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

      Photo Review 9

      In summary

      A high-quality macro lens with specially-designed image stabilisation plus dust- and moisture-resistant sealing.Back in July 2009, Canon announced a new ‘hybrid’ image stabilisation system designed for macro photography. Able to compensate for both the standard angular movement and the small shifts in the angle at which the lens is pointed during hand-held shooting. Announced less than two months later, the EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM is the first lens to use this new system. . . [more]

      Full review


      Back in July 2009, Canon announced a new ‘hybrid’ image stabilisation system designed for macro photography. Able to compensate for both the standard angular movement and the small shifts in the angle at which the lens is pointed during hand-held shooting. Announced less than two months later, the EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM is the first lens to use this new system.


      Canon’s EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens, the first with a new ‘hybrid’ image stabilisation system. Note: the cylindrical lens hood supplied with this lens is not shown in the above illustration. (Source: Canon.)

      The new lens doesn’t replace the EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens, which remains in Canon’s range. However the two lenses are quite different, as shown in the table below.


      EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM

      EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

      Picture angle

      24 degrees

      23.4 degrees

      Maximum aperture


      Minimum aperture


      Lens construction

      10 elements in 8 groups

      15 elements in 12 groups

      Dust & moisture resistance



      Diaphragm Blades



      Focus drive

      Inner focusing system with USM. Full-time manual focus available.

      Minimum focus

      31 cm

      30 cm

      Max. magnification


      Filter size


      67 mm

      Lens hood



      Dimensions (Diameter x L)

      79 x 119 mm

      77.7 x 123 mm


      600 grams

      625 grams




      Being an L-series lens, the EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM boasts superior build quality and reliability – and carries the thin red ring that characterises this series. Although it has a largely polycarbonate body, build quality is very good – but not quite as good as the EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens we reviewed recently. The stainless steel mounting plate attaches positively to EOS camera bodies and the rubber dust- and moisture-resistant sealing around the mount enables it to be used in challenging environmental conditions (provided the camera body is built to match).

      Constructed with 15 elements in 12 groups, this lens includes a single ultra low dispersion (UD) glass element plus Super Spectra coatings to minimise the effects of ghosting and flare. The nine bladed diaphragm closes to a circular aperture to ensure attractive bokeh. Focusing is driven by a high-speed, ring-type USM motor.

      The new Hybrid IS technology adds an acceleration sensor to the standard angular velocity gyro sensors that detect up-and-down shaking. This allows the system to detect both shift camera shake and angle camera shake. The former is common in handheld macro photography and dramatically reduces the chance of obtaining sharp pictures at 1:1 magnification.


      This illustration shows the position of the vibration gyro and acceleration sensors within the lens that detect the different types of camera shake. (Source: Canon.)

      Interestingly, the system isn’t designed to detect and counteract backwards and forwards motion, which is likely to occur when shooting close-ups with the camera hand-held. And, with the shallow depth-of-field at wide lens apertures, this kind of camera movement can lead to a high percentage of unsharp pictures. Subject movement can further complicate the issue; unless the camera’s AF system is fast enough to track these movements and refocus the lens, shots will be blurred.


      The above diagrams illustrate the different types of camera shake the new Hybrid IS system is designed to counteract. Note: back and forth movements are not corrected. (Source: Canon.)
      A new processing algorithm combines the information from the two sensors and calculates the amount of shake on the image plane. Lens elements in the IS unit are then positioned to compensate for the two types of camera shake. Canon claims the new system can deliver two f-stops of correction at 1:1 magnification, increasing to three stops at 0.5x magnification and four stops for normal shooting.

      The minimum focusing distance of 30 cm refers to the distance from the subject to the focal plane (where the sensor is located). The actual working distance between the front of the lens and the subject is approximately 14 cm. The lens hood extends just over 7.5 cm in front of the lens, leaving less than 7 cm leeway.

      The maximum aperture of f/2.8 provides a very shallow depth-of-field at and near 1:1 magnification. Stopping down the lens extends this depth-of-field – gradually for close-ups. Although the minimum aperture is f/32, diffraction begins to reduce resolution from about f/11 on (see Performance, below, for more information).
      The focusing ring is a 30 mm wide band located towards the front of the lens barrel, just behind the distance scale. It has a 28 mm wide ridged rubber coating that provides a secure grip. The distance scale carries six marks in metres and feet. It’s prioritised for close-up shooting, with settings for 0.30, 0.34, 0.39, 0.48, 1 and 3 metres – and a very small gap between the 3 metre and infinity settings.

      There’s also an infinity compensation mark to enable photographers to compensate for shifts in the infinity focus at high ambient temperatures. No infrared mark is provided. Internal focusing allows the use of angle-critical attachments like polarisers and graduated filters.

      Three slider switches line up along the left side of the lens barrel behind the focus ring. The top one is a focus limiter that enables users to set the lens to three focusing ranges: Full (0.3 metres to infinity), 0.5 metres to infinity and 0.3 to 0.5 metres. This switch is useful for minimising focus hunting, particularly with close-up shots.

      The second slider is the AF/MF switch. Support for full-time manual focusing allows the focusing ring to be used when this switch is set to the AF position. The third slider switches the stabiliser on and off – and only one stabiliser mode is provided.

      The EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens is supplied with the ET-73 cylindrical lens hood, which matches the lens in build quality and is easy to attach. It also comes with front and rear caps and an LP1219 soft carrying case. Optional accessories include a D (B) ring-type tripod collar plus a range of filters, EF12 and EF25 extension tubes and the MR-14EX and MT-24EX macro flash units and Macro Lite Adapter 67.

      We conducted our tests of this lens on the EOS 5D and EOS 40D camera bodies, both of which were an excellent match. Lighter bodies, such as the EOS 400D, didn’t provide such good balance. The mounting plate attached to both bodies easily and securely and overall balance between camera body and lens was comfortable in each case.

