Once upon a time, I thought that I would completely understand macro photography to the point where I'd be an expert at the art. I envisioned days spent at botanical gardens getting naughty pictures of stamens, images of the giant eyes that insects have, and water droplets on leaves. Yes, it was going to be the sweet life and all I had to do was get a macro lens. But then I realized that I really don't like insects, I have never been to a botanical garden, and water droplets are hard to capture. Would this newly purchased lens ever be in my camera bag, or would it just sit at home and collect dust? The answer was surprising.
There are many reviews that are much more well-written than any of my attempts, that use words like chromatic aberration or have charts that will show you that this lens in incredibly sharp. There are reviews that probably say that this lens is ideal for macro photography, which it is, but is that all this lens can do? I was surprised to find that this lens is not only great at macro photography but also portraits, in fact, this is the first and only portrait lens I've ever owned.
Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro Lens as a Portrait Lens
As a warning I will say that there are better portrait lenses out there, Canon makes the holy trinity of prime lenses after all; 135mm, 85mm, 35mm. Those lenses are considered some of the finest lenses that Canon has ever made, and will set your wallet back accordingly. But could this "cheap" L series macro lens from Canon be worthy of being in the holy trinity? Say I wanted to buy the 85mm f/1.2L lens, I would have to spend nearly $2,000. Or the 35mm f/1.4 lens? I would spend about $1,700. The Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro lens will cost you about $799, which I'm not mathematician but that's significantly less than two of those lenses.
You could rightly point out that the 85mm f/1.2 and the 35mm f/1.4 much larger maximum apertures and that's what justifies that cost, and you wouldn't be wrong. But I've shot with the 85mm and the 35mm and I can attest that I have never used those lenses wide open, the depth of field is so shallow they make Paris Hilton look like Ghandi. Also, the 85mm lens is called the "lens keg" for a reason, it's stubby and weighs a ton. The 35mm isn't exactly a lightweight either. The 100mm is a sleek and lithe L-series lens which won't make you call your chiropractor after a day of shooting, which is just saving me more money.
One of the most interesting features about the lens is the selective focal range, since this lens has a minimum focal distance of 11.8" if you leave this lens on the FULL setting on the lens barrel, the autofocus will have to search from 11.8" all the way to infinity to find what to focus on and the motor isn't the speediest lens around. Instead, you can tell the lens to only on objects of 0.5 meters and closer or objects between 0.5 meters and infinity. This is a very useful feature if you're shooting macro and you don't have the lens motor to have to crawl through all of the areas of focus. It's also useful if you're shooting portraits and you don't need the camera to search those macro focal distances. I'm very happy that Canon added this feature and it's something that really makes this lens incredibly useful to use in a multitude of scenarios.
Finally, let's talk quality. The folks at Canon know how to make a lens, any L-series lens is right near the cream of the crop and the 100mm has a difference over some of its brethren; it's made of plastic. Yes, this is the only part where the 100mm lens feels like it's not quite good enough. It's light, almost too light, and the plastic-y feel almost make it feel like a toy. While those heavier lenses might make you go to your chiropractor, you'll feel good knowing that you're shooting with a proper lens worthy of being designated an L-series lens. But can good images be created using a lens that feels like a toy? You tell me.
It seems like the little toy lens can be actually very versatile, I would even go so far to say that it's one of the most versatile prime lenses that Canon makes due to its price, weight, quality, and image quality. It's not only a great introduction into Canon L-series lenses, but it's a great lens for almost any shooting style. Go pick one up and you won't be disappointed.