Review: Canon EF 100mm F2.8 USM

Macro photography has always been an interest for me, but being primarily a wildlife photographer specializing in birds, all my lenses are long telephotos.  When I did need to utilize a macro setup, I used by nifty 50 with extension tubes.

Recently, however, I felt like a needed something which out of the box could shoot at a 1:1 (life size) without the use of extension tubes getting the way all the time.  It was time for me to add a real macro lens to my line up. This led me to the Canon EF 100mm f2.8 USM lens.

Build Quality
Manufacturing on the 100mm, began in 2000 and it is still being manufactured today.  It has a solid feel with a rubberized focusing ring.  In many ways it is like any other prime lens manufactured with the USM branding.  It is decorated with a USM gold logo and a golden "pin stripe" around the end of the lens.  The optics, manufactured in 8 groups and 12 elements, are solidly affixed to the housing.  The font element neatly recessed to keep contrast up and scratching of the element unlikely.  A lens hood (ET-67) is available to purchase separately. Third party ET-67s are also available.
Canon EF 100mm f2.8 USM

One of the features I really like about this lens is the 58mm filter diameter.  This means you can shoot with less expensive filters and not be stuck with the much larger 77mm filter we so often see.

This lens is highly versatile with f-stops available from f2.8 to f32, although I found f2.8 to be a bit soft when compared to f5.6.  This might be a turn off for those looking for a good 2.8 lens.  Macro lenses are designed to be used for manual focus situations where you could potentially be shooting a 2:1 image size.  Because of that this lens has a large, smooth focusing ring, which I found to be very effective.  I felt like the dampening could have been a bit smoother, but that would really be splitting hairs.

In one of my tests, I photographed a Canada goose feather at 1:33:1 magnification. During this test, I had to zoom in with live view for critical focusing.  Again, the dampening and smoothness could have been slightly better here.  

Canda Goose Feather - 1.33:1 Image Size (used extension tube)

This lens is incredibly sharp and don't just take my word for it.  The internet is littered with praise over the optical quality of this lens.  I don't know if I would buy this if I was only going to be using it at the f2.8 aperture, but if your goal is macro work in the f4 to f22 range, you will be very happy indeed.  Below is an enlarged crop at close to 100 percent showing sharpness and resolution with standard sharpening.

Cropped Image Showing Sharpness

Practical Uses
Without a doubt this lens is made for macro, and as such would be a prime candidate for close up product, insect and flower photography.  However, I also think this lens could be highly useful as a landscape lens to pull out details in distant landscapes and used to frame tighter in intimate landscapes.

It should also come as no surprise that this lens has been favored by human portrait photographers. Because it is in the short telephoto range, it flattens the image slightly giving the person a more flattering appearance.  The sharpness of the lens can pull out crisp details in the eyes and shooting at 2.8 could give the model a softer look which often is desirable in portraiture. 

In conclusion, I recommend this lens with little to no reservations.  I feel like you are getting some amazing glass for $599 MSRP.  On the used market you can find them as low as $300.   

Quick Points to Consider
  • Amazingly Sharp
  • Versatile f2.8 to f32
  • Good Build Quality
  • Small Diameter Filter (58mm)
  • True 1:1 Macro

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