What are extension tubes you ask? They sit between your lens and your camera body, reducing the minimum focus distance of your lens and magnify your images. Long story short, they help create macro images without a macro lens.
Extension tubes have been around for awhile, and often get a bad reputation. I honestly believe they DO have a place in photography, but we also have to be realistic about the pros and cons of using them.
The good …
Macro lenses, like most good lenses, don’t come cheap. Extension tubes, by comparison, are quite cheap. If you wish to dabble with macro photography, but not quick ready to commit, you could purchase a set of extension tubes for about 10% of the cost of a macro lens.
I use Vello extension tubes. When I first switched over to Sony, I had to replace everything, including all my lenses. I just wasn’t sure whether to go for a 90mm or the 50mm macro. But I still wanted to take macro. So I decided to try extension tubes while I tried a few lenses.
The fact that the Vello retains autofocus and auto exposure due to the electronic contacts (some other brands are purely manual focus, so check specifications before purchasing), there are no optics in the tubes and they are lightweight. I love that I can throw them in my pocket and not worry about breaking any glass. I also adore that I can use them on ANY of my Sony lenses, even my 18-200mm. I am super impressed at just how close I can get with my standard lenses.
The bad …
OK, so I am going to be honest here. Focusing even with the autofocus can sometimes be a bit hit and miss. I often use the autofocus to get in close, then fine-tune with the peak meter.
I have the 10mm and 16mm versions — you can use them separately or both together. You can get crazy close to your subject … not ideal when shooting stinging insects or spiders. It’s not great if trying to achieve non-interference with your subject as well. Also, I found they can be fiddly to get on and off at times, especially when you have cold stiff fingers, but that could just be me.
The ugly …
I think my biggest struggle was the focus and depth of field. I guess I was used to picking up my old 90mm macro and jumping straight to f/2.8 or higher and getting my bokeh on. But as it was pointed out to me quite some time ago, having a small subject and range means it is often a lot more difficult to work with such a high F/stop, so I pushed it down to f/9 or even f/11.
It is easier to learn with a larger DOF. This, of course, steals light and when you are working in confined space so close there is often the problem with minimal light and lots of shadows. A macro ring is a huge advantage when using extension tubes.
I think extension tubes are a cost-effective value tool, but I did miss my 50mm micro and 90mm macro (now THAT is a versatile lens). I had a friend who bought the 50mm macro for the same Sony camera. I borrowed it and was so impressed that I bought one too. And don’t forget — you can also put the extension tubes on a macro lens for even more range!