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

Canon EF 100mm F2.8L USM Macro
Canon EF 100mm F2.8L USM Macro

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM Lens which I got from B&H, reached me last week. I wanted to review this lens with both my Canon EOS 5D Mark II and newly released Canon EOS 7D. I thank my friend Parshwanath for lending me his new Canon EOS 7D to conduct this review.

Till recently Nikon was only one with a very nice 100mm f/2.8 macro lens which had their VR image stabilization, Nikon 105mm f/2.8G AF-S VR. It’s taken Canon a while to answer that lens, but the new Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM Lens appears to be a very worthy reply. It is quite surprising that Canon released a new macro lens with the same focal length as its very popular consumer-grade Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro but sporting an L badge and an all-new Hybrid Image Stabilization system.

Very Nice Contrast
Very Nice Contrast

It is the first lens Canon’s new Hybrid IS Technology, which adds shift compensation to the standard angular camera shake compensation. Anyone who has tried to shoot hand held close-ups knows how hard it is to compose when you can’t hold the camera still. The Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens is supposed to make it easier to compose those shots without a tripod.

The new Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro features the same 1:1 magnification capabilities as the non-L version but offers all the advantages of an L lens such as weather-sealing, superior build quality, faster auto-focus, ultra-low dispersion elements, and circular aperture blades for softer out-of-focus edges.

Carpenter Bee
Carpenter Bee

Here is the Canon’s official specifications for the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM Lens:

  • Focal Length & Maximum Aperture – 100mm 1:2.8
  • Lens Construction – 15 elements in 12 groups
  • Diagonal Angle of View – 23.4°
  • Focus Adjustment – Inner focusing system with USM. Full-time manual focus available.
  • Closest Focusing Distance – 0.99 ft./0.3m (maximum close-up magnification: 1x)
  • Filter Size – 67mm
  • Max. Diameter x Length, Weight – 3.1 x 4.8 in./77.7 x 123mm, 22.0 oz./625g

Feel
Being an L-grade lens, the construction is rock solid. Focus ring feels firm and smooth with virtually no lens barrel wobble. The lens is roughly the same length as the non-L version but is actually narrower in diameter than the non-L. Switches are located in right places and feels well balanced when shooting, very tactile yet not too heavy and bulky.

Focusing is Quick and accurate
Focusing is Quick and accurate

The EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro has a very sleek design where the lens tapers gradually from the lens opening towards the lens mount. Unlike the older EF 100mm goes from narrow-to-wide then tapers off to a narrow barrel near the mount area. The lens hood is very deep feels very protective.

Focus
The EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro’s focusing is completely internal, meaning the lens does not change in length throughout its focusing range. The USM motor powers the lens is quiet, quick and accurate. The AF performance is much faster and more accurate on a pro-grade AF system like the new EOS 7D as compared to the standard Canon AF system like 5D Mark II. it is dream to use this lens on 7D as the autofocus is lightening fast and accurate.

Autofocus is Superfast on EOS 7D
Autofocus is Superfast on EOS 7D

Canon has provided an AF range limiter that allow you to choose between close macro focusing (0.3m-0.5m only), normal macro focusing (0.5m to infinity), or full AF range (0.3m to infinity). Selecting the appropriate focus limiter will speed up AF considerably as it tells the lens and camera to ignore elements outside the selected AF range and adjusts the distance the AF mechanism has to travel.

Sharpness
Prime lenses are often sharp as tack, but macro lenses take it a step further. With large magnifications and importance of capturing minute details, a macro lens has to be ultra-sharp, and this is where the EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM excels.

Argiope Spider
Argiope Spider

If macro shots will require a small aperture, so wide-open performance is not that big of an issue for true macro photography, however, many photographers use a macro lens as a general-subject lens as well as a dedicated portrait lens, in which wide-open performance is a big factor. Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro is very sharp even at f/2.8 and is insanely sharp at f/4 onwards. At 100mm, you might have to stop down to f/3.5 or f/4 when shooting portraits anyway to get enough depth-of-field, so rest assured that you will get tack sharp photos all the time with this lens.

