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

By Don Chick, M.Photog.Cr., CPP

Canon’s new EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens (MSRP $1,049) is quite a lens! Even though it has a fixed focal length, the image stabilization, speed (f/2.8) and life-size close-up capabilities without an adapter, (1:1 maximum magnification) make it a very desirable lens to own. Quoting from Canon’s website, “the lens was developed to expand users' photographing range and allow a wider range of users to easily enjoy macro photography.” I recently had the opportunity to evaluate this new lens from  while photographing a wedding as well as creating macro images at my leisure.

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Of all the features and capabilities, the feature that impressed me most is the life-size, 1:1 maximum magnification factor. With the 100mm mounted on a Canon EOS 40D, I borrowed the bride’s bouquet as well as the newlyweds’ rings. Using only afternoon window light and the bouquet, I proceeded to capture images to see just what this lens was capable of doing. The first few images were captured from a more “normal” distance (Figure 1).

My initial idea for the image was to incorporate flowers and rings into a “vignette” image. Images like these are important for recording wedding day details for the bride and groom, as well as to increase the variety of images in their final album. After several images at a lower magnification factor, I began to move closer and closer to the rings until I was at the lens’s minimum focusing distance and maximum magnification factor (Figure 2).

I was very impressed with the lens stabilization feature—none of these images were taken with a tripod-mounted camera. It is worth noting, however, that in order to minimize camera shake, I had my elbows propped on the table and held the camera tightly while releasing the shutter. Because I was using the camera’s TTL metering capability when photographing the subject from such a close distance, I didn’t have to make any exposure compensation.

Figure 1

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Figure 2

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Please bear in mind, however, that if one meters the scene manually, there is an exposure factor that must be added to the reading in order to obtain proper exposure. Canon documents the exposure factor for the various magnification amounts in the manual. From my own experience I found the image stabilization feature to provide impressive results, especially at the slower shutter speeds.

According to Canon documentation, “This is the first lens on the market to incorporate Canon's new Hybrid Image Stabilization Technology. Hybrid IS effectively compensates for both angular and shift camera shake during close-up shooting.”

I found the weight of the lens at 22 ounces to provide the feeling of quality without being overly heavy or causing fatigue while doing a lot of hand-held shooting. Also, being an “L” series lens there is extra sealing to prevent dust and moisture from penetrating into the camera.

The images I created at my leisure were for the pure pleasure of macro photography. You can see from Figure 3 the range of magnification capability of this lens.

When creating macro images it’s important to know that the minimum focusing distance (distance from subject to focal plane) for 1:1 magnification is 11.8 inches, while the working distance (from the front of the lens, not the hood) is 5.5 inches. These are comfortable working distances, especially for live subjects. You can bring the lens in close to the subject but not so close that the subject recoils in abject horror. 

Figure 3

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Having spent time using the new Canon 100mm 2.8L lens in professional “real life” situations, I am very impressed. With image stabilization the lens produced images that were sharp. Also, at f2.8 the lens is fast, and at 22 ounces it’s easy to use for extended periods of time. In addition to those benefits, the 1:1 life size macro benefit enabled me to create a greater variety of images for my client, which could potentially increase my income.

Truthfully, I fell in love with this lens. If you’re looking for macro capability, seriously consider the Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS lens. It provides an exciting way to see the world from a different perspective and  more opportunities to be creative in your craft.