The Ultimate Canon Macro Lens Comparison Guide

The Ultimate Canon Macro Lens Comparison Guide

By Lauren Ramjan


Watch Our 4 Lens Comparison Here


Macro photography is a fascinating and rewarding genre of photography that allows you to capture incredible detail in close-up images. They’re specially designed to capture extremely close-up images of small subjects, allowing photographers to capture intricate details and textures that might not even be visible to the naked eye. Where it’s most commonly used in nature photography, macro lenses can actually be used for just about anything, including close-up photography, product photography, and abstract photography. You may want to use a macro lens to capture unique perspectives in your street or portrait photography, or you may even want to use one to capture the smaller details that lie within a larger landscape scene.


Today we’re going to be looking at and testing out 4 of Canon’s different macro lenses to help you make a decision of which lens is best for your shooting style and preferences. 


When using a wider aperture, like each of the lenses we’ll be discussing, only a small portion of the image will be in sharp focus, while the rest of the image will be blurred out, creating a shallower depth of field. Many photographers look for lenses with a wider aperture (low f-number) in order to create shallower depths of field in their photos, however this can also be achieved by placing the subject closer to the camera. A longer focal length like the 85mm and 100mm we’ve looked at today will also create shallower depths of field, by compressing the distance between subject and background. The combination of these three techniques is what macro photographers look at when purchasing a lens that can create a shallow depth of field in images.


Whatever you like to shoot, we've put together this article where we'll be comparing four of Canon’s macro lenses in terms of their optical design, image quality, autofocus performance, and other key features. We'll also be looking at their build quality, compatibility with different mirrorless cameras, and other important factors to consider when choosing a macro lens.


So whether you're a professional photographer looking to upgrade your macro lens, or a hobbyist who wants to take their macro photography to the next level, this article has everything you need to know to make an informed decision. 


Let's dive in!


Canon RF 100mm F2.8 Macro IS USM


First up, we’ll be looking at the Canon RF 100mm F2.8 Macro IS USM lens, which is Canon’s high-end macro lens since its 2021 release into the RF line up. With a maximum magnification of 1.4x and a minimum focusing distance of 0.26m, this lens is great for capturing extreme close-up shots of insects and other small subjects.


When looking at each of these lenses and choosing which one is right for you, one of the things you’re going to be looking at is the depth of field each lens creates. In general, to create a shallow depth of field, photographers will use a wider aperture, focus on a subject relatively close to the camera, and/or choose a lens with a longer focal length. 


Now when we look at the 100mm macro in terms of depth of field, what we’re getting is a wide maximum aperture of f/2.8, combined with a much longer focal length of 100mm, which together help to compress the perspective of your shots, adding another layer of separation between subject and background. Out of the four lenses we’ll be looking at today, the 100mm easily creates the shallowest depth of field.


Let’s check out a few more of the specs, and look at exactly why this lens is so popular:


Optical Design and Image Quality


The lens has a more advanced optical design configuration than each of the other lenses, all of which work together to minimise optical aberrations. To go into a little more detail as to exactly what this means, the 100mm lens’ optical design comprises of 17 elements in 13 groups, including 1 UD (Ultra-low Dispersion) element, 2 PMO (Plastic-Moulded Aspherical) elements, and a single ground aspherical element. 


To break that down, the UD element works to minimise the colour fringes that can appear around the edges of objects in an image, to give you sharper, more contrast-rich images. The PMO elements provide greater sharpness and clarity in images, and the ground aspherical element helps to ensure that the lens produces detailed images with accurate colours and minimal distortion. The combination of these elements results in sharper, more accurate images, while providing you with more flexibility in challenging lighting conditions.


The lens also features a Super Spectra coating that helps to reduce ghosting and flare, and a 9-blade circular aperture.


The thing that truly sets the lens apart from the rest, however, is its exceptional macro capabilities, with a 1.4x magnification ratio and a 0.26 metre focusing distance. A 1.4x magnification ratio means that the maximum magnification of the subject through the lens is 1.4 times its actual size on the camera sensor. In other words, a subject that is 10mm in size will appear as 14mm in size on the camera sensor when using the maximum magnification. This high magnification ratio is particularly useful in capturing the intricate details of small subjects with incredible clarity.


