Conclusion - Pros
- Superb optical quality
- Fast, silent, and accurate autofocus; full time manual focus
- Highly effective image stabilization (for longer subject distances, at least)
- Solid build, including dust and water sealing
Conclusion - Cons
- Hybrid Image Stabilization still not particularly effective at macro distances
- Precise manual focus at 'portrait' distances slightly tricky
- Very expensive compared to non-stabilized alternatives
Just occasionally a lens turns up which delivers such implausibly good results in our studio tests that I have to go back and repeat everything, double checking all settings to make sure I haven't done something wrong. The Canon EF 100mm F2.8 L IS USM Macro is one example; but in this case when I repeated the tests, the results were if anything slightly better. There's little doubt that, all round, this is one of the very finest lenses we've seen - optically it's superb, and operationally it works very well too, with fast and positive autofocus, and one of the most effective image stabilization systems currently available. Throw in the high build quality, including dust- and splash-proofing, and it all adds up to a very desirable package indeed.
Of course the big story with this lens is Canon's new Hybrid IS, and it's important to understand the system's strengths and weaknesses. We found it highly effective at longer subject distances - under ideal conditions it delivers on the four stops benefit promised by Canon - but despite the new dual-sensor design it still doesn't provide so much benefit at close distances. At 1:1 we found it delivered little more than a stop of stabilization - better than nothing for sure, but it's not going to help with the relatively long exposures often required when shooting macros at F11 or F16. It also (by definition) can't deal the inevitable back-and-forward sway of the photographer that throws the picture in and out of focus, and which can be only partially alleviated using continuous autofocus (even assuming you can place an AF point at exactly the desired position). So anyone expecting a 'magic bullet' for hand-held closeups will be disappointed, and for serious work you'll still need a tripod (which shouldn't come as any surprise to experienced macro shooters).
Of course most potential buyers will want to know whether the lens justifies the additional cost over the highly-regarded EF 100mm F2.8 USM Macro which remains in Canon's lineup; and many existing owners of that version will also be interested to find out whether it's worth upgrading. This isn't an easy question to answer, but there's no doubt that the 'L' lens is just that bit better in almost every respect. It's clearly sharper at larger apertures (up to about F5.6), which will arguably be most beneficial to users of high resolution APS-C bodies; it's also better built, focuses faster, and of course includes image stabilization. If you want or need the very best, then it's definitely worthwhile, but the older lens is still extremely good in its own right, and for most buyers offers far better value. (The price differential to well-respected alternatives from third party lens manufacturers such as Sigma and Tamron is greater still.)
Overall, then, the EF 100mm F2.8 L IS USM Macro is an easy recommendation if you're looking for exceptional image quality regardless of price. However potential buyers do need to appreciate that the increased cost over its older stablemate appears to pay mainly for the Hybrid IS system, which despite its clever technology isn't hugely useful for actual close-distance macro work. Of course it's still a great benefit for general-purpose shooting, which mustn't be underestimated, and the new Hybrid technology appears to be a step in the right direction; but the marriage between macro and stabilization remains an uneasy one.
|Detail||Rating (out of 10)|
|Ergonomics & handling||8.5|
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|Canon EF 100mm F2.8 L IS USM Samples Gallery - Posted 11 November 2009|