I’m sure most of you have considered a macro lens at some point in your photographic journey, the idea of getting up-close-and-personal with flowers, insects and other fine details is a lure that afflicts many.
For many the cost of a dedicated macro lens is a substantial outlay, often running into several hundred pounds, a hard pill to swallow for something you may not use all that often, but luckily there are some cheaper alternatives that while not as good as a dedicate macro lens, offer much closer magnification without the cost.
First up is the simplest solutions of all, a close-up filter. This is simply an extra filter that screws onto the front of your lens and allows you to get a little closer to your subject:
I used Scooby Doo as my model and focused on the eyes, clicking on the image below you can see how close I can get with and without the additional close-up filter,
As you can see, a modest but welcome increase in magnification. The downside to these filters is that they are dependent on the thread size of your lens, so if you change lenses you may not be able to use the filter any more if the new lens uses a different thread size, plus you are also introducing new glass into your equipment so the quality of the filter will directly affect the quality of the final image.
If you are willing to spend a little more, extension tubes are probably a better solution. These tubes include no glass and so the image quality is purely dependent on your lens, all they do is move the lens further away from the body and this is what allows you to get close to your subject.
Some tubes are extremely simple and offer no connection between body and lens, effectively turning any lens into a manual focus lens (not necessarily a huge issue as many macro photographer exclusively use manual focus) but others such as mine shown below keep the electronic connection between body and lens which allows you to retain auto-focus.
Again using Scooby Doo as my trusty model, click on the image to see with-and-without images... as you can see, when using the tubes I managed to get so close that it blocked out most of the light!
In the real world, here is a little bug that I found in my garden one day. and to give you an idea of scale, the entire bug was only 2-3cm long.
This shot was taken with my Panasonic GX7, with extension tubes mounted on the 45-150mm telephoto lens, and the shot was also quite heavily cropped but there is still plenty of detail to be found.