Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens

The Canon EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM is an EF mount L-Series Macro lens that provides life-size (1:1) reproduction ratio (macro magnification) and fast, quiet autofocus on Canon full-frame and APS-C (cropped-frame) DSLR cameras.

Marked with the distinctive red ring, L-Series lenses are the best of the best from Canon, a company that has been making high quality optics for more than 80 years. Incorporating specialized optical materials such as fluorite, super UD glass and high precision aspheric lens elements, L lenses have earned the overwhelming support of demanding professional photographers by performing to the highest photographic standards.

While this lens was designed primarily for close-up work, its functionality does not stop there, as we shall see later in this review.

Macro Lenses
The primary function of a Macro lens is close-up photography. There is no USDA or FCC in the photo industry to regulate the definition of terms; therefore, this label is sometimes misapplied for marketing purposes. A zoom lens that focuses down to a couple of feet is inaptly called a Macro Zoom, but this is a misnomer. The threshold for “True Macro” is generally taken to mean lenses that can capture subjects at a reproduction ratio of one-half of life-size. This specification is expressed as 1:2 whereas life-size reproduction is marked as 1:1.

A reproduction ratio of 1:1, so-called “life-size,” means that a subject exactly one centimeter long is recorded precisely the same length on the film or sensor. Optional extension tubes can increase this ratio for even greater magnification. A 1:2 ratio means the subject is captured at one-half life-size, so in this case, 0.5 centimeters.

In addition to being optically optimized for close subjects, Macros have superior flat-field characteristics. Simply said, they’re better than a typical lens at accurately capturing flat things because they are highly corrected to compensate for field curvature. As a serendipitous consequence, Macro lenses are often the sharpest products in any manufacturer’s lineup.

What then is the difference between a 50mm Macro and a 100mm Macro? In a nutshell, working distance. Compared to a 50mm Macro, with a 100mm Macro one can be about twice as far away from the subject. This becomes very important when you need to have space to arrange lighting, control shadows or when photographing certain subjects like snakes or insects.

The above assumes use on a full-frame camera like a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. When using a cropped-frame, a Canon EOS 80D for instance, another phenomenon comes into play. The effective focal length of a lens is increased by a factor of 1.6 times when used on a Canon DSLR that has an APS-C size sensor. Therefore, the 50mm Macro becomes an 80mm equivalent whereas the 100mm equates to a 160mm focal length. (Note that the maximum aperture remains unchanged.) Both transformations have their advantages and disadvantages. An 80mm lens is perfect for portraits, but then again a 160mm f/2.8 is an awesomely fast telephoto.

There is a price difference, too, of course, and a difference in size. A 100mm Macro is larger, heavier and more costly than the typical 50mm Macro.

Close-up photography has some perils that cannot be blamed on the equipment. Blame the laws of physics instead. The closer you get, the less depth-of-field – and the greater the chance for unsharpness. Ditto, the higher the magnification, the greater the likelihood of even slight camera movement contributing to unsharpness. Image Stabilization is an incredible advantage in Macro lenses.

Features and Specifications
Image Stabilization leads the feature parade for many people. Canon’s hybrid Optical Image Stabilization delivers up to 4-stops of shake control and utilizes a vibration gyro and acceleration sensor to compensate for both angular and shift camera shake during close-up shooting. The IS feature facilitates low-light photography and is of immeasurable benefit when shooting close-ups, where shake is magnified, or with telephotos for the same reason.

Running a close second in feature popularity are the environmental seals, better known as dustproof and moisture proof sealing. While no one recommends exposing camera equipment to driving rain, it’s comforting to know that the moisture-resistant seals on the lens barrel provide an extra level of protection when required.

TAG wristwatch photographed at 1:1 (life-size). Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM, settings of f/22 at 2.5 sec at ISO 400 on a tripod.

The macro magnification, or reproduction ratio as explained above, is life-size 1:1 and minimum focusing distance is 12-inches. Aperture range is from f/2.8 to f/32. This is a wider range than commonly found, because the small f/32 opening is very useful to extend depth-of-field.

The optical formula is 15 elements in 12 groups, including Ultra-Low Dispersion glass which corrects common aberrations.

The physical length of this lens does not change during use because it uses an internal focus system. This means that the front of the lens barrel does not extend or rotate when focusing, or at any other time for that matter. This is a huge benefit when using polarizing filters, the Canon Macro Ring Lite or in general when photographing objects at close distances.

Focusing relies on Ultra Sonic Motor (USM) technology for high speed and quietness. Also, there is a Focus Range Limiter which can be set to minimize focus-seek when shooting at predictable distances. Manual focus is available at any time should the user desire to override the AF.

Physically, the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM weighs about 1.4-pounds (625 grams) and measures 3.1 x 4.8 inches (7.8 x 12.2 centimeters). Filter size is 67mm and the overall finish is semi-matte black with the distinctive red ring, the L-Series mark of distinction. There are three control switches on the lens barrel: AF/MF, Stabilizer On/Off and a three-position Focus Limiter selector.

Build Quality
Canon lenses in general and Canon L-Series lenses in particular are built to the highest possible standards. Canon has manufactured more than 130 million interchangeable lenses as well as more than 90 million EOS Series cameras, two milestones reached in October of 2017.

The Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens includes a dedicated lens hood and is compatible with an optional Canon tripod collar and Canon Macro Ring Lite. The tripod collar is highly recommended if frequent tripod use is likely.

