Are you interested in macro photography and want to buy a lens that specializes in close-up photography? Have you heard of the Canon 100mm Macro Lens F/2.8 L, but would like to hear from an experienced photographer before purchasing? If yes, then this Canon 100mm macro lens review and buying guide is for you.
Buying a new lens is always a delicate operation because these technological jewels are so expensive. So, is the Canon 100mm Macro the ideal lens for macro photography? This is what we will see in this full review.
I bought this lens just a few months after starting photography at the start of 2018. It was therefore my first real macro lens, since my practice in this area was limited to having fun with reversed lenses. As of this writing, I have 3 years of practice with the Canon 100mm Macro in my hands. In addition, this review is intended above all for people who are just starting out and looking for a first (high) quality objective. I will therefore not discuss technical data here: no measurements, comparisons, scientific analyzes, etc…
We’re not going to zoom in 300% on the photos to see if the sharpness is good (yes, it is anyway) and we won’t go x-ray the smallest details.
Canon 100mm Macro Lens: First Impression
First of all, you should know that this Canon 100mm Macro L is the high-end version of an old 100mm Macro released a few years ago. The length and bulk are quite reasonable, including the sun visor, which is an excellent point for storage.
Indeed, in macro photography I like to start with the bare minimum, because most of the time you have to put yourself in somewhat eccentric positions, generally lying near the ground or with your nose in the reeds.
It is also important to be mobile, to quickly change spots or to follow a dragonfly that is a little too restless.
In this area, the Canon 100mm macro f/2.8 does its job very well, since it is very manoeuvrable and very compact.
The visual aspect, secondary of course, but some like to have a beautiful object in their hands.
I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that this lens is visually very successful and pleasing to the eye.
The materials used give off a feeling of confidence and we really have the impression of being heavy.
Easy to Use: Excellent Handling
The handling is simply excellent. The lens is not heavy at all (990 grams) and I can easily spend several hours in a row with the camera in my hand without feeling the slightest fatigue.
Be careful, however, with too light lenses which do not allow good stability and which are not well balanced with the body.
Here this is not the case and it is quite easily that we manage to stabilize.
The Adjustment Knobs of the 100mm Macro Barrel
Three adjustment buttons are available on the side of the lens and allow you to quickly change them.
Their position is very well thought out since they fall perfectly under the thumb.
It is therefore very easy to modify them while being the eye in the viewfinder, which allows to be very responsive in the field.
List of adjustment buttons:
- The autofocus calculation distance, with 3 possible values: 0.3 meters to 0.5 meters <> 0.5 meters to infinity <> full
- Focus adjustment: manual or automatic
- The stabilization activation button: on or off
The Focus Ring
The focus ring of the Canon 100mm Macro is a delight to use: no too soft nor too hard.
We do not feel any play and the resistance is just perfect to be able to dose our focus properly.
I personally need 2, see 3 shots to explore the entire focus range, which makes a good stroke length and allows to be very precise, down to the millimeter.
And being able to do that in macro, it’s just wonderful.
Is the Autofocus Efficient?
I’ll be blunt with you, even though autofocus is very fast and efficient, I just never use it.
Indeed, in macro photography it is very complicated to work in auto-focus, because the vegetation is very dense and it is not rare to have a lot of element between the lens and the subject.
So, under these conditions, the autofocus is unable to focus on the subject and skates infinitely. I am therefore 100% of the time in manual (and I advise you to do the same).
So, if you plan to use only this macro lens, auto-focus should not be a purchase criterion. But anyway, the auto-focus is still excellent, having tested it a bit in portrait, an area where the Canon 100mm macro also excels.
Field Use of the 100mm Macro F/2.8 Cannon
Before talking about my field practice with this lens, I would like to point out that I use the Canon 100mm macro on an APS-C camera, the Canon 7D.
Why am I telling you about this?
Because having an APS-C allows me to benefit from a multiplier coefficient of x1.6.
