What do you want to photograph? This is probably the most common response to, “I’d like to give macro a try–what lens should I get?” The reason for this answer is that there really isn’t a simple answer; your equipment needs have a lot to do with your choice of subject. Give it some thought. Having an answer to this question beforehand can wind up saving you a lot of frustration.
The great thing about this question is that there are only three answers: I want to photograph insects (or other small, live subjects, I want to photograph plants (or other non-moving subjects), and I don’t know.
If you plan on photographing insects, working distance is going to be one of your primary concerns. Since insects generally will not allow you to get very close to them, more is usually better. I say usually because there is definitely a point where you can have so much that it becomes very difficult to frame your subject and maintain focus. You’ll want to give some thought to the optics you’d like to use. Mobility (since insects like to move from place to place) is very important to me, so I typically don’t use a tripod. Another thing you’ll want to look into is a flash to freeze subject motion.
Want to photograph plants? Camera support should be something you spend time researching. Since they don’t run away, working distance with plants is not as much of a concern as it is for insects. This means that you can very reasonably give up some mobility in exchange for more stability and the ability to frame your shots exactly as you’d like. A good tripod and some sort of focusing rail might be things to consider.
If you’re not sure what you’d like to photograph, I suggest giving Raynox’s DCR-150 a look (Raynox also makes a higher power verison, the -250). It just clips onto the front of any lens with a filter thread between 52 and 67mm–and is a very affordable way to start exploring what you like to photograph. Once you figure this out, you can start adjusting your setup to better suit your needs.
Know what you’d like to photograph? Awesome! It’s time to start thinking about your optics.