Image Stabilisation and Autofocus:


This lens provides you with up to 5 stops of shake correction, and uses a dual nano USM (ultrasonic motor) system that provides fast and precise autofocus performance, even in low-light situations. The autofocus system can be used in both manual and automatic modes, meaning you won’t have to worry about trying to focus when shooting in more fast paced environments.


In addition to the dual nano USM motors, the lens also has a focus limiter switch, that allows you to limit the focus range to either the full range, or a specific distance range. This can help to speed up autofocus performance and reduce hunting when shooting in challenging conditions. For example, when shooting macro images of tiny subjects, you might find yourself hunting back and forth trying to find the correct focus point. With the focus limiter switch, you can limit the autofocus to a smaller range, allowing you to capture images more effectively. The 100mm also has full-time manual focus override for precision and control.


Like each of the lenses we’ll be looking at today, certain R bodies support Canon’s Image stabilisation and AF tracking, giving macro photographers a unique opportunity to get ahead of the crowd.



Build Quality and Compatibility:


Let’s jump into the build and design of the lens.


The 100mm is weather-sealed, sturdy and reliable in terms of build, featuring a customisable control ring that can be assigned to various functions, such as aperture control or ISO adjustment. 


The lens is compatible with Canon's full-frame mirrorless cameras, including the EOS R, EOS RP, EOS R5, and EOS R6, as well as with Canon's crop-sensor mirrorless cameras, such as the EOS R100, R50, R10, R7 with a crop factor of 1.6x.


On top of that, you’ll also be able to use the 100mm lens with Canon's range of teleconverters, including the RF 1.4x and RF 2x. When used with the RF 1.4x teleconverter, the lens has a maximum magnification of 1.4x, and with the RF 2x teleconverter, it has a maximum magnification of 2x. 


If you’re not usually a Canon shooter, you can use the lens with a mount adapter to suit your build.

Purchase the Canon RF 100mm F2.8 Macro IS USM

Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM 


Next up, let’s have a look at the Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM lens. This versatile, compact prime lens joined the expanding RF line-up in 2020, and quickly became a popular choice for portrait and macro photographers alike. With an ideal 85mm focal length, and a wide aperture of f/2, it’s easy to see why so many reach for this lens.



When looking at the 85mm f/2 Macro, we’re getting a slightly wider maximum aperture than that of the 100mm, however a shorter focal length, meaning you can still shoot tightly compressed images with a creamy, smooth background.


Let’s look at a few more of the specs this lens offers:


Optical Design and Image Quality:


This 85mm lens features a 12-element optical design that includes one UD (Ultra-Low Dispersion) element and one PMO (Plastic Moulded Aspherical) element, allowing it to easily minimises chromatic aberrations and distortions, resulting in sharp, clear images, with excellent colour accuracy.


We briefly touched on both the low-light and bokeh capabilities of the 85mm Macro, both of which can be attributed to the lens’ maximum aperture of F2, in conjunction with the lens’ nine-blade circular aperture. Together, these features provide you with a shallower, more controlled depth of field, as well as producing smooth, creamy bokeh that make your portraits pop. 


With a minimum focusing distance of 0.35 metres and a maximum magnification of 0.5x (1:2), macro enthusiasts will also greatly appreciate the lens’ ability to capture stunning close-up shots. You’ll be able to shoot both amazing portraits from metres away, as well as extreme close-ups on subjects, such as insects and flowers; all while standing as close of 0.35 metres from your subject. This magnification is ideal for those wanting to capture a higher level of detail than standard lenses.



Image Stabilisation and Autofocus:


Equipped with a 5-stop Optical Image Stabiliser (OIS) to compensate for camera shake, the 85mm Macro also makes handheld shooting that much easier in low-light conditions, as it can help to keep your subject in focus, and avoid the blur that can be caused by camera shake. This is useful when shooting portraits, allowing photographers to shoot sharper images at slower shutter speeds, and is particularly suitable for those without the space to bring a tripod to their shoots.


