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

Love macro shooting? This is the perfect lens if you want to go pro.

Credit: Kyle Looney / Reviewed.com
June 05, 2015

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When evaluating any lens, we focus on four key areas: sharpness, distortion, chromatic aberration, and bokeh. A perfect lens would render the finest details accurately, wouldn’t distort straight lines or produce ugly fringing around high-contrast subjects, and would create smooth out-of-focus areas.

There are simply very few areas where the Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM doesn't excel. It's very sharp corner to corner from f/2.8 through f/8, the bokeh looks superb in most situations, and distortion and chromatic aberration are virtually nonexistent. It's not a perfect lens (there's no such thing), and there are specific issues macro shooters will need to look out for, but generally it's a very strong performance.

Sharpness

A lens's sharpness is its ability to render the finest details in photographs. In testing a lens, we consider sharpness across the entire frame, from the center of your images out to the extreme corners, using an average that gives extra weight to center performance. We quantify sharpness using line widths per picture height (LW/PH) at a contrast of MTF50.

Sharpness best
Credit: Reviewed.com / Chris Thomas
Stopping down to f/4 will net you the best results.

In our lab testing, the Canon f/2.8L Macro IS USM produced excellent results across the frame, from wide open at f/2.8 all the way to its peak sharpness at f/8. In that range, it consistently averaged over 2,100 lines across the corners, midway, and center regions. That kind of consistency is a hallmark of macro lenses, which photographers turn to when they want to fill the entire frame with a given subject.

Sharpness wide
Credit: Reviewed.com / Chris Thomas
Even at full wide, this lens is a legend.

Sharpness drops off once you move beyond f/8, as the diffraction limit kicks in. By f/11, resolution drops to just 1,800 lines across the frame. At f/16 it dwindles further to about 1,650 lines, and at the minimum aperture of f/32 you'll get less than 1,100 lines—far too soft for pro-level work.

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Distortion

We penalize lenses for distortion when they bend or warp images, causing normally straight lines to curve. 

There are two primary types of distortion: When the center of the frame seems to bulge outward toward you, that’s barrel distortion. It's typically a result of the challenges inherent in designing wide-angle lenses. When the center of the image looks like it's being sucked in, that’s pincushion distortion. Pincushion is more common in telephoto lenses. A third, less common variety (mustache distortion) produces wavy lines.

The Canon 100mm f/2.8L, like most macro lenses, is virtually distortion-free. It produces just 0.4% pincushion distortion, which is hardly noticeable.

Chromatic Aberration

Chromatic aberration refers to the various types of “fringing” that can appear around high contrast subjects in photos—like leaves set against a bright sky. The fringing is usually either green, blue, or magenta and while it’s relatively easy to remove the offensive color with software, it can also degrade image sharpness.

Continuing the theme of strong corner-to-corner performance, the Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro also keeps chromatic aberration to a minimum. It ever so slightly crosses from the "insignificant" range into "minor," but it's a venial sin at worst.

You might notice it in certain situations at the extreme corner of the frame, but it can be easily corrected in any photo editing software.

Bokeh

Bokeh refers to the quality of the out of focus areas in a photo. It's important for a lens to render your subject with sharp details, but it's just as important that the background not distract from the focus of your shot. 

While some lenses have bokeh that's prized for its unique characteristics, most simply aim to produce extremely smooth backgrounds. In particular, photographers prize lenses that can produce bokeh with circular highlights that are free of aspherical distortion (or “coma”).

With your typical 100mm lens, an f/2.8 maximum aperture wouldn't produce the subject/background separation necessary to produce truly stellar bokeh. But with its 1:1 macro capabilities, the 100mm f/2.8L IS USM isn't your average 100mm f/2.8 lens. Indeed, at macro working distance the bokeh is nice and smooth, free of the distracting "busy" quality that plagues lesser lenses.

At more longer working distances, bokeh is still good, but we weren't quite as wowed. Points of light in the background, for example, aren't rendered as perfectly round shapes. They're smooth and creamy, but you will notice some coma near the edge of the frame.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

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