Nice And Sharp
Nice And Sharp

Lens Aberration
This lens as well as the older non-L controlled vignetting sufficiently. Vignetting was still easily visible on EOS 7D when used wide open but disappeard at around f/4 or higher. Chromatic aberration is next to none at any aperture opening. There’s a very, very slight magenta edge Chromatic aberration at f/2.8, but it’s hardly visible in real-world usage, all Chromatic aberration virtually disappears at f/3.5 onwards. Flare is very well controlled as well, especially with the deep lens hood attached.

Sunset
Sunset

Magnification
The Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro has a maximum of 1:1 life-size reproduction magnification and this is achieved at a minimum focusing distance of 30cm. The details captured at 1:1 magnification is fantastic and you can obtain larger magnification with appropriate extension tubes. Even though Canon Tele Convertors don’t work on this lens (you can try to use Canon TCs along with an extension tube) 3rd party Tele Convertors do work nicely. I have Tamron 1.4x TC which worked well on this lens.

Depth of Field at Different Aperatures
Depth of Field at Different Aperatures

The aperture displayed by the camera assumes an infinity focus distance; however, the effective aperture becomes darker at closer focus distances. The following chart details the amount of light loss incurred at the specified subject magnification.

Magnification: 1:5 1:3 1:2 1:1.5 1:1
Exposure Factor (loss in stops) 0 2/3 1 1 1/3 1 2/3 2
Effective Aperture f/2.8 f/3.6 f/4.1 f/4.6 f/5.0 f/5.9

Bokeh

Grass inflorescence
Grass inflorescence

The nine, rounded aperture blades of the EF 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro produces wonderful bokeh (out-of-focus pattern) qualities. The OOF areas exhibit smooth, creamy transition from sharp to blurry areas of the image. The background blur is better than what the MTF chart would indicate. In my very subjective opinion the quality of the blur may not be in the same league as the 85L or 135L, but it looks good, and is better than my L zooms. It has a great bokeh due to the combination of DOF (low f stop) and aperture blade design and for f2.8 lens it is doing a god job.

Color and Contrast
As expected of any L lens, the colors are punchy and just a tad warm while high contrast is maintained even if the light source is within the frame.

Grass inflorescence in Fading light
Grass inflorescence in Fading light

Hybrid IS
Much excitement came out with the announcement of the Hybrid Image Stabilization (HIS) system. There are lot of instances where a tripod isn’t feasible to deploy, either there is no physical space available to use a tripod or when you’re chasing an active macro subject (such as insects, for example) and having an effective image stabilization system could spell the difference between a sharp image and a blurry one caused by camera shake.

Carpenter Bee
Carpenter Bee

The HIS system on this lens can stabilize 4 stops easily in good lighting, while for macro shooting, effective stabilization tops out at 2 stops before things start to get blurry.

Conclusion
Since the cost of this L-lens is twice that of non L is EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro twice as good as older EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro lens? Optically, I’d have to say no as the consumer-line EF 100mm f/2.8 USM can definitely stand on its own. The new EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM is a very sharp lens, as proven by its published MTF charts compared to the older non-L variant, and in macro photography, test chart readings vs real-life images do correlate better than other lenses. The auto-focus is also quieter and the manual focusing mechanism is just about perfect for hand-held manual focusing.

Works as a great Portrait lens
Works as a great Portrait lens

The auto focus is much faster than I expected. I had always found macro lenses were slow. Unless you are going from minimum focus distance to 8+ feet away you just need to make good use of the focus range switch.

The image stabilization is amazing! I have tried this lens in dark situations (e.g. concert, night shots). F2.8 + IS of 4 f stops for longer distances is a great combination.

I can think of very few negative aspects for this lens. Cost being one of them. Tripod collar is not supplied along with lens and costs quite a heavily and it is newer D type one. It looks exactly like the tripod collar from Canon EF 400mm F/5.6 which unfortunately does not fit this lens. I also need to get a new 67mm adapter for my Canon MT-24EX macro twin light flash to use it on this lens. Other than these minor hitches the lens is perfect upgrade.