This means that my Canon Macro lens actually “turns” into a 160mm.
Did you not understand all this gibberish? Just remember that if you mount the Canon 100mm macro on a full frame, you will need to get closer to your subject to have the same framing as on an APS-C.
However, in macro photography, the distance from the subject is very important, especially with very shy insects, but we will come back to it shortly after…
The Aperture of The Diaphragm
The aperture of the diaphragm is a very important criterion for me who adores artistic blur in photography.
With a maximum aperture of f/2.8, we can logically expect to get very good. And that’s definitely the case.
Indeed, at such an opening, we quickly obtain a very soft bokeh and very diluted backgrounds, which allows to isolate the subject, a real treat.
Nevertheless, and I must admit that it is also probably my requirement which evolves over time as well as my practice, I sometimes feel frustrated when I take so-called mood photos.
Indeed, the very soft and diluted effect of the bokeh is a little less pronounced when we move away.
But it is still excellent, I can assure you.
Optical Stabilization: Gadget or Useful?
For those who do not know it, optical stabilization is a mechanism present in some lenses and which compensates for vibrations and parasitic movements of the photographer (and therefore to reduce camera shake).
But this technology comes at a significant price and this objective is no exception.
Indeed, the stabilized Canon 100mm Macro costs almost double the un-stabilized 100mm Canon.
Suddenly, with such a price variation between the stabilized or non-stabilized versions of the objectives, the question arises: does stabilization in itself justify such a large increase in price?
Well, my answer is, yes and no.
In fact, I’ll just tell you that using optical stabilization shouldn’t be seen as the easy way out. Not mastering basic settings like the exposure triangle and relying on technology is clearly not a good way to progress. So optical stabilization, yes, why not, but only if we have learned to do without.
But in the end, what about the stabilization on this Canon 100mm f/2.8? I won’t hide it from you, as we are dealing here with a high-end lens, it is just excellent. So, if you have the means to indulge yourself, why deprive yourself? However, be aware that the un-stabilized version is still a great lens and will do the job perfectly, too.
Which Subjects to Photograph with the 100mm Macro F/2.8 Canon?
Because yes, all lenses are not used to photograph all the same subjects and this is all the more true in macro photography, where we can deal with sometimes fearful animals.
Everything will depend on the length of the focal length: the smaller the focal length, the closer it will be to the subject.
Here, with the Canon 100mm Macros f/2.8, we have an intermediate focal length, which will be perfect for photographing a lot of things.
Less Fearful Species
- Still subjects: typically, flowers.
- The big subjects: certain species of frogs, spiders, reptiles, etc.
- Non-flying insects: difficult for them to escape, we find among others ants, springtails, spiders, etc…
- Flying insects not very fearful: ladybugs, dipterans, bees, certain species of butterflies, etc…
The Fearful Species
But sometimes shooting can become difficult (but not impossible either) when dealing with fearful species, flying or not. Here are some concrete cases:
- Some Dragonfly Species: I have found that often the distance is just enough not to scare the animal away.
- Certain species of fearful butterflies: azure, great Apollo, etc…
- The snakes: here we enter more into the fear of the photographer to approach (including me).
You may also like to read: Canon EF 14mm Lens: Canon EF 14 f/2.8 L USM Lens Review and Ground Test
The Optical Quality of The Photos
Rather than giving you a long speech on the quality of the photos, I will leave you with a gallery presenting several pictures taken with this Canon 100mm Macro L mounted on my Canon 7D.
Obviously, my general opinion is that the quality of the photographs is really excellent.
In the end, you will understand, I am thrilled by this objective and it is very difficult for me to find fault with it. Indeed, we are dealing here with a professional model (Canon L series) and it shows. So, if you are going to invest in a first real quality macro lens and you have the means to indulge yourself with a stabilized model, then go for it.
This Canon 100m f/2.8 L is definitely for you and you can’t go wrong with it.
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Good photos to you.