Capturing images of the tiny things in life is a specialist area that requires equally specialist optics. In today’s roundup, we will be looking at the best Sigma macro lenses under $500. Simply because Sigma, like many of the other high-quality third-party makers, offers very budget-friendly and affordable glass, which expands the options from the same-as camera brand offerings.
Which model you ultimately buy into starts with the first decision as with regular lenses. Do you opt for a prime or zoom lens? Both have their pros and cons, with prime lenses generally having an edge in sharpness, while zooms have the versatility of lots of focal lengths.
So, what is a macro lens in the first place? A macro lens is usually defined by its uses, to capture very small details such as an insect, flower, or small intricate patterns. But in reality, a macro lens has the capabilities of focusing from a 1:1 magnification to infinity, which will produce an image the same size as the subject in real life on the camera’s sensor.
A reproduction ratio of 1:2 will project a subject onto the sensor which is half size. Generally, most high-quality macro lenses that are built for the task will offer a 1:1 magnification. While more budget-friendly lenses usually offer smaller ratios such as 1:3.
As a macro lens needs to double up as a normal lens, it usually fits the bill for portrait work. This means for the likes of wedding photography, a quality macro lens can capture individual subjects, along with small details such as close-ups of the rings or tiny details on the flower arrangements.
One caveat of macro photography is that with close distances, the depth of field is extremely shallow. So no matter how wide the initial aperture can go, it will need stopping down to make sure everything is in perfect focus. A tripod and image stabilization are very helpful tools in this respect, but like all aspects of photography, plenty of practice makes perfect.
1. Sigma 70mm f/2.8 DG Macro Art (Overall Winner)
If you need a lens with a slightly more wide-angle view, the 70mm f/2.8 DG Macro Art falls under our proposed budget and also benefits from Sigma’s Art series optics. Also, the lens has a 105mm focal length on crop sensor cameras.
As this is one of the more fancy Sigma Art series offerings, it contains a good deal of glass in the form of two F Low Dispersion, two Special Low Dispersion, one anomalous partial dispersion, and two aspherical elements. All of these are topped off with a super multilayer coating to reduce lens anomalies.
As this is a true macro lens, it offers a 1:1 life size view of small objects, with a close focusing distance of 25.8cm. It’s a shame it doesn’t have image stabilization, but it more than makes up in optical prowess. The f/2.8 aperture is most useful as a traditional lens, with the macro mode needing f/4 and above to make sure everything is sharp within the shallow depth of field.
While it doesn’t have image stabilization as mentioned, the optics in this lens are very sharp. However, if you don’t mind mostly shooting on a tripod, the Sigma 70mm f/2.8 is one of those good lenses with all-round capabilities with the usual high-end prime lens qualities.
A zoom lens in this price bracket tends to bring a lot of options to the party. In this case, the 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC Macro OS HSM Contemporary provides a wide to short telephoto range, image stabilization, and of course, a very usable macro mode.
Sigma’s Contemporary line may be a more affordable version of the Art series lenses, but that doesn’t mean they don’t contain high-quality optics. Within this lens, the optical arrangement contains one Special Low Dispersion, two F Low Dispersion, and three aspherical elements. Along with the pre-requisite super multilayer coating for improving overall image clarity.
The macro mode offers a 1:2.8 reproduction ratio, which isn’t full size, but still very capable of capturing the smallest of details. The Sigma 17-70mm lens produces its sharpest results at f/8 in its macro mode, with the center of the frame being far superior to the edges. Used as a regular lens, the focal range makes it a good standard zoom, even if you never take advantage of the macro mode.
3. Sigma 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM Contemporary (Budget Winner)
A macro zoom has a lot to juggle with, having to be an equally capable standard view and macro lens in one package. The Sigma 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM Contemporary is as cheap a price point as we can go, while still maintaining overall features and image quality.
On APS-C format cameras, the lens provides a very healthy 28.8-480mm equivalent focal length. The image stabilization system provides steady hand-held shooting for both the long telephoto and macro sides of things.
The macro mode has a 1:3 maximum magnification and a relatively close 39cm minimum focusing distance. Like the lens above, this is not full-size reproduction, but still very capable of capturing the smallest of subject matter. In this zone, the sharpest images across the frame come in at f/8, but you still have to be careful with the very shallow depth of field for the sharpest of shots.
Although the Sigma 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM may not have the ultimate image definition as the options above, it’s the best all-rounder lens for the price. The image stabilization system may hunt around on a constant basis, but with the aperture stopped down, the lens produces very sharp images with a good degree of color and contrast where it counts.
Narrowing the Focus on the Best Sigma Macro Lenses Under $500
Even if you buy a macro lens for the sole purpose of capturing small subject matter, it still needs to work as a very capable regular lens. We would have loved to have recommended the Sigma 180mm f/2.8 EX APO DG HSM OS Macro, but it’s too far out of our price range today. But if you can stretch to its price point and prefer its longer focal length, it’s an excellent lens for the money.
However, in our price range, for the best optics and if you want the most bang for your buck with the most rounded features, the Sigma 18-300mm covers so many bases for the money.