Is the “L” worth it: Comparison of Canon’s 100mm F/2.8 Macros (Day 2)

Being fairly new to macro photography, I wanted to jump into shooting as soon as I received the 100mm macro lenses from B&H. After I received the box from B&H containing both lenses, I opened it immediately and started shooting. I happened to be in the kitchen at the time so I figured, why leave? There are plenty of things to shoot here!


A few things first…

If you’re going to shoot macro images, it’s probably best that you do so with a quality tripod. I know, I know, people hate to lug around tripods but they are crucial when it comes to macro photography. When shooting at F/2.8 and at the minimum focus distance, the smallest shake will result in a soft image.

After you have your tripod setup, it’s probably a good idea to use your camera’s mirror lockup function. If you have a Canon, your camera’s mirror lockup can be found in the custom functions menu. I’m not a Nikon shooter so I don’t know the lingo, but I know they have the same feature though it probably has a different name. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, read our post on custom functions.

Another tool that can help you produce the sharpest images possible is a wired or wireless trigger. I personally prefer the wireless kind as having a cable dangling from my camera doesn’t seem like the best idea to me. Plus, wireless triggers are cheap and they work well.


Editor’s Note: The images in this post are straight from the camera and have not been edited in any way. Click on an image to view the full sized version.

While I was taking photographs with these lenses, I kept looking at the LCD screen on my Canon 5D to try to compare the results. They looked similar on the tiny LCD but we all know these tiny images are not always representative of what we will see on our computer screen. When I finally downloaded these images to my Mac, I have to say, I was pretty shocked by the results. To my eye, there is very little difference between these lenses. The F/2.8L has slightly better contrast, sharpness and saturation, but not by much. The thing is, if you showed these to a bunch of photographers, I doubt many could tell which was the L and which was the F/2.8 USM.

There’s really not too much I can say here, the best thing to look at the images and decide which looks best to you.

Canon EF 100mm F/2.8 USM Macro Autofocus Lens

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

1:1 Crop - The L is on the left, the USM is on the right.

Canon EF 100mm F/2.8 USM Macro Autofocus Lens

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

1:1 Crop - The L is on the left, the USM is on the right.

If I had to make a purchase right now based on Day 2’s results, I would go for the F/2.8 USM version of this lens. The F/2.8L is slightly better than the F/2.8 USM but for me, it’s not worth the difference in price. I’d rather put the extra cash towards a new tripod & ball head.

Other Observations

Sadly, my tripod is not as good as I thought it was. To get the best results I had to wait several seconds from when the mirror dropped to when I actually fired the shutter. My next investment will be a better tripod and head. The travel angel is great when you are traveling with a light kit, but a decent sized lens on a Canon 5D is a bit too much for this ball head. So if you don’t have a good tripod, think about investing in one before you get into macro photography. I’m currently looking at tripods and I have it narrowed down to the Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 or the Gitzo GT2531, let me know if you have any feedback on either of these. I haven’t even started looking at ball heads…that will probably take weeks to sort out.

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