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Top 3 Canon EF Mount Lenses Under $500

By Anthony Thurston on June 10th 2015

If there is one major advantage that DSLR systems have over their newer Mirrorless counterparts, it is the availability of quality inexpensive lenses. Canon is no exception and is blessed to have some of the widest selection of cheap glass around, but where does a new photographer start?

[REWIND: Canon Lens Wars -See The Difference Between Canon’s Lens Lineup]

Today, we bring you our top three Canon EF mount lenses for under $500. Note that we are not including EF-S lenses on here due to their incompatibility with Canon’s full frame cameras; we will revisit this topic in another post specifically geared towards EF-S Lenses.

1. Canon 50mm F/1.8 STM | $125


This is Canon’s latest entry into the budget lens market, replacing the ‘long-in-the-tooth’ 50mm F/1.8 II and making several big improvements. The best part is, Canon kept the price, and for only $125 US, there is really NO reason for Canon shooters not to have one of these in their bag.

Many people recommend a 50mm as a great ‘first lens’ purchase after getting used to your new DSLR. We tend to agree with that due to the quality and affordability of these lenses, but there are definitely other options to consider (like the other two lenses on this list).

You can get your hands on one of the new Canon 50mm F/1.8 STM lenses now over on B&H for $125.

2. Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM | $349


Ah, the 85mm; a portrait classic. If you want portraits with that buttery smooth bokeh background and little to no distortion, then it’s hard to go wrong with an 85mm. There are many options in the sub $500 range, but its hard to beat the Canon 85mm F/1.8 USM.

This lens is sharp, has autofocus (unlike most of the other sub-$500 options), and has a great build quality (another area where the other options can have issues). If portraits are your game, then this is a lens you should have in your kit.

You can get your hands on the Canon 85mm F/1.8 USM over on B&H for just $349.

3. Tokina 100mm F/2.8 AT-X | $379


I don’t do it professionally, but macro photography is some of the most fun that I have as a photographer in my free time. Going on a photo walk  to a local park and focusing on all the little things you come across can be a great way to practice your photography skills without needing to bug your friends to be your model.

In the sub-$500 range, there is no better macro option in my opinion that the Tokina 100mm F/2.8 AT-X. You get a true 1:1 capable macro lens, a long enough focal length in 100mm that allows you to get close without casting shadows on your subjects, and the fast F/2.8 aperture means you will have plenty of light in most situations.

You can get your hands on the Tokina 100mm F/2.8 AT-X over on B&H for just $379.

What are your top three Canon EF lenses under $500? Do you agree with our list, or do you have your own ideas? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think!

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Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Alexander Panzeri

    I’m always surprised how is underestimated the SIGMA 17-70mm f/2.8-4
    It has OS, USM, there’s no lens so in Canon!!!
    What I really like:
    1. Wide open, I do astrophotography so I need all light to aim the sky, and if you are in low light conditions or you need blur you have
    2. 7mm more (or less as you like) than of the equivalent Canon and when you are inside or iaround town or like me shooting on small sailboat or from zodiac big clippers you need all these mm as wide angle
    3. Price: I bought mine for only 250€ the price was 270€ and the shop did an extra discount, of course it has been a second hand, but a new is still really cheap
    What I don’t like:
    A. Fragility: as sail photographer, shocks are normal in particular waves on zodiac, so I’ve already broken the stabilization system, 150€ to repair!!!
    B. Accessories price in Europe: lens hoodI lost mine on lake during a session and cost 51€!!!!!!! US price tag is 9$

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  2. adam sanford

    Top Canon glass under $500?

    +1 on the Canon EF 85 F/1.8 USM – sharp, but suffers from chromatic weirdness in blacklit situations.

    40mm f/2.8 STM pancake – spectacular sharpness per dollar

    28mm f/2.8 IS USM – small / light / sharp / discreet / modern fast USM –> it’s a peach of a lens

    And keep an eye out for refurb sales from the Canon Store — you could pick up the 17-40 F/4L USM and 70-200 F/4L USM for about $500 during a 20% off sale. Use to set auto-alerts for deals and announcements of restocks.

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  3. Eric Mazzone

    Would the Tokina work for portraits as well or is it purely a macro lens?

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  4. John Sheehan

    I got two of the lenses here, but not the Tokina 100mm F/2.8 AT-X. I love doing macro photography, and do it with tiny classic action figures (after Star Wars figures at the 3 1/4 inch size became the norm), so this might be something I need to put on my wish list.

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  5. Thomas Horton

    It is good to read articles touting good quality lower cost glass. On some forums, it often appears that if you are not shooting with $4000 + glass made from silicate from the planet Zog, that you are shooting with a bad lens.

    While the more expensive lenses may (may) be better, that is not to say that the less expensive lenses are bad.

    The best lens is the one that is good enough for your purposes and that you can afford to carry.

    For us mortals who live in the real world, thanks for posting articles like this. :)

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  6. Dragoș Ardeleanu

    Canon EF 50mm F/1.4 is also under $500 and it is considerably better than the 1.8

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    • Anthony Thurston

      That depends on who you ask. In my opinion the current Canon 50mm F/1.4 isn’t very good, especially when compared to the newer 50mm F/1.8 STM.

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    • Matthew Saville

      This is the new 50 1.8, and I think it probably trounces both of the older ones. Not sure, but likely / possible.

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    • Sean Goebel

      The Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM has the same optical formula as the old 50mm f/1.8 II, so you shouldn’t expect too much to change. The coatings are different.

      I haven’t used the 50mm STM, but as a former owner of both the Canon 50 1.8 and 1.4 lenses, they both had overwhelming purple fringing and horrible vignetting wide open but were pretty sharp when stopped down. And the coma was laughibly bad, but they were designed in an era when no one cared about coma.

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    • Sean Goebel

      The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 non-art will give you far better wide-open performance than either of the Canon 50mm lenses, and it is around $300 used.

      …I’ve owned basically all the modern 50mms in Canon mount at one point or another. The Sigma 50mm Art was nice, but just too big, heavy, and expensive for my tastes. I currently have the Rokinon 50, which has less coma than the Sigma Art, seems just as sharp, and is far smaller, lighter, and cheaper, but I haven’t owned it for long enough to comment further.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Wow, Canon didn’t even bother to update their optical formula? In the face of Nikon’s completely new lineup of f/1.8 G primes that are all incredibly sharp, that is a pretty significant fail. :-\

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  7. Daniel Lee

    Too bad this list isn’t under $600, then you could add the Canon 35mm f2 IS to the top of that list!

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  8. Kyle Stauffer

    I own the Nikon version of the 50 1.8, 85 1.8, and Tokina. I agree whole heartedly with these recommendations. Money well spent and the advice I give when asked the same “value” question.

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