Entering the world of macro photography, you’ll face a surprisingly wide variety of lens choices as you continue researching one of the most challenging, yet rewarding genres of photography.
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Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 VC USD
- 1:1 Reproduction Ratio
- Image Stabilization
- Rounded Aperture
Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM
- Affordable Price
- Image Stabilization
- Small & Light
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro IS USM
- 1:1 Reproduction Ratio
- Image Stabilization
- 100mm Good For Portraits Too
Any of the lenses included below, as well as many others, are capable of producing high quality images.
The choices below offer value, quality and impressive flexibility. There aren’t any poor selections here, but how you plan to use your new lens is critical.
Best Overall | Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 VC USD
With a longstanding reputation as a cutting edge optics firm known for the precision and quality of their work, Tamron is a favorite of many photographers.
This 90mm EF mount selection features a 1:1 ratio for true-to-scale representation. Additionally, this focal length also works well with portraiture, adding to its value. The glass is coated to repel both water and fingerprints, as well as to reduce lens flares and other distortions. Their use of a circular aperture helps provide images captured with this lens an appealingly blurred background (bokeh).
It also features an image stabilization system paired with a silent, fast focusing motor with a floating glass design in a dust-resistant package. At this focal length, the minimum focusing distance is rated at 11.8 inches. It uses 62mm filters, has a 27-degree angle of view with full-size formats, and weighs 21.5 ounces. Tamron also includes a six-year warranty.
Having a Tamron as the best overall option in a list of lenses for Canon users was not expected when this began, but as research continued it became clear it deserved it. You have to admit that’s a really nice lens for a great price. It’s why so many veteran photographers love Tamron. If nothing else, it shows how many options modern photographers enjoy.
It’s a flexible, well regarded and affordably priced macro lens that’s right in the sweet spot of focal length, cost and capabilities.
Budget Option | Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM
This option may be budget friendly, but it’s not short on great features. For example, this lens will give you built-in ring lighting with individual control over the left and right sides, as well over as the light’s intensity.
While 35mm means you’ll have a closest focusing distance of roughly five inches, a challenge with some aspects of nature photography, the classic 35mm format also means it’s going to work well as a versatile option for a wide variety of other situations.
Also offering image stabilization and auto-focus systems, this choice weighs in at a mere 6.7 ounces and was engineered to be a compact addition to your gear bag. And for those who enjoy shooting video as well as macro photography, the focusing servos were designed with you in mind. They offer smooth, silent operation along with full-time manual focusing capabilities.
This lens takes 49mm filters and design features also include a circular aperture for pleasing bokeh and a 42 degree diagonal angle of view at 35 feet.
High End Option | Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 Macro USM
Priced at $1,399 on Canon’s website and tipping the scales at 2.4 pounds, this one will hit both your wallet and your gear bag. But the longer focal length means a 1.6 foot closest focusing distance which will let you have an easier time capturing wary subjects at a life size 1:1 ratio.
Utilizing their USM auto-focusing system and a floating glass design, this Canon will lock in your subjects with a beautiful clarity. With its heft and lack of an image stabilization system it will be helpful to have a tripod involved in your shoots. Along with its macro performance, this lens also performs well when taking advantage of its focal length in other situations.
It’s 7.3 inches in length, takes 72mm filters and has a 13 degree diagonal angle of view at 30 feet. Even in five-star reviews of this lens there are mentions of the weight felt from carrying this one around, so, you’ve been warned.
Runner-Up | Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro IS USM
This is Canon’s first mid-telephoto macro lens to include image stabilization capabilities, which, combined with the image quality, makes it another excellent choice for Canon macro shooters.
When working with the small subject areas associated with macro photography, any help to minimize camera movement is a valuable addition. In addition to manual focusing, it also features Canon’s Ultrasonic Motor (USM) auto-focusing system and a floating glass design. Fans of this lens are quick to point out its focusing speed and are also appreciative of the blurred backgrounds the f/2.8 maximum aperture can create.
