Paul MauerComment

Canon 100mm f/2.8 L Macro Review: Top Tier Portrait Lens and Much, Much More

Paul MauerComment
Canon 100mm f/2.8 L Macro Review: Top Tier Portrait Lens and Much, Much More

A macro telephoto lens might sound niche, but in practice, it's anything but: this lens is one of three "must haves" for Canon photographers.

Yes – I know how it sounds.

I typically stay away from statements like must-have, especially when the price tag is exclusionary to a lot of photographers. But this lens has stayed glued to my body for almost 4 years, and it's been a perfect compliment to the Canon 50mm f/1.2 and the Canon 35mm f/1.4. Don't let the focal range deter you: it's unreal what can be shot with lens alone, and the sheer image quality is unreal.

Tech Specs:

  • Focal length: 100mm

  • Aperture: f/2.8 - f/32, 9 blades

  • Size: 3.06 x 4.84", 21.9 oz

  • Image Stabilization: Yes, HIS

  • Weather sealed: Yes

  • Autofocus: Yes, including full-time Manual focus

  • Minimum focusing distance: 11.81"

Canon 100mm f/2.8 L Review

Honestly, I don’t shoot much macro photography at all. When I picked this lens up 4 years ago, I did it on a whim. But the crazy minimum focusing distance and the ability to explore macro as a new frontier of photography is simply the cherry on top of a perfect telephoto.

Autofocus is demonstrably speedy and accurate, especially considering the razor-thin depth of field at closer focusing distances. There’s virtually no distortion, chromatic aberration, and the optics – see for yourself.

Fernando in the park. Canon 100mm f.2.8, Canon 6D

Fernando in the park. Canon 100mm f.2.8, Canon 6D

By modern standards, this lens released in 2009 ancient. But like most Canon glass, it holds up spectacularly. Build-wise, it’s lighter than you’d think (although the plastic exterior isn’t as luxurious as you’d want it to be).

The image stabilization on a telephoto lens is simply essential if you’re ever taking it off the tripod. Lenses require a certain ratio of shutter speed to focal length (roughly put, you want to double your focal length to find your shutter speed – so a 100mm lens would need to be shot at 1/250th) which seriously gimps their low light potential. But not with this lens.

With the hybrid image stabilization, you can get hand-shake free clarity all the way down to 1/8th of a second. With the fast 2.8 aperture and the ISO handling of a full frame camera, that low light potential is enormous.

Canon 100mm f/2.8 L for Video

Using telephotos on video is usually a recipe for jello-y, shaky disaster unless you have a sandbagged tripod in a windless studio. But not with this lens.

The Canon 100mm f/2.8 L’s image stabilization is top tier, meaning you can hand hold this sucker without needing a gimbal and still get stable shots.

With all that said, if you’re trying to shoot video at macro distances, good luck. You’ll definitely need a tripod to keep a perfectly stable image for that kind of work – but for most videographer’s needs, this lens offers dreamy bokeh and compression as stably as possible.

Another great value add is the massive and smooth focus ring – like the widest focus ring of any Canon camera. Manually focusing this lens is a delight. You can be as particular and sensitive or as speedy as you need by varying the speed of your twist, and the focus ring is perfectly responsive.

The park. Canon 100mm f/2.8, Canon 6D

The park. Canon 100mm f/2.8, Canon 6D

Who is the Canon 100mm f/2.8 L for?

This lens is essential for every photographer – but let me clarify.

As much as I love this lens, it’s obviously not the ‘desert island’ option for most photographers (that’s the Canon 35mm f/1.4, for the record). But if you’re building a kit of Canon lenses to cover any situation you could ever find yourself in, this should be your second purchase.

It’s not just a macro lens. It’s not just a headshot or portrait lens. The focal length and depth of field is great for everything. I shot an editorial for Brompton exclusively on this lens and the Canon 6D.

Notice the color rendering, the perfectly round bokeh, the background separation, the subject isolation, the sharpness…it’s just drool-worthy.

Canon 100mm f/2.8 L vs the Canon 100mm f/2.8 vs the Canon 100mm f/2?

You can save a few hundred dollars if you opt for the non L version of this lens or the faster f/2 version. But unless you shoot exclusively in the studio, here’s why I don’t recommend it.

It all comes down the hybrid image stabilization. It’s essential for opening up the versatility of this lens. Want to shoot photos in any condition other than bright sun? Want to shoot video with this lens? The L makes that possible.

While the optical quality is similar enough between the two macro versions of the 100mm f/2.8, the flexibility in low light and video capability of the L is what makes it a ‘must-have’.

Montana in DUMBO. Canon 100mm f/2.8, Canon 6D.

Montana in DUMBO. Canon 100mm f/2.8, Canon 6D.

Where to Buy the Canon 100mm f/2.8 L

Like most older Canon lenses, the deals are to be found on the used section of Amazon. That said, the HIS mechanics inside the lens are somewhat delicate, so it may be best to go new for this one.

canon-100-2.8-lens-review-full-frame-l-series-2.jpg
canon-100-2.8-lens-review-full-frame-l-series-portrait-baby.jpg

Digital strategist, writer, and image maker based in Manhattan working with clients in the tech and entertainment industry.