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Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS

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Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L Macro

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 L USM (67mm filters, 22.0 oz./623g, about $900). enlarge. I'd get it at Adorama or Amazon.This free website's biggest source of support is when you use those or any of these links when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live — but I receive nothing for my efforts if you buy elsewhere. I'm not NPR; I get no government hand-outs and run no pledge drives to support my research, so please always use any of these links for the best prices and service whenever you get anything. Thanks for helping me help you! Ken.


June 2013   Canon Reviews   Canon Lenses   All Reviews

Why fixed lenses take better pictures.



Excellent optics, superb autofocus, light weight and fantastic Image Stabilization for ultra-sharp results even hand-held at one-eighth of a second — if your subject holds still that long and you're a smooth shooter.



For $1,000 all I get is an all-plastic exterior and crappy plastic hood? At least the lens mount is metal, exactly like the $125 Nikon 50mm f/1.8 D.

Except for Image Stabilization, the Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro has equally excellent optics, autofocus and ergonomics, with less weight, for half the price.

For anything at least 3 feet away, the Canon 100mm f/2 USM is sharper, offers twice the speed for moving subjects (f/2.0), a metal filter thread, and is also half the price of this 100mm f/2.8 L IS Macro.

For serious macro work, macro-specialists (and I) prefer the 180mm f/3.5 L USM, because it lets us stand far enough away as not to interfere with lighting or the subject's attitude, and most importantly, gives a more natural perspective precisely because we're able to stand further away from our subjects. The 180/3.5 doesn't cost much more than this 100mm f/2.8 IS.




Introduction       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

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The Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro L IS is a swell lens. It weighs less than you'd first expect, which is a good thing. it is ideal for use as a general-purpose telephoto, especially if you need close-focus ability.

It's great that it doesn't weigh much, but I would also feel a bit ripped-off paying $1,000 for it, too, when the older non-IS Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro does exactly the same thing, without IS, for half the price. Both have exteriors made entirely of plastic, except for the metal lens mount, another reason I would feel shorted paying $1,000 for this lens.

The Canon 100mm f/2.8 L IS is a compromise. It's a lens best carried in the field as a combination macro and medium telephoto. For serious macro work, I won't use a 100mm lens, because by the time I get close enough to make use of the macro ability, I'm so close that I get in the way of my lights, I annoy any sentient subject, and because I'm so close, the subject doesn't look as good because I am so close.

For instance, with the hood attached, this lens can focus as close as than 2 1/4 inches (6cm) in front of the hood. There's no way you can get light in and therefore use this lens that close, if you really want to shoot macro with the hood.

For serious macro work, like making the product photos of this lens for this review, I use a 200mm macro lens, which in Canon, is the 180mm f/3.5 L USM, which doesn't sell for much more than this IS 100mm Macro.

Image stabilization (IS) is not relevant to serious macro work, which is done with strobes to allow us to shoot at f/32 to hope to get something in focus. IS is extremely useful for general-purpose hand-held telephoto shooting, but for general-purpose telephoto shooting, the Canon 100mm f/2 USM is sharper, twice as fast, and half the price of this IS macro lens.

If you're photographing anything alive, especially flowers, they wiggle around either by themselves, or from the breeze, so IS and longer exposures don't help you. That's why strobes are so important for macro: they give enough light to let us shoot at f/32, which is optimum for macro, and also have a short duration to stop whatever's moving.

How do we get sharp photos of butterfly wings? Even at f/32, almost nothing is in focus at macro ranges, so we spend a lot of time making sure that the wings are flat, and do our best to place the wings in our very shallow plane of focus.

These caveats aside, if you're looking for one telephoto to put in your bag that will do everything well, this is it. The 100mm f/2.8 IS L Macro works great as a general-purpose tele to replace the 70-200mm f/4 L IS for less money with less weight, and works well as close, and closer, than any rational person would ever want to shoot.

Personally, I bought the 100mm f/2 USM for myself instead, because for general use, the 100/2 USM is smaller, lighter, feels better made, is twice as fast, sharper and costs only half as much.

For dedicated macro use, I wouldn't use any 100mm lens; I'd get the Canon 180mm f/3.5 L (non-IS) Macro for not much more money instead.



As a Canon EF EOS lens, the 100mm f/2.8 L IS Macro works perfectly with every Canon EOS camera ever made, meaning every Canon DSLR and every Canon autofocus film camera made since 1987.

