This isn’t a big technical review with side by side comparisons and specific tests. In fact I should’ve taken notes while shooting some of these over the course of a few weeks (metadata is useless in this case since it won’t reflect the changes in focal length) but I was busy and basically just messing around in my spare time. So in a lot of cases I’ve forgotten what setup I was using; sorry about that. But, I did enough of that messing around to see the benefits of these realitively new offerings from Fujifilm.
Extension tubes do exactly what their name says: they extend the lens further away from the image plane. Unlike converters, there’s no glass involved here, just physics and distance coming into play. But it’s amazing how such minute differences can impact what a lens can achieve.
The MCEX–11 and MCEX–16 are, respectively, 11mm and 16mm macro extension tubes built specifically for the XF lenses—they have electronic connections that allow the use of AF and aperture control, and they can be stacked for even more extension magic. What do they look like? Well, I did some homemade product shots below just for kicks: XF 60mm f2.4R with the MCEX–11 used on #3 and #4. For those of you who might be interested, I used an Elinchrom strobe with barn doors and a very close-up speedlight/Orbis ring flash combo for fill.
I was eager to test these on the 56mm lens to see how it would improve the focussing distance and it’s impressive: the lens goes from a working distance of 612mm to 181mm with the MCEX–11 and 138mm with the MCEX–16. Which allows for these kinds of off the cuff images:
That’s with the MCEX–11, at f2.5 on the first three and f5 on the last one.
Next, I did a few tests with the good old XF 35mm f1.4R and a few more with the 60mm and my dad's old Yashica. On the first series—the beautiful level I picked up from our toolbox—from left to right you're looking at the 35mm lens with: 1) no tube 2) MCEX-113) MCEX-16 4) MCEX-11 and MCEX-16 stacked. I don't remember what I did on those Yashica images but obviously, various levels of magnification.
SO, MAGIC BULLET?
No. Because it’s important to remember that there are major trade-offs to using an extension tube. The macro range isn’t added to the lens, it replaces what the lens can usually do; The actual focus distance becomes limited to the macro range of the extension tube. The longer the extension, the more limited it becomes. Essentially: infinity is gone. You put this on to take macro shots and that’s it; the lens becomes incapable of focussing on anything outside of that range. In the images below for example, where I just decided to roam around the house using both tubes stacked together on the 35mm lens (because I could), I could not move more than a few inches without entirely losing the ability to focus. Another thing: more often than not, AF is also very hard to work with. It’s there, technically, but I found manual focus to be a much better option 99% of the time. Too much hunting otherwise, at least on the lenses I tested these with. Milage may vary.
So yes, there are caveats. But: it’s a lot of fun. Plus, it transforms any lens into something else entirely, opening up yet more visual possibilities. For what it’s worth, I found the 11mm option to be the most versatile of the two, specifically because it’s shorter, making it less limited in terms of focus range. So if you’re just looking to play with these and can’t afford both, I’d personally consider getting the MCEX–11 as a way to test the waters.
You can find more info about both here.