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Canon RF 100mm f/2.8L MACRO IS USM Lens Review

The Canon RF 100mm f/2.8L MACRO IS USM is a new macro lens that John Riley has been putting to the test on the 30.3MP Canon EOS R. Let's find out how it fared...

| Canon RF 100mm f/2.8L MACRO IS USM in Interchangeable Lenses

Canon RF 100mm f/2.8L MACRO IS USM Lens Review: Canon RF 100mm F2,8 Macro Side View | 0.3 sec | f/16.0 | 40.0 mm | ISO 100

Further extending the range of Canon RF mirrorless system lenses, the new 100mm f/2.8 macro lens has a couple of tricks up its sleeve that also make it unique. It extends beyond the usual magnification of 1:1 (1.0x) to a remarkable 1.4:1 (1.4x) and also features a new SA control that adjusts the amount of spherical aberration. Unfortunately, it carries a very high price tag, so needs to be something special as there is plenty of competition and there are really no bad macro lenses. Coupling the lens with the Canon EOS R 30.3MP body, let's put the new lens through its paces and see what it can do.


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Canon RF 100mm f/2.8L MACRO IS USM Handling and Features

Canon RF 100mm f/2.8L MACRO IS USM Lens Review: Canon RF 100mm F2,8 Macro Front Oblique View | 1/6 sec | f/16.0 | 68.0 mm | ISO 100

The lens looks quite large for a 100mm f/2.8 macro but weighs in at a reasonable 684g, measured without caps or hood. Construction is of very high quality. There is dust and moisture resistance, a virtually essential prerequisite.

There is a provided circular bayonet fit lens hood, secured by a locking catch. Within the bayonet is a conventional 67mm filter thread.

The control ring at the front of the lens can be programmed, via the camera menus, to operate the aperture (the default setting), or the shutter speed or aperture in manual exposure mode. It is electronic, with light but positive click stops. Behind this is the focusing ring, again electronic and, as always with Canon lenses, beautifully smooth in operation.

Focusing is down to 0.26m (0.86 feet) giving a maximum magnification of 1.4x (1.4:1), which is a major feature of this lens. AF is virtually silent, fast and accurate and is driven by 2 Nano USM motors. The manual focusing ring can be used to tweak the AF point, but only when using one shot AF.


Canon RF 100mm f/2.8L MACRO IS USM Lens Review: Canon RF 100mm F2,8 Macro Rear Oblique View | 1/4 sec | f/16.0 | 68.0 mm | ISO 100

The other major feature is the SA control, which adjusts the amount of spherical aberration and hence has a profound effect on the sharpness and the bokeh of the lens. The intention is to enable a high degree of control over portrait images in particular. This effect has an adjustment range of -4 to +4 and varies with aperture and subject distance, so the creative possibilities will take some time to fully explore. Using a negative adjustment softens bokeh outlines in front of the point of focus and strengthens those behind. Using a positive adjustment strengthens outlines in front and softens outlines behind. The net result is a uniquely controllable soft-focus effect that can be applied overall, in front of or behind the subject. There is a click stop at the centre point of the SA control ring and this gives zero adjustment and is the point at which the lens resolution is at maximum. There is a locking switch so this zero setting can be secured.

There are also several switches on the lens barrel. The focus limiter gives three choices:

  • Full range 0.26m (0.86 feet) to infinity
  • 0.5m (1.64 feet) to infinity
  • 0.26m (0.86 feet) to 0.5m (1.64 feet)

There are also switches for AF/MF selection and IS (Image Stabiliser) on/off. The IS is claimed to offer a benefit of up to 5.5 stops. The effectiveness reduces as we focus closer and at 1:1 offers just 2 stops. It is a hybrid system that can operate in conjunction with any available in body IS to offer a maximum benefit of up to 8 stops. This is borne out by testing and although the results may vary from day to day and photographer to photographer, a benefit of 5.5 stops was found to be exactly right. It is recommended that IS is turned off when using a tripod, but left on when using a monopod.

The solid metal lens mount is smooth and secure, with no sign of any rotational play.

Optical construction comprises 17 elements in 13 groups. There are 9 diaphragm blades for improved bokeh. The lens is not compatible with extenders or extension tubes, but of course, it does focus closer than most other 100mm macro lenses anyway. It is worth mentioning that the effective aperture does vary considerably when working at macro distances, so much so that f/2.8 can be more like f/6.3 at 1.4:1. The camera meter can take this into account, but should we be using an external meter and adjustment to exposure would be needed.


Canon RF 100mm f/2.8L MACRO IS USM Lens Review: Canon RF 100mm F2,8 Macro On Canon R5 | 1/5 sec | f/16.0 | 48.0 mm | ISO 100

100mm lenses are an excellent first choice for macro lenses, and probably for portrait lenses as well. The working distance is more comfortable, there is room for lighting and the quality is generally impeccable. This macro lens is a doddle to use, focusing virtually silently, quickly and with crisp accuracy. Canon recommends using AF Servo at macro distances, although of course, many photographers prefer to use manual focus in these situations.

The SA adjustment is something quite unique. Manufacturers do from time to time go off on a tangent and produce something that nobody else offers and that adds something to the overall possibilities of photography. So full marks to Canon for producing a very interesting idea and one that offers such a wide range of possibilities.


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Chaitanya 13 15 1 United Kingdom
6 Dec 2021 9:18AM
Just out of curiosity was AF used for MTF charts or MF used to shoot charts? This lens shows focus shifting when stopped down which affects sharpness.
6 Dec 2021 10:33AM
Both AF and MF are used to shoot charts to ensure the best possible consistency. There are also several runs of results made. Hope that helps!
Chaitanya 13 15 1 United Kingdom
7 Dec 2021 3:44AM
Thanks for info.
JackAllTog Plus
13 6.4k 58 United Kingdom
7 Dec 2021 11:23AM
I do like how you describe the SA function, sounds like a lovely lens - thanks for the review Smile

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