This means of course it sings on today's 5D Mark II and Canon 7D, but it works just as well on my original Canon EOS 620 from 1987. I know; I tried it, and IS and autofocus work just great. AF works 85% as well on my 23-year-old EOS 620 as it does on the 7D and 5D Mark II; they just have more sensors.


Specifications         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations



Canon calls this the CANON MACRO LENS EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM.

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

L means as expensive as L.

IS means Image Stabilization.

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


Optics       top

15 elements in 12 groups.


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


Diaphragm       top

Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L Macro

Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS Macro at f/2.8. (EF diaphragm not visible). enlarge.

9 blades, hallelujah! Canon finally got it right.

Round to f/5.6, nonagonal from f/8 on.

Stops down to f/32.

Like al SLR lenses, the diaphragm is never perfectly symmetrical at smaller apertures. This is normal; this isn't a LEICA rangefinder lens, which are about the only lenses whose diaphragms are perfectly symmetrical at all apertures.

The EOS system does not indicate the true f/stop as focused more closely. If using an external light meter — which isn't likely — you will need to compensate manually for the natural light loss as focused more closely.


Close Focus       top

1 foot (0.3 m) from the image plane.


Working Distance       top

5.2" (133mm) at 1:1.


Maximum Reproduction Ratio       top



Hard Infinity Focus Stop?        top


You have to let the AF system dial you in.


Focus Scale       top

Yes, but only vestigial.

The ring turns from near to far in about 135.º


Depth-of-Field Scale       top



Infra-Red Focus Index       top



Filter Thread       top



Does not move or rotate at all.


Size       top

Canon specifies 3.1" (77.7mm) diameter by 4.8 " (123.0mm) long.


Weight       top

21.980 oz. (623.2g), measured.

Ensemble with caps and hood: 24.935 oz. (706.9g), measured.

Canon specifies 22 oz. (625g).


Hood       top

Crappy $45 plastic clip-on ET-73, included. At least the inside is a little bit fuzzy, but overall, I prefer a real metal screw-in hood over these crummy plastic things.


Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L Macro

Canon 100/2.8 IS Macro with hood attached. enlarge.


Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L Macro

Canon 100/2.8 IS Macro with hood stowed. Do not shoot this way.


Case       top

LP1219, included.


Caps       top

Standard 67mm ET-67U front.

Standard EOS cap rear.


Introduced       top

Fall 2009.


Price, USA        top

$900, June 2013.

$950, July 2010.


Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L Macro

Canon 100/2.8 IS Macro. enlarge.


Performance       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

Overall    Autofocus    Bokeh   Color   Distortion

Ergonomics   Falloff    Filters     Image Stabilization

Lateral Color Fringes   Light Loss    Mechanics    Sharpness

Spherochromatism   Sunstars


Overall     performance      top

The Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L Macro works as expected, and IS works much better than expected. It's lighter than you'd expect, which enhances the plasticy feeling.

It's a great lens; my only concerns are that other similarly great Canon lenses sell for half as much.


Autofocus     performance      top

Autofocus is super-fast and quiet.

Autofocus can pull you from infinity to a foot, and then all the back again for the next shot, almost immediately. It's uncanny.


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 and Consistency

I got perfect autofocus every time on my Canon 5D Mark II.


Manual Focus

Manual focus is easy; just grab the ring.

It takes only 135º to go from end-to-end of the focus scale, which means that I found the gearing a little fast for my taste. It makes it easy to get the lens from one end of its range to the other, but it is not as precise as I'd like for fine focus at f/2.8.


Hunting and Hanging

It is common with all AF macro lenses that often your next shot will require a completely different end of the focus range. When it's that far out of focus, the AF system can simply give up and not focus at all.

Presuming you have your camera set to the appropriate Cfn menu option, I could never get AF to hang or to hunt. It simply went where it needed, and bang!, perfect focus.

A menu item that could lead to your camera not focusing is C.Fn. III #1 on the 5D Mark II, where it's called "AF/Drive when AF impossible." (Other cameras may call it something different, or not have that option at all.) Set this option to FOCUS SEARCH ON so that the camera can keep looking if it can't see what to do. Set this to OFF, and if the image is way out of focus with a macro, the camera will simply hang and give up, unless you help it out with the manual focus ring first.


Bokeh     performance      top

Bokeh, the quality of out-of-focus areas as opposed to the degree of defocus, is excellent.

Backgrounds are as soft as possible, and are good regardless of focused distance or position in the frame.

Here are full-frame snaps. There are no larger versions; everything is so far out of focus you can feel the bokeh just swell at this size.

