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Thoughts on my Canon 100mm

I finally decided to buy my first macro lens about six months ago. I chose the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM, a lens I’m growing increasingly fond of after each use. It’s also a lens with a rather steep learning curve, at least for me. Perhaps that’s only true because I had zero macro experience before buying this piece of kit.

My first subject was a pile of coins that has been building in my apartment. A while ago, I posted pictures of several different formes of currency, but that came a while after my initial experiment with US coins. My indoor lighting setup consisted of two Speedlites, one mounted on my 5D and the other operating remotely as a slave. There was also a little bit of ambient light from the bulbs in the ceiling. This was one my preferred shots.

Pretty Penny

f/20, 1 second, ISO 125

It wasn’t long before I moved on to my next experiment – one I was quite exited about. I wanted to shoot smoke… so I lit some incense and got started, using a similar setup as before. For a black background, I positioned the incense holder in front of a black shelf. The pictured effect of the flash lighting up the smoke is just what I was after. I shot several variations and this is one of my favorites (you probably saw another one in my first post).

Flashing Smoke

f/14, 1/1000, ISO 250

Of course, I took a macro shot of the frankincense before I set it ablaze. No flash used for this one, just a long exposure at a small aperture. Notice the level of detail in the frankincense – this lens is very sharp. All of the images in this post were processed in Lightroom, but I didn’t do anything too excessive with any of them in post.

Frankincense

f/25, 25 seconds, ISO 200

There are so many interesting things one can do with a macro lens. The ability to get up close is only the beginning. The technique accentuates the effect depth of field has on a subject since the (long focal length) lens is so close to the subject. Though not a thing of beauty, this image of paperclip on a wooden table is a perfect example. I shot it wide open from a straight angle, showing how narrow the depth of field actually is with this lens.

f/2.8, 1/150, ISO 125

f/2.8, 1/150, ISO 125

This picture of a lighter is much more impressive. Notice the reflections and the subtle variations in sharpness. They combine to give the image texture. The bokeh produced with this lens is really impressive as you can see in some of the shots below – particularly the flower photos.

f/5.6, 0.6 sec, ISO 160

f/5.6, 0.6 sec, ISO 160

Even before the coins, my first true macro subject was a pile of sunflower seed shells (you can see that image in the gallery slideshow below). I took various shots at different apertures to get a feel for what works best in different situations. I found myself eagerly looking forward to getting my hands on some pistachios from Lebanon (my favorite). Shortly after my mother landed with a fresh bag, I got to work. Same set up as before with two Speedlites. I took a pictures of some US pistachios as well and processed them in exactly the same way (see gallery).

f/10, 0.6 sec, ISO 500

f/10, 0.6 sec, ISO 500

Shooting food with this lens can be lots of fun… although I usually prefer to eat my food than play with it. But depending on the type of food, it’s sometimes easier to indulge in photography. The picture of strawberries below is one of many that I took using a tripod and some Speedlites. It took me a while before I got a few shots I liked. But when I took some brussel sprouts out of the oven, I wanted to eat them ASAP while they were still hot. I fired off a couple  shots. They came out nicely despite poor lighting conditions – a testament to this lens’s IS system.

f/14, 1/10, ISO 100

f/2.8, 1/40, ISO 4000

f/2.8, 1/40, ISO 4000

All this is nice, but when most people think of macro photography, they think of two things: flowers and insects. If you’ve been following my blog, you might have already seen some of my flower photos. sadly I haven’t had any luck with insects yet, but I haven’t been chasing after them too hard.

Flowers in particular allow macro photographers the opportunity to play with depth of field in a way that few other subjects do. One can focus on a single petal or the whole flower. The background can be blurred out or sharp as a tack (assuming you have a tripod handy). My first flower shots were taken handheld, and while I’ve gotten a few nice ones with the help of a tripod – my favorites so far have all been handheld.

You may have already seen my cherry blossom posts (if not, you really should). The second and fourth posts of the series include a few nice macro shots from that shoot. I’ve included a couple others below.

One spring day, I was walking around the neighborhood with my 5D when I noticed a few buds that were begging to be photographed. I got as close as I could and fired off some shots that I was quite impressed with when I finally viewed them on my laptop. I decided to go back the next day and ended up getting an even better shot.

f/4.0, 1/160, ISO 200

f/4.0, 1/160, ISO 200

A couple variations from the day before are included in the gallery slidshow below, as well as some other shots that may look familiar to some of you (although they are still new to this blog).

f/5.6, 1/125, ISO 250

f/5.6, 1/125, ISO 250

In my humble opinion, anyone with a proper dSLR kit should have a macro lens in their bag. I’m eagerly looking forward to taking my 100mm with me on shoots, like I did at the Washington Tidal Basin in April. Having a few macro shots in a series helps one paint a clearer picture of the location/story in question.

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PROS:

  • solid build and great feel
  • beautiful image quality and sharpness
  • nice and smooth bokeh, even at lower apertures
  • image stabilization system is liberating and works very well

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CONS:

  • large lens hood
  • it’s not a lightweight
  • can’t get closer than 1:1 (focal length)
  • tricky, sometimes inefficient autofocus system

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CONCLUSION: I love this lens and look forward to putting it better use… especially once I buy an extension tube so I can get even closer to my subjects. Like any piece of kit, it’s not perfect, but I have no regrets and I’m happy it’s part of my collection. It takes beautiful pictures whether from up close or further away. I was torn between this model and the 135mm, but I think I made the right decision. My only ‘issue’ with the lens is the autofocus system. If the lens is set to shoot macro subjects, I can never get it to automatically lock on to distant subjects (unless I’m in Live View mode). I need to manually adjust the focus myself before AF will work. I’m not sure if I have a faulty model or if this is something common with macro lenses (or this model in particular). If anyone has any insight to share regarding that, I’d be most grateful.

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MACRO GALLERY SLIDESHOW

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on my Canon 100mm

  1. Pingback: Thoughts on my Canon 100mm | Traveling and taki...

  2. Pingback: Everglades at 70-200mm | Karim Haddad

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