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Canon 100mm f/2

© 2011 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

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Canon 100mm f/2

Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM (58mm filters, 14.7 oz/417g, about $475). enlarge. This free website's biggest source of support is when you use these links, especially these directly to it at Adorama or Amazon when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Since it's been made for 20 years, there are also plenty avaialbe used at eBay (see How to Win at eBay). Thanks! Ken.

September 2011, May 2010    Canon Reviews    Canon Lenses    All Reviews

Sample Images From New York City May and June 2010

Sample Photos from Maui May 2010



Spectacular optics, great mechanics with a metal filter thread, low price, fast auto and manual focus, light weight and great handling. Instant manual-focus override by simply grabbing the focus ring. Perfect for any Canon digital or film SLR from today's 5D Mark II back to the first EOS 650 and EOS 620 of 1987. Excellent for use in low light and for travel.



Nothing; just get one. Very similar to the 85mm f/1.8; if you have one, don't get the other.




Introduction       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations


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The Canon 100mm f/2 USM is a fantastic lens.

Not only is it fantastic optically, it has a metal filter thread and forebarrel, and focuses and handles great.

This small and light Canon 100mm f/2 is sharper than the sharpest zoom I've ever used: my Canon 70-200mm f/4 L IS, and it's four times as sensitive to light, letting me shoot with one-quarter the ISO or with four-times the shutter speed in the same situation.

The 100mm f/2 is also inexpensive, less than half the cost of an L zoom, and per my direct comparison, this 100mm f/2 is optically superior to the L zooms.

The 100mm f/2 is an ideal lens for traveling light; a far better idea than any zoom.

The Canon 100/2 is also an ideal lens for when you demand the highest optical performance for high-resolution cameras like the 5D Mark II and 1Ds Mark III.

It handles great: nothing moves externally because focus is internal. For manual focus, simply grab the ring. Handling couldn't be better. This Canon lens from 1991 still out-handles Nikon's current 85mm f/1.8 AF-D.

This is one of the lenses responsible for Canon winning the pro market away from Nikon in the 1990s. Nikon's excellent 85mm f/1.8 AF-D, also still sold today, is a mechanical kludge by comparison. Nikon's lens' focus ring spins around on its own as the Nikon lens autofocuses, so you need to keep your hands off it most of the time, and if you do need manual focus, you have to stop what you are doing and move a switch. If Nikon ever introduces this lens in an AF-S version, Nikon will finally have caught up to where Canon has been since 1991.

The Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM is almost identical in almost every way, except that the 85mm has only a plastic filter thread instead of metal, and a slight difference in focal length and speed. Canon's specifications are out-of-date; when I measured brand-new samples of each lens in 2010, this 100mm weighed only 17 grams (0.6 oz.) more than the 85mm. Get whichever you prefer or flip a coin. My mind was made up by the metal front threads of this 100mm f/2, while others prefer to save the $55 and get the 85mm. Either is spectacular.


Canon 100mm f/2

Canon 100/2. enlarge.


Specifications         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations



Canon calls this the CANON LENS EF 100mm f/2 USM.

EF means "electronic focus," meaning that there is an autofocus motor in the lens itself. All Canon lenses since 1987 have been EF.

USM means Ultra-Sonic Motor, meaning AF is almost silent.


Optics       top

8 elements in 6 groups.


Internal focus: nothing moves externally. The front and rear elements never move.


Diaphragm       top

Canon 100mm f/2

Canon 100mm at f/2. (EF diaphragm not visible). enlarge.

8 blades.

Stops down to f/22.


Close Focus       top

3 feet (0.9m) from the image plane.


Maximum Reproduction Ratio       top



Hard Infinity Focus Stop?        top


You have to let the AF system dial you in.


Focus Scale       top


The ring turns from near to far in about 90.º


Depth-of-Field Scale       top

Yes, but too small to be useful.


Infra-Red Focus Index       top



Filter Thread       top



Does not move or rotate at all.


