Trent Chau | Photographer and Instructor

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Can you make incredible better? – A buyers review of the 100 2.8L IS Macro

100 2.8L IS Macro

Seemingly it has light rings out of the box

Along with the Canon 7D, Canon also released a bevy of lenses. The stand out lens among the batch was the new 100 2.8L IS Macro lens. The first lens to use Canon’s hybrid IS system (read more about that here) the 100 2.8L IS Macro promises 4 stops of stabilization as a normal lens, and up to 2 stops of stabilization as a 1:1 macro lens. Well enough about the marketing press material, lets get into the meat of it. This review will cover what you want to know. Is the lens good, does the IS work, and very importantly is it better and worth more than the incredible 100 2.8 Macro US? So without further ado.

IMG_0406

Water drops on a green leaf | Canon 7D with 100 2.8L Macro IS (Shutter 1/320 | Iso 400)

The Canon 100 2.8L IS Macro

Physical Build :
When you first impression one gets from the Canon 100 2.8L IS macro is how surprisingly light it is. The lens is said to weight 623 grams, but when you pick it up it feels pretty much light as a feather. The build quality of the lens compares to other L lenses, which means it’s pretty much “Built well, feels nice, and very solid”. The lens hood fits very snugly on the lens, and is quite sturdy in itself. As expected the focus ring is well dampened and a joy to use, with full time manual focus being super easy on both the 5D Mark II and 7D with their large viewfinders. Like most of the new Canon lenses, all of the switches on the 100 2.8 IS are recessed so you don’t accidentally hit them during use. With the amount of fine focusing you will do with this lens, this is a blessing as you are more likely to hit any switches during that time. The lens also has a 3 part focus limiter on it, ranging for .3m~.5m, .5 to infinity, and full range. This really helps the versatility of the lens and will be discussed later. The lens unfortunately does not come with a tripod collar, though the spot for one is there. This tripod collar is A LOT better than the one located on the 100 2.8 Macro. The $150 to buy the tripod collar is not fun though.

Canon seems to be going a new direction with their lens design, and I like it! The 100 2.8L IS macro, 15-85 IS EF-S, new tilt shifts, and other lenses all look awesome and match well with the slight body style changes of Canon’s new SLRS. Definitely a thumbs up from me.

Verdict : 90% out of 100%.

Atlanta Botanical Garden with the 100 2.8L IS Macro

tlanta Botanical Garden | Canon 7D with 100 2.8L Macro IS (Shutter 1/200 | Iso 400)

A

Real world Use:
As with most Canon L series lenses, the Canon 100 2.8L IS Macro delivers right out of the box. The auto focus is snappy in macro mode, and fairly quick when going from macro to normal focus. As mentioned above, you can set your limiter switch and make the focus work even faster in your favor. During real world use the Autofocus was extremely accurate, and upon reviewing the focus on a large lcd found the af hit exactly where I wanted too on my subject. While using MF to get your exact focus is what I recommend it’s very nice having fast focusing on a macro lens. From recollection, the focus speed of the 100 2.8L IS Macro is comparable or better than the 100 2.8 Macro. Fine tune focusing via the focus ring is a pleasure, and paired with live view on the newer Canon SLR’s makes Macro photography almost too easy.

Atlanta Botanical Garden with the 100 2.8L IS Macro

Atlanta Botanical Garden with the 100 2.8L IS MacroAtlanta Botanical Garden - Canon 7D with 100 2.8L IS Macro (shutter speed 1/320 | iso 800)

 

Immediately upon receiving the lens 3 weeks ago, I brought the lens and 7d to the Atlanta Botanical garden. As soon as you take a photo with it the quality of the lens is apparent. Color and contrast was splendid (using a normal mode on the camera) and the bokeh is buttery and smooth. I wouldn’t say it’s much different than the 100 2.8 Macro (non IS), but it easily matched anything I got out of the older macro.

The IS system in the lens is what separates this lens from the old macro. 2 stops of 1:1 macro stabilization means you can hand hold roughly 1/25~1/40 shots and still achieve good sharpness. This is great news for wedding photographers who don’t have the time to fix a lighting solution for their detail shots but also work in sub par lighting conditions. In practice Canon’s claim of 2 stops in macro is pretty much accurate. I shot several macro’s at 1/40th~1/60th fully handheld without any support save my hands, and the photos were sharp to my liking.