Now, let’s take a look at the lens’ autofocus capabilities. Canon’s 85mm lens features a Dual Nano USM (Ultra-Sonic Motor) autofocus system, consisting of two separate focus motors which work together to provide smooth, accurate, and silent autofocus performance, making it easier to capture sharp and precise images of moving subjects.


The two motors are a ring-type USM for high-speed autofocus, and a STM (Stepping Motor) for smooth and quiet focus transitions. The combination of the two motors provides fast and accurate autofocus while maintaining a low noise level, making it an ideal option for videographers, where a noisy autofocus system can otherwise be distracting, particularly in a more quiet environment.


Alternatively, portrait photographers will find value in the compatibility of the autofocus system with Canon’s Eye Detection AF technology, which uses AI to detect and track a subject’s eyes, ensuring that they remain in sharp focus throughout the shot. 


On top of this, the 85mm Macro features full-time manual focus override, allowing you to fine-tune your focus manually, even when the autofocus system is engaged. If you’re a photographer whose reliance on a lens’ precision during shoots is critical, this is a great option for you.



Build Quality and Compatibility:


With a compact and lightweight design, the Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM lens is weather-sealed to protect against dust and moisture, making it a reliable lens for outdoor shooting. It’s compatible with Canon's Macro Lite Adapter, allowing for the easy attachment and use of Canon's Macro Twin Lite or Macro Ring Lite flashes.


In terms of physical construction, the lens measures  just 7.8cm in length, comes in at just 500 grams, and features a customisable control ring just like the 100mm lens.


The lens is compatible with Canon's full-frame mirrorless cameras such as the EOS R, EOS RP, and EOS R5, but can also be used with APS-C sensor cameras, such as the EOS M6 Mark II, with a crop factor of 1.6x. Of course, if you don’t shoot on a Canon body, the lens is compatible with all mount adapters.


Purchase the RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM 

Canon RF 24mm F1.8 Macro IS STM 


Moving in a slightly different direction from the 85mm, the Canon RF 24mm F1.8 Macro IS STM Lens is the widest angle macro lens in Canon's RF line-up since its 2020 release. Here we see an even wider aperture of F1.8, and a minimum focussing distance of just 0.13 metres, allowing you to capture great up-close detail, while retaining more of the subject’s surrounding environment.



A great choice for versatility in shooting, the lens also features built-in optical image stabilisation and a stepping motor for smooth and quiet autofocus, perfect for whether your shooting preferences are landscape, macro, street or portrait.


Travel and lifestyle photographers in particular will see the benefit its extremely usable 24mm focal length and compact size, making this a go-to lens for someone who wants to easily switch between portraiture, landscape, and everything in between. 


Let's take a closer look at the specs of this lens:

Optical Design and Image Quality:


The 24mm macro lens has a maximum aperture of f/1.8, meaning this is a lens where you’re going to notice more contrasted images, while still retaining a smooth, creamy bokeh.


It also features a Super Spectra coating that minimises ghosting and flare, which you’ll be able to see the results of in more contrast-rich, and vibrant images. Like the 85mm, it’s excellent in reducing distortion and spherical aberrations in your photos, and has up to 5 stops of built-in image stabilisation, alongside a 7-blade circular aperture for that perfect bokeh.


In terms of focusing distance, the 24mm also comes out on top with a close focusing distance of just 0.13 metres, and a magnification ratio of 0.5x, making it a very appealing choice for close-up shots and macro photography. Its ability to stay sharp even at wider apertures, as well as its 1.8 aperture and close focusing capabilities make this lens a uniquely attractive option, allowing you to shoot super close-ups while still staying wide enough to capture the surrounding environment.


To keep it short, it’s a lens that’s going to give you sharp images, great colours and the flexibility that a 24mm focal length offers.



