There are many lenses on the market with very close focusing distances, but to be a true macro lens it has to have a certain set of criteria. Ideally, this means a lens with a 1:1 magnification to fill the full frame with a subject.
A lens with a 1:2 magnification, roughly speaking, produces a half size subject on the sensor. As we have the criteria today of choosing the best Canon macro lenses under $250, we have to work within some narrow boundaries.
Usually, it takes a good bunch of fancy optics to capture all that minute detail and a healthy price tag to match. But with some careful shopping around, there is a limited bunch of macro lenses on the market which are still very affordable with some top-line features.
As always when working in the smallest budget zone, there will be some compromises such as build quality and features. But depending on your particular needs, you should still be able to snag a good Canon macro lens under $250 without any cheap trademarks.
1. Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM (Overall Winner)
The Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM may be a touch over our proposed budget, but the small extra outlay is entirely worth it for the quality. This is because the lens provides true 1:1 maximum magnification and a very nice close focusing distance of 20cm. As it’s built specifically for the Canon EF-S-mount, it provides a 96mm equivalent focal length, which works great as a short telephoto lens.
The lens itself features a Super Spectra coating and highly capable Ultrasonic autofocus motor. The optics feature an internal focusing design and a seven-blade rounded diaphragm for quality bokeh effects.
On the whole, the Canon EF-S 60mm f/2 is worth every penny for its sharpness throughout the aperture range and low amounts of chromatic aberration and lens distortion. Essentially, if you need true macro workings and a good all-rounder lens, the 60mm f/2.8 Macro is extremely good value.
2. Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO DG Macro
Considering that the Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO DG Macro is also a very useful telephoto zoom lens, it offers a surprising amount of features for the money. For just under the nominal price of $200, the Sigma provides a 1:2 magnification between 200mm and 300mm and has a healthy stretch of 112-480mm on APS-C DSLRs.
The macro mode on this lens is engaged with a tiny switch on the lens barrel. And although you’re not going to get a full 1:1 representation of a small subject when mounted on a tripod, this lens is still a very capable macro worker.
In many ways, the Sigma is a more capable telephoto lens, with added macro facilities. So, if you only shoot the smallest of subjects on rare occasions and also need a general-purpose telephoto lens, the Sigma is a very cost-effective solution.
3. Zhongyi Mitakon Creator 20mm f/2
The Zhongyi Mitakon Creator 20mm f/2 isn’t exactly a lens you stumble across every day. For the best macro results, a prime lens is usually the first choice and considering this option comes in at less than $200, it’s definitely worth a look.
The Zhongyi (no, I can’t pronounce it either) comes with a very wide f/2 aperture, with a ridiculously close focusing distance of 20mm. The official reproduction ratio is 4.5:1, which may not seem a lot on the surface. But coupled with the close focusing, can easily fill the frame with a subject.
The lens is a fully manual focusing offering, which means you almost have no option but to use a tripod for the steadiest of shots. When the lens does hit focus, the detail it delivers is respectable for the price point. But don’t expect vast amounts of sumptuous detail and clarity.
The lens producing more in the realm of standard fair macro images. However, if you want a dedicated macro lens at a very cost-effective price, the Zhongyi is at least worth a second look.
4. Tamron AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di LD MACRO 1:2 (Budget Winner)
If you need to squeeze the most macro potential out of a lens for roughly $180, the Tamron AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di LD MACRO 1:2 can plug the gap. Even at this end of the price zone, Internal Surface and multiple-layer coatings have been applied to the lens elements to further improve image definition and clarity.
Just like the Sigma version above, the Tamron works well as a telephoto zoom lens, providing respectable definition throughout the range. However, it’s the macro zone that we are focusing on here, which has a reproduction ratio of 1:2 but a not-so-close focusing distance of 1.5m. An LD glass element has also been included in the optical arrangement to reduce lens aberrations and to keep all the light rays in check.
The lens benefits from autofocus, which is mostly beneficial when used as a regular lens, with the manual focusing side of things being the most applicable for macro photography.
At this price point, the lens produces surprisingly sharp images when its in macro mode, with a good rendition of color and contrast throughout the frame. Considering the very nominal asking price, the Tamron is not just a reasonable macro lens, but also a very capable telephoto offering for the price.
Summary of the Best Canon Macro Lenses Under $250
There’s a simple reason why most macro lenses cost a good chunk of money. This is because they’re trying to do two things extremely well. Firstly, to work effectively at a chosen focal length and also capture the smallest of subjects with the most accurate detail.
As shown by the examples above, you can still buy into macro workings under $250, just in many cases with a 1:2 ratio, and as part of a traditional zoom lens. As shown by the Canon EF-S 60mm above, if you don’t mind paying just a little bit more than the proposed budget, you can buy into a dedicated macro prime with true 1:1 magnification.
As another alternative, the Canon EF-M 28mm f/3.5 Macro IS STM is available for just under $300. This lens not just great at the macro level, but also has other surprising features such as image stabilization and some fancy built-in macro lighting. In other words, as with most Canon macro lenses under $250, it only needs a small increase in money to gain extra features.