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Is the “L” worth it: Comparison of Canon’s 100mm F/2.8 Macros (Day 4)

by Mike Pouliot on 06/10/2011

My sister-in-law's new hardware - Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro Autofocus Lens

In the past three posts we’ve proven that both of these lenses produce excellent macro results but let’s face it, neither of these lenses are what I would call inexpensive. I’ll admit it, I’m cheap and if I’m going to drop over $500 on a lens it needs to perform well in other areas besides simply producing excellent macro photos. Yes, I ask a lot of my gear but I like to travel light and my gear needs to perform as many functions as possible while still producing good results. In this post, we are going to ignore the macro ability of these lenses to take a look at how these 100mm macros perform as portrait and everyday lenses.

Equipment

Results

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

Editor’s Note: Yes, we like cigars. Also, all images are straight from the camera, no post processing was done except for RAW to JPEG conversion. Click on any image to view the full-sized image.

Chris’s Note: I’m more of a hookah guy…just sayin’ ;)

Let me say right off the bat that both of these lenses are excellent portrait lenses. The 100mm focal length combined with a fairly fast max aperture of F/2.8 produces excellent images with little distortion and good depth of field. Both of these lenses are very consistent which makes getting the shot correct in camera easier once you learn how the lens works. Getting the shot right in camera means less time spent in post processing.

Noticable vignetting - Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro Autofocus Lens

Detail is excellent and flare is pretty much nonexistent. I personally prefer the skin tones produced by the L a bit more than the USM but the difference was subtle and I wasn’t exactly working in a controlled environment. Bokeh from both lenses is very pleasant and while some bokeh aficionados may see a difference, they both look the same to me.

This is the first time I’ve noticed this, but the F/2.8 USM has noticeable vignetting when shot wide open (see above image) while the L looks good across the frame. Vignetting is easily fixed in post processing so I never really think about it, but I wanted to mention this as it may be important to some. At 100mm, these lenses are a tad long for general/walk around use on a full frame body like my Canon 5D and it will be even worse on a crop body.

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

Not surprisingly, I was impressed with the results from both lenses on day 4. However, I did find myself keeping the L on my Canon 5D a bit more than the F/2.8 USM. The L simply focuses faster and I.S. is a definite bonus to have on a lens of this length. Also, colors appear to be more saturated and the L does have a slight edge on the F/2.8 USM in sharpness and contrast which is consistent with what we have seen during the previous days’ testing. Now, with all that being said, you can not discount the F/2.8 USM because I honestly feel that (besides I.S.) the advantages the L has over the F/2.8 USM is minimal.

Other Observations

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro Autofocus Lens

 

My rant for the day…

Canon, why do you hate your customers?

If someone is dropping over $500 on a lens, why can you just throw in a lens hood which probably costs you all of $0.50 to make? Sigma includes at least one lens hood, and sometimes two (for APS-C and FF), with their lenses and they charge less for their products. Please stop screwing your customers.

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro Autofocus Lens

 

The photographs in this post where taken at my in-laws beach house in R.I. and the sun was pretty strong that day. I kept the lens hood off of the L to keep things as even as possible when shooting. I think if I had hoods on both lenses, there would have been a noticeable difference in contrast. This is what triggered the rant in the previous paragraph.

Good News

I just so happen to check B&H‘s website a few days ago and I noticed that the prices on these lenses have come down a bit. The L version is now under $1k while the F/2.8 USM is under $600. Now’s the time to grab one! Nice timing B&H.

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