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