Lens Test: Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro

A macro made for handholding.

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro

More than three years after Nikon's groundbreaking 105mm f/2.8 VR macro, Canon has shot back with a $1,000 (street) fullframer, its first 1:1 close-up lens with image stabilization.

A new “hybrid” stabilization system, it compensates for horizontal and vertical camera shake (shift and pitch), and also tackles slight camera tilts (what Canon calls “angular” movement, usually called “roll”).

EOS 7D shooters can also compensate for forward and backward motion using that camera’s new Macro Servo AF. This kicks in with any USMdriven Canon lens when magnification hits 1:3 or more and AF is set to AI Servo. It redirects focus sampling to look for subject shifts typical of in-and-out camera motion rather than the continuous lateral movement AI Servo usually tracks.

As its less-tapered shape suggests, this lens has an entirely different optical design from Canon’s non-IS 100mm f/2.8 Macro (still in the lineup). It sports an ultra-low-dispersion glass element for controlling color fringing and, like all L-series Canons, multiple weather-resistant seals and gaskets.

About average in size and weight for a 100mm, the lens is slightly lighter than the comparable Nikon, but almost 1/4-inch longer. It’s a paragon of handling: AF is absolutely smooth, silent, and rapid, and the turning action of its very generously sized MF ring is well-damped and faultfree. Focusing and macro scales are much brighter and more legible than Canon’s usual scales.

With no barrel rotation or extension during focusing, it’s well suited to lens-mounted ring flashes and compatible with Canon’s “D” tripod collar (great for quickly switching orientation), as well as Canon’s extension tubes, which support Hybrid IS on all current Canon bodies.

On our optical bench, the lens produced Excellent-range SQF numbers, indicating flawless contrast and sharpness. (Results were very similar to those of Canon’s non-IS 100mm macro.)

Our DxO Analyzer Version 3.2 tests found virtually no distortion in the normal and macro focusing ranges—a fantastic accomplishment, and marginally better than both the non-IS version and the comparable Nikon.

Light falloff was gone by f/3.5 in the normal focusing range, and at close-focus there was no detectable edge falloff at all. (The Nikon showed vignetting until f/4 in both ranges.) At the close-focusing distance of just under a foot, maximum subject magnification was a larger-than lifesize 1:0.92.

And in DxO blur tests of the new Hybrid IS system, our three shooters gained between 2.5 and 3.5 stops of handholdable sharpness in the normal focusing range and slightly less than 2 stops in the macro (1:3) range. At close focus, it did slightly better than the Nikon, but at normal distances its rival provided up to 4 extra stops of handholding.

While you might question the necessity of IS in a 1:1 macro (most people shoot close-ups on a tripod), this lens offers much more than macro. Equivalent to 150mm on Canon’s Rebel line, it’s an excellent focal length for portraits, letting you attractively defocus a background or shoot in low light without a tripod or flash.

Test Results

Distortion: 0.01% (Imperceptible) barrel
** Macro Distortion:** 0.01% (Imperceptible) barrel
** Light Falloff:** Gone by f/3.5
** Macro Light Falloff:** None
** Close-Focusing Distance:** 11.9 inches max.
** Magnification Ratio:** 1:0.92
** Stabilization:** 2.5–3.5 stops; 2 in macro

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro