Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens Review

Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens

Well over two years into the existence of the Canon RF Lens series, the lineup remained devoid of what I consider a true macro lens, one that reached a full 1.0x maximum magnification. Sure, there were RF 35mm and 85mm lenses with enough magnification capabilities to achieve the word "Macro" in their names. While the 0.5x magnification those lenses produce is quite beneficial, macro photography is much more exciting at 1.0x, a 1:1 reproduction ratio — and beyond. The Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens brings is that "beyond" feature.

Canon's lens engineers indicated that RF lenses would have a smaller size, lighter weight, or new features with image quality, minimally, as good as the equivalent EF-series lens. In this case, the referenced EF predecessor lens is the 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro, and taking the maximum magnification spec up to an impressive 1.4x easily qualifies for the RF lens's new feature aspect. At review time, among the mirrorless camera manufacturer brands (Canon, Sony, Nikon, Sigma, and I'll add Tamron into the mix), the only lens exceeding 1.0x without extension tubes or extenders is the special-purpose Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x Macro Lens.

The 1.4x maximum magnification is not the only new feature on the Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens. See the new SA ring? I'll discuss this ring in much more detail later in the review, but in short, the spherical aberration control ring enables the bokeh (referring to the foreground and background blur) strength and quality to be adjusted.

With L-series optical and build quality, the RF 100 macro promises to deliver outstanding image quality and high-grade image stabilization and autofocus performance from a well-constructed, weather-sealed package. Especially great is that this world is filled with subjects for this lens, promising many opportunities for creating beautiful images.

Focal Length

Focal length decisions should be made based on the perspective and subject framing desired. How far do you want to be from the subject, and what juxtaposition between the elements in the frame is desired? If tight framing with a longer subject distance is preferred, a longer focal length is needed, and the opposite is also true.

One of the primary uses for a 100mm lens is portraiture. The 100mm focal length provides a great perspective for all types of portraits, especially for individual portraits ranging from moderately tightly cropped headshots to as widely framed as you have working space for. With adequate working distance, small group and family portraits are even within this lens's capabilities. A 100mm lens with a close focusing capability is a great choice for weddings, capturing details of a dress one minute, portraits the next, and photos of the rings moments later without a lens change required.

While many sports are best captured with very long focal length lenses, not all require such, and you may find a 100mm lens ideal for some sports. The 100mm focal length (like most others) can be successfully used for landscape photography. A 100mm lens also works very well for commercial and general studio photography applications, along with a wide range of other uses too numerous to mention.

While the 100mm focal length general uses list is long, adding macro focusing capabilities dramatically extends the usefulness of this lens. Macro lenses are available in a variety of focal lengths, but I find that the 90-105mm range is usually the ideal range for general-purpose macro photography.

One of this lens's superpowers is its 1.40x maximum magnification. As already mentioned, this macro capability exceeds that of most other lenses, and a large number of photographers are going to purchase this lens specifically for this feature.

Relevant to the focal length discussion is the working distance provided by this focal length at or over 1.0x magnification. The longer the focal length, the more working distance is available and the less likely that little living creatures such as (insects) will be frightened away before or while being photographed. In this regard, 100mm is about average for the available macro lens focal lengths, with the difference between 100mm and 90mm or 105mm being insignificant for most practical purposes. Those chasing insects and using a full-frame camera might prefer a longer focal length (perhaps 150mm or 180mm), and those working with mid-sized products at close distances may prefer a wider focal length macro lens (perhaps 35mm or 50mm). Otherwise, and in general, 100mm is likely just right for your macro photography needs.

Additional focal length considerations especially relevant to macro photography are how much of the background is visible at a given working distance (the angle of view strongly influences this) and how that background is rendered via compression and magnification — the strength of the blur. I'll talk more about the RF 100 macro lens's ability to blur the background soon, but once again, the 100mm focal length is average for the macro lenses available in all comparable mounts. With 100mm in use, more background is in the frame and the background is less blurred than when using focal lengths such as 150mm and 180mm, but 100mm provides considerably less background and significantly more background blur than wider focal lengths such as that of the Canon RF 35mm F1.8mm F1.8 IS STM Macro Lens.

Really cool is that, with a macro lens in hand, nearly everything on the planet becomes a potential subject.

Feather Sample Picture

Great little macro subjects abound – they are everywhere.

