Article by Ron Brinkmann
Hard-core macro shooters spend a lot of bucks on specialized gear – dedicated macro lenses, complex tripod rigs, custom flash setups. But before you go down this route whole-heartedly, it might make sense to look at low-cost options that can give you a good feel for whether or not you enjoy this sort of thing. And a really nice and reasonably-priced (at least relative to a new lens) way to dip your toes in the water is to get yourself a set of extension tubes.
These tubes work in conjunction with an existing lens – I usually use them with my 50mm prime – and basically just move the lens a fixed additional distance away from the sensor, thereby shortening the focusing distance. The net result is that you can get close-up ‘macro’ images. The longer you push the lens out the closer you can focus, which is why extension tubes usually come in a set of 3. You can use any combination of the 3, or all 3 together, to get a variety of different magnification amounts.
There are several different flavors of these things but since there’s no glass involved I’m not particularly convinced that the more expensive brand-name ones (i.e. directly from Canon or Nikon) are really any better than the Pro Optics or Kenkos. (I bought the Kenko’s a few years back… but can’t remember specifically why I got them instead of the Pro Optics).
They do force you to manually focus, but with macro work that’s often a good idea anyway. And of course once you start playing with these you’ll really start to get a good feel for how critical depth-of-field is with this type of shooting.