For the longest time I have had a couple of macro lenses sitting on my wishlist, but still have not coughed up the money. However, I did discover an attractive alternative - extension tubes. I decided on the Kenko Macro Extension tubes.
Extension tubes work by basically moving the lens farther from the sensor, which changes the minimum focal distance of the lens. I decided on the above extension tubes because they have Canon-compatible electronics that allow the autofocus functions of the lens to continue working.
I have used the tubes on a few different lenses, but have found I like them best in conjunction with my 50 mm prime lens. The zoom lenses were a bit more complicated because each time you change the zoom, you change the focal point and the extension tubes give you extremely shallow depth of field.
Here is one of my first attempts, using my 70-200 mm lens:
Lens: Canon 70-200 mm L
Focal Length: 145 mm
Shutter Speed: 3.2s
Mode: Aperture Priority, +1/3 EV
Notice that at an aperture of F14, not much of the flower is actually in focus - the total depth of field is less than a quarter of an inch.
This second photo is using my 50mm prime lens:
Lens: Canon 50 mm
Shutter Speed: 1/60s
Mode: Aperture Priority, -1/3 EV
This second one I did clean up a bit in Photoshop CS6 - otherwise right in the center of the iris was a great reflection of me holding the camera ... at this scale, it was pretty distracting. I also had to crank the ISO way up in order to get a shutter speed that I could handhold the camera at.
In both cases I was right on top of the subject - with the end of the lens only a few inches from the subject. The cool thing with the extension tubes is that you can adjust your focal distance (and "macro" distance) by using a combination of extension tubes. The above Kenko kit has three tubes: 12 mm, 20 mm, and 36 mm. If you put all three on, your optimal focal distance becomes so short it means you're going to be extremely close to your subject (as if a few inches was not close enough).
I really like these extension tubes because for a relatively low price you can add capability to your existing lens kit. I'm sure with some practice I could get the hang of using them with a zoom lens, but in the meantime using them on a prime lens is good enough. There are some that are less expensive, but they often do not have the electronic contacts that allow for use of autofocus.
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