Friday, November 28, 2008

Gear Bag Friday: How Close Is Close - Review: Canon 100mm F2.8 Macro Lens

Good Morning Everybody,

Warning! Warning! Do not get on the scales this morning - so many bathroom scales in grave danger - it boggles the mind ;~) Hey gang, hope everyone had a great day - eating, drinking, relaxing and being merry. Even though this is an "off" day for many Americans, I'm still sneaking in a Gear Bag Friday this week. This will be a review of the final lens in my gear bag. Don't worry, I've got more stuff to cover next week too. So, let's get to it...

Review: Canon 100mm F2.8 Macro Lens

Ever since I was a kid, I always enjoyed photographing things close up. I remember getting my first 35mm camera and spent a lot of time photographing flowers, shells, leaves and bugs.....and the like. My mother always complained, "Why don't you take more people pictures?" Well, I guess the fact of the matter was I just liked taking close-up photographs, seeing things much closer than the way most people ever really saw them.

My love of macro photography has endured over these many, many years. Last year I picked up the Canon 100mm F 2.8 lens so I could get back into the swing of things with macro photography. I thought the primary application of this lens would be in picking up detail shots of the wedding, the reception, and whatever else I thought looked interesting.

Yes, I do pull out this lens occasionally, but not nearly as often as I thought I would. It's probably my most underused lens in my gear bag. I think the main reason for this is the fact that the other lenses that I prefer using, the 24-105mm, 17-85mm, and now the 18-200mm, all seem to focus close enough to capture the details of what I need on the wedding day. That isn't to say that there aren't opportunities in which I should pull out that lens and be using it. In too many instances on the day of the event, things are just moving way too quickly, to pull the macro lens out to capture only a couple of photographs. And, the other more often used lenses work 95% of the time and are then available in other shooting situations without the hassle of changing from lens to lens.

So, why am I discussing that lens today? Well, as I said, I still enjoy using it in some instances on the wedding day and I reflected that in some of the images accompanying this article. But, I have to say that I find the greatest pleasure in using this lens when I'm just shooting for myself. For example when time restrictions aren't part of the shooting routine. I really enjoy this lens when I'm on a neighborhood walk or hiking through a nature reserve.... It's kind of a throw back to when I was younger and really enjoying my macro photography.

When on vacation, I love doing a photo walk with just this lens on the camera. It's interesting to behold what the viewfinder renders when this is the only optic of choice for the shot. For me, I always try to get just as close as I can when I use this lens. I just love the close-up peek at nature it gives me.

There is a downside to using this macro lens. I've actually complained to Canon about it on the number of occasions. What's the problem? The problem, dear readers, is the camera shake involved when using this lens in so close a range. Actually the camera shake parallels to the camera shake that we get with our long telephoto lenses, especially when not using a tripod. Canon and Nikon both have terrific image stabilization built into their various lenses. It obviously makes the most difference with the long throw telephotos.

I think Nikon made a very smart move when they added image stabilization to their macro lenses. I sure wish Canon would do the same thing.

Let me give you five tips to get the best results when using your macro lens.

1 -- Set the aperture to F 4.0, or even F 5.6 if you want a really shallow depth of field. I personally would stay away from F 2.8 simply because the depth of field is so narrow at that F-Stop. I also don't like using a lens wide open because I don't think I get maximum image quality out of my finished photograph. I preferred the sweet spot of the lens which is generally a stop or two down.

2 -- Shoot at F16 or F22. One of the really cool things about using a macro lens is obviously how close it allows you get to your subject. There are times when you want the subject to be completely in focus. That may be when you're trying to render textures, say in a photograph of an insect. You may also want this added detail and depth of field when photographing some floral or fauna subjects. In any case, don't think that there is only one best F stop to use. The best F stop is determined by the subject matter and the finished result that you want.