In these first four shots, the lens is focuses on a phase lattice at 3 meters (10 feet), and synthetic reference vegetation is at 200 meters (600 feet).


In these next four shots, the lens is focused on a phase lattice to give a 1:5 reproduction ratio, and the synthetic reference vegetation is still at 200 meters (600 feet).


Color Balance     performance      top

The color balance of the 100mm f/2.8 L IS is a little bit warmer than my Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II, which I used as a reference because it is a very simple lens. The 50mm's small number of coated surfaces and very few elements yield fewer opportunities to alter light transmission, so I picked it for this experiment.

In this experiment, I set a manual white balance to the 50mm lens, then shot the same gray surface with the 50mm, and then with the 100mm at the same manual white balance setting.


In other words, in this experiment, I forced the 50mm to look neutral, which shows how the 100mm IS differs from the 50mm. This experiment shows the difference; not which is best.


Distortion     performance      top

The Canon 100mm f/2.8 L IS Macro has no visible distortion at any distance.

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

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

© 2010 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.


Ergonomics     performance      top

Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS L Macro

Canon 100/2.8 IS Macro.

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

I find the manual focus is a little on the fast side, which makes it easy to get to each end of the focus range, but less precise when you do get there.

In spite of my whining about the all-plastic barrel and filter thread for a $1,000 lens, I love having a lens as light as possible, especially if it has IS.


Falloff (darkened corners)     performance      top

For actual photography, falloff is minor at f/2.8 at infinity, and completely invisible at closer distances or smaller apertures.

I've greatly exaggerated this by shooting a flat gray target and presenting it against a gray background. The exposure variations seen here mimic what I saw, too.


Canon 100mm f/2.8 L IS Macro falloff on full-frame, no correction.


© 2010 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.



Filters, Use with     performance      top

The filter threads are much bigger than they need to be, meaning that you can stack as many filters as you dare and never get any vignetting on any camera, film, full-frame or lesser formats.

The threads are plastic, and never move as you focus and shoot.


Image Stabilization     performance      top

The Canon 100mm f/2.8 L IS Macro has fantastic image stabilization. If you like IS, then this lens is worth double the price of the non-IS version.

On a 21 MP 5D Mark II, I get tripod-equivalent sharpness almost all of the time hand-held at 1/8 of a second — one eighth!

Without IS, I only get that level of sharpness at about 1/125. This is standing with no support, but holding quite still, as one might shoot in a rifle match.


Percent tripod-equivalent sharp shots, hand-held Canon 100mm f/2.8 L IS USM Macro on a 5D Mark II



100% sharp 50% of the time with no IS
100% sharp 50% of the time with IS

Stops Improvement

Stops Improvement
100mm f/2.8 IS
3 1/3
4 1/3

"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.

If the subject is moving, the 100mm f/2 is better because the extra stop of real speed lets you use a faster shutter speed to stop the action. Image Stabilization does nothing to stop subject motion; it serves merely to counteract camera motion.


Lateral Color Fringes     performance      top

Almost none. I wouldn't worry about it, or if you do, shoot the 100mm f/2 USM instead.

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


Light Loss     performance      top

Macro lenses lose light as focused more closely. I'll skip you the real reason, but suffice it to say that as magnification goes up, the light has to be spread further.

Canon EOS cameras don't show the true f/stop as these lenses are focused more closely. As one focuses to 1:1, one loses about 1 1/2 stops of light, but EOS cameras keep reporting the same f/stop regardless.

Because of this, you will have to compensate if using an external meter, which is very uncommon today. Most of us use our TTL meters, which work fine.

On the other hand, Nikon's AF cameras and macro lenses report the actual effective f/stops as one focuses more closely, so they always show the correct reading.

Again, this doesn't matter to 99% of us.


Mechanics     performance      top

Canon 100mm f/2

Canon 100/2.8 IS Macro. enlarge.

The Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS Macro L's exterior is almost entirely plastic, with a metal lens mount.


Filter Threads and Hood Mount



Identity RIng






Focus Ring

Rubber-covered metal.

The only metal you can feel are one-millimeter-wide sections at the front and back of the focus ring that aren't covered in rubber.


Rear barrel




Look like plastic and some metal.



Chromed metal.





Serial Number

Engraved into the rear of lens mount and filled with paint.


Date Code

Laser-burnt into the same black plastic donut at the rear of the lens mount that holds the electrical contacts.

It follows the usual Canon Date Code convention.


Ass-Gasket (dust seal at mount)



Noises When Shaken

Some clicking.