Size       top

Canon specifies 3.0" (75mm) diameter by 2.9" (73.5mm) long.


Weight       top

14.700 oz. (416.75g), measured.

Canon specifies 16.2 oz. (460g).


Case       top

LP1014 pouch, extra-cost.

About $28.


Hood       top

Crappy $25 plastic clip-on ET-65 III, not included.

I find $5 generic screw-in 58mm rubber hoods more convenient and durable.


Caps       top

58mm front.

Standard EOS cap rear.


Introduced       top

October, 1991.


Price, USA        top

2011 September: $475.

2010 May: $435.

Canon 100mm f/2

Box, Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM.


Performance       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

Overall    Autofocus    Bokeh    Coma    Distortion    Ergonomics

Falloff    Filters    Flare and Ghosts    Image Stabilization

Lateral Color Fringes    Mechanics    Sharpness

Spherochromatism   Sunstars


Overall     performance      top

The Canon 100mm f/2 is fantastic. It's among Canon's sharpest lenses and feels great in-hand.

It has no vices; just get one.


Autofocus     performance      top

Autofocus is super-fast and quiet.


Auto/Manual Switching

Just grab the focus ring at any time if you want manual-focus override.

Only move the AF-MF switch if you want to disable the camera from autofocusing.


AF Speed

AF is fast, as Canons always are.

The AF motor is silent. All you'll hear is some internal sliding.


AF Accuracy

On my particular sample of Canon 5D Mark II with my particular sample of 100mm f/2 USM, autofocus at f/2 was uniformly slightly off.

A focus microadjustment of +10 (MENU > C.FNs > C.Fn III Autofocus/Drive > #8 AF Microadjustment > 2 Adjust by lens > INFO > set to +10 > SET) got my camera and lens sample dead-on at f/2. Your lens and camera will be completely different.

I can shoot it at f/2 and get consistently ultra-sharp results.

I get the best results at f/2 by using only the center AF sensor.


AF Consistency

I get the same accurate results every time on my 5D Mark II.


Manual Focus

Manual focus is easy; just grab the ring.

It takes only 90º to go from end-to-end of the focus scale.


Bokeh     performance      top

Bokeh, the quality of out-of-focus areas as opposed to the degree of defocus, is nothing special.

Backgrounds are way out-of-focus at f/2, however their character (bokeh) isn't all that smooth.

Bokeh is reasonably so-so at f/2, and neutral at smaller apertures. At larger apertures, bokeh takes on more of an organic feel, almost like lenses from the 1950s.

Here are crops from extremely enlarged prints of about 36 x 55" (100 x 150cm), or the equivalent of looking at Canon 5D Mark II images at 100% on-screen.

In these examples, the lens was focused on a vertically polarized phase lattice at 3 meters (10 feet), and the synthetic reference vegetation seen out-of-focus in the background was at 15 meters (50 feet).


Coma     performance      top

As expected, the Canon 100mm f/2 has no obvious coma.


Distortion     performance      top

The Canon 100mm f/2 USM has no visible distortion.

For critical use, use these values in Photoshop's Lens Distortion tool to remove it completely.

Full-Frame and 35mm Film
10' (3m)
5' (1.5m)

© 2010 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.


Ergonomics     performance      top

Canon 100mm f/2

Canon 100mm f/2 USM. enlarge.

Ergonomics are perfect. I wish everything was this nice. Just shoot.


Falloff (darkened corners)     performance      top

For actual photography, falloff is minimal at f/2 and goes away by f/2.8.

The 5D Mark II (at least as of firmware 2.0.4) doesn't have the data to correct this in its Peripheral Illumination Correction menu option, and I'm sure the data is available if you really cared. I care, but not enough to stop shooting and fiddle with a computer to download anything.

I've greatly exaggerated this by shooting a flat gray target and presenting it against a gray background.


Canon 100mm f/2 falloff on full-frame, no correction.