Candy Sample Picture

Insects, spiders, plants, food and candy, coins, jewelry, craft items, and commercial products – the list goes indefinitely. Bringing home flowers for your spouse may help them better enjoy (support) your macro photography pursuits, and they will likely appreciate prints of the results adorning your walls.

Butterfly Wing Sample Picture

Simply walking around outside of your house will surely turn up interesting things to focus on.

Rose Sample Picture

Focusing your mind on the incredible details of nature is a great way to relax.

Spider Sample Picture

OK, not everyone will find a dark fishing spider carrying babies relaxing, but the details of even spiders are amazing.

Here is an aperture comparison inclusive of the 100mm focal length.

Canon RF 70-200mm F4 L IS USM Lens Focal Length Range Example

As I write this review, Canon RF lenses are not compatible with any cameras having an APS-C-sized imaging sensor. Should this lens someday become compatible with an ASP-C camera model, the 1.6x FOVCF sensor format will see an angle of view similar to a full-frame-mounted 160mm lens. This angle of view forces a longer working distance that increases the depth of field, including more of the subject and background in focus. The APS-C angle of view favors tight portraits vs. full body framing (unless a considerable working distance is available).

Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens Angle View

Max Aperture

While an f/2.8 aperture is not especially wide for prime lenses around this focal length, f/2.8 is very common for the macro prime lenses, and f/2.8 is a relatively wide (fast) aperture among lenses in general.

With an f/2.8 aperture, this lens is handholdable and capable of stopping action in relatively low light levels without resorting to noisy-high ISO settings. The f/2.8 aperture provides adequate light for AF to perform well in low light conditions.

Combine an ultra-short minimum focusing distance with the short telephoto 100mm focal length and the background can be blurred into obscurity. While there are times when everything in the frame should be in focus, most macro subjects look great set against a creamy background blur-free of distracting elements. This lens with a closely positioned subject and the f/2.8 aperture selected permit such a strong, subject-isolating background blur.

While talking about the available apertures of a macro lens, it should be mentioned that at very close focusing distances, the max aperture decreases. The following chart details the measured (metered) light loss incurred at the specified subject magnification (for another lens).

Magnification:1:51:31:21:1.51:11:4
Exposure Factor (loss in stops)02/311 1/31 2/32TBD
Effective Aperture  f/2.8  f/3.6  f/4.1  f/4.6  f/5.0  f/5.9  TBD

If using auto exposure, the camera will automatically account for this. If using a manual exposure, adjusting the exposure becomes your job. This attribute is not unique to Canon or any other brand macro lens, but it is annoying to dial in manual exposure, change focusing distances, and realize that your settings are no longer appropriate for the task.

Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens SA Control

A focal length longer than 100mm is able to create a stronger background blur UNLESS the 100mm lens has spherical aberration control, an exciting new feature on the Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens. While the SA control is not effective over the entire focal length range, the adjustment can significantly affect the bokeh, creating soft foreground and background defocus effects. This lens does not utilize an apodization filter as the Canon RF 85mm F1.2 L USM DS Lens but instead moves a floating lens element to adjust the effects.

Focus Distance (Magnification)5m1m0.38m (0.5x)0.28m (1.0x)0.26m (1.4x)
Variable Amount of SA±2mm±2mm±4mm±4mm±0.5mm±0mm

Per Canon, the variable amount refers to the length up to the intersection of the optical axis and the light ray shifted due to the spherical aberration, with reference to the position where the light ray converges on the optical axis during normal shooting in the 0 position. Right, that was a challenging statement to understand. Just know that the SA control feature adjusts the quality and strength of the background blur, and the amount of adjustment available varies somewhat over the focus distance range. Expect optimal utilization of the SA control ring to require some acclimation, with the EVF live view aiding greatly in the optimization.

The SA control ring can be locked in the 0 position.

Circling back to the f/2.8 aperture, this modest opening at 100mm avoids two of the wide aperture disadvantages, large size and heavy weight. The smaller and lighter aspects of the Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens substantially increase its fun factor.

Image Stabilization

The longer the focal length, the larger subject details (captured at the same distance) are rendered, and the more still the camera must be held to avoid subject details crossing imaging sensor pixels. While 100mm is not an especially long focal length, this lens is able to be used at extremely close focus distances, which also enlarges the subject details, increasing the camera stability requirement.