Image Stabilisation and Autofocus:


Similar to the 85mm lens, you’ll have built-in optical image stabilisation that can compensate for up to 5 stops of camera shake, again giving you that extra advantage when shooting handheld in low light conditions, or when using slower shutter speeds. Just like the 85mm, the stabilisation in this lens is going to reduce any camera shake or ‘blurriness’, meaning stable handheld video, and sharper images.


The 24mm lens also features smooth, yet quiet autofocus performance, thanks to the Stepping Motor (STM) system it uses, meaning not only is this lens versatile in photography, it’s also a great option for videographers or hybrid shooters. The STM motor essentially allows you to utilise autofocus at much higher speeds, allowing you to capture fast-moving subjects with accuracy.


And, if you’re planning on using your 24mm lens to shoot moving subjects, you’ll be glad to know that full-time manual focus override is also featured on the 24mm, giving you the control you need in fast-paced shooting environments.



Build Quality and Compatibility:


Weighing just 225 grams and measuring at 78mm in length, it’s becoming easier to see why this lens is so popular. The 24mm lens is both dust and moisture-resistant, and like all of Canon’s lenses, you can expect a sturdy build here. 


Like the 85mm, the 24mm lens features a customisable control ring, and is compatible with Canon’s full-frame mirrorless cameras with RF mounts, as well as Canon’s APS-C mirrorless cameras with an EF-M mount when used with an adapter. Like most Canon lenses, this lens is compatible with all mount adapters.


Purchase the RF 24mm F1.8 Macro IS STM  


Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM 


The Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM Lens is a great all-around macro lens, and after joining the RF macro line-up in 2018, it’s become a great lens for capturing everything from portraits to street, to close-up macro shots. With a maximum magnification of 0.5x and a minimum focusing distance of 0.17 metres, this lens is a go-to for all-purpose photography. It’s maximum aperture of F1.8 is great for low-light situations, and combined with it’s moderate focal length is still able to create a fairly shallow depth of field.



The popularity of the 35mm focal length can be attributed to its versatility, natural perspective, and compact, travel-friendly nature, and with a wide aperture of f/1.8, it’s easy to see why.


Let's have a deeper look into the features of the 35mm macro:


Optical Design and Image Quality:


The 35mm lens won’t look too different from the 24mm in terms of specs, once again with a maximum aperture of 1.8, outstanding macro capabilities (with a maximum magnification of 0.5x) and a slightly larger focusing distance of 0.17 metres. It’s longer focal length, however, means that you’re able to create slightly shallower depths of field in your images when close up to your subject.


The 35mm again features an optical configuration that will reduce distortion, spherical aberrations, and colour fringing. The 35mm lens also features the same Super Spectra coating of the 24mm lens, but with a 9-blade circular aperture, giving you a slightly better quality bokeh.



Image Stabilisation and Autofocus:


The 35mm lens features built-in image stabilisation standard mode for general shooting, and panning mode for tracking subjects. Again we’ve got up to 5 stops of IS, and a STM autofocus system that is just smooth and quiet as the previous lenses we’ve looked at, again making it an appealing option for videographers. 


This lens will also offer you precise autofocus even in low light, and again supports full-time manual focus override.



Build Quality and Compatibility:


Not too different from the 24mm lens, the 35mm is compact and lightweight, weighing only 305g, again making it a great option for travel photographers looking for versatility in a single lens.


And of course, the 35mm is compatible with Canon's RF mount, as well as mount adapters for other camera brands.


 Purchase the RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM


Comparison, Recommendations and Final Thoughts


Now that we’ve looked at the main features each lens has, let’s compare a few main differences between them, including price, depth of field capabilities, and versatility.


Depth of Field:


Firstly, let’s look at possibly the most important thing when discussing macro lenses, depth of field. As we know, the 100mm macro has a maximum aperture of 2.8, and while it’s the narrowest of the 4, it’s definitely still an aperture that’s capable of creating creamy, blurred backgrounds with a shallow depth of field. Now when we look at the 85mm f/2 Macro, what we’re getting is a slightly wider aperture, and a shallower depth of field. Both of these lenses' longer focal lengths of 100mm and 85mm also help to compress the perspective of the image, adding another layer of separation between subject and background.


