In terms of bang-for-the-buck, there are two pieces of gear that have blown all the others out of the water. The one that I can recommend to every photographer is extension tubes. Macro photography is a blast. It’s ridiculous amounts of fun, a rewarding, never-ending source of challenge, and an eye-opening look at nature.
But macro lenses are pricy. I’ve seen some good prices on used Nikon 55mm Ai Micros (Nikon calls their macro lenses micro. Don’t ask why, ’cause I’ve yet to hear a good explanation from them.), but the standard, the 105mm micro, is pretty pricy. The even-more pricy 200mm f/4 is a glorious thing to behold, and Tamron’s remarkably reasonably priced 180mm f/3.5 is still around 64,000 yen at the big camera chains. The Kenko extension tubes are currently priced at about 18,000 yen, and, because there’s no glass in them at all, they won’t hurt your image quality. You will lose your ability to focus on things far from the camera, but when checking out Ms. Jumper Spider, you won’t notice that.
One key thing is that, believe it or not, the Kenko tubes are better than the Nikon Tubes. It appears that Canon’s tubes are modernized, with the contacts necessary for auto-focus to work, but Nikon’s do not. If you’re shooting Nikon, then Kenko is the way to go. The major drawback of the Nikon tubes are that the G lenses, the ones without an aperture ring, will be stuck on the tiniest aperture, unless you’re feeling brave, and are handy with a paperclip. I haven’t seen any Sony-branded tubes, but Kenko has you guys covered as well.
If you want to get nuts, you can always throw them all on a macro lens, and get super-up-close-and-personal. This hawk moth was hanging out on my door one night, so I stuck him in a glass box, and threw all three of my Kenko tubes, and my Nikon tube onto my camera, behind my 105mm micro. As I mentioned, this made me lose my aperture control, which wasn’t a concern to me, because, even at f/64, the depth of field was crazy thin. To get this shot, I needed my camera on a tripod, lens almost right up against the glass, and then two hotshoe strobes, placed over and under the lens. I think that dazed and confused would probably be a fair way of describing this poor guy when I put him back on my door after his modeling debut. Sadly, I’m sure that the time it took me to edit and publish the shot was longer than his lifetime, so his modeling gig didn’t even help him with the lady bugs.