3 -- I have found that the best focus setting when using this lens is the A I Servo Focus setting on my camera. In this mode, the lens will actually follow the focus of the subject. You may think this is no big deal, but it is a very big deal. At least it is for me, because I don't carry a tripod with me when I'm photographing my macro images. That being the case, when I am not moving in and out on the subject to keep it in focus, or when a slight breeze is blowing the subject in and out of my plane of focus, AI Servo mode works pretty darn good. With the lens following the focus, I'm much more assured of obtaining an "in focus" final result.

4 -- Explore different focus points of your subject matter. When I'm photographing a wedding band with a special inscription on the inside of the band, I want to be sure that the inscription is in perfect focus with the rest of the band going slightly out of focus. This is also true of my floral subjects I occasionally photographed too. I may just want to concentrate the photograph on the pestle of the flower blossom in sharp focus while letting all the colors of the flower go into soft focus behind my main point of interest. Then I'll reverse the focus to the blossom area while allowing the pestle to go soft.

So my advice here is, when photographing your subject, try a "front plane" focus point, "center plane" focus point, and or even a "rear plane" focus point. Explore the subject! Remember, when using your macro lens, composition is just as much about the "plane of focus" as it is the other rules of composition we apply to our regular photography.

5 -- Try some auxiliary lighting on your macro subject matter. As you know, I'm a big, (not just big HUGE) fan of off-camera flash. So, when I'm photographing wedding details, I’m generally using an off-camera flash to give me a direction of light to really enhance the presentation of the subject matter in the finished photograph.

Also try this for your other macro subject matter too. I remember going out on a photo walk about a year ago, planning to use high shutter speeds and small f-stops to guarantee that very little ambient light would be part of the exposure. My only light source, in this case, was my small Canon 580 EX2 fired with my Quantum Free-Wire radio transmitter/receiver combination. It was a great exercise shooting in a way that I don't happen to use in my day-to-day business and more importantly I was able to obtain some great shots on that shoot.

6 -- Be sure that you're using a high enough shutter speed when using a macro lens. The closer you get, the more magnified the subject matter will be, and the more camera shake you introduce into your shot. I find that many times, I need to be at least 1/100th of a second. I notice that as my shutter speed slows down, I get less consistent results. One way of guaranteeing a higher shutter speed is simply by increasing your ISO on your camera. I have no compunction whatsoever of shooting at ISO 800 on my Canon cameras. This surely is no problem with our new breed of Nikon and Canon cameras on the market today. The phenomenally high ISOs that each of these cameras is capable of reaching really make this a moot point at this time.

7 -- If you're a Canon shooter and really want to explore the world of macro photography, then write Canon a note asking them to make the smart move of incorporating image stabilization into their macro lenses. As I said, the closer you get to your subject the more camera shake you will introduce. That camera shake could be very easily ameliorated with image stabilization built into the Canon lenses.

So folks, that pretty well wraps it up for this week's Gear Bag Friday. The post today wasn't heavily weighted towards wedding photography, but, hopefully it still will give you some insights into how you might use your new macro lens you might be planning to get for yourself or from Santa during these upcoming holidays ;~)

Anyway, that's about it for me today. LaDawn and I are jumping on another plane early tomorrow morning and heading for Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. No, it's not all fun and games -- I'm trying to find some quiet time to continue working on the wedding book that is well underway. I know the sky will be a bright blue filled with puffy white clouds, the sun will be warm, and the San Lucas breeze totally refreshing -- to say nothing of the margaritas!! But, let me assure you, I expect none of those tropical temptations to pull me away from my work at hand ;~)

So until next week, everybody have a great weekend, enjoy your leftover Thanksgiving Day turkey, and I'll see you on Monday. I've heard that down Mexico way - pixels like margaritas too. Adios, -- David


  1. 100 2.8 Macro Lens is one of my favorite Lens. I use it a lot for my food photography.


  2. I use the 70-200mm for macro shots as well, but it's also interesting how well my Canon Powershot G9 can get quick and nice macro shots.

  3. I have been using my 100mm macro lens for taking photos of my son. It takes really great photos especially outdoors, bluring the background.

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  10. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
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