Extension tubes or ? are best for macro shots with a DSLR

I have a Canon EOS Rebel T3i that I plan to use to shoot animation with.

Nearly all of the subjects I will be photographing will be under 2 inches tall and I need some closeups. I need to get the lens a couple inches from the figures.

However, the best distance that the lenses I have where I can get sharp focus on is 3.6 feet.  I cannot get macro closeups of objects that will be near the lens.

I thought of using extension tubes on my camera.

Would that work well or are their other techniques I can use to get sharp focus on something a couple inches from the lens surface?

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Extension tubes are great, I use them all the time.
You'll just need more light on your scene.

Extension tubes are good but as you can imagine you end up with a very shallow depth of field. It all depends what you want to shoot. If your subject will be moving about you are better off with a light telephoto lens parked some distance away or with a close-up lens in front of your average 50mm lens. Animating is much easier as there is more space between the camera and your subject. It is easier to manipulate your figures without the camera getting in the way. Maybe stating the obvious but just in case, whether extension tubes or other ways make sure to use a remote to trigger the shutter so to eliminate camera movement.

I've just been shooting a scene using a 28mm manual lens attached to my T3i, and was able to focus at about 300mm from the subject. The Nikon 55mm AI lens gets in even closer. Might be worth considering if you need to do a lot of close work.

It's not easy getting depth of focus on really small subjects.  That's why the tilt-shift effect where you take a shot of the city and make the top (distant) and bottom (foreground) blurry will simulate the effect of shooting a miniature from up close.  

Telephoto lenses have a shallower focus than wide angle lenses, but moving really close tends to reduce the depth of focus too, so having the camera further away might make up for it. I will go do a test to see what I get with different lenses, and with/without extension tubes.  I tend to go with the wider lenses when I need a deeper focus, but I'll test it.

The way to get maximum depth from any lens is to stop it down, so start with that.  You will need more light, or a longer exposure, to make up for it.  Brighter lights also helps the live view get brighter, so maybe a bit of both.

The other thing that helps you get a close-up with a DSLR is that the image size is much bigger than HD video, so you can crop it in post to fill more of the screen with your subject.   Just checking on what the T3i is... Ok, the 600d in my country.  Large size is 5184 x 3456 pixels. That's the same as my 7d, so I can use that for the test shots.  Be back soon.

Ah great! 
This is a subject that I was walking around with in my head for a while and thinking of starting a topic. 

So I have been using extension tubes on my nikon lenses for the more extreme close ups. I must say I am really happy with the results! So I would definately advise to purchase the tubes to start with because they are versatile and cost next to nothing second hand.

That beeing said I myself have been wondering what the fundamental difference is between a native macro lens or using tubes on a "regular" lens, apart from losing light?
I would especially like to know if there is anything to gain in the depth of field by using either one of the techniques?

Is there any Photography wizard here that knows the answer?

Sorry about the delay getting back on this - can't find my AC power supply, and the battery was flat.

My close-up rings were too strong - there is a back piece that has a bayonet fitting to fit the Nikon camera mount, a front piece that fits the back of the lens, then you put threaded rings in between, either just one or a stack of them.  But even the thinnest one, combined with the front and back pieces, was too thick and brought the focus so close I couldn't physically get the subject close enough.  The tripod was pushed up against the set, and the subject as close to the edge as I could get it without it falling off, and even on infinity I couldn't focus that far away (about an inch from the front of the lens).  It's the bayonet mounts at each end, with the old threaded lens mounts the thinnest close-up ring only added around 1/4".

So first, a 28mm lens at it's minimum focus distance.  The distance is traditionally measured from the subject to the film plane or sensor, though I had to estimate since it is not marked on the camera body.  The camera mount would be about 1/2 " closer to the subject.  It's not a macro, but goes reasonably close.  You can see the difference in depth of focus between f-8, which is a mid-range setting, and the smallest aperture at f-22.

All images are scaled down so they aren't too huge to upload.  

 

Then, my Nikon 55mm Micro at it's closest focus.  It covers about 30mm of subject height, which would be less when cropped to a 16:9 aspect ratio, and a lot less if you cropped it right down to HD 1920 x 1080.

I also looked at an Olympus 35 - 70 zoom, set at 70mm.  The closest it can focus is 2 feet.  Because it's OM mount, with an adapter to a Canon mount, I couldn't use my Nikon close-up rings at all.  I had to increase the exposure from 2 sec to 3 sec, it's darker and a bit warmer in colour.

Duh... I hate making typos on my images where I can't fix them!  The 28mm was at 2 seconds exposure for the f-22 shot, not 3 sec, that was only for my Olympus lens.  And I typed "fous" instead of "focus" on the 70mm shot.  

I had the same issue w/ 3 ft distance on my old Chinon super8. After having a whole sequence of pretty good stopmo processed out of focus I discovered Close-up Macro Len Filters that screw on to the fixed lens. This was a great and thrifty fix.

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