Capturing the tiniest of subjects in the world can open up a vast area of creativity, which means a macro lens is a highly needed piece of kit. One side benefit of macro lenses is that they can also act as regular focal length prime lenses and, depending on which focal length you choose, they have applications from the widest to the most telephoto ends of the spectrum.
There’s also the question of price, which is why we’re bringing you the best affordable macro lenses, which even at the top-end of the range, provide great value for money considering their scope of abilities. One thing to bear in mind is that a traditional macro lens usually hovers around the 100mm mark, but the focal length choice will also depend on if you want the lens to double up for traditional uses.
Available for a range of popular camera mounts, the Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 VC USD provides great image quality with plenty of useful features. It consists of 14 elements arranged in 11 groups, with two XLD (extra Low Dispersion), one LD element, eBAND and BBAR (Broad-Band Anti-Reflection) coatings.
Other standout features include a VC (Vibration Compensation) image stabilization system, Focus Limiter switch, weather sealing and true macro magnification of 1.0x. This is a high-quality lens offering from Tamron, which is echoed by its image quality and fine detail at the macro level. As a medium priced macro lens, the Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 VC USD can also serve as a respectable portrait lens at this focal length.
The Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro is another mid-priced lens offering, which is available for the most popular lens mounts. This lens features a wide and bright constant f/2.8 aperture, with a 1:1 maximum magnification, and two Special Low Dispersion (SLD) elements to reduce the likes of chromatic aberration, while also increasing image detail.
An optical image stabilizer system has been included to reduce handshake and a floating element system maintains image quality throughout the aperture range. For a mid-priced lens offering, sharpness is better than expected, with only slight edge softness when the aperture is fully wide open. The Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro also displays low amounts of chromatic aberration and lens distortion, making it a good mid-priced option for macro work.
The Nikon AF-S DX Micro NIKKOR 85mm f/3.5G ED VR is one of the top performers for the DX mount, which also hovers around an ideal portrait lens focal length. This lens has a macro reproduction ratio of 1:1, with a close focusing distance of 28.6cm, and VR (Vibration Reduction) to round off the package.
Internally, the optics consist of 14 elements in 10 groups, with one extra low dispersion element, and a Super Integrated coating. Although sharpness levels are acceptable at f/3.5, sharpness across the frame comes into its own from f/5.6-f/8 upwards, which doesn’t present as much of a problem when shooting in macro view.
The smallest of subjects have plenty of detail, but as this is ultimately a very cost-effective macro lens from a Nikon point of view, the Sigma and the Tamron represent better value for money on the DX platform.
There had to be a Canon L-series lens somewhere in this list, which in this case is the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM. This lens offers 1:1 maximum magnification with a close focusing distance of 30cm, plus image stabilization with two stops of compensation at 1:1 and four stops when used as a regular 100mm lens.
The optics in the lens consist of 15 elements in 12 groups, with one ultra-low dispersion (UD) element and a Super Spectra coating. A focus limiter has also been provided, along with a rounded nine-blade aperture diaphragm for those lovely background blur effects. The lens has also been built to the usual L-series standards, with full weatherproofing and an outer shell to last many years of use.
The Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM features sharpness levels on a par with the Sony, with detail present across the frame being at its best from f/4 upwards. Macro detail is extremely fine and while the lens leans on the expensive side, it’s a great choice for the Canon user who wants high-end macro quality, along with a very good quality 100mm lens.
6. Panasonic LUMIX G Macro 30mm f/2.8 Asph. Mega O.I.S. (Budget Winner)
The Panasonic LUMIX G Macro 30mm f/2.8 Asph. Mega O.I.S. has been included here not just because of the great optics for the price, but also to show a macro lens is very capable at the 30mm focal length. As the lens is built for the Micro 4/3 format, the focal length in reality works out to be 60mm, with 1:1 magnification and a MEGA Optical Image Stabilizer system.
This lens produces extremely sharp images, in a lightweight package and has one of the closest focusing distances on this list of 10.5cm. The overall image quality is far better than the price suggests and as this lens works equally well as an all-day shooter, it represents extremely good value for money.
Summary of the Best Affordable Macro Lenses
With macro lens offerings available for all common camera makes, which also double up as great focal length solutions, there should be something on the list to fit your price point. For true macro capabilities, a 1:1 reproduction ratio is always needed, with ideally a fast f/2.8 aperture, even if this is for headroom when the lens is more on the cost-effective side.
With so many options on the market to choose from, there should be a solution in the mix to fit your ideal focal length, while also capturing the finest detail from the smallest of subject matter.