If you want to shoot ultra-close-up images, you need a macro lens. These can focus close enough to reproduce small objects at full life-size on your camera's image sensor. That means something as petite as a postage stamp could fill the entire frame of an APS-C-format sensor, and when you view the image on a computer monitor or in a big print the resulting level of detail can be astonishing. Macro lenses can focus at normal distances too, so they can be used as regular 'prime' lenses.
On the next page we'll look at the options for Nikon users. First up, on this page are our top picks for Canon DSLRs. All these recommended Canon macro lenses are designed for full-frame sensors, so you can use them on APS-C format Canon DSLRs too, and you're free to base your choice on value, focal length, autofocus systems and whether or not they include image stabilization. It's useful in a macro lens, though ultra-close-ups are usually shot on a tripod anyway.
Best macro lenses for Canon DSLRs...
1. Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Macro
Redesigned, revamped and remarkable
Maximum aperture: f/2.8 | Image stabilisation: Yes | Weather seals: Yes | Minimum focus distance: 30cm | Filter size: 62mm | Dimensions: 79 x 117mm | Weight: 610g
Tamron has developed something of a history in manufacturing popular 90mm macro lenses. This new edition is the second to feature VC (Vibration Compensation) optical stabilisation and USD (Ultrasonic Drive) autofocus but, while it bears the same string of letters as its predecessor, it’s a completely new design. The new stabiliser is a hybrid system that compensates for axial shift as well as vibration, with the optics are engineered to enhance the quality of bokeh. The ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system is optimised for macro shooting but is fast and accurate at any distance, complete with a three-position range limiter. Image quality is stunning, with superb contrast and sharpness.
2. Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro
High-end performance at a low price
Maximum aperture: f/2.8 | Image stabilisation: Yes | Weather seals: No | Minimum focus distance: 31cm | Filter size: 62mm | Dimensions: 78 x 126mm | Weight: 725g
Often it takes something special to tempt photographers from their camera's own-brand lenses, and this Sigma goes all out for the win. Its pro-spec design includes fast and near silent ring-type ultrasonic autofocus and there's a highly effective four-stop optical stabiliser. Two SLD (Special Low Dispersion) elements help produce excellent sharpness, even at the widest aperture. Colour fringing is negligible, and distortion is essentially a non-issue. As well as being very quick, autofocusing is good at locking on to targets in all lighting conditions and there are three focus-limiting options. Sublime handling and Canon-rivalling build quality completes this terrific lens.
3. Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM
It’s a high-tech affair
Maximum aperture: f/2.8 | Image stabilisation: Yes | Weather seals: Yes | Minimum focus distance: 30cm | Filter size: 67mm | Dimensions: 78 x 123mm | Weight: 625g
While several of the latest macro lenses feature an optical stabiliser, the one that was developed specifically for this lens is a hybrid system. It can counteract axial shift (up-down and side-to-side movement) as well as the usual angular vibration, or wobble. The pro-grade build includes weather-seals and the lens comes with a hood and soft pouch. A UD (Ultra-low Dispersion) element is included in the optical path to boost sharpness and contrast while reducing chromatic aberrations. Autofocus is fast and accurate and, arguably more importantly for macro shooting, the manual focus ring operates smoothly and enables precise adjustments. The hybrid stabiliser works well for regular and fairly close-up shooting, but is of little benefit at the closest focus distance for maximum macro magnification.
4. Samyang 100mm f/2.8 ED UMC Macro
Manual focus only, but worth a look
Maximum aperture: f/2.8 | Image stabilisation: No | Weather seals: No | Minimum focus distance: 31cm | Filter size: 67mm | Dimensions: 73 x 121mm | Weight: 705g
The Samyang is a very manual affair. Not only does it lack any autofocus ability, but the aperture also has to be set manually, using the lens’s aperture ring. The lens is well engineered and handles beautifully. The focus ring has a long travel and is silky smooth in operation, enabling excellent precision for very fine adjustments. High-quality optical elements include both ED (Extra-low Dispersion) and HR (High Refractive) glass. Sharpness and contrast are good even at the widest available aperture of f/2.8, and remain very consistent throughout most of the aperture range. A problem when using narrow apertures is that the viewfinder image becomes very dark indeed.
5. Tokina AT-X AF 100 f/2.8 Pro D
An old-school but well-built lens
Maximum aperture: f/2.8 | Image stabiliser: No | Weather seals: No | Minimum focus distance: 30cm | Filter size: 55mm | Dimensions: 74 x 95mm | Weight: 640g
Using a relatively old design, the Tokina lacks mod cons like optical stabilisation. The Canon-fit edition only has a basic electric autofocus motor, while the lens lacks internal focusing, so the inner barrel extends as you focus at closer distances. Even so, it’s physically quite small and the Tokina is well-engineered, with a high-quality feel to its handling. The push-pull focus ring enables easy switching between automatic and manual focusing. There’s plenty of travel and smoothness in the focus ring’s operation, giving great precision. Where available, autofocus is a bit slow and clearly audible. Image quality is very good, although the otherwise excellent sharpness levels drop at f/22, a desirable aperture for macro shooting.