Image stabilization is an extremely valuable feature in any lens and an especially valuable one in a macro lens. Further aiding this assistance is this lens's Hybrid Image Stabilization, adding another dimension of stabilization over conventional IS. Hybrid IS corrects for shift movement to the conventional angular correction, as the graphic below depicts.

100 L - Hybrid IS

The Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens's image stabilization is rated at 5 stops of shake correction for a very significant advantage.

Additionally aiding handheld assistance is coordinated image stabilization. When used on Canon mirrorless cameras featuring IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization), starting with the EOS R5 and EOS R6, coordinated IS raises the assistance rating to an incredible 8-stops. A specific advantage of the coordinated camera and lens image stabilization is the ability to reduce rotational movement.

Note that image stabilization becomes less effective at very close focus distances. Assistance is still provided at short distances, but the amount of assistance is modestly reduced.

Based on recent Canon IS systems, we can expect very substantial shake correction from this lens's IS system.

The RF 100mm macro lens does not feature selectable IS modes, but the IS system automatically detects and corrects for panning motion.

Expect the RF 100's image stabilization system to be well implemented from a visual standpoint, with the viewfinder image becoming very still and compositional adjustments occurring smoothly, an especially important feature for macro photography. Scene drifting should not be an issue. From an audibility standpoint, expect nothing to be heard unless an ear is very close to the lens.

An image stabilization benefit that should not be overlooked is the aid in AF precision. The camera's AF system can produce better focus precision if the image it sees is stabilized. Canon has indicated that this is true even with a subject that is in motion and being photographed with action-stopping shutter speeds. With the 100mm f/2.8 combination producing a very shallow depth of field at the close focus distances this lens is capable of, AF precision is especially critical.

Image stabilization does not stop subject motion, but it is incredibly effective at stopping camera shake for both stills and video. When you need/want to leave the tripod behind, IS is there for you, helping to ensure sharp images and adding significant versatility to this lens.

Image Quality

The image quality evaluation of the Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens review awaits the arrival of this lens, but anything less than outstanding would be a disappointment.

Focusing

Like the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 and RF 70-200mm F4, the RF 100 F2.8 Macro gets an advanced, very high-performing AF system driven by dual Nano USM (Ultrasonic) focus motors.

Canon U.S.A.'s Rudy Winston states: "Canon's new Nano USM technology uses a completely different form factor, but achieves focus results within the lens via the same principles of ultrasonic vibration energy, transmitted here into linear (rather than rotational) movement within the lens. This tiny new Ultrasonic motor achieves the combination of fast, near-instant response during still image shooting, with the smoothness required for good focus during video recording."

Nano USM acts as an ultra-fast version of STM AF, combining the benefits of a high-speed Ring USM actuator with an STM system stepping motor's quiet and smooth, direct, lead screw-type drive system. Like Ring USM driven AF systems, Nano USM focuses extremely fast – nearly instantly. Like STM AF systems, Nano USM focuses almost silently, with only faint clicks and shuffling being audible. Also, like the other Nano USM lenses, expect this one to focus very smoothly.

Ring USM was Canon's former choice for high-end lens AF systems. While most Ring USM lenses are fast and accurate performers, they generally do not focus smoothly in Movie Servo AF and produce considerably more focus chatter. Nano USM (and STM) lenses autofocus markedly smoother and quieter than Ring USM lenses.

Of utmost importance is AF accuracy, and from that perspective, all of the Nano USM-driven AF systems to date have performed impressively. I expect nothing different from the RF 100.

Wide aperture lenses are optimal for low light AF, and with an f/2.8 aperture, this one should autofocus in a very dark environment. As always, AF is slower in low light, but still, this lens should get the job done.

The RF 100mm macro lens features a focus distance range limit switch that, in addition to enabling the full focus distance range, allows distance selection to be limited to 0.85 — 1.64' (0.26 — 0.50m) and 1.6' (0.50m) — ∞, with the narrower ranges potentially decreasing focus lock times via reduced hunting.

The RF 100's ribbed rubber-covered focus ring is modestly sized and positioned snuggly in front of the SA ring, meaning that care is required to differentiate between the rings, especially with gloves. Expect the manual focus ring to provide a nice resistance, and adjustments should be smooth and remain solidly centered.

