Musings on Photography

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro

Posted in equipment by Paul Butzi on March 15, 2008

At one point I owned a huge assortment of Canon lenses for their 35mm EOS slr system. I had a lot of fixed focal length lenses, but they all got traded in for a two lens lineup quite a while ago – the two lenses were the now dated 28-70mm f/2.8L and the 70-200mm f/2.8L. Those two zooms are big and heavy but weighed about the same as the complement of fixed focal length lenses I had.

Only one fixed focal length lens didn’t get traded in – the 100mm f/2.8 Macro. I’m not talking about the USM version, I’m talking about the old, creaky slow focusing version. When it focuses it makes a loud whining grinding noise, but I don’t care. It’s one of the sharpest lenses for a 35mm camera I’ve ever owned, but that’s not the reason it got kept. It got kept because it turned out that wide open (or nearly so) I felt like it gave near distance images a great ‘look’.

I’ve been doing a lot of close working distance, wide open photography these last few weeks. I try to get the camera out a couple of times a day, and just wander around doing something I think of as ‘scales’. Mostly this seems to have been taking intimate semi-abstract photos of all the plants near my home waking up for spring. I’ve got the 24-105mm f/4.0L and the 70-200mm f/2.8L, as well as the older 28-70. But for this stuff, the lens that works best is that old, noisy 100mm macro.

I’ve come awfully close to trading it in, several times with the idea that I’d update to the newer USM version. But apparently the optical design has changed, and I worry that I’d trade away the feature that I care most about – that smooth transition from ‘in focus’ to ‘out of focus’ and the way things that are out of focus still read as ‘leaves’ or ‘branches’ even though they’re quite blurry.

I guess I will have to rearrange the bag I carry all the Canon gear in, to make room for my ancient 100mm f/2.8 Macro to ride along all the time. It’s fun to rediscover how much I like this lens all over again.

3 Responses

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  1. James Innsworth said, on March 17, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    “I’ve got the 24-105mm f/2.8L”

    Isn’t that an f/4 lens?

  2. Paul Butzi said, on March 17, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    Isn’t that an f/4 lens?

    Yes, you’re absolutely right. I’ve fixed it. Thanks for pointing out the error!

  3. ron said, on March 18, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    I absolutely love this lens, too, though I have the newer USM version. It was my first expensive lens (the start of a habit, it seems) and I partly justified it by its excellent performance in another of my activities — shooting amateur sports, of all things — since it’s fast optically and in focusing (as long as you don’t mind zooming with your feet).

    I’ve never used the older lens but everything you say about it seems to me to apply to the new one. In case it helps you can see some samples I culled from my collection, of no claimed merit other than illustration, all at f/2.8, at

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