So the not-so-secret, secret to cheap macro photography are extensions tubes which I have already posted about before here. In this entry I waffle on even more but I'm aware of my waffling so I'm posting the pretty pictures first and a quick summary followed by the more lengthy explanation - which you can feel free to skip :)
Extenson tubes (the quick dot point summary)
* an empty plastic tube placed between your camera body and lens to enable macro capabilities!
* they're cheap as chips (almost!)
* there's a few different types available
* lightweight and small (very portable)
* some trial and error (or well-thought out maths) to find the perfect lens/tube combo to get perfect macro!
THE lengthy a BIT
So I talked about extension tubes before and how you can use them to get a macro effect on a non macro lens. My previous post involved a set of tubes I'd picked up on eBay for not much more than 10 dollars, they were great but they didn't have any electronic sensors meaning the tube didn't speak to my camera body or lens. The main disadvantage with that and what made me step up to the next price bracket was I had to shoot wide open. Normally I love shooting wide open (aka your lenses lowest f/stop aka how you get those nice blurry backgrounds) but with macro it already super blurs the background so having the choice to tone the blur down ended up being super important to me. I should point out that before I heard about extension tubes I was using a set of macro filters, essentially a piece of glass that screw onto your lens. The problem with them is that they can potentially sabotage your photo quality, especially if your using nice glass on your lens and then screwing on a much cheaper macro glass filter!
I'm an extension tube girl all the way. I'd be a macro lens girl all the way but the hundreds of dollars price tag, plus the fact I'd really like to lighten my camera bag not add to it puts me off investing. So for me the extension tube gets a double thumbs up, light, small and cheap. I ended up picking up a no-name electronic 25mm tube for under 30 dollars. Canon has their own tubes (in the 12mm and the 25mm) but at 10 times the cost of mine, I was happy to go the cheap route. Normally I'd say don't do that, go for quality but since extension tubes don't have any glass and are essentially just empty tubes, I'll happily advocate the cheap option this time.
I've been putting off writing this because there is some maths involved and if I'm being perfectly honest, maths isn't my strong point. From what I can gather the tubes enable your lens to be further away from the focal plane/body which is good because it means your lens can focus more closely and thus allows macro capabilities. An important thing to note here is that you'll get different effects depending on which size lens you use your tube with. I found with my 24mm lens the 25mm tube was useless, my lens was almost touching the object and still not able to be in focus. A little reading here told me this was because the tubes reduce the len's minimum focus distance and for some wide lenses the tubes actually pull there minimum focus distance back inside the lens *gasp*. That site also mentioned that the "effectiveness of extension tubes decreases as focal lengths increase". I noticed this when I put the tubes on my 135mm lens compared to the photos I was getting when I used my 50mm lens (which was the winner in my opinion). I was also reading about people playing around with their tubes and stacking them to create the perfect focal length for their particular size lens. As I said a bit of maths or for us non-maths peeps a bit of playing around with lenses to get the best combo!
One complaint with extension tubes is they do eat/consume a lot of light. I took these photos on a nice sunny day so I didn't encounter an exposure issues but just something to be aware of. If you're a serious macro kid, investing in a macro lens may turn out to be your best option, but for people like me who just want the ability to do macro once in a blue moon and for nothing too serious - a big vote for the extensions tubes from me to you!
I realised these shots I took in Ben's Mum's garden don't properly display the macro capabilities of the 25mm extension tube so here is my previous flower entry with some slightly better (more macro!) examples :)