Best Macro Lenses for Mirrorless and DSLRs 2021
September 16, 2021
We reveal the best macro lenses currently available for close-up shooting, for both mirrorless and DSLR cameras.
It’s an unusual time in the lens market, thanks to the ongoing transition from DSLR to mirrorless technology. The choice for DSLR users is shrinking rapidly, and many of the macro optics we’d have recommended two or three years ago are no longer on sale. But this hasn’t yet been reflected in an explosion in options for mirrorless users, with most of the third-party makers still to produce lenses in the new full-frame mounts.
However, there’s still some good news for close-up photographers, thanks to the emergence of Venus Optics as a genuinely high-class lens maker, with an array of innovative manual-focus macro optics in its Laowa line-up. Sigma still offers affordable but high-quality alternatives for the main lens mounts, too.
Best Macro lenses for mirrorless cameras
One of the most unusual macro lenses available, this optic offers an angle of view equivalent to 45mm on full frame. Its standard focusing range provides life-size magnification, but engaging Super Macro mode extends this even closer to 1.2x. At this point the image area is just 18.6mm x 12.4mm, and the subject a matter of millimetres from the front element. Normally this would cause problems with lighting, so Canon has included a small LED ring light around the front element. Despite this, the lens is a mere 46mm long and tips the scales at just 130g, so it won’t take up much room in your bag.
Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM
Canon EOS R system owners already have an unusually large number of lenses labelled ‘Macro’ to choose from, ranging from the £499 RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM to the £1499 RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM. While the latter is absolutely superb, we suspect its high price will push many users towards its 85mm f/2 stablemate. This isn’t what many photographers consider a ‘true’ macro lens, offering only half life-size magnification, and instead is perhaps better considered as an affordable portrait lens that’s unusually good at close-up shooting. But it offers five stops of optical stabilisation on the EOS R and RP that lack in-body stabilisation, and up to eight stops on bodies with IBIS.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s nothing particularly special about Canon’s latest pro-spec macro lens for full-frame mirrorless, the RF 100mm F2.8L Macro IS USM, given that it’s named almost identically to its DSLR predecessor. But instead, Canon has added some intriguing new features. Firstly it now offers 1.4x magnification, which means you can photograph a subject measuring just 26mm x 17mm. Secondly a new ‘SA Control’ ring allows users to smoothen the out-of-focus blur either in front of, or behind the subject. In addition you get all the hallmarks of Canon’s L range, including robust build quality, rapid autofocus, highly effective optical stabilisation and needless to say, superb optics.
Fujifilm XF 80mm F2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro
X-system users interested in close-up photography are well served by this fully featured, if pricey, macro lens. Its slightly longer-than-usual 120mm equivalent view allows a longer working distance, while life-size reproduction is offered at the 25cm minimum focus. The lens employs linear motors for quiet autofocus and has a distance limiter switch to reduce hunting. Optical stabilisation is built in, promising up to five stops of benefit, and weather resistant construction allows you to keep shooting in less-than-perfect conditions. For those in a tighter budget there’s also the £569 XF 60mm F2.4 R Macro, but it’s a less refined design that only offers 0.5x magnification.
Just at the moment, Laowa is the most innovative lens maker when it comes to close-up photography. This 65mm f/2.8 optic offers twice life-size magnification for users of APS-C mirrorless cameras at a very tempting price. Its robust metal barrel is impressively compact, at 100mm long and 335g in weight, and both focusing and aperture control are fully manual. Crucially it offers excellent image quality, combining excellent sharpness and beautiful background blur. It’s available in Fujifilm X and Sony E mounts, while Micro Four Thirds users get a scaled-down version, the Laowa 50mm f/2.8 2x Ultra Macro APO, which costs £409.
Nikon Z MC 50mm f/2.8
Nikon announced two macro lenses for its Z system simultaneously earlier this year, with the shorter of the two being a slightly unexpected focal length from a company that in the past has favoured 60mm optics. Unlike its 105mm sibling, this lens lacks either weather sealing or optical stabilisation, which might make it look like the less desirable choice. But it makes up for this with its optical quality, which quite simply is superb. Its relatively compact size and light weight also make it a good match for Nikon’s smaller Z-series camera bodies, including the APS-C format Z 50.
As the more pro-focused of Nikon’s two new Z-system macro lenses, this packs in pretty much every feature you could wish for. It’s optically stabilised, weather-sealed, and employs an internal-focus design which means that if focuses quickly and silently and its length stays constant. Along with a large manual focus ring, there’s a control dial on the barrel for changing exposure settings, whose function can be customised from the camera body. A small display panel on top can show the focus distance and depth of field. It almost goes without saying that the lens is also supremely sharp, even at f/2.8.
