Canon 100mm f2.8L IS macro

I was fortunate enough to get to borrow the new Canon 100mm f2.8 IS macro lens this weekend. I’ve always wanted a macro lens with IS and a few years ago I had the 100mm macro without IS, which I then traded for the 150mm macro. I’ve never regretted getting the longer focal length, but using a long and heavy macro lens requires good support, so the tripod or the beanbag has to go wherever the lens goes. Shooting with this setup is very rewarding, but there’s something to be said for spontaneity as well – enter image stabilisation.

So now I’ve been out with this lens, sans tripod, and I must say it really works. I won’t be reviewing the lens because there’s nothing to review, I mean it’s tack sharp (anything else would be shocking) and issues like vignetting or barrel distortion are never a problem with macro (I doubt this lens has either anyway). So the only thing that’s interesting for me is what I can do with 100mm and image stabilisation and that’s what I set out to find out.

heath spotted orchid
No background problems with this heath spotted orchid

Having had the 150mm lens for a few years now, I had my doubts about the depth of field of the 100mm lens. I like using diffused foregrounds when possible and I also like completely feature-less backgrounds. I struggled to get both when using the 100mm lens in the past, but now that I had it again, I started wondering if part of the problem back then was that I was just not very experienced as a macro photographer. Either I’m better at choosing my subjects now or I am handling the situation in a different way, but background control wasn’t nearly as difficult as I remember it was. But having the lens for such a short period, it’s not possible to test it in all situations and I reckon the background would come into play when shooting in tight spaces where the background is closer to the subject than in the above picture.

Hand-held at 1/40 and it's sharp enough for me
Hand-held at 1/40 and it’s sharp enough for me

The IS of the lens is great. It’s the new generation IS which is so quiet that I had to check a couple of times that IS really was on because I’m used to the sounds of my 300mm and 24-105mm lenses. The picture of the moth was taken with a 1/40 shutter speed, it’s marginally soft but completely acceptable. It would’ve been impossible without a tripod using a non-IS 100mm or 150mm lens (impossible for me anyway, I know some people are better at hand holding the camera than I am). So if I want to take a similar picture with a non-IS lens, I would have to start setting up the tripod and hope that the moth is still there when I’m ready to take the shot. Shooting without a support setup is very liberating, the threshold of taking a picture is lower because sometimes I just simply think if a subject is worth setting up the tripod, instead of thinking if a picture is worth taking at all.

100mm is not a landscape lens but when I needed a shot of the stub covered with wolf lichen, it worked just fine

It’s been nice trying out this lens, but when I give it back I won’t miss it. It’s a great lens for the macro photographer on the move, but I’ve developed such a good relationship with my Sigma 150mm f2.8 macro that I can’t see myself ever parting with it. Yes I still definitely want a macro lens with IS, but I’m fairly sure that in the long run I would miss those additional 50mm if I traded the Sigma 150mm for the Canon 100mm IS. So now I’m just waiting for a long macro lens with stabilisation!

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