It was only a matter of time before Canon would release a true macro lens for the RF mount. Instead of an RF version of the ever-so-popular EF 100mm macro lens, Canon had a little surprise up its sleeve. I got a chance to review this amazing lens.
When Canon Netherlands asked me if I was interested in reviewing the new RF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM macro lens I couldn’t say no. Previously I tried the RF 85mm f/2 IS STM macro, which is also a macro lens, but that only delivered a maximum reproduction ratio of 1:2. I find a macro lens is truly macro when a 1:1 reproduction ratio or more is reached. You can find my review of that RF 85mm f/2 macro lens by following this link.
So, Canon finally announced the RF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM macro lens. But instead of an RF copy of the EF version, this lens has a few surprises. First of all, it allows you to reach a magnification of 1.4 times. In other words, it goes beyond the 1:1 reproduction ratio which is quite nice. The second surprise is an extra control ring that allows you to change the Spherical Aberration of the image. More about that later. First of all, let’s have a closer look at this lens.
How It Looks and Feels.
The RF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM macro is longer than its EF counterpart. Funny thing is, when the EF version is fitted with an EF EOS R mount adapter both have the same length. The finish of the RF lens is similar to other RF lenses, it doesn’t shine as much which is a good thing. It looks better, I think.
It has all the control rings and switches you would expect from a macro lens. It has a good sized focus ring and the programmable control ring. The switches control the autofocus and image stabilization. Canon claims a 5 stop stabilization with normal use. When a 1:1 reproduction ratio is reached, this is reduced to only 2 stops. Of course, when paired with a camera that has an IBIS system, the total amount of image stabilization can reach up to 8 stops.
Unfortunately, the lens doesn’t have a distance scale behind a small window, similar to the EF 100mm macro lens. But when the RF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM macro is switched to manual focus, the camera will show a nice distance scale on the LCD screen complete with magnification. It is more precise compared to a window on the lens.
Finally, the lens offers a ring that controls the Spherical Aberration, which is basically a way to control the bokeh when using a shallow depth of field. This ring can rotate up and down in a negative and positive direction. A small switch on the lens locks this ring in the neutral position, preventing movement.
The weight and size of the lens hold no surprises. It’s not too heavy and it balances reasonably well on a Canon EOS R5. When fitted on a tripod, the center of gravity is placed well in front of the mount. When a lower quality tripod head is used, I can imagine it will be difficult to hold it in position. There is a possibility to acquire a tripod collar, but it’s not included.
Using the RF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM for Macro
Although this lens can be perfect for portraits, just like any other 100mm lens, it is mainly for shooting small objects. With a minimum focus distance of 26 cm, you can reach a 1.4 times magnification, which is great. This way, the RF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM macro offers more possibilities for the macro photographer.
With this magnification, the image stabilization isn’t that effective anymore. I would recommend shooting from a tripod if you want such magnifications.
The SA Control Ring
Most striking about the RF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM macro lens is the SA control ring. This stands for Spherical Aberration which is a lens defect, so to speak. In almost every situation this defect is corrected as much as possible. This also applies to this macro lens, but Canon offers the ability to change this SA correction.
The effect is best seen when shooting a light source out of focus. The appearance of the so-called bokeh balls changes when rotating the SA control ring. Rotate the ring towards the negative value and the bokeh balls become smaller. A rotation toward the positive value will make the bokeh rings larger.
There is a second effect that occurs when changing the Spherical Aberration. The subject will show a certain fuzziness. It’s as if a strong Orton effect is occurring, giving the image a soft appearance. It is something that not everyone will appreciate.
There is also a slight change in the size of the subject you focused on. But fortunately, the autofocus system of the Canon EOS R5 has no problems with any soft focus effect that happens when the SA control ring is used. Even with that fuzziness, the camera can focus with precision.
Because of the strong effect the SA control ring has, Canon made a good choice to add a locking switch. It prevents accidental changes in the Spherical Aberration. Remember, when stopping the lens down, the effect of the Spherical Aberration will decrease. The effect works best when a shallow depth of field is used.
Although I haven’t tested the image quality of the RF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM macro in detail, I don't expect it to be disappointing. There is no way Canon can afford to release a lens that offers at least the same quality as its EF counterpart. Any vignetting will be corrected by the in-camera lens profiles, or in your favorite raw editor. The image stabilization offers a great number of stops, that become even more when compared with an IBIS system. The results I got were good.
The RF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM allows me to get up to 26 cm close, which is more than enough for my photography. Focusing is fast and without noise. Only an inaudible buzzing of the Image Stabilization can be heard when you put your ear to the lens. Even for action photography, the lens will perform very well, I’m sure.
The lens has weather sealing and the finish of a typical L-lens for the RF mount. But most striking is the SA control ring, something I haven’t seen on other lenses yet. It offers a change in bokeh, best visible when you add bokeh balls to your composition. I also think the SA control can be a great option for portraits. Unfortunately, the lens had to be returned to Canon Netherlands before I got a chance to shoot any portraits.
I can definitely recommend this lens to any macro photographer that uses an RF mount camera. It’s a very capable lens for portraits and macro. The increased magnification offers more possibilities, and the Spherical Aberration control allows you to add a special appearance to your images. It can be fun to experiment with.
What I Like
- Size and weight is well balanced
- Image stabilization up to 5 stops (increasing to 8 stops with IBIS)
- Maximum magnification of 1.4 times
- Fast and quiet autofocus system
- Focus limiter with 3 settings
- Spherical Aberration control ring for changing the bokeh
- Locking switch for the SA control ring
- Weather sealing
What I Think Could Be Improved.
- Tripod collar is not included
- Nothing else that I can think of
There is not much more to say about this macro lens itself. It’s the RF version of the EF macro lens and it was only a matter of time before it was released. But the 1.4 times magnification and the SA control ring are another thing.
What do you think? Do the increased magnification and SA control ring options increase the value of this lens? Or do you have another thought on these possibilities? Please let me know in the comment below.
Thank you Canon Netherlands for providing this lens. Too bad I had to send it back. And thanks to the Butterfly Safari in Gemert, the Netherlands for the hospitality.
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