Both the 24mm and 35mm macro lenses have much shorter focal lengths, but wider maximum apertures of f/1.8, which will affect the depth of field of images shot in a slightly different way. When shooting wide open at f/1.8, you can achieve super creamy bokeh, resulting in a beautifully blurred background, isolating your subject in greater detail. However, the shorter focal lengths of both of these lenses will require you to stand much closer to your subject than a longer focal length.


With each of these lenses, you’re capable of create a beautiful, shallow depth of field, especially when using a wider aperture, shooting a subject relatively closely to the camera, however, the exact depth of field you can achieve will depend on factors such as the distance to the subject, the distance to the background, and aperture setting. 




When looking at the price of each camera, the 100mm is the priciest of the 4, retailing at $2036.98. The remaining three land under the 1k mark, pricing at $949.00 (85mm), $955.00 (24mm) and the 35mm coming in cheapest at $679.15.

Comparison and Recommendations:


When it comes to choosing the right macro lens for your needs, it really depends on what you plan to photograph.  If you’re someone who’s interested in portrait or wedding photography, and you’re looking to achieve sharper, clearer stills and video while shooting in a less controlled environment, the 85mm macro is the way to go.


While the Canon RF 100mm F2.8 Macro IS USM is the most expensive of the four lenses we’re comparing, it’s one that could easily be recommended to those wanting to capture extreme close-up shots of small subjects, or those looking to achieve the shallowest depth of field possible. Perhaps you even want to use a macro lens to shoot wildlife, or subjects where you have less freedom to move in closer, in which case this lens would be well suited. One thing to note on top of its higher price point, however, is the heavier, bulky nature of the lens, making it tricker to travel with than some of the others we’ve looked at. 


The 100mm and 85mm are designed with macro photography in mind, both offering a 1:2 magnification ratio for close-up shots of small objects. However, the 100mm lens has a higher magnification ratio of 1.4x, which makes it ideal for capturing tiny details in subjects, while the 85mm lens offers a comfortable working distance between the photographer and the subject, making it great for portrait photography. Both lenses have large maximum apertures, and while both allow for beautiful bokeh, the 100mm is going to give you a shallower depth of field. 


If you want a more versatile macro lens that can be used for a range of different shooting styles, the 24mm and 35mm are lightweight, versatile lenses that can be used in a range of environments. The 24mm and 35mm lenses each boast the largest maximum aperture of the four, at f/1.8, making these great lens options for low light photography. Both lenses also have a macro capability with a 1:2 magnification ratio, allowing for close-up shots with a wider field of view. Their minimum focusing distances of 0.13m and 0.17m respectively mark these as great macro lenses that allow you to capture a subject’s textures and details while leaving enough room for its environment. 


The 24mm is a wide-angle prime lens with a wider field of view, making it great for landscape and street photography, while the 35mm has a classic standard lens focal length that works well for a variety of genres, including street, travel, and even portrait photography. When looking at both of these lenses, one thing to note is the slightly narrower field of view they provide in comparison to the 85mm and 100mm lenses.


Final Thoughts:


Overall, each of these lenses offer a variety of options for macro and general photography and videography, each with its unique set of features and advantages. All four lenses feature image stabilisation and quiet autofocus systems, making them great for handheld shooting, and whether you’re a professional photographer or a hobbyist, the high-quality construction of these lenses make each of them a great investment for those who value versatility and image quality. Each offering exceptional advanced optical design, image stabilisation, and autofocus capabilities, the Canon RF line-up is made up of reliable and versatile lenses for shooting scenarios where you have less control over the external environment. 


Understanding the key differences between these lenses can help you choose the best one for your photography needs and budget. Ultimately, it comes down to your preferences and requirements as a photographer, but any of these four lenses would be a valuable addition to your kit.


Watch Our 4 Lens Comparison Here