In addition to being a superlative Macro lens, the EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens is also an ideal portrait lens. The classic portrait focal length is generally described as being in the 80mm to 105mm range. Lenses in this range, when used on a full-frame digital or 35mm SLR camera, provide the most flattering perspective. Longer focal lengths tend to flatten features; shorter ones tend to make nearer subjects appear larger. One can imagine what the enlargement effect does to a human nose.

The Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM is ideal for portraits because it delivers flattering perspective and has a large aperture. This image was converted to monochrome and grain was added to simulate the look of Tri-X black and white film from years ago. See what a difference a new lens can make? It can even lead you to reliving the look and style of yesteryear. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, settings of f/4 at 1/40 sec at ISO 640, exposure bias of +1 stops.

A large aperture allows the portrait photographer to limit depth-of-field and thereby isolate the subject from the background. Canon’s 85mm f/1.8 or (especially) their 85mm f/1.4 affords greater control, but the EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM is satisfactory for most headshots.

This lens has a nine-blade circular aperture diaphragm that creates a geometrically round opening.  The circular diaphragm produces pleasant bokeh, adding a dreamy softness to out-of-focus areas of the photo. This effect is especially popular with portrait photographers.

Operation and Handling
Operation is straightforward and simple, as with any Canon lens. Focus is quick and sure, and the large f/2.8 aperture affords more than adequate light transmission to create a bright viewfinder image. Because the lens does not extend during focus, operation seems even faster.

The weight (less than 1.5 pounds) is nominal and when used on Canon DSLRs (test collection ranged from the ancient 3.1-megapixel D30 to the latest Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) the heft is balanced and comfortable to use.

The greatest challenge presented by Macro photography is inadequate sharpness. Sharpness is lost to camera movement, which is magnified as the camera-to-subject distance decreases, and by limited depth-of-field, which likewise diminishes as the camera focuses closer to the subject. Because smaller f/stops are often used to increase DOF, shutter speeds can become longer, contributing to what some call Macro Malaise. Fortunately—well, actually by design, not by accident—the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 L-Series Macro lens overcomes this barrier to success in two ways.

Compare this to the shot above – yep, it’s the same image cropped to show only the anther of the flower. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, settings of f/2.8 at 1/60 sec at ISO 640 handheld.

First, by incorporating significant Image Stabilization which counteracts up to four stops of shake, shooting at 1/60 second is equivalent to shooting four stops higher, i.e., 1/1000 sec. (That is, 1/60 sec with one stop improvement equates to 1/125 sec; with two stops, 1/250 sec, etc., up to four stops which equals 1/1000 sec).

Second, Canon lenses are naturally used on Canon DSLR cameras; when combined with the outstanding high-ISO performance of a Canon DSLR camera, it’s possible to shoot at ISO 3200 or even higher without significant compromise in quality. This affords faster shutter speeds, even at smaller apertures, and helps reduce the impact of camera movement.

Real World Performance
Based on experience with many other Canon L-Series lenses, we expected the best. We were not disappointed. Images were consistently sharp and bright, and free of aberrations. Even grossly backlit scenes did not display objectionable purple fringe on highlight edges.

The Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens focuses quickly and surely, with virtually zero focus seeking and nary a mishap. Its compact size and weight make it a pleasure to use and a trifle to carry. The included reversible lens hood, which is about half the length of the lens, provides more than adequate protection from external sun glare and reflection.

Sharpness, color fidelity and rich detail – it’s all there in the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, settings of f/22 at 1/4 sec at ISO 100 handheld. I would not have been able to shoot this handheld at one-quarter of a second if not for the effectiveness of the Image Stabilization.

This lens is extraordinarily sharp. Whether shooting close-up shots right up to life-size magnification, shooting portraits or even just general, unchoreographed walk-around stuff, the Canon 100mm L lens produces outstanding image quality.

See the Difference a New Lens Can Make
If you are moving up from the kit lens that came with your camera, you are actually acquiring three new experiences: a prime (non-zoom) lens, a fast telephoto lens and a Macro lens. The Canon 100mm Macro is all three. New doors to creativity will open up for you.

Close-up photography, a pastime that can be enjoyed indoors during inclement weather as well as outdoors, can become addictive. You will begin to see the world in a whole new way once you start exploring things from a few inches away.

If you are using the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM on an older model Canon DSLR, you’ll be surprised by the difference. It’s almost like getting a new camera body. Even casual activities, like shooting snapshots during the school play, become more exciting. In its alternate persona as a fast telephoto lens, the 100mm Macro becomes a 160mm f/2.8 lens with Image Stabilization, fast focusing and superlative sharpness. Even ignoring the fact that it’s a brilliant Macro lens, it’s a great choice as a second lens for any Canon DSLR user.

For Macro photography, portrait photography and general fast-tele applications, the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens is hard to beat.

There are alternatives. Canon’s 100mm Macro (catalog 4657A006), their lens that is not part of the L-Series, is priced slightly lower, but it lacks the all-important Image Stabilization feature. And IS cannot be added later. That said, the “regular” lens is still outstanding in its own right, and includes most of the features of its superior L-Series cousin. Canon also offers an EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens (catalog 0284B002) which is an excellent performer and offers the additional advantage of a comparatively very compact size. It’s an older design, however, and lacks the IS, environmental seals and some other features.

In the final analysis, the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro lens combines the finest essence of the L-Series with the versatility and functionality that a professional or dedicated amateur demands, all at a moderate price.