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Canon 100mm 2.8 EF Macro Lens Review

I picked up a Canon 100mm 2.8 EF Macro lens about a month ago. I heard consistently that it’s supposed to be one of the best macro lenses on the market and a great portrait lens as well. I’ve even heard that it rivals the quality of Canon’s famed L-series lenses. When I came across a great deal on this lens so I thought I would give it a try – there’s always Ebay if it doesn’t work out right? I haven’t had the chance to get to know this lens fully but here are my first impressions.

Overall the lens can be summed up as being able to focus very close, producing very sharp images, and having extremely shallow depth of field unless stopped down to F16. I didn’t stop down that much on the following photos because of some dust spots on my sensor :) Camera shake is also an issue when focusing very close with this lens and a tripod is recommended.

here are some examples of GOOD photos.

This is pretty close to minimum focal distance, which is 1.02 ft \ 0.31 m. This photo was taken with a Canon Digital rebel, which has a 1.6x crop on the sensor.

When all went well, I was able to prodce extremely sharp images with the 100mm macro. Below are the images posted next to a 100% crop.
Notice the extreme falloff on the corners and edges of this image, but see how sharp the focal point can be.

Again, extremely sharp detail with this image.

I’m happy with this image but note the extremely shallow depth of field even at F9.0. This can be used for a very dramatic effect especially on portraits but I can see it being frustrating when trying to have the whole scene in focus, especially since I usually shoot at F8 on my other lenses.

Another example of a pretty sharp image

And now for some of the challenges with this lens:

I’m quite happy with the results above but truth be told I had to really bracket the focus to get these images. I think the main reason being it’s hard to get the subject in focus because the focal plane is razor thin unless you are shooting at a rediculously high F-stop – which requres a lot of light. Below you will see an example of how the smallest change in position will throw off the focus.

This spider was extremely small – maybe just 1-2 centimeters across. This photo appears sharp on the spider’s head but notice the quick falloff on the legs. This photo was taken at F8.

I probably moved the camera a couple of centimeters here and it threw the whole image out of focus except for the top corner.

I would recommend shooting at 1/200s at F16 with an external flash and either a very sturdy tripod or a monopod when doing macro work with this lens to minimize camera shake and maximize depth of field.

Here’s a very average photo – I got a lot like this. The focus on this image was just a little bit off on the crop. The resulting image is no as sharp as the examples above. This was pretty typical.

This photo was taken at 1/125s and the spider wasn’t moving that much. I didn’t have a good tripod or monopod at the time so you can see the shake, especially on the crop.

100mm is a pretty long focal distance and since the lens does not have image stabilization, the potential for camera shake is pretty great – especially if you are taking photos of objects that are close to the lens. Even the tiniest movement of the camera will result in a blurry images.

Overall I like this lens. I really like being able to focus very close with it, but am just not used to the challenges. I don’t like having to use a tripod, but if I can consistently get images like these above, it will be worth it. I just got a got a monopod for xmas so I’ll be testing it out over the next few weeks. I also want to get a sturdy tripod. I think it’s pretty much a requirement with any macro work like this.

I’ll probably post a followup review in a few months. UPDATE: 8-10-07 – part 2 of my Canon 100mm 2.8 Macro Review is located here.

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