Q: I want to get a macro lens but I’m not sure which brand. I have a Canon EOS 50D and I’m on a tight budget. What do you recommend?
A: A good macro lens should go to life size or 1:1 ratio – that means the image projected onto the sensor is the same size as it is in real life.
Canon makes a small and lightweight 50mm f/2.5 Macro lens for about $450 but it only magnifies to half life size. To get full 1:1 life size macro you'll need an EF 25 extension tube adapter which almost doubles the price.
A better deal for a 50D is the newer 60mm EF-S f/2.8 designed for digital camera use which offers 1:1 ratio and costs about $700. Canon also makes a very good 100mm f/2.8 which does 1:1 ratio and costs closer to $900.
Canon EF-S 60mm Macro USM lens delivers 1:1 macro magnification.
Tamron and Sigma both make macro lenses for Canon (and most other brands) and the quality is very good. Tamron makes a 60mm f/2 Di II for around $750 and a classic 90mm f2.8 for a bit less – both 1:1 capable. The Tamron 90mm is designed to cover a full-frame sensor as well, so is larger than you might expect. Sigma offers 50mm, 70mm and 105mm f2.8 Macro lenses which should cost you between $450 and $650 each.
Tamron SP 60mm f2 macro.
All are DG models and go to 1:1 magnification – they also make good portrait lenses. One thing to note is that none of the macro lenses on offer are stabilised.
If you are buying used, just be sure that what you are buying is compatible. Also some of the older models are not so good with digital sensors – old Tamron manual focus macros for instance can reflect a ‘hot spot’ on to the sensor from the rear element. But if you buy a new digital compatible design, no problem.