Tamron provides some affordable and budget-friendly alternatives if you want to dive into the world of macro photography. The best Tamron macro lenses under $500 are going to be the focus today, and we’ll see exactly what we can get for this amount of money and if they check all the boxes for a top-quality macro lens.
There are certain criteria to look for in good lenses if your main objective is to capture the small things in life. These points usually boil down to a certain range of focal lengths, a 1:1 reproduction ratio, and a lens that can double up as a regular shooter.
In other words, macro lenses have to be good at two things: they need to be able to capture great, traditional images, and they need the ability to render the smallest of things in fine detail.
1. Tamron SP AF 90mm f/2.8 Di MACRO 1:1
The newer version of this lens, the SP 90mm f/2.8 Di MACRO 1:1 VC USD, is out of our budget range today, but this slightly older version is still as capable, with a very usable f/2.8 aperture and true 1:1 life-size reproduction for the small stuff in life.
The first of our Tamron macro lenses under $500 has the older design criteria of looking more like an older Nikon macro lens. The front of the lens has a large, ridged focusing ring, along with a window for the distance scale.
The lens also features the most important aspect for a macro lens, a 1:1 ratio, which essentially fills the frame with a subject and captures as much detail as possible. The close focusing distance also comes in at 28.96 cm, which is respectable for a macro lens at this price point.
The autofocus system may be slightly slower and less refined than on the new model, but the f/2.8 aperture is just as effective when used as a regular shooter, which also makes this lens a good solution for quality portrait shots.
As a macro lens, the Tamron SP AF 90mm f/2.8 respectably sharp across the frame, pulling out a good amount of detail from small subjects. The f/2.8 aperture also helps out in this respect, but you have to be very careful with the very shallow depth of field. On the whole, this lens still stands up as a good, quality macro shooter.
If you feel like stepping out of this price range and want to spring for the newer model, you can read our full review of the Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di MACRO 1:1 VC USD.
2. Tamron SP AF 60mm f/2 Di II LD [IF] MACRO 1:1
This is again an older style lens that still stands up with good quality optics and very reliable macro workings. The Tamron SP AF 60mm f/2 will appeal to those who want a shorter focal length or a lens that, when used on a crop sensor camera, provides a 96mm viewpoint. When this lens is used on crop sensor camera bodies, it’s more in line with traditional macro lens focal lengths, between 90-110mm.
As expected, the lens provides a 1:1 macro reproduction ratio, with a respectable 23cm minimum focusing distance. It’s also reasonably well-weighted at only 390g, containing a total optical arrangement of 14 elements in 10 groups.
The Tamron SP AF 60mm f/2 Di II LD MACRO 1:1 also has the benefit of having an extra-wide f/2 aperture, which goes a long way to produce nice and creamy bokeh when used as a standard 60mm prime. In macro mode, manual focusing works very well for precise shots and there are no complaints about the overall sharpness, especially considering its price point.
3. Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 Di III VC
Depending on which camera platform you need the 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 Di III VC for and which color you opt for, it can push the lens under budget or $100 over. In any case, this lens is designed specifically for mirrorless cameras and for those who want the versatility of a zoom lens.
As this lens has a more up-to-date design, it features built-in image stabilization, with a good degree of glass contained inside, arranged with 17 elements in 13 groups. This arrangement includes aspherical, XR, and low-dispersion elements to keep all those light rays in check.
As this is a zoom lens, it doesn’t have quite the same macro abilities as a prime lens, offering a 1:3.7 reproduction ratio and a 50.04cm close focusing distance. This works fine for occasional macro shots, but if your main thrill in life is to capture the very small, the prime lenses above will be a better fit.
Where the Tamron 18-200mm stands out is as an all-around zoom lens, which can cover the wide to medium telephoto zone and can also double up for occasional macro shots. As a regular zoom lens, it works as a good all-rounder, covering a long focal range with a good degree of sharpness, color, and contrast. The macro side of things may not fill the whole frame with a subject, but it’s still very capable in this respect.
One other important point to note is that, if you buy this lens for the Canon EOS M3, you will have to make sure it has the latest firmware updates to work properly as a budget Canon macro option. If you’re in doubt in this area, check the manufacturer’s website for all the update criteria.
We talk more about this excellent and versatile zoom lens in our review of the Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 Di III VC.
4. Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di LD Macro (Budget Winner)
If you want the most bang for your buck from a good lens that is cheap, but also provides loads of versatility, the Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di LD Macro has a lot going for it. The 70-300mm focal length will work great for those who want to cover the short to long telephoto range, while the macro side of things produces a 1:2 ratio with a close focusing distance of 1.5m. The lens is also very light for a long-ranging zoom, weighing in at only 435g.
The macro mode comes into play between 180mm to 300mm, which kind of makes up for the lack of the 1:1 ratio. But for total control over macro shots, a 1:1 ratio will always be needed. Where this lens stands out is serving as an all-rounder covering a lot of bases, especially for those who are upgrading from the average kit lens.
You can find out even more about this affordable lens in our complete Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di LD Macro review.
Which Tamron Macro Lenses Under $500 Work for You?
When we are working with a limited budget, the options may be fewer with some compromises along the way, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still buy into the top Tamron macro lenses under $500.
The 90mm and 60mm lenses above both feature a 1:1 macro ratio and also act as very respectable primes in their own right. However, if you want the most versatility from a lens while also capturing the occasional macro shot, the Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 Di III VC packs in a lot of features for the money.