Like STM, Nano USM utilizes a focus-by-wire, electrical manual focus design (vs. a direct gear-driven system), with the manual focus ring electronically controlling the lens's focus. FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is supported in AF mode with the camera in One Shot Drive Mode, but the shutter release must be half-pressed for the focus ring to become active. Note that FTM does not work if electronic manual focusing after One Shot AF is disabled in the camera's menu. The lens's switch must be in the "MF" position and the camera meter must be on/awake for conventional manual focusing to be available.

While the Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens does not focus a great deal closer than the EF predecessor, its 10.2" (260mm) minimum focus distance creates a substantially higher maximum magnification spec of 1.4x. Part of the difference likely stems from the reduced focus breathing that Canon is promising from this RF lens.

ModelMFDMM
Canon RF 35mm F1.8 IS STM Macro Lens6.7"(170mm)0.50x
Canon MP-E 65mm Macro Lens9.4"(240mm)5.00x
Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM Lens13.8"(350mm)0.50x
Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens10.2"(260mm)1.40x
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens11.8"(300mm)1.00x
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro Lens12.2"(310mm)1.00x
Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS Lens11.0"(280mm)1.00x

A subject measuring approximately 1.0 x 0.67" (25 x 17mm) fills a full-frame imaging sensor at this lens's minimum focus distance.

The minimum focus distance is measured from the imaging sensor plane with the balance of the camera and lens (and potentially lens hood) length taking their space out of the number to create the working distance. Without the hood installed, the RF 100 provides 4.3 (110mm) of working distance at 1x and 3.3" (85mm) at 1.4x. Those distances are short enough that the lens hood will likely shade the subject.

Need a shorter minimum focus distance and higher magnification? An extension tube mounted behind this lens should provide a very significant decrease and increase, respectively. Extension tubes are hollow lens barrels that shift a lens farther from the camera, allowing shorter focusing distances at the expense of long-distance focusing. Electronic connections in extension tubes permit the lens and camera to communicate and otherwise function as normal. As of review time, Canon does not have RF mount-compatible extension tubes available, but third-party options are available.

This lens is not compatible with Canon extenders.

Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens Side View

Build Quality & Features

While Canon's RF L lenses take on a slightly updated look, those familiar with EF L lenses will immediately recognize this lens's heritage, denoted by the red ring. The L designation assures that this lens has professional-grade build quality and reliability required by those who must bring home the assigned imagery.

The Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens looks great, featuring a smooth exterior diameter that should be comfortable in hand. The barrel exterior is high-quality engineering plastic.

Three rings on a zoom lens? That's what we get with this one. While the control ring is positioned far forward, as I mentioned before, the other two rings appear close enough to require extra concentration to differentiate.

Canon's RF lenses feature a knurled "Control Ring," able to be configured for fast access to settings including aperture, ISO, and exposure compensation. Positioning this ring at the front of the lens is optimal for avoiding inadvertent use. Use the lens hood diameter transition to tactilely find the Control Ring fast. Note that the control ring is clicked by default, and this ring's clicks will be audible in camera-based audio recordings. Canon offers a control ring click stop removal service (at a cost).

Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens Switches

This lens's switches have a shallow profile. A slightly raised area around the two image stabilizer switches aids in tactilely differentiating these from the two AF-related controls. Just enough raised surface is provided in the center of each switch to make them easily usable, even with gloves on. Two of the three switches are easy-to-use two-position types, enabling the desired setting by fully sliding the switch. A little extra care is required to select the focus distance limit setting in this 3-position switch's center position. Expect the switches to firmly click into position, providing an assuring feeling from both positional and quality standpoints.

While not waterproof (water damage will void the warranty), this lens is dust and moisture-sealed and built for outdoor professional use in conditions that are not always favorable.

The front and rear elements are fluorine-coated, helping dust and water drops to shed off (or easily blow off) of the front and rear lens elements. Cleaning problematic issues, such as fingerprints, is considerably easier with fluorine coating, a difference especially appreciated in the field.

The RF 100 gained a small amount of weight and length over its EF counterpart. Still, this lens has a comfortable size and weight for long-term use.

