120studio.com
July 18, 2014

I was looking for a good lens that would work not only for macro capture of film, but also for all-around photography. 

Is the Canon 100mm 2.8 macro up to the task?

Let's see.



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In This Article


Some Specs


Basic Use

Image Quality

Autofocus

Bokeh

Color & Contrast

Corner Darkening

Diffraction

Distortion

Field Flatness

Image Stabilization

Weather Sealing

Summary





Some Specs

Aperture (Maximum):  f/2.8
Aperture (Minimum):  f/32
Aperture Blades / Diaphragm:  8-bladed circular
Aperture Ring:  No
Autofocus:  Yes
Coated Optics:  Yes
Country of Manufacture:  Japan
Diameter (Max.):  3.1 inches
Distance Scale:  Yes
Filter Size:  58mm
Focus Limiter Switch:  Yes
Image Stabilizer:  No
Inner Focusing:  Yes
Length: 4.7 inches
Lens Elements: 12 elements in 8 groups
Lens Hood:  Not included (takes Canon ET-67)
Magnification:  1:1  (i.e., 1x)
Manual Focus:  Yes
Minimum Focus Distance:  1 foot  (film / sensor plane to subject)
Mount:  Canon EF - fits APS-C and full-frame EOS cameras
Price:  $599  (Buy yours with this link and help support my website)
Rotating Front Element:  No (thus, you can use polarizers with no problem)
Weight:  21.1 ounces (600 grams)
Working Distance:  5.9 inches (149mm)  (front of lens to subject)


Basic Use

The 100mm f/2.8 USM macro lens will fit any EOS camera, including Canon full-frame and crop-sensor cameras.   On a crop-sensor (APS-C) it acts like a 160mm lens, which could be either good or bad.

The manual focus ring is nice and wide.  It's also rubber-coated for easy gripping.  You can even use it while AF is enabled, meaning you can manually override the autofocus.  To do this, press the shutter button halfway to lock on the AF;  then hold it there while manually focusing so the camera doesn't keep trying to re-focus.

The focus limiter switch keeps the AF from hunting all over the place while you're trying to focus on people or non-macro subjects.  Don't forget to set it back to 0.31m when doing film capture!



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Image Quality

I'm pleasantly surprised at the sharpness.  It's even better than I thought.  This lens has a reputation for being like an L-series without the official "L" designation.  It's sharp from corner to corner.  Based on my film-capture tests, this lens may actually be sharper than the Micro Nikkor 55mm f/2.8, which in itself is one of the sharpest lenses I can think of offhand. 

There's a little bit of chromatic aberration in the corners, but it's nothing major.  You probably won't even notice it except in very high-contrast situations where most other lenses have CA anyway.  Branches or hilltops silhouetted against the rising or setting sun would be a typical scenario.

Bokeh is very pleasing.  (That's the smoothness or character of the blurred areas behind the subject you're photographing.)   This is one great portrait lens.  



Canon 6D with Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro
ISO 1600
f/3.2 @ 1/100th handheld

Here's a 100% crop to show the leaf details.  A hundredth of a second handheld with this lens is kind of pushing it because of the focal length and the lack of image stabilization.  I'd have gotten sharper detail with, say, 1/200th.   Even so, look at the sharpness here... this is wide-open, no less!

And that bokeh is super-smooth.
           

That's f/2.8, folks.
At a too-slow shutter speed.

Use f/4 or 5.6 at 1/200th and it will be even better.


Put this lens on f/4 or f/5.6, make sure your minimum shutter speed is 1/200th, and you'll have ultra-sharp pictures galore.  Or, use a tripod and don't worry about the shutter speed.  Lack of image stabilization is really not much of a drawback to someone who's used to shooting film.  And it won't be an issue at all if you're using the lens on your copy stand to capture film.

See also Image Stabilization, below.


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Autofocus


Very smooth and quiet, as you would expect.  AF is accomplished with a ring ultrasonic motor (USM).

For macro work, you'll still probably want to use manual focus.   It will autofocus quite well at close distances, up to a point.  When subjects start to get really close, expect the usual back-and-forth. 

(This lens doesn't really "focus pump", because the lens always stays the same length while focusing.)

Use manual focus for camera-scanning of film.   Like every other lens, the EF 100mm seems to want to focus on everything else but the image on the film. 

Would the "L" version autofocus any better?  Probably not.  See this article for more thoughts on that.

If you use a halfway decent copy stand and a light pad that doesn't wobble, then everything should stay put well enough to keep any refocusing to a minimum. 

Use unmounted film with a sheet of this, and you shouldn't need to refocus at all between frames.

Use your DSLR's Live View just to be sure. 



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Bokeh


Love it.  

Even with very challenging backgrounds (numerous branches & points of light), the bokeh is still pleasant.




Canon 6D with EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro
ISO 400
f/4.5 @ 1/320th

No adjustments

Click for larger



Very often you will find the bokeh to be even better than that, as you can see in the next photo.  Note also the great color & contrast.




Canon 6D with EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro
ISO 250
f/5.6 @ 1/320th

No adjustments

Click for larger




These are not your typical "flat" or "digital-looking" images.   They actually look good without doing a bunch of stuff to them. 


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Corner Darkening (Light Falloff)

This lens has little or no light falloff past f/2.8. 