© 2010 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.



Filters, Use with     performance      top

The filter threads are metal, and they never move as you focus and shoot.

58mm is generous. You can use a couple of filters without problem on full-frame, and certainly on smaller-sensored cameras.


Flare and Ghosts     performance      top

There's no problem. I don't bother with a hood.

If you're shooting into bright light sources and using a plain glass (uncoated) filter on a digital camera, you'll get the usual inverted ghost image like this:


Grand Wailea, Maui, 7:28 PM, 10 May 2010. 5D Mark II at ISO 800, Tiffen 58mm UV Haze-1 filter, f/2.8 at 1/5 hand-held (braced on railing).

See the little dots in the cloud? They're from the lights on the hotel. When I removed my uncoated Tiffen filter, they went away:

Grand Wailea Sunset, Maui

Grand Wailea, Maui, 7:29 PM, 10 May 2010. 5D Mark II at ISO 800, no filter, f/2.8 at 1/5 hand-held (braced on railing).


Image Stabilization     performance      top

The Canon 100mm f/2 USM has no image stabilization. I get tripod-equivalent sharpness 50% of the time at 1/60 of a second, not great, but that's what we expect with a short and light telephoto lens.

Here's my data:

Percent perfectly sharp shots, Canon 100mm f/2 USM on a 5D Mark II




Stops Improvement

Stops Improvement
100mm f/2

* on only the old 5D, which will show less blur and make this lens seem more hand-holdable than when shot on the 5D Mark II as I did with the 100mm f/2 USM.

"Real Stops Improvement" are how many extra stops I got, IS ON compared to IS OFF.

"Marketing Stops Improvement" isn't comparing the speed I can use from IS OFF to IS ON, but instead comparing the speed one can use with IS ON to the old-wives-tale speed of 1/focal length. That's called Lying with Statistics.

But wait: the 100mm f/2 has no IS, but it's two stops faster than the f/4 L lens that costs over twice as much and isn't quite as sharp. 1/60 at f/2 is the same as 1/15 at f/4, the fastest f/stop of the 70-200mm f/4 IS at 100mm, or only a one-stop advantage for the IS lens.

Since the 5D Mark II sees more blur due to its higher resolution, I'll take away a half stop, leaving this f/2 lens only about a half-stop behind the excellent hand-holdability of the 70-200mm f/4 IS for still subjects.

If the subject is moving, this 100mm f/2 better because the extra two stops of real speed lets you use a shutter speed four times faster to stop the action.

The 70-200mm f/4 IS is better for images of still subjects in the dark because it gives you deeper depth-of-field, using f/4 at a slower speed versus f/2 at a faster speed.


Lateral Color Fringes     performance      top

None, if you're in focus.

If you're out-of-focus, you may see a little spherochromatism, which is quite different.


Mechanics     performance      top

Canon 100mm f/2

Rear, Canon 100mm f/2 . enlarge.

The Canon 100mm f/2 is mostly metal, with a plastic outer barrel.


Filter Threads and Hood Mount

Black anodized aluminum.


Identity RIng






Focus Ring

Rubber-covered plastic.


Rear barrel




Mostly metal.



Chromed metal.





Serial Number

Laser-burnt into the rear of the lens.


Date Code



Ass-Gasket (dust seal at mount)



Noises When Shaken

Some clicking.


Made in



Sharpness     performance      top

The Canon 100mm f/2 is super-sharp, better than most Canon lenses regardless of price, even wide-open at f/2. This 100mm f/2 easily out-resolves even the 21MP 5D Mark II and 1Ds Mark III. I can get aliasing wide-open!

Your biggest impediment to sharpness is your ability to get perfect focus and to hold the camera still enough. Out of the box, my sample of lens and my sample of body didn't focus perfectly, and after I carefully calibrated the AF Microadjustment in the 5D Mark II's menu system, became perfect.

