Canon Macro Lens

Macro Sample Picture

If you want to see your subject larger in the frame than your current lens collection can deliver, you want a macro lens. You may also want a macro lens for the excellent image quality that many of these lenses deliver. Macro lenses are very fun to use - the results from macro photography can also be very fun. And the unusually close look at these typically-small subjects is beautiful and intriguing.

While many lenses have "macro" in their names, I don't get interested in the macro feature of many of these lenses. My personal qualification for a real macro lens is a 1:1 or 1x maximum magnification ratio. This means that the subject will be rendered at life size on the camera's sensor. A 20mm subject will be rendered across 20mm of the sensor. And it will be rendered HUGE on your large monitor as 20mm is going to fill a substantial portion of the frame.

Rose Picture

There are always subjects available for macro photography. And bringing home flowers for your wife (and to photograph of course) can even strengthen your marriage. :)

Deciding which focal length will work best for your needs is, as usual, part of the lens selection process. Longer focal length macro lenses will give you more working distance at 1:1 - this reduces the tendancy of live subjects to fly or crawl away. Longer focal length lenses also have narrower angles of view, which means that there is less background to incorporate into an attractive-looking image. And that background will be more-diffusely blurred as shown below.

Focal Length Background Blur Comparison

They images above are identically framed using the same camera, the same aperture setting (f/16) and they have identical subject to background distances. As a rule, the same framing and the same aperture results in the same Depth of Field (DOF) until focus distances approach the hyper-focal distance. But, perspective/compression/angle of view are very different between these sample photos. The 180mm lens shows only a small physical area of the subject's background that is enlarged - magnifying the blur. Background subjects in the 60mm picture appear to be more in focus. They are not - they are just about as blurred, but they appear much smaller in the picture - and there are more of them because of the 60mm's angle of view. This yields a less diffusely-blurred background.

If you are using a backdrop (such as rolled paper), the background blur aspect will probably not be important to you.

There are downsides to the longer focal length macro lenses. They are larger/heavier and require a faster shutter speed for handholding. They also typically cost more.

My personal preference has been for a 180mm focal length macro lens, but I have been finding the image stabilization feature of Canon's 100L to be a significant advantage to my macro photography. So, I have been using the 100mm focal length much more frequently - primarily for handheld without flash needs. If you want more background in focus, a 50mm or similar focal length might make more sense for you - though I seldom find myself recommending these.

Keep in mind that the depth of field at 1:1 macro focusing distances is very shallow. Here is an aperture comparison as demo'd by a 180mm lens:

Macro Lens Aperture Comparison

You will want to use narrow apertures for much of your macro photography. Narrow apertures mean longer shutter speeds - speeds that in many situations will require a tripod or flash to stop camera motion blur.

The maximum aperture of a macro lens is often not important to me as they all have my most-needed f/8 through f/16 aperture openings. But, a wide aperture makes creative blurs easier as shown by the 100mm f/2.8 example below.

Macro Wide Aperture Sample Picture

Unleash your creativity. Or move farther from your subject and a wide aperture can be extremely useful for keeping a distracting background in a blurred state.

While autofocus is nice to have in a macro lens, I often use manual focus for critical focus accuracy at close focusing distances. But as with a wide aperture, a good-performing autofocus system can be very helpful in some macro photography uses and in many other macro lens uses.

Just because it is a macro lens does not mean that you can only use it for macro photography. Most macro lenses (the Canon MP-E 65mm Lens excluded) also make great general purpose lenses. Portraits are one particularly good use for many of these lenses. A wide aperture and solid AF system are very helpful with this usage.

I will list the 1:1 macro lens recommendations first with a set of not-quite 1:1 macro lenses following.

 
 
The Best Canon Macro Lenses - My Recommendations

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens
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1. Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens

Light Weight, Impressive Image Quality, Fast/Accurate AF, Hybrid Image Stabilization

This may be Canon's most-fun-for-the-cost lens. Plentiful subjects along with the great overall performance will reward the 100L IS owner for many years. Image stabilization not only improves handheld available light photography image quality significantly, but also aids greatly when framing at high magnification. The 100mm focal length works very well for portraits. The wide f/2.8 aperture is there for stopping action in low light and for blurring the background - and it can create an impressively shallow depth of field at 1:1.

Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L USM Macro Lens
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2. Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L USM Macro Lens

Great Working Distance, Solid Build Quality, Great Image Quality, Slow AF

I love the look of 180mm macro photos. This lens can create a great, diffusely-blurred background. The 180mm focal length will give you a long-for-a-macro-lens working distance - making your live subjects more likely to stay around. This is a solidly built lens with excellent image quality. Do not be in any hurry while this lens autofocuses - it is one of the slowest focusing lenses I've used.

The 180L is compatible with extenders, making 1.4x and 2x magnifications possible.

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro Lens
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3. Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro Lens

Extremely Sharp, Fast & Accurate AF, Great Value

If your budget does not afford the image stabilized 100 L, this may be the lens for you. The 100mm macro delivers exceptional image quality and good autofocus performance at a value price.

Canon MP-E 65mm Macro Lens
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4. Canon MP-E 65mm Macro Lens

Incredible 1-5x Magnification, Well Built, Manual Focus Only

If you want to go beyond 1x magnification, this is THE lens to get. Understand that depth of field becomes extremely shallow at higher magnifications. The images this lens can deliver are matched by no other Canon lens.

Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro Lens
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5. Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro Lens

Excellent Image Quality, Optical Stabilization, Great Price for a Long Focal Length and Wide Aperture

Longer focal lengths are often preferred for macro photography and the Sigma 150 OS provides a long focal length in a moderately sized and moderately priced package.

Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro Lens
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6. Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro Lens

Excellent Image Quality, Optical Stabilization, Great Price (when big rebate is in effect)

While the Sigma 100 OS may not have the polish that the Canon 100mmL has (especially with the OS implementation), it has image quality that will rival the Canon. And when a big rebate is available for this lens, it is a bargain.

 

The Best Non-1:1 Canon Macro Lenses - My Recommendations

Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM Lens
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1. Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM Lens

0.7x Magnification in a Zoom Lens, Very Good Image Quality, Fast/Accurate AF, Image Stabilization

The 24-70 f/4 IS is the only zoom lens on this recommendation page - and for a good reason. No other zoom lens comes close to the 0.70x maximum magnification spec this lens has. 0.7x is not 1.00x, but it is still an impressive magnification - and this great-performing lens makes a great general purpose lens choice. You might be able to leave the prime macro lens at home if this lens is in your kit.

Zeiss 100mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens
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2. Zeiss 100mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens

Incredible Build Quality, Excellent Image Quality, Manual Focus Only, 0.5x Magnification

Zeiss imparts very high build quality into all of its ZE lenses and this one is no exception. This manual focus-only lens only goes to 0.5x, but the image quality it delivers is impressive. So is the wide f/2 aperture.

Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens
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3. Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Makro-Planar T* ZE Lens

Incredible Build Quality, Excellent Image Quality, Manual Focus Only, 0.5x Magnification

This lens is similar to the ZE 100 in many regards including build and image quality - and the 0.5x maximum magnification spec. This is a great product photography lens.

 
Visit the Canon Lenses page for more lens recommendations.

 

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