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Review: Canon EF 100mm f/2.8mm IS Macro – for when the fish won’t perch!

by Darren

Regular readers will know that I don’t often talk about gear (although when I do the number of readers on this blog always rises!). Great gear doesn’t make you a great photographer, but there’s also little doubt that advancing technology is very helpful to wildlife photographers so when Canon asked me to write a sponsored post about the new technology in their lenses I was happy to oblige, especially given that I own one of those lenses (the EF100mm f/2.8mm Macro IS USM) and like it a lot, mainly for use in my underwater work but it’s also a great portrait and general purpose short telephoto.

I’ve been considering whether to go down the route of adding the occasional sponsored post to the blog for a couple of days. I think it’s important to be up front, and therefore they will always be labelled. The offer I received allows me to write my own post, with my own views about the product and not those given to me by someone in marketing – that’s clearly important. You can also be sure that I will only ever write sponsored posts where I genuinely like the product and feel I have something to offer the reader as well as the advertiser.

I’ll also always try to include a relevant picture. The European perch above was taken in a lake in the UK with the product I’m reviewing here. The murky green water of the UK and the low available light made the lens a natural and obvious choice.

As you’ll know I do quite a bit of underwater work. The first big problem facing underwater photographers is stability. It is possible to use a tripod underwater but it’s not commonly done and does bring its own challenges in terms of taking another piece of bulky kit down and being able to keep even the tripod steady. Water, especially in the open sea, tends to move around and even mild current can move the diver and the camera around quite a bit.

The second problem is low light. Water stops light reaching the sensor, and the deeper you dive, the more water between you and the light, the darker it gets. Our eyes adjust well to allow us to see, but even though modern digital SLRs have excellent high ISO performance, my preference is always to keep that as low as possible to reduce noise.

I had the predecessor to the new 100mm macro from Canon. It was a great, fast lens (f/2.8 too) but the lack of image stabilisation meant that without flash I was always playing a game of cat and mouse between shutter speed and ISO. I could never achieve much depth of field because I was always at the widest aperture, and often I’d return with images that had motion blur because I’d pushed the shutter speed too low in a quest to reduce noise.

When I heard that the EF f/2.8mm Macro IS USM had image stabilisation I made this a priority for my trip to Puerto Galera in the Philippines earlier this year. I was taking strobes (underwater flash) on a foreign trip for the first time too, but nevertheless creative work with flash always involves a certain amount of available light too, and the four stops of compensation were a real bonus.

In case you’ve never used image stabilised lenses, let me just explain that term. Say you’re trying to achieve f/8.0 because you want to get the whole of a fish nicely in focus and not just the face. At that aperture, and at ISO400 because you don’t want too much noise either, your camera meter is telling you that you’ll have a shutter speed of 1/15th of a second. The fish is moving, you’re moving, the water is moving, the camera is moving. You’ve no chance.

With Canon’s new hybrid Image Stabilisation system, a motion sensor in the lens detects movement and adjusts the moveable parts in the lens to compensate meaning the image reaching the sensor stays static.  Four stops means that in our example in the previous paragraph, 1/15th of a second offers a level of performance that you’d otherwise get at 1/240th of a second. That makes capturing sharp unblurred underwater images much easier.

I’ve also used the lens for a bit of close-up work with ants, and as I’ve said above, as a short telephoto portrait lens it’s fantastic, especially when working inside without flash. Thomas, our cat, is very nervous and usually runs for cover at the sight of a camera but this is an ideal lens for capturing those personal images that mean so much, as well as the occasional one that makes it into my library.  For me the image stabilisation in the EF 100mm f/2.8mm IS Macro is a winner for me, and while (as I’ve said above) this is a sponsored post, I wouldn’t recommend it to you if I didn’t think it really is a great piece of kit. I also have the upgrade to my 70-200mm f/2.8 on my shopping list and if I did more work with architecture then I’d be drooling over the new tilt-shift range!

Canon EF Lenses

Canon EF Lenses

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