Comparing two new samples side-by-side, both the 85mm f/1.8 and this 100mm f/2 are excellent, with this 100mm f/2 USM giving excellent results more consistently. The 85mm didn't give perfect focus, even after microcorrection, as often as this 100mm f/2.

On a 5D Mark II, this 100mm lens is a tiny, tiny bit less contrasty at f/2, but still very, very sharp, and simply fantastic from f/2.8 on.

Katie, Maui, Hawaii, 09 May 2010

Katie, Maui, Sunday, 09 May 2010. Full image, 5D Mark II, f/2 at 1/80 hand-held at ISO 400, A5 AWB, Standard with +2 saturation, in-camera highlight and shadow tweaks turned on. Original file (3.3MB).

Here are crops from 36 x 55" (3 x 4.5 feet or 100 x 150cm) prints, or 5D Mark II files at 100%, which were shot as a NORMAL JPG. It would be even sharper at ISO 50 or if I pulled this from a raw file; Canon's JPG engine isn't all that hot.

Katie's Eye


Not bad, shot wide-open at a high ISO which is softer in the 5D Mark II, so I added some smart sharpening at 200% with a radius of 0.2 pixels. It's probably even sharper at longer distances; I'm pretty close to my two-year-old here. Note the tiny depth-of-field, only a fraction of an inch or a few millimeters.

I would show more central sharpness examples, but it's pointless: it's just as sharp at any aperture in the center; stopping down merely increases depth-of-field. Diffraction steps in by about f/8.

Here are examples at the corner:

Grand Wailea

The Back of the Grand Wailea, Maui, Sunday, 09 May 2010, 7:19 AM. Full-frame 5D Mark II image, ISO 100, A9 AWB, Standard +3 saturation, JPG NORMAL.

Here are crops at 100% from the top right corner:






To these crops I added some smart sharpening at 200% with a radius of 0.2 pixels. These are from NORMAL JPGs; Canon's JPGs aren't so hot and these would be better if I had shot them in CR2.

This is spectacular: the Canon 100mm f/2 looks as good at f/2 as it does stopped-down. Canon's MTF curve says the same thing. Most other lenses, like Nikon's $1,250 85mm f/1.4, get softer in the corners at large apertures.


Spherochromatism     performance      top

Like many fast long lenses, the 100mm f/2 has a little spherochromatism.

This means that out-of-focus bright areas behind the subject may have green fringes around them, and that bright out-of-focus areas in front of the subject may have slight magenta color fringes to them.


Sunstars     performance      top

With its 8-bladed diaphragm, this Canon 100mm f/2 makes ho-hum 8-pointed sunstars on bright points of light.


Compared       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations


Comparison Table

Manual Focus
Instant override
Instant override
Instant override
Slide switch
Camera switch
Rotate a ring
Metal & plastic
Weight, g.
Weight, oz.
14.7 oz.
14.1 oz.
26.7 oz.
20.4 oz.
12.9 oz.
18.4 oz.
Price, 5/2010 USA

* used


Compared to the Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM

Canon 100mm f/2

Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM and 100mm f/2 USM. enlarge.

The Canon 85mm f/1.8 USM is almost same as this 100mm f/2 lens. The 85mm is only a tiny bit shorter and weighs just 17g (0.6 ounces) less than the 100mm. (Canon's specifications are out-of-date; I actually measured two samples in 2010.)

Optically, both are fantastic. The 100mm is very slightly sharper, especially in the corners on full-frame wide-open (see also Canon's MTF data for the 85mm and for the 100mm), but it's so similar that I'd never notice it. Either is better than an L zoom, and either makes the images from the 28-135mm IS at 100mm look like it was shot with a toy camera. Any sharpness difference between the 85mm and 100mm isn't important.

They both focus almost instantly. Neither has any visible distortion.

The 100mm gives a slightly larger macro ratio, focusing almost as close (0.9m vs. 0.85m) as the 85mm, but with a longer focal length.

