Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS USM Macro Lens Review

You should always make photographs based on the equipment that you have. If you keep on making an excuse to buy gear just because you feel that you can't make the shot otherwise, then you are seeing photography wrong (no pun intended).

I can only think of two situations where you would really need to spend money for gear (not including highly specialized photography like astro photography and electron microscope photography): shots that require telephoto lenses, like sports and wildlife photography, and macro photography.

Wildlife photography requires really long lenses, something like 400mm or longer. Why? Well, you certainly can't get close to a lion or a bear, right? You have to be far from them. And even "tame" animals, like herons, require long lenses: you want to be as far away from them as possible so you can photograph them in their natural habitat.

Well, sports... I don't think anyone would want to get really close to a charging running back, right?

The same can be said about macro photography: you need an extra gear to be successful with it. 

You see, you need a dedicated macro lens. There are makers of zoom lenses that say that the wide end of their lens is macro capable. However, unless it's a 1-to-1 capable, then that lens is not a true macro lens (wikipedia for macro photography found here).

So, armed with a Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro lens, I set out to photograph what is commonly the primary subject for macro photography: flowers.

I set out to photograph flowers at the Lincoln Park Conservatory. It is indoors, so I thought windy conditions, in The Windy City, won't be much of a problem. It is free, so the only thing I would have to pay for is the bus fare; oh, and snacks when I get hungry - which I did...

Unfortunately, I wasn't successful due to several factors which I discuss below. So I ended up buying flowers and going home. It is a more controlled environment and I was even able to control the lighting...

So, what did I learn from this first experience?

  • I couldn't do handheld macro photography. The depth of field is so shallow at macro distances that, every time I breathe, the camera moves at least a millimeter, maybe more. This throws my focus out-of-whack! Yes, there is Image Stabilization (IS), but this isn't of any help when the depth of field is in the millimeters. And of course I cannot not breathe!
  • f/11 is already very shallow. I believe for macro photography to be very successful, you should start at f/16, which means...
  • you need plenty of time to keep the iris of your camera open: for such a small opening, you need plenty of time to let the light pass through, otherwise your shot will be grossly underexposed.
  • Use manual focus; I tried focusing at macro distances and the camera had a really hard time to get the shot in focus. It did, but it did so at such a long amount of time. And as I've said, since the depth-of-field is at millimeter distances, what the camera focused on may not be what you had in mind. So, use manual focus and you will save more time. (I thought there was a problem with the lens, but when I tried focusing at "everyday distance", the lens focused nicely, and quickly at that!)
  • Since you will be shooting at expanded amounts of time, then you might want to switch on the "Long Exposure Noise Reduction" of your camera, if it isn't already switched on.
  • My camera's longest allowable shutter speed, outside of Bulb, is 30 seconds. So, if I want a properly exposed shot, I need to boost the ISO. If such a thing happens with you, then you might also want to switch the "High ISO Speed Noise Reduction" to On.
  • Switch the "Mirror Lockup" on.
  • Use a remote trigger or timer so you won't need to touch the camera itself to trigger it.
  • Oh, and lastly, switch the IS off. It doesn't help when your camera is on a tripod and it even makes your shots worse.
So, here are some samples of what I photographed.

At non-macro distances, a couple of feet or greater, the lens is very quick to focus. It is even great for portraiture and, because of the relatively long reach, some wildlife photography.

 At macro distances, and with the conditions outlined above applied, the Canon macro lens is superb!

And I was even able to do some fine art photography with this very fine lens.

The last shot was done while the lens was made to go slowly out of focus. The macro lens is a prime lens so there is no "zoomed effect", which I am very fond of (check this out), but making the lens go out of focus has, essentially, the same effect. The previous shot is shown as reference.

The lens still has a new-gadget-smell, one of my most favorite scents, but I have already greatly enjoyed it. I am sure that I will have a lot of fun with this lens and I would like to thank the wife for this: as if the love she gives me isn't already enough, she still gave me this macro lens for a birthday gift. "Much obliged!"

So get yours here:


Shots made with a Canon 5D Mark II. Want the best backpack for your DSLR? Check out my review of my favorite, the Lowepro Versapack 200AW, here and here.

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