      The focusing ring rotates through roughly 150 degrees and moves smoothly and positively. It works best for close-up shots, for which this lens has been designed. Precise manual focusing can be tricky at distances from three metres to about 10 metres because the lens is geared for close-ups.

      Manual focusing with the review lens was excellent – particularly with the Live View mode on the EOS 40D enabled and the camera tripod-mounted. Being able to magnify the displayed view made it easy to focus on the subject and also check depth-of-field.

      The cylindrical lens hood was easy to fit and remove. It reverses over the lens for storage. Autofocusing was generally fast and, thanks to the USM, very quiet. We noticed the lens hunting at times when we were using it hand-held for macro shooting but using the focus limiter switch dramatically reduced its incidence.

      We found the new hybrid IS system to be something of a ‘curate’s egg’ (i.e. good in parts). Although Canon claims it provides a two-stop advantage for 1:1 macro shots, we found the actual advantage was closer to a one-stop advantage when the lens was hand-held if you wanted more than 50% of acceptably-sharp pictures.

      It was also incapable of counteracting slight movements in the subject or the inevitable (small) back and forth movements that even steady-handed photographers find difficult to avoid. We estimate roughly 25% of shots taken under these conditions were acceptably sharp.

      Moving back to a half life-size position (0.5x magnification) improved the situation noticeably. Not only did the percentage of acceptably sharp shots rise above 50%, it was also easier to control depth-of-field. For subjects at normal distance, we have no reason to doubt Canon’s claim of an improvement of up to four f-stops from the stabiliser system.

      Shots taken with the EOS 5D had a slight quality edge over shots taken with the EOS 40D. However, because of its 1.6x crop factor, the 40D produced a higher degree of magnification and, therefore, slightly more dramatic macro shots. But it was also more difficult to keep the camera and lens steady when shooting hand-held. Colour and contrast were excellent with both camera bodies.

      We conducted our Imatest tests with the lens mounted on the EOS 5D body, which is our standard body for testing all EF and ‘full frame’ lenses. Imatest showed the overall resolution for this lens was outstanding, with the highest MTF50 FIGURES between f/3.2 and f/6.1. There was some difference between centre and edge resolution at wider apertures – which is to be expected – but it was less than 400 points, which is relatively low. The graph below shows the results of our tests.


      Diffraction started to have a visible effect on image resolution from about f/13 on with a ‘full frame’ camera (as shown in the graph above) and from about f/11 on with a camera with an APS-C sensor. Lateral chromatic aberration remained in the ‘low’ band for all focal length settings. Vignetting was also barely visible at the widest apertures and gone by f/4 with both camera bodies and we found no signs of rectilinear distortion.

      Backlighting was generally well handled and we found it difficult to force the lens to flare with normal shooting distances – as long as the sun remained outside its field of view. Shooting close-ups was more challenging, particularly at smaller aperture settings. However, as long as the lens hood is in place and the sun is outside the field of view, in most cases you should be able to find an angle for macro shots that is relatively flare-free.

      Bokeh in macro shots was very attractive. In fact, this lens delivers the best results we’ve seen from any lens we’ve tested to date. Whether the benefits of the superior build quality, fast autofocusing and effective image stabilisation are worth the higher price tag of the EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens is something each photographer must decide. We found the review lens a pleasure to use and were generally impressed by its capabilities.

      Buy this lens if:
      – You have one of Canon’s ‘pro-sumer’ camera bodies and want a macro lens that delivers super-sharp images.
      – You require weather-resistant sealing.
      – You want full time manual focus plus fast autofocusing.
      – You’d like better-than-average image stabilisation for close-up work.
      – You want a lens that requires no readjustment when you fit filters.
      Don’t buy this lens if:
      – You need a general-purpose lens.
      – You’re not prepared to use a tripod for critical macro work.




      Taken with EOS 5D:


      ISO 125, 1/664 second at f/7.


      ISO 200, 1/49 second at f/2.8.


      ISO 200, 1/200 second at f/2.8.


      ISO 400, 1/100 second at f/5.


      ISO 400, 1/320 second at f/2.8.


      ISO 400, 1/99 second at f/3.2.


      ISO 400, 1/99 second at f/5.


      ISO 400, 1/44 second at f/7.


      Backlighting; ISO 100, 1/790 second at f/8


      Vignetting at f/2.8; ISO 100, 1/1328 second.


      Vignetting at f/4; ISO 100, 1/790 second.

      Taken with EOS 40D:


      ISO 200, 1/724 second at f/8.


      ISO 400, 1/99 second at f/2.8.


      ISO 100, 1/83 second at f/4.6.


      ISO 400, 1/790 second at f/2.8.


      ISO 400, 1/49 second at f/9.1.


      ISO 400, 1/41 second at f/5.


      ISO 400, 1/197 second at f/4.


      ISO 400, 1/83 second at f/7.


      ISO 200, 1/724 second at f/8.

      Sample 1:1 macro images showing depth of field at different lens apertures










      Picture angle: 23.4 degrees (19.8 degrees on an APS-C sensor DSLR)
      Maximum aperture: f/2.8
      Minimum aperture: f/32
      Lens construction: 15 elements in 12 groups
      Lens mount: Canon EF
      Diaphragm Blades: 9
      Focus drive: Inner focusing system with USM. Full-time manual focus available.
      Minimum focus: 30 cm
      Maximum magnification: 1:1
      Filter size: 67 mm
      Dimensions (Diameter x L): 77.7 x 123 mm
      Weight: 625 grams





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      Rating (out of 10):

      • Build: 9.0
      • Handling: 8.5
      • Image quality: 9.0
      • Versatility: 8.5
      • OVERALL: 9.0