I agree - Macro extension tubes would allow you to use your existing lenses as macro. Be aware though that cheap tubes do not have contacts to allow camera to communicate with the lens. Some expensive ones, such as Kenko Auto Extention Tubes, do ([link]) and allow full auto-focus with the tubes attached. It may or may not be important in this case. I think that for $200 USD the tubes are too expensive, but a used copy may be good to get. I'm looking for one myself.
I'm doing what FSGPhotography suggests. I found [link] on amazon and I'm waiting for them in the mail. I'll be throwing my 50mm F1.8 on the end of that. If I understand things correctly, I'll have about 9inches of working distance and have magnification up to 1.25x.
But, for $22 plus the cost of the lens, it's hard to go wrong. It's probably not as good as using a proper macro, but it's a lot cheaper.
Starting in probably a week I'm likely to start using those extension tubes. Like I said, for the cost it's hard to pass that up, even if you don't have automatic control over anything. Ideally I would have a completely manual lens where I could adjust the aperture manually.
I suggest you take a look at Sigma's 50mm macro lens: [link] (or for lower prices check here: [link] but I don't know the cheaper stores on that list so no guarantees)
I had it for quite some years and really enjoyed it. It's quality is really good it does offer a true 1:1 macro. Extension tubes might be an even cheaper solution but if you are serious about macro I would suggest going with a real macro lens from the start.
The Tamron 90mm 2.8 (the older version) or the Tokina 100mm 2.8...both under €400, both rival, and even beat the Canon L macro (unless you really need IS, or really rugged lens). You could find them both for much cheaper than that if you're willing to buy used.
Otherwise, get a 50mm 1.8 and use a reversing ring, or extension tubes.
Get a 50mm f/1.8 (~£90), and a reversing ring (probably about £5-10 on amazon).
The reversing ring allows you to mount the lens backwards on the camera, so you can focus much closer than you normally could. The 50mm is amazing for the price, and should give you decent photos, as long as your technique is good.
I'd imagine this is the cheapest way to get into macro photography.
Alternatively, you could buy the 50mm and a set of extension tubes (there are various brands - Kenko's are good although not cheap), which will have the same effect as above.
Thanks! I've had a look at the reverse lens technique, and while it is pretty, I find it isn't as good as actually having a macro lens -- not that you can expect that anyway. I'll do some more on the extension tubes. Thanks!
The Tokina 100mm F2.8 is less than €400 and has optical quality that exceeds the Canon equivalent in most tests. Tokina also used to make a 35mm DX macro which was considered one of the sharpest macro lenses ever made and it's price was pretty good as well. The focal length made it kinda weird for macro though.
I doubt you will find a good one for less than €200 though. Maybe a 50mm F1.8 with a reversal mount? ([link])