ModelWeight oz(g)Dimensions w/o Hood "(mm)FilterYear 
Canon RF 35mm F1.8 IS STM Macro Lens10.8(305)2.9 x 2.5(74.4 x 62.8)522018
Canon MP-E 65mm Macro Lens25.8(730)3.2 x 3.9(81.0 x 98.0)581999
Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM Lens17.6(500)3.1 x 3.6(78.0 x 90.5)672020
Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens25.8(730)3.2 x 5.8(81.5 x 148.0)672021
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens22.1(625)3.1 x 4.8(77.7 x 123.0)672009
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro Lens21.2(600)3.1 x 4.7(79.0 x 119.0)582000
Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS Lens21.3(602)3.1 x 5.1(79.0 x 130.5)622015

For many more comparisons, review the complete Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens Specifications using the site's lens specifications tool.

The RF 100 L macro shares the EF 100 L macro's lens's 67mm filter thread size. The 67mm threads are common, modest in size, and reasonable in price.

I have not heard officially, but Canon's Macro Ring Lite flashes (such as the MR-14EX II) should be compatible with the RF 100 L when using a Canon 67 Macrolite Adapter (and a 58mm lens cap).

A tripod mount ring is not included in the RF 100 L Macro Lens box. While this lens is not big or heavy, it is modestly front heavy when the camera is tripod mounted.

The EF lens variant had a Canon Tripod Ring D optionally available. I added this accessory to my EF lens as soon as it became available, never removed it, and came to value it greatly. The mount ring permits the camera and lens weight to be balanced over the tripod head, making framing adjustment (less tendency to sag) and camera rotation easier.

When I saw the first product images for the RF lens version, I did not see the traditional tripod mount ring grove and was concerned that this accessory would not be available. However, this is not a traditional lens, and there was a unique indent in the right location of the lens to mount a tripod ring. A later-received image clarified the indent's purpose and put the mount ring availability concern to rest.

Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens Tripod Mount Ring E(B)

The Tripod Mount Ring and Adapter E(B) (the B is for black) features an adapter, an inner piece that fits over the lens, anchors in the little slots, and is held in place by the ring over it. The adapter facilitates the ring's attachment and rotation. The E ring takes on a design similar to that of other recent RF lenses, including the Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens. The ring is a very useful accessory and will be on my RF 100.

Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens Hood ET-73C

The Canon ET-73C lens hood is included in the box. This semi-rigid plastic round-shaped hood has a ribbed interior designed to avoid reflections. The hood offers a strong amount of protection from both impact and from bright light.

Canon always includes a case with L-series lens boxes, and the Lens Pouch LP1222 is in this one. While the pouch protects against scratches and dust, only the bottom is padded against impact. For increased protection, consider a Lowepro Lens Case or Think Tank Photo Lens Case Duo for a quality, affordable single-lens storage, transport, and carry solution.

Price, Value, Wrap Up

Not long before the Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens was introduced, the price of the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens went up a substantial amount. Despite asking, I was provided no reason for the increase. In hindsight, a good reason for the EF lens price increase would be to make the RF 100mm Macro Lens's even modestly higher price appear more reasonable.

While the RF 100 should be an outstanding lens and one that will see a great deal of use, the price is high. Adaptable Sigma and Tamron lenses delivering very good image quality at considerably lower prices make the RF lens's price harder to justify.

As an "RF" lens, the Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens is compatible with all Canon EOS R-series cameras. Canon USA provides a 1-year limited warranty.

The reviewed Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens will be purchased online-retail.

Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens Angle View with Hood

Alternatives to the Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens

When looking for lenses to compare with the Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens, the EF predecessor, the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens, seems the obvious choice. Image quality comparisons await a production lens, but I'd be surprised to see lesser performance from the RF lens.

The Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens vs. Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens comparison shows the RF lens slightly heavier and slightly longer. The RF lens drops the focus distance window (I don't miss these on the mirrorless camera format as the EVF provides this feature), ads a better image stabilization system. A big difference between these two lenses is the RF lens's 1.4x magnification capability vs. 1.0x. The RF lens starts out with a modestly higher price.

Use the site's comparison tools to create additional comparisons.

Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens with Tripod Ring

Summary

I consider a telephoto macro lens a mandatory part of my kit, and always include the best available option.

What is the best Canon macro lens? The Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens is that lens, I expect.

With a high-performing AF system, an advanced image stabilization system, this professional-grade lens has will surely deliver outstanding image quality. There is little doubt that the Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens will outperform all prior introduced Canon macro lenses. The up-to-1.4x magnification capability will take especially close-up imagery to a new level.

So many interesting available subjects combined with this lens's extra-high magnification capability make the Canon RF 100mm F2.8 L Macro IS USM Lens a super fun option to have in the kit.

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