Made in



Sharpness     performance      top

Sharpness doesn't matter much, and especially doesn't matter with macro lenses, since sharpness in macro depends more on our ability to manage planes of focus and depth-of-field than any limitation of the lens' optics. Serious macro shooting is done at f/32, where diffraction makes all lenses equal anyway.

I did a direct comparison between this 100mm f/2.8 IS L lens, the 100mm f/2 USM, Nikon's 105mm f/4 AI-s (1970-1983), 105mm f/2.8 AI-s (1983-today) and 105mm f/2.8 AF (1990-2007) lenses, using a lens adapter on a 21 MP 5D Mark II. They were pretty much the same, while the 100mm f/2 USM easily outperformed all of them at infinity.

Ignoring the 100mm f/2, at f/4 and infinity this f/2.8L IS is about the same on the 5D Mark II as the Nikon 105mm f/2.8 AF, but not quite as good as the Nikon 105mm f/4 AI-s. The current manual-focus Nikon 105mm f/2.8 AI-s was better than this Canon L lens, second only to the Canon 100/2.

Ignoring the superior 100mm f/2, at f/8 and infinity, this f/2.8L IS is the same as the other lenses on the 5D Mark II.

Macro lenses have focused internally since the 1980s, and automatically optimize themselves to any distance as focused (Even the only fixed (non-floating element) design I tried, the introduced-in-1970 Nikon 105mm f/4 Micro, was also about as good as the newer macro lenses, even at infinity.)

As shot on the 5D Mark II under test conditions at infinity, the Canon 100mm f/2.8 L IS is sharp; about the same as the previous 100mm f/2.8 Macro and 70-200mm f/4 L IS.

The 100mm f/2 USM is sharper, if you're counting pixels at large apertures.

In the real world, your sharpness is more dependant on what you can get in focus. If you're using this for macro, it will take you about two snaps to realize that with macro, there is almost nothing in focus, because depth-of-field is paper thin. At f/32, you might have half a millimeter in focus, and whether or not you can get a sharp picture depends on how well you can wrangle all of your subject into that thin plane of focus.

Back to test conditions, which can see things about lens performance that never come out in actual shooting unless you are very, very good, here's what I see.


As seen on the 5D Mark II (Full-Frame 21MP):

f/2.8: Reasonably sharp in center, a little softer on sides.

f/4-5.6: The sides get progressively sharper as stopped down.

f/8: Optimum.

By comparison, if you're splitting pixels at larger apertures, the 100mm f/2 USM makes this 100mm f/2.8 look like something's broken by comparison, but this Macro lens is about the same as most of Canon's other L lenses.

Here are extreme crops, presented at 100%, from the top right corner of 5D Mark II images:

Canon 100mm f/2
Canon 100mm f/2


Spherochromatism     performance      top

The 100mm f/2.8 L USM has almost no spherochromatism, meaning out-of-focus bright areas rarely have any sort of colored fringes around them.

Here's my watch, at f/2.8 and about 1:1.2 magnification.

Mondaine Swiss Rail Watch

Swiss Railways Watch.


Sunstars     performance      top

With its 9-bladed diaphragm that becomes nonagonal at f/8 and below, this Canon 100mm f/2.8 L IS ought to make great 18-pointed sunstars on bright points of light, when stopped down.

They probably won't be that symmetrical, as the 100/2.8L's diaphragm isn't particularly uniform.


Compared       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

See it compared to more Nikon lenses.

See also Best Macro Lenses Compared.

See my sharpness comparisons above under Sharpness.

100/2.8 IS Macro
Manual Focus
Instant override
Instant override
Instant override
Instant override
Instant override
Metal & plastic
Metal and plastic
Weight, g.
Weight, oz.
22.0 oz.
20.6 oz.
14.7 oz.
26.7 oz.
Price, 7/2010 USA


Recommendations       top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Compared   Recommendations

I covered this at the top. To repeat, for serious macro use, I would get the Canon 180/3.5 Macro instead, as its longer focus length is very helpful in getting better macro images.

Since all the macro work I do is with strobes, IS means nothing to me for macro, so if I wanted a 100mm macro, I'd get the otherwise similar discontinued 100/2.8 Macro before it sells out.

For general-purpose shooting, I prefer the Canon 100/2 USM for its superior optics, smaller size, lower weight and lower price.

If I wanted a lens for use as both a general-purpose tele and for occasional close-focus, I love IS, and for this very popular purpose, the Canon 100mm f/2.8 L IS is superb.


More Information:

Canon, USA's data.


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July 2010