This lens isn’t very exciting to most people, because it’s a medium speed (1:1) macro lens. 100mm isn’t exciting and f2.8 isn’t exciting either. Personally, I’m not a macro shooter, so why am I reviewing this lens? It’s because there is another way to look at it for the average photographer and here is how I see it:
- 100mm gives a little more reach and compression over 85mm, but not so much that head and shoulders shots are difficult to achieve in a confined space, as can be the case with 135mm.
- f2-f2.8 is where a lot of 85mm users find themselves, so while f2.8 wont give the super thin sharpness zone of an 85 f1.4, its still very useful for portraits.
- Its a macro. This means you can get in very close to faces and eyes if you wish to. You can’t with an 85mm due to close focus restrictions.
- Its stabilised. None of the 85-135mm primes are. Even 3 stops of stabilisation gives you the ability to shoot in light that would ordinarily required f1.0…
- It is much lighter than a 70-200 f2.8 L II or equivalent lens. At 625g, it’s 40% of the weight and much more compact.
So if we ignore the macro billing, the question is ‘how does it work as a general purpose 100mm lens, which is likely to be used for portraiture, close ups and the odd bit of landscape shooting?
All images are are 1500 pixels on the long side and have had 70 points of sharpening in Lightroom with 0.8 radius, 25 points of detail and 6 points of masking. Note that I have not ticked CA removal or done any other profile corrections for this review.
Build Quality seems to be excellent. As you will know from my Canon EF 16-35 f4 IS L review, I am very happy that Canon is making its lenses out of quality plastic for the weight savings and extra bounce! Manual focusing feels pretty good and everything feels tight and well put together. Despite being plastic, it feels well-made albeit somewhat low density. The only surprise is that the front element is quite close to the filter thread, rather than being deeply recessed as with many macro lenses, which almost acts like a hood. Canon has solved this problem by providing the Canon EF 100mm f2.8 Macro IS L with a hood the size of a pint glass! I’m sure it would do a great job doubling up as a megaphone, should any of you happen to be sports coaches or activists. Handy.
Handling is great. Its a prime, so there isn’t much to say other than everything falls to finger easily and the long section before the mount allows plenty to hold onto to mount and dismount the lens. It is of course weathersealed as per the usual L standards.
Autofocus. I have read some say that AF felt a little slow compared to other L lenses, but I can’t say I noticed. It felt very fast and accurate to me. Canon really does seem a notch above Nikon in this regard. Its not that a Nikon D750 is meaningfully slower than a Canon 5D III when focusing with comparable lenses, but with the Canon if feels very decisive. You are left in no doubt as to when focus has been achieved. Its a bit like with certain performance cars: most of them go round corners very quickly, but not all provide feedback and inspire confidence along the way, no matter how much grip there is. With the Canon EF 100mm f2.8 Macro IS L it feels smooth and quick, but you aren’t so insulated from the process that you don’t know what is going on.
One issue I noticed (that is common amongst AF macro lenses) is that if you focus very close in and then point the camera at a distant subject, the lens and camera get their knickers in a twist. The mechanism is simply unable to grasp onto anything, because the lens is focused so close that the distant subject is one big smudge. The truth is that this does not matter, unless you fully expect to alternate between closeup shots of flowers and soaring eagles. Given half a fighting chance the lens racks through the range very well and there is of course a ‘focus range limiter’ switch to limit focus within narrower ranges to prevent it getting confused.
Optical Quality. I cannot fault it in the resolution department. Its razor sharp on centre at all distances at all apertures, until diffraction sets in. At portrait distances, performance is incredible. It’s sharp from corner to corner.
What about performance at distance? This is important to landscape, travel and scenic photographers. After plenty of test shots I came to the conclusion that its one of those very well behaved modern macro lenses that manages to perform almost on part with a non-macro prime at distance. On centre its tack sharp, always, but as with every macro lens I have ever used, at infinity it takes a little longer for the edges to reach their best. As you will see from the shots below, by f5.6 it is excellent. This is a lens that frankly leaves the 5D III’s 22MP sensor in the dust. It can do so much more and I would love to test it on the Canon 5DS or 5DSR.
The Canon EF 100mm f2.8 Macro IS L really can double as a portrait and landscape lens and manages this to a very high standard indeed. Anyone who tells you that macro lenses are no worse at infinity than other prime lenses of similar focal length is kidding themselves, but some manage to mask those deficiencies well. Will the Canon EF 100mm f2.8 Macro IS L match the Canon EF 70-200 f2.8 L II at 100mm between f2.8 and f4 for distant subjects? No, definitely not in my experience, but by f5.6 I don’t think there is anything in it.
What about off centre focus at portrait distances? Now this is something that people often don’t test for, but is crucial in my view: will the lens accurately focus using peripheral focus points? In the case of this lens, its a big fat yes and the result is the same sort of crispness you’d expect on centre.
Bokeh. In my subjective opinion its pretty good. Like most lenses, it can throw a wobbly when you throw a messy backrgound at it at just the right lens-subject-background distance to upset things, but I saw consistently very good backgrounds. With this lens being a touch longer in focal length terms than the Canon EF 85mm f1.8 USM, I think the two are quite comparable. The 85mm at f1.8 produces backgrounds that are a touch more diffused, but there’s very little in it. At 100mm and f2.8, it’s very similar to the 85mm at f2.2 or so.
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