FOCUS ON: EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM

February 28, 2011

Are great images a product of the photographer, or their camera equipment? This series (formerly known as "Lens of the Month")explores the idea that it's BOTH: Featuring a professional photographer and a single Canon lens, the Canon Digital Learning Center focuses on the relationship that artists can have with their gear.

Canon Digital Learning Center (CDLC):What type of photography do you do, professionally? What field(s) do you prefer, for personal projects/as a hobby?

Amy Dunn (AD): I started my career on the other side of the lens, working as a professional model for over 10 years. The transition, therefore, from model to photographer shooting models was rather seamless. So on a professional level, I predominantly photograph beauty and fashion. I am also probably one of the only photographers that truly loves shooting headshots - anything that captures personality.

Some of my assignments include shooting makeup advertisements-including macro close-ups showcasing the makeup artist's work. Modeling agencies book me to build a model's portfolio, and actors from all over the world contact me to produce a marketable headshot. I started shooting a few celebrities, and I enjoy that immensely: creating something original for someone who has been photographed numerous times. I am trying to get into Morebigger sets and designs going forward.

Outside of photographing people, I love everything from travel photography, whether shooting the Taj Mahal in India or Mount Everest in Nepal, to creating smoke art with the camera. Flowers intrigue me as well, with the colors and luscious texture. It is also no secret that I absolutely adore taking pictures of animals-especially doggies! I just love shooting.

CDLC:What are the most important features you need in the lenses you use professionally? What about for personal work (if there is a difference)?

AD:It definitely depends on what I am shooting. While one can attain great results with plastic lenses or even kit lenses, there is a significant difference and a major upgrade in quality with good glass. When I shoot people, I generally look for sharp eyes and flawless skin. I'm really into rich colors, and if I shoot macro, I love lots of luscious texture.

CDLC: What is your favorite Canon lens, and why?

AD:I consider myself a versatile photographer-I love shooting people, I love shooting pets, I love shooting makeup, I just love shooting-so I need a lens that provides a significant amount of flexibility. Recently, I have had the pleasure of working with the Canon EF 24-70 mm F2.8L USM lens, the EF 70-200 mm F/4.0 L USM lens, EF 17-40 mm F/4.0 L USM lens, the 135 mm 2.0, the EF 85 mm F/1.8 USM and the higher-end Canon EF 85 mm F/1.2 II USM, the EF 180 mm F/3.5 L Macro USM and finally, the EF 100 mm F/2.8 Macro USM.

Of all the lenses, my favorites include the 70-200 mm, the 100 mm macro, and the 24-70 mm, in that order. I have tried both macro lenses, and I can say with all honesty that I significantly favor the 100 mm macro. While the 180 mm certainly has its place and many fans internationally, I felt that the 180 mm was too heavy for me, especially since I like to shoot handheld. Tripods just do not provide the flexibility I need out of a lens. I like to jump around and be a part of my photography. I need the versatility, and in low-light situations, I had a hard time locking in focus because the lens kept going through its expansive range. The 100 mm, however, is much lighter and more user-friendly-not to mention significantly more affordable. While the Auto-Focus still presents some challenges in low-light situations-that of which I will explain in a moment-the range is obviously much shorter.

CDLC:If the lens you used this month is one of your favorites, what is it about the lens that you love?

AD:The 100 mm is a dynamite and nifty general-purpose lens. It is flexible in the sense that it can be used as a traditional macro lens, but what some people forget is that it can serve as a mini-telephoto lens. This versatility allows me to photograph miniscule objects, to get up close and personal shooting eyes and lips, and then having the dual-function of working as a portrait lens. In other words, you get your money's worth with this lens.
The lens is super-light, weighing a little over 21 ounces. You can hold it for hours upon hours without feeling exhaustion-a major plus over the 180 mm macro. When there is sufficient light, the AF snaps quickly into place. It maintains a crisp level of sharpness, and the fall-off at 2.8 looks like something out of a dream.

The 1:1 ratio, meaning something that is the size of a three-inch egg will also appear as a three-inch egg on film. And prints will magnify this object even larger with crisp detail.

CDLC: If this is the first time you have really used the lens, do you think it will become part of your regular rotation of gear, and why?

AD:As many times as I have borrowed my friends' 100 mm macro, I am amazed I have not yet purchased it considering how much I like it and how much I use it. And without sounding like a used car salesman, the price is truly unbeatable. For the price, I use this lens a lot more than the 24-70mm (which I love), but the 100mm macro is so much more diverse. And for that, the 100mm macro will certainly become a part of my regular rotation of gear along with the 70-200mm and 24-70mm.

The 100mm macro actually reminded me of a Swiss army knife: multi-functional that can be used in virtually any situation. And just like a Swiss army knife, it is a necessity that belongs in my kit. Since the lens only weighs several ounces, I can easily fit it into my camera bag.

CDLC: What types of assignments do you think this lens will really excel at, and why?

AD:The possibilities are truly endless. Above all else, the 100 mm macro excels at close-ups. I can see high performance in product shots, for the leisure photographers interested in selling items on online, for example. This lens has the capability of making a normal object look incredible, and for the price, it is worth it.

Of course, the 100 mm would be a stellar option for nature photography. I oftentimes see photos with morning dew drops dripping off the stigma of a flower or a ladybug dancing across a petal-and I envy that. The 100 mm macro will undoubtedly take gorgeous shots like that, and I hope to one day include them in my portfolio.

For all intents and purposes, this lens worked very well for me for my beauty work. I sincerely enjoyed using the 100 mm macro for eyes, lips and details in fingernails. It also serves as an excellent portrait lens, but be sure to shoot it at 3/4 length or make sure the subject has porcelain skin. This lens picks up everything!

I laughed thinking about my college photography class. Almost everyone submitted a photo of a close-up eye; I'll bet we would have all had better results with a proper macro lens. Therefore, I think this would be a great suggestion for a student of photography given its versatility and price.

CDLC:What, if any, challenges did you experience working with this lens?

AD:The 100 mm macro lens has a well-deserved reputation of being a fast, sharp, and light piece of equipment. A few challenges I faced, however, include the auto-focus. In most situations, the AF worked very well and moved at lightning speed. In low-light instances, the AF tended to hunt within its range to lock focus. Luckily, I work with patient people, but I can see how this could present a concern for those needing to snap motion quickly regardless of the lighting. During sundown, I photographed a model to capture the sunset behind her. The lens competed with the backlighting, and time was of the essence.

Also, while I tout this lens as being an admirable telephoto portrait lens, a photographer has to be careful not to get too close as lens distortion on the face may be an issue. A longer lens will flatter a face much more-especially for beauty-but this lens will do just fine for portraits in a 3/4 length crop.

Furthermore, some other concerns are that the images can be "too sharp." Most people prefer not to see every line and pore in their skin, so be sure to exercise caution when using the 100 mm as a portrait lens. Also, the bokeh is a little more jagged than the Canon EF 85 mm F/1.2 II USM

Finally, at just 100 mm, the lens forces you to get close to certain subjects. This may not be an ideal situation if say, you are photographing the head of a creepy-crawly. Overall, the superior qualities far outweigh the minor objections.

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