Overall it is a very capable lens with nice features and worthy upgrade to my equally capable non-L macro lens. Although I will be using the 100L primarily as a macro lens it will make a great short telephoto walk around/event/street prime lens.

EXIF info - Aperture : ƒ/5.6 | Camera : Canon EOS 5D Mark II | Taken : 25 October, 2009 | Exposure bias : -1.3EV | Flash fired : no | Focal length : 100mm | ISO : 100 | Location : 12° 52′ 50.813040062844″ N 74° 50′ 45.69828009828″ E | Shutter speed : 1/30s | Images and content Copyright © Krishna Mohan. Please contact me to purchase prints or for image publication license.
EXIF info - Aperture : ƒ/5.6 | Camera : Canon EOS 5D Mark II | Taken : 25 October, 2009 | Exposure bias : -1.3EV | Flash fired : no | Focal length : 100mm | ISO : 100 | Location : 12° 52′ 50.813040062844″ N 74° 50′ 45.69828009828″ E | Shutter speed : 1/30s | Images and content Copyright © Krishna Mohan. Please contact me to purchase prints or for image publication license.
EXIF info - Aperture : ƒ/5.6 | Camera : Canon EOS 5D Mark II | Taken : 25 October, 2009 | Exposure bias : -1.3EV | Flash fired : no | Focal length : 100mm | ISO : 100 | Location : 12° 52′ 50.813040062844″ N 74° 50′ 45.69828009828″ E | Shutter speed : 1/30s | Images and content Copyright © Krishna Mohan. Please contact me to purchase prints or for image publication license.
EXIF info - Aperture : ƒ/5.6 | Camera : Canon EOS 5D Mark II | Taken : 25 October, 2009 | Exposure bias : -1.3EV | Flash fired : no | Focal length : 100mm | ISO : 100 | Location : 12° 52′ 50.813040062844″ N 74° 50′ 45.69828009828″ E | Shutter speed : 1/30s | Images and content Copyright © Krishna Mohan. Please contact me to purchase prints or for image publication license.
EXIF info - Aperture : ƒ/5.6 | Camera : Canon EOS 5D Mark II | Taken : 25 October, 2009 | Exposure bias : -1.3EV | Flash fired : no | Focal length : 100mm | ISO : 100 | Location : 12° 52′ 50.813040062844″ N 74° 50′ 45.69828009828″ E | Shutter speed : 1/30s | Images and content Copyright © Krishna Mohan. Please contact me to purchase prints or for image publication license.
EXIF info - Aperture : ƒ/5.6 | Camera : Canon EOS 5D Mark II | Taken : 25 October, 2009 | Exposure bias : -1.3EV | Flash fired : no | Focal length : 100mm | ISO : 100 | Location : 12° 52′ 50.813040062844″ N 74° 50′ 45.69828009828″ E | Shutter speed : 1/30s | Images and content Copyright © Krishna Mohan. Please contact me to purchase prints or for image publication license.
EXIF info - Aperture : ƒ/5.6 | Camera : Canon EOS 5D Mark II | Taken : 25 October, 2009 | Exposure bias : -1.3EV | Flash fired : no | Focal length : 100mm | ISO : 100 | Location : 12° 52′ 50.813040062844″ N 74° 50′ 45.69828009828″ E | Shutter speed : 1/30s | Images and content Copyright © Krishna Mohan. Please contact me to purchase prints or for image publication license.
EXIF info - Aperture : ƒ/5.6 | Camera : Canon EOS 5D Mark II | Taken : 25 October, 2009 | Exposure bias : -1.3EV | Flash fired : no | Focal length : 100mm | ISO : 100 | Location : 12° 52′ 50.813040062844″ N 74° 50′ 45.69828009828″ E | Shutter speed : 1/30s | Images and content Copyright © Krishna Mohan. Please contact me to purchase prints or for image publication license.
EXIF info - Aperture : ƒ/5.6 | Camera : Canon EOS 5D Mark II | Taken : 25 October, 2009 | Exposure bias : -1.3EV | Flash fired : no | Focal length : 100mm | ISO : 100 | Location : 12° 52′ 50.813040062844″ N 74° 50′ 45.69828009828″ E | Shutter speed : 1/30s | Images and content Copyright © Krishna Mohan. Please contact me to purchase prints or for image publication license.
EXIF info - Aperture : ƒ/5.6 | Camera : Canon EOS 5D Mark II | Taken : 25 October, 2009 | Exposure bias : -1.3EV | Flash fired : no | Focal length : 100mm | ISO : 100 | Location : 12° 52′ 50.813040062844″ N 74° 50′ 45.69828009828″ E | Shutter speed : 1/30s | Images and content Copyright © Krishna Mohan. Please contact me to purchase prints or for image publication license.
EXIF info - Aperture : ƒ/5.6 | Camera : Canon EOS 5D Mark II | Taken : 25 October, 2009 | Exposure bias : -1.3EV | Flash fired : no | Focal length : 100mm | ISO : 100 | Location : 12° 52′ 50.813040062844″ N 74° 50′ 45.69828009828″ E | Shutter speed : 1/30s | Images and content Copyright © Krishna Mohan. Please contact me to purchase prints or for image publication license.

