2010 out performs the Canon Rebel XSi. Shit — it can’t even shoot video! Talk about being primitive.

      Skill? What skill? No skill here.


  1. The camera I have is automatic when it comes to lens so everthing is built in the camera. Goes up to 258 mm for my camera. Great post and informative!


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