What I do notice is that the bokeh of the 85mm is better.

More importantly, I observed that the particular sample of 100mm I tried in 2010 more often gave sharper results on my particular sample of 5D Mark II, even after AF microadjustment, than did the 85mm, because the 100mm focused more accurately more often at large apertures.

The real reason I got the 100mm instead of the 85mm I thought I wanted (it costs $55 less) is that the front filter threads of the 100mm are solid metal, and simply plastic on the 85mm. I use a lot of filters, so the 100mm feels like a tool while the 85mm feels a little more like a toy. The front barrel between the focus ring and filter threads of the 100mm is also metal, not plastic.

Thus I bought this 100mm USM instead of the 85mm.


Compared to Nikon 85mm f/1.8 AF-D

All are optically superb.

The Canons use internal focusing and the Nikon uses rear-element focusing, so none of them move any glass or the barrel externally as they focus. All focus almost instantly.

The Nikon has a metal 62mm filter thread.

The real difference is in ergonomics. The Canons are perfect, and even though introduced in the very early 1990s, far ahead of any of Nikon's 85mm f/1.8 or 85mm f/1.4 lenses.

Nothing moves on the Canon lenses as they autofocus, while the focus ring of the Nikon 85mm f/1.8 spins around as the camera autofocuses. You have to keep your hands away from touching the focus ring during autofocus, and if you want to get the Nikon 85mm f/1.8 to or from manual focus, you have to stop and move a switch on the camera!

The Nikon 85mm f/1.4's focus ring doesn't move during autofocus, but you still have to rotate a ring on it to go between auto and manual focus. Nikon's 85mm f/1.4 needs an update to modern AF standards to offer the full-time instant manual focus override that these Canon lenses have had since 1991.


Recommendations       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

Want better optical quality than an "L" zoom in a much smaller, lighter and less expensive package? Here you go! How can this be? Easy: "L" has nothing to do with optical performance: it's a marketing hook that means that the lens is difficult for Canon to make, and therefore expensive. Since fixed, fast short teles are easy to make very good, you can get either the 100mm or 85mm lenses for a lot less money, with better optics, in a much smaller, lighter and less expensive package than any "L" series zoom.

Because the depth-of-field of any 100mm f/2 lens is so shallow, accurate focus is mandatory for perfect sharpness at f/2. I got great results by using the central AF point of my 5D Mark II. Know how to adjust your AF microadjustment if you need it, or have your Canon Service Center see to it, for perfect results. With this 100mm f/2, all my shots are dead-on at f/2 by using the central AF sensor.

The Canon 85mm f/1.8 is very similar, just a little less tough and a tiny bit less optically excellent. I made my decision between them based on the performance of two samples on my 5D Mark II, and the fact that the 100mm is essentially the same size and weight, but has more metal parts. Either is an excellent choice for a lifetime of fine photography.

I bought this Canon 100mm f/2 USM for a weeklong trip to Maui, where I also brought the family. I needed top optical quality in something that I would enjoy carrying around all week, along with being climbed-on by my kids. I never missed my zooms; it's easy to step forward or back a little to make up for the lack of zooming, but if I had shouldered the 70-200mm f/4 L IS for the week, not only is it twice as long and weighs twice as much, it costs three times as much and doesn't match the optical quality of this 100mm f/2 USM. I would not have enjoyed hauling any zoom everywhere with the wife and kids, while I did enjoy taking this 100mm USM everywhere we went, every day and every night. It's easy to crop a little to get the same field-of-view from this 100mm lens instead of hauling the zoom to get to 200mm, which I never needed anyway.

I'd use a 58mm B+W MRC 010 UV filter over this lens as physical protection for digital, or a 58mm Hoya HMC 81A filter all the time for color slides. I wouldn't bother with a hood, and if I did, I'd use a cheesy screw-in rubber one for convenience.


More Information:

Canon, USA's lens data.

Canon Camera Museum.


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