When it comes to choosing the best Canon prime lenses under $500, many turn to third-party offerings. A good move for most, but Canon realized long ago that this was an important price range for many photographers. This is why there are many good lenses in this category ranging from cost-effective zooms to prime lenses.
In this rundown, we will be focusing on prime lenses with generally wider apertures and faster workings. Also, prime lenses may not have the convenience of lots of focal lengths as found in a zoom lens, but in every other respect, they excel at their chosen viewpoint.
One of the consideration to bear in mind when choosing the best Canon prime lenses under $500 is the camera type or more correctly the camera mount.
Back in the film days, there was just one choice. Now we of the options of the EOS DSLR, EOS R mirrorless, and EOS M mirrorless cameras to choose from. Therefore, we will bring you a smattering of examples from these platforms, which should at least give you a taster of the variety out there and prove that quality Canon optics are available in this budget range.
1. Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 Macro IS STM (Overall Winner)
There are a few reasons for choosing the Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 Macro IS STM as our top contender. Canon DSLR users are slowly migrating to the RF platform, or at the least, checking them out for their next upgrade. Then there is the overall versatility of a 35mm prime, the inclusion of image stabilization, great optics, and a just about passable macro mode.
For a lens under $500, this lens provides a wide and bright f/1.8 aperture, with a Super Spectra coating, optical image stabilizer providing up to five stops of compensation, and a very quick and quiet STM stepping motor. Also, new to the RF range is the configurable Control Ring which can be programmed to change a variety of exposure settings on-the-fly.
Although the lens is labeled as a Macro prime lens, it only just scrapes by in this respect, with a minimum focusing distance of 17cm, a maximum magnification of 0.5x, and a reproduction ratio of 1:2. For true macro workings, a lens should have a 1:1 ratio, but at least the RF 35mm f/1.8 can fill most of the frame with a small subject in sharp detail.
The main takeaway with this lens is its wonderfully sharp at f/1.8 and the addition of image stabilization means extremely low shutter speeds. Also, the general image quality is wonderful, with deeply saturated colors and contrast. Not to mention this is a very affordable, good quality lens under our budget.
An 85mm lens has always been a good solution for portrait photography, which is why the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM is a good candidate for our price range. This lens is useful on or both full-frame and APS-C cameras, providing a 136mm focal length on the latter.
The lens benefits from a bright f/1.8 aperture, along with a Super Spectra coating applied to all elements to reduce the likes of lens flare and ghosting. As this is an older type lens, it doesn’t have any fancy working such as image stabilization, but what it does provide crystal clear images that are sharp down to f/1.8.
In other words, if you can’t justify the cost of very expensive examples and you still need an 85mm prime, the EF 85mm f/1.8 USM will make for a great portrait lens.
If you need a bit more reach than an 85mm lens for things like sports or action shots, then the Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM will definitely fill that gap. The EF 100mm f/2 USM comes from the same family as the EF 85mm f/1.8 USM above, with equally good optics and a very usable f/2 aperture.
The lens is wrapped around an optical arrangement of eight elements in six groups and while it is an older lens with basic workings, it’s still a great option for full-frame cameras. Images are tack sharp at f/2 and the autofocus is fast enough to capture moving objects. The lens also works well for portrait shots, providing just the right amount of compression, while also giving an intimate viewpoint.
You can’t beat the overall usefulness of a 50mm prime, especially one with a wide f/1.4 aperture. This lens fits within our budget as it’s an older model but still features very high-quality glass. To give you an idea of just how good value this lens is in reality, you only have to check out the asking price of the latest and greatest Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM as a comparison.
This lens can be used on both full-frame and crop sensor camera bodies (80mm equivalent focal length), with the latter having a near portrait lens focal length. The lens also benefits from some fancy optics which includes two high refractive index elements, along with a Super Spectra coating to increase contrast and color.
The rounded diaphragm does a fine job of producing great bokeh effects, with nice separation between the subjects and a smoothly transitioning background. There’s a lot to like about this lens with its still efficient optics, especially at its current price point.
5. Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM (Budget Winner)
The Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM represents good value for the money, as it doesn’t just provide good quality optics, it also has a bit of everything built-in. By this we mean solid 35mm workings, image stabilization, macro mode, and even some built-in LED macro lights for good measure.
The lens is built specifically for the EF-S-mount, providing a more or less regular viewpoint of a 56mm lens. A glass-molded aspherical element has been included to increase sharpness and clarity, while the lead-screw-type STM autofocus motor is remarkably quick and quiet for this price point.
The macro workings on this lens provide a true 1:1 reproduction ratio and close focusing distance of 13cm. Exactly what is needed for capturing those very small subjects.
The macro workings have been bolstered by built-in macro LED lights, which surround the front element and can be individually lit on either side or both at the same time. The LED lights are a cool addition and work respectively well, especially if you don’t own any other type of lighting, but they won’t ultimately replace large, dedicated macro lighting.
If you need a cheap 35mm prime lens that is a reasonably good all-rounder and does a bit of everything, then the Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM is tremendously good value for money.
Scoring Canon Prime Lenses Under $500
We have not gone wild and wacky with any of the choices above, rather sticking with the most widely used focal lengths. The examples above all provide good quality optics within the budget range, while examples like the EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM show that manufacturers are trying to cram in as many features as possible.
It may seem counter-intuitive to go all-in on a prime lens within this budget, but a prime lens will provide you that edge in quality that a zoom lens usually can’t provide in this price bracket.