This focal length has a minimum focusing distance of nearly one foot, allowing nature photographers to maintain some distance between their lens and subjects. You’ll also find it works well as a portrait lens, adding to its value and worthiness of a spot in your gear bag.
It provides a 1:1 image ratio, takes 67mm filters, has a 23.4 degree diagonal angle of view and comes with a one year warranty. At 22 ounces, it’s not necessarily a lightweight lens, but it is a worthwhile weight to carry and fans love the speed and accuracy of the focusing.
Runner-Up | Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro
When learning about macro photography you’ll see countless mentions of 1:1 image ratios. Now imagine how much fun could be had with a 5:1 magnification ratio. A significant investment at $1,049 on Canon’s website, it’s an EF mount, manual focus only lens with a floating glass system.
The closest focusing distance is 9.6 inches, which isn’t too bad for those hoping to capture the smaller members of wildlife. That’s a workable challenge, and the results of having that much magnification power could be stunning. If you can fill your frame with the face of a bumblebee there will be some incredible details revealed. That’s just the thing to help justify buying another lens and feel great while doing it.
However, a word of caution; if you’re new to macro photography, the learning curve with this lens will probably be steeper than a standard 1:1 macro lens.
It takes 58mm filters, weighs 25.8 ounces and is compatible with Canon’s macro lighting systems.
What to Look for in a Macro Lens
Usually a larger maximum aperture is desirable because it helps create the blurred backgrounds that are visually appealing. But in macro photography you usually need to close your aperture some in order to create a greater depth of field, so it’s not as much of a factor in this genre.
And most lenses will offer similar, carefully engineered features such as floating glass construction and coatings to reduce flares and eliminate chromatic aberrations. Overall quality won’t be a problem, but there are some helpful features to have in your lens, as well as some other specifications to consider before purchasing a lens.
This is a feature that can’t be overlooked when so many lenses offer it. When working in nature with a hand-held camera while up close and with a frequently moving target, image stabilization will be an invaluable asset to helping you get the image you want. A tripod will still likely be the surest route to stability, but you can’t always work like that.
This won’t be a hard feature to find, especially if image stabilization is included, and a sharp, fast focusing system is always appreciated. However, one of the many challenges involved with macro photography is that when you’re working so closely with your subject it can cause the focal point to jump from area to area, or “hunt”. Usually this can be resolved by just moving back a bit, or, a single point can be pre-selected. Some macro photographers choose to work around this issue by focusing manually, so the lack of an auto-focusing system doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker.
Closest Focusing Distance
The shorter the focal length, the closer you’ll be able to focus on your subject. If you’ll be working in a studio with a 35mm lens and a piece of jewelry, it won’t be an issue to be within a few inches of your subject. But, if you were trying to capture a macro portrait of a wasp you’d surely appreciate the extra space a 100mm lens would allow.
This is an easy one. It may not be the deciding factor in which lens you ultimately choose, but gear bags get heavy and shoulders get sore when you’re out all day. Length can be another consideration in this area where certain gear bags are concerned.
A surprising bonus with macro lenses is they all have situations outside of their intended genre in which they excel. Some help create great portraits, and others video work. Longer focal lengths can also work as telephotos. It could be helpful to consider where a certain lens excels when considering which lens to purchase.
Canon has developed multiple lighting rigs for macro photographers. As well as designing lenses with built-in controllable lighting, there’s also a two light package with removable, independently controlled lights. Another uses twin tubes of different types of controllable LED lighting in a ring design to provide beautifully lit images. These provide a convenient and valuable addition to a Canon macro lens and are also compatible with the company’s other lighting systems.
So Which One Do I Pick?
This is by no means a comprehensive list of all macro lenses. It’s a simple group demonstrating a variety of choices across a range of prices.
You could take any lens listed here and get nice shots while enjoying yourself.
The best path to follow is to decide which lens most closely falls in line with what kind of macro photography you’ll be pursuing. And even if you don’t follow that advice, you’re still going to own a great piece of gear that you’ll have a lot of fun with as you explore its potential.
As I said before, as far as modern photography gear goes, you can’t really make a mistake, so try the one that seems like it suits you best and get out there and start shooting.