Atlanta Botanical Garden with the 100 2.8L IS Macro

Frog | Canon 7D with 100 2.8L Macro IS (Shutter 1/50 | Iso 800)

Atlanta Botanical Garden with the 100 2.8L IS Macro

Atlanta Botanical Garden with the 100 2.8L IS MacroOdometer | Canon 7D with 100 2.8L Macro IS (Shutter 1/30 | Iso 1600)

 

Along with its macro ability, the Canon 100 2.8L IS Macro on paper is a perfect range for portraits and head shots. When Canon announced this lens I was salivating at the idea of not only a great new macro lens, but a lens that would be more portable and versatile than my 85 1.2L II. There is absolutely no doubt to how incredible the 85 1.2L II is for headshots, but it really is a one trick pony in the lens world and at a price point of $1800 quite a frightening to carry around just for casual photos. The 100 2.8 Macro (old) proved a great substitute (albiet 3 1/2 stops slower than the 85) for headshots, but I was longing the build quality performance of an L series lens, and the inclusion of Image Stabilization. The 100 2.8L IS Macro delivers on all counts. At 100mm the range has been great for portraits. The 2.8 speed is fast and while the huge aperature of the 85 1.2 does create some special blur that can’t be matched, the 100 2.8L IS Macro with it’s close focusing creates some stunning dof blur also. The IS system helps wonderfully also, and will be key to many special lighting effect shots in the future for many a portrait photographer.

Something I really enjoy about the 100 2.8L IS Macro as a portrait lens is how close you can get someone, mostly if they have a fascinating part of them you just want to capture (beautiful eyes, a pretty tattoo…etc.). Remember also that using the limiter switch also can make this lens a very fast portrait lens with image stabilization. Having used my 70-200 2.8 IS as a portrait lens before, the canon 100 2.8L IS Macro is easily up there in portrait quality in comparison. It does not match the 85 1.2L II in portrait quality (it’s not far off though), but for it’s versatilty and extreme portability the 100 2.8L IS Macro is excellent.

Mr Starnes

Lee | Canon 5D Mk II with 100 2.8L Macro IS (Shutter 1/250 | Iso 800 | F2.8)

Katie - the other day

Katie | Canon 5D Mk II with 100 2.8L Macro IS (Shutter 1/100 | Iso 800 | F5)

One has to been extremely nitpicky to find a negative when it comes to the performance of the 100 2.8L IS Macro. Even the lab MTF charts show that the lens quality matches some of the best Canon has ever released. The real world performance showed floored me with how excellent it was, and any photos that didn’t appeal to me was mostly my fault as the photographer. CA, Distortion, and so on was pretty much not seen or an issue in the 3 weeks of using it.

Verdict: 93% out of 100%

Value :
At $1049 the 100 2.8L IS Macro is actually quite a value for an L series lens. It’s more expensive than the value L series lenses (17-40, 70-200 f4 (non is and is), 135 f2) but also a lot cheaper than the high end primes and zooms glasses which start at $1200 and sky rocket in price. Many people on various photography forums were pleasantly surprised at the announced price of the lens, as the new L series tilt shifts that came out right before this lens were each over $1800. The street estimate was well into the $1200~$1400 for this lens, so it was quite nice seeing the $1049.

The strike that the 100 2.8L IS Macro has against it though is that it comes in the shadows of the high quality Canon 100 2.8 Macro USM. Priced at roughly $600 new ($450ish used) the Canon 100 2.8 Macro USM performs admirably at 60% of the price of the new L series lens. So does the included lens hood, IS system, and L series branding make the 100 2.8L IS Macro worth the price? Too me, yes. To others, probably not as much.

For someone looking to buy their first Macro lens, $1049 is a giant investment and they could buy the 100 2.8 USM with a Canon MR-14EX flash for pretty much the same cost, and get similar if not better results. Optically the 100 2.8L Macro IS does show some improvements over the standard USM macro, but not too much to justify a massive increase price. This can be applied to someone who currently has the 100 2.8 Macro USM and looking to upgrade to the new L. Will you have an improvement? Yes. But if you are doing your macros with a tripod, macro rail, shutter cable…you won’t really see much improvement from the upgrade. If you hand held your macro shots, you will see a vast improvement in your macro photos.

