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

by Mike Pouliot on 06/12/2011

I’ll be honest, I truly thought this was going to be one of those comparisons where I’d just say, lay down the money and get the L version because you’ll eventually want it, but the F/2.8 USM has put up a solid fight over the past 5 days. So which one would buy with my hard earned money? Let’s find out.

Testing

Recommendations

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

Honestly, I can easily recommend either of these lenses. Both produce excellent macro and portrait results. I can guarantee you that you will be happy with the results from either lens. I’m sure you’re saying “Great. So which one do I buy?” Well, I’m going to have to leave that one up to you as everyone has different budgets and needs but I may be able to help in your decision making process. Let me try to break it down for you.

Buy the F/2.8 USM if…

  • you do not already have a good solid tripod and head. I would rather see someone invest the roughly $400 you are going to save by getting the F/2.8 USM into a solid tripod setup as this is going to really make the difference with macro work. Put the F/2.8 USM on a solid rig and you are going to get excellent results. A good tripod and head is going to help you in other areas of photography as well. Also, you get to buy more stuff!
  • macro photography is not your bread and butter. If you simply want to dabble with macro work or if it is just going to be something fun for you do on occasion, the F/2.8 USM is more than enough lens.
  • you simply do not have the money or do not want to spend the money on the L. I know several people, I’m also included in this group, that have the money to buy L glass but they simply do not feel it’s necessary to drop that kind of cash on a hobby.

Buy the L if…

  • you simply need to have the best of everything. While the difference is not drastic, the L does produce better results than the F/2.8 USM.
  • macro photography is your bread and butter. If you spend most of your time shooting macro photographs, then spend the money and get the best tool for the job. Also, you are most likely going to regret not picking up the L in the long run. Keep in mind that this is only if you have already invested in a quality tripod and camera.
  • you need the best out of camera results possible. Many people still shoot film and others don’t have time or the desire to work in post processing. The L version will give you the best possible results straight from the camera.
  • you need a weather sealed lens. There’s no way around this one as the F/2.8 USM is not weather sealed.
  • you absolutely refuse to use a tripod. I know many photographs that simply refuse to work with tripods and if you’re one of them, get the L. Image stabilization will be your best friend.

Final Thoughts

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

I have to say, this is the most fun I’ve had with photography in a long time. Macro photography really opens up a new world to photography and I think I’m hooked. If you’re bored or if you feel like you have hit a wall with photography, I highly recommend giving macro photography a shot.

So, which lens would I choose? This is a really tough decision. Both lenses produce excellent results but the L does have an edge with I.S. and slightly better IQ. Personally, I don’t mind investing in L glass when I know it’s something that I’ll use often, but I can’t say that I’ll be shooting a ton of macro shots in the near future. For me, I think I’d rather go with the F/2.8 USM and invest the money saved on a solid tripod and head. I know that I’ll get a ton of use out of a new tripod setup and the results from the F/2.8 USM are extremely close to the L when used on a tripod so I don’t feel like I’d be purchasing a drastically inferior lens. You may have different needs, but for me, the F/2.8 USM is a better choice.

In Case You Missed it…

I mentioned this in day 4′s post but B&H has lowered their prices on both of these lenses. 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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