Review: Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens (2018)
If you are looking to turn up your photography game by honing in on the small details in a scene, the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens is an essential in your gear bag.
Usually we avoid making such a bold statement at the beginning of a product review. This tends to be because most pieces of camera equipment we use tend to have some downsides. This is realized heavily in camera lenses just due to the use cases - the Canon 50mm f/1.2 is a lens we pull out in just about every context, so we've come to see limitations in certain environments (though you can read that review in more detail, we're not meaning to suggest it's not capable in a variety of scenarios!).
the value of the canon 100mm macro lens
The Canon 100mm f/2.8 lens is special because it really is the definition of a niche camera lens - it is not for everybody, but if you are looking to get into macro photography - whether as a hobby or for a specific purpose - this lens fires on all cylinders and does the job beautifully well.
Immediately after opening the box and taking a few test shots, this became apparent to us. One of the unique capabilities of this lens is how clearly you can see the depth of field through the viewfinder, before you even take a shot. This helps immensely with finding the right composition, and adjusting to get the ideal focus on the small subjects in your frame.
The actual outputted image quality is - in a word - stunning. As wedding photographers, this lens is really invaluable for getting detail and ring shots for our brides. In the past, we would use the 50mm lens (as well as occasionally our 85mm f/1.2), and while these worked to some extent - it often required multiple shots to get one that was mostly in focus. While we would not argue that the 100mm macro lens is a must buy for photographers just getting into the industry, it is definitely a necessity for capturing professional macro level photos when needed.
Separate from wedding photography, we had a similar response to this lens as we had when we first took our 24mm lens for a spin. The drastic change in perspective impacts how you view your shot and the world itself. So many times over the years have we taken photos of flowers in our backyard, but with this macro lens, the perspective changes and adds a layer of freshness that can't be ignored. Never have we been so excited to take a photo of a dandelion! Seeing every minuscule detail is simply amazing, and allows us to better appreciate the world around us, too!
On the technical side of things, the image stabilization (which we are familiar with due to our heavy use of the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens) adds substantial value to this lens. At f/2.8, you are able to allow in a good amount of light, but in some low light scenarios where you may wish to drop your shutter speed to compensate - the image stabilization will kick in and assist with minimizing blur as a result of any shakiness. This combined with the excellent performance of our Canon 5D Mark IV camera's, even at higher ISO's, allows us to capture images that are technically good with ease, and focus more of our energy on finding tasteful compositions.
Given that most macro lenses pride themselves on capturing "sharp" images, it should come as no surprise that the 100mm performs excellently in this department. It is especially impressive that at f/2.8 (wide open aperture), this lens outputs clear and tack sharp image quality. Stopping up a few notches, even to f/3.5, and this clarity is even further enhanced - especially around the edges of the frame.
comparing the canon 100mm macro lens to budget alternatives
One of the biggest questions you may be facing if you are considering purchasing the Canon 100mm Macro Lens is how this compares to more budget friendly alternatives such as macro tubes or macro filters. This is something we certainly considered before purchasing ourselves.
In the past, we have used both tubes and filters as a replacement, mostly in conjunction with our Canon 50mm f/1.2 lens. While this does work to some extent, there are notable limitations. A few of these include: images are not as sharp as with a proper macro lens, some potential for image blur if not attached correctly to the lens, focusing issues, and it can be inconvenient/time consuming to attach/detach these items.
For hobbyists, most of these issues may be easier to resolve given that you are not likely working under time restraints or with a need for perfection every time. For professional photographers like ourselves, each of these items are not things we can live with - as when we go to take detail shots of wedding rings (for example), we need to be able to get the shot quickly and efficiently so as to be able to move on to other parts of the day that need to be photographed.
It is ultimately up to your discretion as to whether or not an investment into the 100mm macro lens is worth it. For us, it definitely is - and for such a quality lens at a relatively low price point - it is hard to really argue. It would probably be a separate conversation if this was costing as much as most prime lenses.
the new perspective a macro lens gives
The last topic as a part of our review we are going to include is less about this lens specifically, and more about macro photography lenses in general. Through much research, it is evident the Canon 100mm macro lens is a prime example of a high quality lens, so it provides an excellent baseline for the kind of technical abilities a lens of this nature can bring to the table.
We find that most lenses tend to have a similar function, especially those that have overlapping focal lengths and aperture figures. For example, shooting with our 70-200mm f/2.8 lens feels similar (and has similar applications) as shooting with our 85mm f/1.2 and 135mm f/2.0. It's also similar enough to the 50mm f/1.2 as well, though of course we have to stand a little bit closer. The obvious applications are use for portrait photography, but just as well we can use most of these lenses for a variety of purposes ranging from landscape photos in our personal time to candid and wedding day detail photography.
While the Canon 100mm macro lens does in fact have abilities to be used as a portrait lens (which is really a cool additional option for candid photo opportunities that might pop up in particular while shooting details during a wedding day), the actual intended use of taking photographs of small things in the world open up this whole new perspective in photography that is rarely opened up. We have taken hundreds of photos of flowers over the years, but comparing any photo we have taken previously to the first few we took with this lens really opened our eyes to the potential this has to be utilized artistically. The level of detail is shocking, and fundamentally beautiful.
sample photos with the canon 100mm macro lens:
Before we close out this review, we wanted to share some selected images we have taken with this lens. We have been obsessed since receiving it. We're sure you will see why once you check these out!! The first images are macro shots, while the last is a wedding day portrait shot with this lens as well - showcases some beautiful versatility for a relatively low cost (by Canon prime lens standards anyways!).
We hope you enjoyed our review of the Canon 100mm macro lens, and that is gave you some things to consider if you are looking to buy one yourself. Feel free to follow our blog for future updates covering a range of educational topics for photographers like yourself!!