So why am I happy with it? Well the lens truely is versatile. Before I had the 100 2.8 USM macro, I had a 100 sigma macro that was great optically but dreadfully slow in auto focus. It really wasn’t that great of a portrait lens in practical use, though the pictures came out pretty nice. Next was the Canon 100 2.8 USM. The AF was faster, the quality was great, but it never felt right as a replacement lens for my 85 1.2L II when it came to portraits. I really just thought “Macro” when I saw it in my bag. Obviously this is just a mindset thing though, and probably now the 100 2.8 Macro USM would be a great portrait lens. The new Canon feels just right, and I’m happy to have it. With the new IS system hand held macro is a reality and absolutely fun. There were photos taken in locations that weren’t accessible to a tripod, and seeing the resulting photo was a joy because of the IS system. The portraits taken with already not only look great, but they are also great enough that clients would buy it. Within a few days of owning it the lens already paid for its difference in price. That makes this lens a great value to me, but this isn’t the case for everyone.

Verdict : 80% out of 100% (when you have such a great lens in the old 100 2.8 USM macro at only 60% of it’s price, it’s hard giving the new L anything higher than an 8 )

Conclusion
A great addition to the EF line, the Canon 100 2.8L IS Macro will deliver some of the best photos we will see for quite a while. The new IS system works as well as Canon claims, and 2 stops of 1:1 macro stabilization can mean getting a shot that didn’t come out correctly before. Paired with the better high iso performance, high megapixel count, great live view, and accurate autofocusing of new Canon camera bodies the 100 2.8L IS Macro delivers stunning results straight out of camera. Canon claims some pretty nice MTF readings, and from real world use those readings look to be accurate. The build quality lives up to the L designation, but the lens is also surprisingly very light and easy to work with, which can’t be said for some of the older and bulkier L series lenses (24-70 2.8L, 70-200
2.8IS, 85 1.2L II).

The Lens was a joy to use on both the new Canon 7D, and the Canon 5D mark II. For some assignments I even shot the lens on a Elan 7N with some Tri-X to stunning results.

If there was anything that doesn’t shine as bright it would be the value of the lens. Standing out on it’s own the 100 2.8L IS Macro is a great value for what it delivers. It’s an awesome macro lens, it has a great IS system, good build quality, and it’s priced between the standard 100 macro and the 180 3.5L Macro from Canon. Yet it cannot escape the shadow of the 100 2.8 USM macro which is priced so much less. One would have to justify the price difference themselves, but no matter what you choose between the two you will not be disappointed.

Final Verdict : 95%

Pros:

  • Excellent performance. Sharp like all macros should be.
  • Very well built. Smart design cues make it easy to work with, and also fool proof
  • Stabilization system works as advertised and very well.
  • Included lens hood helps optimize quality even more, and saves money (the 100 2.8 USm hood is $40)
  • Fast Autofocus with limiter, with well dampened auto focus right for Full time manual focus
  • Versatile focal length, great for macros that wont disturb bugs and animals, and also great portraits
  • Location for tripod collar support is an upgrade from the old 100 2.8 Macro
  • Lightweight for great portability and hand hold ability

Cons:

  • Value in comparison to the 100 2.8 USM, it’s great but is it worth $400 more?
  • Does not include tripod collar ($150 more to get that)
  • 67mm filter thread is different from the old macro, and not common with other L series lenses

About trentchau

Photographer, videographer, and photography instructor in Atlanta. Born in New Orleans. I love food more than photography, but do love photography quite a bit.

5 comments on “Can you make incredible better? – A buyers review of the 100 2.8L IS Macro

  1. mdee88
    October 25, 2009

    Thank you for this extensive review, highly appreciated. I use a 50D for events and it seems the new 100 would be perfect for it.

  2. Andreas Helke
    October 25, 2009

    I consider lenses without IS seriously crippled and not worth much to me. I wonder why you did not mention the image stabilization in your value consideration.

    • trentchau
      October 26, 2009

      Very good point. As someone who shoots a lot of Canon fast primes, I didn’t really give IS the credit it deserves because of not needing it. I will probably add more about this later.

  3. William Power
    March 23, 2011

    Thanks for this very informative and well-presented review of the Canon Macro 100 L. One of the best I’ve read. Some people might want something longer for their full-frame DSLRs, but on a crop-sensor this thing rocks!!I got mine last fall so pretty excited about spring shooting in Canada (Nova Scotia).

  4. Brandzi
    January 10, 2013

    model name with portraits? 😉

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This entry was posted on October 24, 2009 by in Photography Equipment Reviews.

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