16 thoughts on “Review: Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM Lens

  1. Very nice review. I was curious about the HIS system – good to know it works well. Colors, contrast and DoF on the images look good. Congratulations on the new toy – hope to see more images 🙂

  2. Great and thorough review! I got a brief chance to work with this lens, although not on the field, and I have to agree to everything said here.

    The real question is, as mentioned, – how worthy is this as an upgrade? Considering the pedestrian AF on the 5D MK II, and the fact that any macro user worth his salt would use a tripod, is it worth paying a premium for IS? I wouldn’t mind paying a premium for sharpness and better bokeh, but considering that the current 100mm is a superb lens, the arguments for an upgrade are not very strong. But L fever is definitely very strong 🙂

  3. Hey, that’s really a thorough review! The sharpness and the contrast are really impressive. would like to see some side by side images of both, the HISand non IS lense too. 🙂

  4. Hi NiranJ,
    HIS is great on paper as well as in the field. I never expected it to work that well when I saw the announcement. but after working with it it is a fine lens. I can confidently work on macro without flash now.
    Regards
    Krishna Mohan

  5. yes Pratap, how worthy is this as an upgrade over non-IS?
    Two things which makes that decision. Build + weather seal + L badge is one of them, HIS is the other.
    If you compare sharpness and bokeh I feel both lenses are identical. Contrast is better in the L lens. If you use tripod for macro then there is no need to upgrade (might as well buy gitzo tripod for the upgrade price;-) )
    Paying twice for those features is a very difficult choice which you need to make. I agree with L fever though (now only one lens in my bag is non-L 😉 )
    Regards
    Krishna Mohan

  6. I held this lens before during the 1D Mark IV launch and it was really awesome in build quality. I don’t know, some how it felt better than the 70-200L lenses. 🙂 Maybe it’s just me.

    Now I don’ t own any macro lens yet but I’m just wondering whether I should pay a premium of this one over the non-IS version……….. still thinking, still thinking very much.

  7. Build quality is excellent, I have given few pointers on whether IS vs or Non-IS version is for you. But it will be difficult decision. I sold my Non-IS version and went for IS one. Thanks for commenting on my blog.
    Regards
    Krishna Mohan

  8. Prospective buyers of a macro lens for a Canon EOS system have a great first choice in this 100mm Macro. The extra length over a 50mm macro gives much better working distance (space between lens and subject) in the field, and EOS-compatible lenses by other manufacturers match poorly with accessories and are nowhere near as sharp.
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  9. I’m interested in buying a used 100mm f2.8 lens. So, if anyone is contemplating an upgrade to new 100mm f2.8L IS USM, can contact me for his old lens. Thanks.

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