Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM: Bending the Rules

 
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

Image stabilisation is usually not associated with macro photography, but the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM tries to break conventions. Shridhar Kunte takes a closer look.

Way back in 1995, Canon introduced the world’s first ever lens to feature optical image stabilisation. At that time, the technology was a revolution. Last year, the company announced another significant development in this technology. The new Hybrid IS technology was claimed to be useful for macro shots as well. The first lens to incorporate this technology is the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM. This new lens is not going to replace the older nonstabilised version, but will sit along with it in the company’s macro lens lineup.

Features
Hybrid IS is obviously the headline feature for this macro lens. According to the company, conventional image stabilisation systems compensate only for angular camera shake, and thus is not effective while shooting macros and close-ups. The new Hybrid IS system has a new acceleration sensor that determines the amount of camera shake generated by shifting the camera—thus making it useful for shooting close-up photos too. The system also employs a newly developed algorithm that combines the output of these two stabilisation sensors and compensates for shake accordingly. When mounted on Canon EOS 7D, the lens can also compensate for forward and backward motion if the camera is set to Macro Servo AF mode. Unlike the older 100mm f/2.8 macro lens, this new lens is an L-series lens, which automatically gives it features like an Ultrasonic Motor and internal focusing.

Handling
I tested the 100mm lens on two different camera bodies—the Canon EOS 30D and the full-frame Canon EOS 5D Mark II. The lens balances perfectly on both these cameras, though it may seem a little frontheavy on lighter bodies like the Canon EOS 550D. The build quality is excellent, something that we have come to expect from every professional L-series lens from the company. There are seals that protect the lens against dust and water, and I had no hesitation in putting the lens through some tough conditions that really tested it to its limits. The overall length remains unchanged throughout the entire focusing distance. Also, while focusing, the front element does not rotate, thus making it easy to use a ring flash or a circular polariser. The broad rubberised focusing ring is smooth and manual focusing is a joy to use while shooting macro images. However, the amount that the focusing ring needs to be turned at regular shooting distances is rather short, which makes it better to use autofocus while using this lens as a telephoto portrait lens.

Performance
The AF is really fast without any kind of mechanical noise and the focus accuracy is top notch even in low light. A focus limiter helps improve the AF speed. Even while using contrast-detect autofocus in Live View, the focusing speed and accuracy was reasonably good. The image quality is excellent throughout the entire focusing range, both at regular shooting distances and while shooting close-ups. Chromatic aberration is well controlled in high contrast images shot against the light. Bokeh is one of the most important aspects of any macro lens, and the Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS shines in this regard. Like all L-series lenses, this lens has a 9-bladed circular aperture, which renders uniform, pleasing out-of-focus highlights till f/5.6. There is absolutely no hint of any kind of distortion.

Conclusion
Traditionally, macro photographers have never relied on image stabilisation. One has always needed to use a tripod for critical macro photography. After all, macro photography often demands the use of narrow apertures like f/16 and f/22, and at these apertures, the required shutterspeeds are often too slow for handheld photography. However, this lens does bend the rules a little bit. The 2-stop IS advantage that Hybrid IS provides for macro photography can be useful for macro shooters who prefer to travel light and would not want to drag along a tripod. After all, most modern-day cameras give excellent result at higher ISO settings and one can easily increase the ISO to 800 or 1000, and enjoy the benefits of IS. Of course, all this comes at a price—the lens costs Rs. 60,995, which is double the price of the non-IS version of the lens. If you would wish to follow the old school and carry a tripod with you, you do not really need to buy this lens—get the older version and buy a high-quality tripod with the money you save up. The optics of the older lens are already quite brilliant, and the newer lens does not improve on sharpness much. On the other hand, if you are one of those who want to shoot macro photographs on the fly and do not mind spending for the added benefits of L-series lenses like weather sealing, sturdy build and quick autofocus, the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM is an excellent choice.

from every professional L-series lens from
the company. There are seals that protect
the lens against dust and water, and I had
no hesitation in putting the lens through
some tough conditions that really tested it
to its limits.
The overall length remains unchanged
throughout the entire focusing distance.
Also, while focusing, the front element
does not rotate, thus making it easy to use
a ring flash or a circular polariser. The
broad rubberised focusing ring is smooth
and manual focusing is a joy to use while
shooting macro images. However, the
amount that the focusing ring needs to
be turned at regular shooting distances
is rather short, which makes it better to
use autofocus while using this lens as a
telephoto portrait lens.
Performance
The AF is really fast without any kind of
mechanical noise and the focus accuracy is
top notch even in low light. A focus limiter
helps improve the AF speed. Even while
using contrast-detect autofocus in Live
View, the focusing speed and accuracy was
reasonably good.
The image quality is excellent
throughout the entire focusing range, both
at regular shooting distances and while
shooting close-ups. Chromatic aberration
is well controlled in high contrast images
shot against the light. Bokeh is one of
the most important aspects of any macro
lens, and the Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS
shines in this regard. Like all L-series
lenses, this lens has a 9-bladed circular
aperture, which renders uniform, pleasing
out-of-focus highlights till f/5.6. There
is absolutely no hint of any kind of
distortion.
Conclusion
Traditionally, macro photographers have
never relied on image stabilisation. One
has always needed to use a tripod for
critical macro photography. After all,
macro photography often demands the
use of narrow apertures like f/16 and
f/22, and at these apertures, the required
shutterspeeds are often too slow for
handheld photography.
However, this lens does bend the rules
a little bit. The 2-stop IS advantage that
Hybrid IS provides for macro photography
can be useful for macro shooters who
prefer to travel light and would not want
to drag along a tripod. After all, most
modern-day cameras give excellent result
at higher ISO settings and one can easily
increase the ISO to 800 or 1000, and enjoy
the benefits of IS.
Of course, all this comes at a price—the
lens costs Rs. 60,995, which is double the
price of the non-IS version of the lens. If
you would wish to follow the old school
and carry a tripod with you, you do not
really need to buy this lens—get the older
version and buy a high-quality tripod
Tags: 100mm, Canon, Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, EOS 30D, EOS 7D, f/2.8, Hybrid IS, L-Series, Macro, Product, Review, September, September 2010, Shridhar Kunte, Test