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 60mm f/2.8 Macro
This brilliant little lens is one of the jewels of the Micro Four Thirds system. Its dust- and splash-proof barrel is extremely small and light, at 82mm long and just 186g in weight, while its slimline 56mm diameter minimises the risk of shadowing your subject. Yet it still finds space for both a focus distance indicator and a focus limiter switch that has a dedicated 1:1 position. Autofocus is fast and silent, and there’s absolutely nothing to complain about with regards to image quality. Set to its 19cm minimum focus distance, the image area of 17.4 x 13mm is equivalent to 2x magnification in 35mm terms.
Panasonic Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm F2.8 OIS Asph
While the more affordable Olympus 60mm f/2.8 may look like the best choice of macro lens for Micro Four Thirds shooters, Panasonic’s Leica-badged 45mm f/2.8 has its own charms. It’s even smaller, at just 63mm in length, yet is still capable of life-size reproduction, thanks to its shorter, 90mm equivalent focal length. It also includes optical image stabilisation, which is particularly handy for those using older or smaller Lumix bodies that lack in-body stabilisation, although it’s of limited use at macro distances. Optically it delivers the goods though, with impressive sharpness used wide open and minimal aberrations.
Designed from the ground up for full-frame mirrorless cameras, this lens is available in Sony E and L mounts. Cosmetically it resembles the firm’s 70mm f/2.8 Art DSLR lens, but with an aperture rung added. A large, complex focus group moves internally to give 1:1 magnification at its 29.5cm minimum focus distance. According to Sigma, this sacrifices some AF speed to deliver both high sharpness and effective suppression of colour fringing, which is borne out by the superb image quality in testing. There’s no optical stabilisation, but most of the cameras the lens will be used on feature in-body stabilisation anyway.
Sony FE 90mm F2.8 Macro G OSS
While this lens now has stiff competition from the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 DG DN, it’s still an excellent choice for users of Sony E mount cameras. Unlike its more affordable rival, it includes both optical stabilisation and internal focusing, with the latter perhaps making it a preferable choice for those photographers who’d also like to use their macro lens for shooting portraits. Other highlights include a focus ring that can be pulled back towards the camera to engage manual mode, and a focus lock switch on the side of barrel. Optically it’s absolutely superb, giving super-sharp images.
Best Macro lenses for DSLRs
Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM
Designed to be a compact, affordable option for photographers using Canon’s APS-C DSLRs, this lens packs in an impressive array of features. It offers 1:1 magnification at a minimum focus distance of 13cm, which equates to just 3cm from the front of the lens. To help with illuminating your subject at such close range, at also includes a built-in LED ring light. Meanwhile, Canon’s Hybrid IS system provides up to four stops of stabilisation. Weighing in at a mere 190g, the 56mm equivalent focal length also allows it to do double duty as an everyday standard lens.
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM
Canon’s third-generation 100mm macro for its full-frame DSLRs is an absolutely stellar optic, with all the attributes we’d expect from the firm’s professional L range. It delivers superb image quality, with exceptional sharpness, minimal chromatic aberration and essentially no distortion. A ring-type ultrasonic motor delivers rapid, silent autofocus and life-size magnification is achieved at the minimum focus distance of 30cm. Optical stabilisation is built-in, with Canon’s hybrid system promising four stops stabilisation with distant subjects, dropping to two stops at half life-size magnification. The barrel boasts robust weather-sealed construction, and an optional tripod collar is also available.
Irix Dragonfly 150mm f/2.8 Macro 1:1
Irix may not be the best-known lens brand, but it has established a reputation for making high-quality optics at very competitive prices. The advantage of this 150mm lens over its competitors lies in the way the longer focal length enables 1:1 magnification with a greater working distance. This means you’re less likely to disturb skittish subjects such as bufferflies. In return, you have to live with focusing manually, but this is often standard practice for macro shooting, anyway. The barrel boasts weather-sealed construction and a tripod collar is included in the box, with an Arca Swiss compatible dovetail profile. The lens is available in Canon EF, Nikon F and Pentax K mounts.
Laowa 100mm f/2.8 2x Ultra Macro APO
Venus Optics produces a whole family of Ultra Macro lenses with a unique trick, in that they offer 2x magnification while still focusing to infinity. The 100mm f/2.8 is designed for full-frame DSLR cameras and available in Nikon F, Pentax K and Canon EF mounts, with the latter coming in two versions with a choice of manual or electronic aperture setting. The lens has also been adapted for full-frame mirrorless, in Canon RF, Nikon Z, Sony E and L-mount versions. The minimum focus distance is just 24.7cm, and colour fringing is suppressed thanks to the apochromatic design. Despite the enhanced close focus, the size and weight are similar to conventional 100mm macro lenses.
Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5x – 5x Ultra Macro
For serious devotees of close-up photography, this unusual lens provides ultra-high magnification at a remarkably low price. Unusually, it doesn’t focus to infinity, but instead provides between 2.5x and 5x magnification across a focus distance range of 17.3cm to 23.4cm. It requires both manual focus and aperture operation, and is generally best used on a tripod fitted with a macro rail. The slimline, tapered barrel is specially designed to minimise shadowing of your subject. The optics cover full frame sensors, and the lens comes in Canon EF, Nikon F and Pentax K mount versions for DSLRs, along with Canon RF, Nikon Z, Sony E and L-mount mirrorless options.
Nikon AF-S DX 85mm f/3.5G ED VR Micro
Designed specifically for DX format (APS-C) DSLRs, this lens offers an unusually long 128mm-equivalent focal length. It’s packed full of attractive features, including a silent wave motor that promises quiet, precise autofocus, and optical image stabilisation. At its minimum focus distance of 28.6cm it can focus on subjects measuring 24 x 16mm, which is equivalent to 1.5x magnification in full-frame terms. The 9-blade aperture promises attractive bokeh and stops down to f/32 for extended depth of field. For those on a tighter budget, there’s also a Nikon AF-S DX 40mm f/2.8G Micro for just £269.
Nikon AF-S VR Micro 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED
When it was launched, this was the first macro lens to include optical stabilisation, and it’s since become a stalwart of Nikon’s F-mount line-up. It provides a longer working distance for life-size shooting than the firm’s other current options, which means there’s less chance of disturbing the subject or blocking off the light. The internal focus design means that the lens’s length doesn’t change between infinity focus and its 31 cm minimum object distance. A silent wave motor provides fast autofocus and the VR system is rated to provide up to 3 stops benefit, although this reduces at close distances.
Pentax HD DA 35mm f/2.8 Macro Limited
This lovely little lens can be used as an everyday standard prime on Pentax APS-C DSLRs, while also providing 1:1 magnification at its 14cm minimum focus distance. Available in either silver or black, it’s beautifully constructed with an aluminium barrel, and even has a built-in sliding hood. Autofocus is driven from the camera body, which helps keep the size down, and the manual focus ring is marked with a distance scale. A 9-blade diaphragm gives a circular aperture for attractive bokeh, and like most of the other Pentax Limited primes, it employs 49mm filters.
Pentax FA 100mm f/2.8 WR Macro
Unlike the 35mm f/2.8 Limited, this Pentax macro lens works on full-frame DSLRs, as well as APS-C models. It’s also cheaper than its shorter focal-length sibling. While the optical design dates back to 2004, the lens received a substantial update five years later with a weather-sealed aluminium barrel and revised mechanical construction. It’s unusually compact for its class, at just 8.1cm long and 340g, thanks to the use of an extending focus mechanism. The working distance between the lens and the subject at 1:1 magnification is 13cm, and a Quick Shift focus system allows autofocus to be overridden manually at any time.
Sigma 70mm f/2.8 DG Macro Art
At first glance, the first macro lens to join Sigma’s acclaimed Art series line-up might seem a strange choice compared to its 105mm sibling, which is cheaper and includes optical stabilisation. But the 70mm is smaller and lighter while offering superb image quality. The barrel boasts dust- and splash-proof construction, and a coreless DC motor provides precise autofocus backed up by full-time manual override. It’s made in versions for Canon EF and Nikon F mount DSLRs, which are compatible with 1.4x and 2x teleconverters for when you require more reach. It’s also available for Sony E-mount and L-mount full-frame mirrorless cameras.
Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro OS HSM
Long one of our favourite lenses, for many years this was our go-to option for testing the resolution of DSLRs, due to its superb sharpness. Available in Canon EF, Nikon F and Sigma SA mounts, it provides a comprehensive feature set at a very tempting price. You get an ultrasonic-type autofocus motor that enables full-time manual override, along with optical stabilisation that’s good for up to four stops of shake reduction. An inner focusing system means that the length doesn’t change on focusing from infinity down to its 31.2cm minimum, at which point the lens provides life-size magnification.
Zeiss Milvus 100mm f/2 Makro Planar
There’s no denying that £1549 is a lot of money to pay for a macro lens that doesn’t even autofocus. But premium optics and build quality always cost extra, and that’s exactly what Zeiss provides. Available in Canon EF and Nikon F mounts, this lens provides 0.5x magnification at its minimum focus distance of 44cm. Its f/2 maximum aperture gathers an extra stop of light and provides greater background blur compared to conventional f/2.8 macro lenses, which makes it an attractive option for shooting portraits, too. The robust metal barrel is sealed for protection against dust and water splashes, and the Nikon version even boasts an aperture ring.
Once you’ve read our guide to the best macro lenses, make sure you have a look at our guide to macro photography, to get the most out of your purchase!