Just a couple of white-space photos to show what I mean:


f/2.8:


f/4.0


These are a bit underexposed, which accentuates corner darkening. 

As you can see, it's virtually gone by f/4.    In many scenes, you won't even notice it at f/2.8. 



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Diffraction


On APS-C, it appears the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM gives less diffraction limiting better pictures at f/8 than the Micro Nikkor 55.    

A point of correction here.  "Diffraction limiting" is actually a good thing, because it means there's nothing else but diffraction that's reducing the lens resolution.   And "diffraction effects" are pretty much constant from lens to lens.  (I did well in physics and should know that, but for some reason, I always found MTF charts to be tedious.)

Anyhow, what I should say is that on a typical APS-C camera (14 to 16 megapixels), the EF 100mm doesn't start to lose image sharpness until it gets closer to the diffraction limit.  

On an APS-C camera, diffraction effects generally begin around f/8.  (You might not notice them at f/8.)  f/16 is still usable;  by f/22, diffraction losses become obvious.

On full-frame, any lens is going to better in terms of diffraction loss.    On a 6D (about 20 megapixels), detail loss is not even that bad at f/32.  Compare at ISO 100 (tripod):






Here are 100% crops:





"Diffraction limit" should be the same for all lenses, because it's really a matter of aperture and pixel size.   In other words, your camera matters a lot more than your lens does here.

Here, I think, is where diffraction becomes relevant to a specific lens.  It's very simple.  We want to know if a lens has good enough color and contrast to keep you distracted from minor diffraction losses. 

I'd say this lens can do that, which is great.  You see, if you shoot full-frame with 100mm focal length at close distances, you'll probably be wanting to use f/32 sometimes for the depth of field.



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Distortion

There doesn't appear to be any at all.  At least I don't notice any, and that's under a wide variety of photo situations.  This is important for film capture, because then you don't have to go and "lens correct" your scans. 

As with the corner darkening (or lack of it), we have a lens here that doesn't add any of its own quirks to the camera scan

That's good news for us film shooters.   The same holds true for pictures of "real life".  This is just a great all-around lens.  Not many people think of a 100mm as a "gotta have it" lens, and neither did I... until I tried the EF 100mm f/2.8 USM.


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Field Flatness

This is a macro lens, and macro lenses are designed to have a "flat field".  That is, anything in focus in the center will also be in focus at the corners.  Flat field means no corner blurring.  That's desirable in any lens, but lens makers go out of their way to achieve that in a macro lens.

At the widest apertures there is just a hint of corner softness, but by f/5.6 the corners are about as sharp as the center.  This is very good. 

At f/8 through f/16, I can't distinguish any difference at all.  The field is flat.


Yep, the bricks are a little bit uneven, so don't use this to gauge distortion.  There really is none.

Using this lens for film capture (camera-scanning), I find the EF 100mm has such good field flatness that it won't soften the corners of your film captures any more than they might already be. 

Use f/5.6 or narrower, and it's basically going to be sharper everywhere than the lenses that were on the film cameras used to take the original photos.  

What I mean is that the EF 100mm 2.8 USM is not a "bottleneck" for image quality, the way some other lenses would be.


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Filters & Lens Flare


This has a 58mm filter thread, same as the 18-55mm kit lens on a Rebel.

Consider getting a good, low-flare filter such as a Hoya.   I would keep a UV haze filter on this lens to protect it;  it's too nice a lens to take chances with scratches and dirt.

Without a filter, this lens has low enough flare that you don't have to shoot with your back to the sun, the way it sometimes seems with other lenses (such as the Micro Nikkor 55mm AIS).   That's another reason why it's worth it to get a good filter that doesn't add any flare or ghosting of its own.


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Image Stabilization

There is none. 

Even knowing that, I still use this lens to take photos with way-too-slow-to-be-reasonable shutter speeds. 

With no IS and no tripod you should be shooting at 1/125th or 1/160th... but here's a 25th of a second:


Faithful Companion

Canon 6D with EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro
ISO 400
f/4.6 @ 1/25th sec., handheld

No adjustments


By the way, note again the great color and contrast. 

The strap on the left-hand side of the camera bag has a bit of a cyan-green tint, but I think that's because of the tinted strip along the top of the windshield.


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Weather Sealing


I photograph clouds and weather sometimes, but seldom do I want to be standing in the rain while doing that.   For you, maybe it depends on whether you're getting paid to do that.

This lens is not weather-sealed. If you need that, get the 100mm f/2.8L IS USM macro instead.   That, plus the image stabilization, will definitely add more versatility. 


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Summary

I never thought of a macro lens as being a go-to, carry-everywhere lens, but the EF 100mm 2.8 is it.   And it manages to do that for a lot less money than the 100mm f/2.8L macro lens from Canon.  

The main difference between the two lenses is that the 100mm "L" macro has image stabilization.  It is also weather-sealed. 

For a price difference of over four hundred bucks (as of July 2014), I'd just get the 100mm non-L / non-IS macro (the lens I'm reviewing here) and save the money for another lens of some different focal length.  

Of course, if you have the budget, go for the "L" version.  The optics are the same quality, but the IS and weather sealing do add versatility.

To me, the best part about the 100mm macro is its performance for film capture "scans".  I get ultra-sharp captures with this lens, even on a Rebel.

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