My Precious

Reliable, trustworthy and sturdy Macro lens

Canon 400D with Canon EF 100 2.8 USM
Male White-legged Damselfly, Platycnemis pennipes with insect in mouth
Idas Blue, Plebejus idas 6/29/2008
Seven-spot Ladybird, Coccinella septempunctata  5/16/2009
Jewel Beetle, Anthaxia nitidula on chamomile  5/29/2010
Dusky Large Blue; Maculinea nausithous  8/6/2011
Common Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea  8/4/2012
Checquered Skipper, Carterocephalus palaemon  5/25/2014
Safflower Skipper; Pyrgus carthami  5/12/2018

July 2007, the 400D Canon camera came with the EF 100 2.8 USM lens. It was new then, but there has been an update on the lens: 100 f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens with Image Stabilizer. I've always hand held my camera and never used IS, so the upgrade would be pricey.

This lens has served as my primary lens over 10years. It has shot hundreds of thousands of macros, therefore I can still recommend it to anyone looking for a good used Canon macro lens.

My lens has had at least 2 diaphragm replacements as well as the front unit replaced and I still value the lens greatly. It's cheaper to replace a diaphragm or lens unit than to buy a new lens whether brand new or secondhand new.

The reason for the front replacement was a combination of old age wear on the lens finish and old incident of somebody playing chicken with me on an empty gravel country road. Some people are born stupid and arrogant, so I suppose trying to run down a lone photographer with bag of 6 or 7 lenses on an empty country road is fun. The green Heineken beer bag went flying and I hit the road flat, face first. Too frightened to check the camera or lens, I stumbled my way back with an obvious hobble. After 10-20 minutes, the anxiety regarding the camera and lens overcame me through the numb pain of the leg throbbing. I missed getting run over by a few inches of the tires squealing by me. The entire road was empty for miles, so there was no reason to drive the car straight at me, but the idiot did.

The camera clicked on and then the terror of whether or not the lens would function. There was no problem, Maybe it was the way I landed, trying desperately to protect the camera rather than myself. It was relatively new, scarcely a year old. The front lens showed a small ding, like those one might find in a windshield after getting hit by loose gravel. I took the lens to the shop for review an the technician examined the lens and returned it, assuring me that the lens was sound.

Since the 100 2.8 gets a lot of use, it also goes in for regular cleaning and refurbishment. When the lens refused to focus one day, it went to the shop for assessment and repaired.

So finally after 11 years of use, the front unit came out and was replaced for less than one-third the cost of a secondhand 100 2.8. The result is basically a new lens because the lens gets through cleaning and refurbishment at the same time.

The problem initially met with this lens was that it couldn't focus on two things simultaneously. If there were two insects mating or sitting side-by-side, the lens would focus on one and blur the other. The problem was irritating and after several emails with Canon technical staff, the problem was confirmed as inherent to the lens. The other problem regarding the lens is it is sharp in center and sides pretty fuzzy. it takes time to learn the "sweet spot" of the lens to maximize its sharpness.

Moreover, to use a macro lens effectively, a photographer should use manual and spend a lot of time gaining control over button settings of a camera.When using the 400D, the camera is small and the button settings were easy to master without ever looking at the camera. It became instinctive.

This still did not solve the problems I found in the lens with its tendency to search or focus solely on one thing. As a result, I began trying to solve the problem. I started experimenting with extensions. It sounds crazy, but the lens was making me a bit crazy. The first extension I put on the lens was a Soligar 35mm. It solved some problems and made new ones. Because it lengthened the lens, it also created imbalance so the lens was awkward to hold. The weight of the lens seemed greater than the camera. This put a lot more stress on the arm. It also created a new problem of focusing because if not shot exactly level, the image could suffer with very large shadow and vignetting.

One night I walked into the bazaar area of the local camera shop. Somebody had just off-loaded a lot of equipment with several pricey lenses lined up in a tidy row and multiple extensions to match. I took home two more extensions to test. Using extensions isn't everybody's skill, but the 35mm extension had come with the 50 2.5 as a mismatch. It didn't work with the 50 2.5, but the shop had sold it with the lens. After testing it on the 100 2.8 and struggling with it in the field, using an extension on the 100 2.8 showed some promise. Maybe I just needed to try a different extension with the 100 2.8. I brought home a 1.4x and a 2x extension. Due to a challenge from a beetle collector in UK, I went out in the wind and rain, looking to test the extensions with whatever I could find and if really small, see if it were possible to stack the extensions. If you are going to test something, then you might as well be crazy and test all combinations possible. It was a wet day along the river shooting emerging dragonflies and changing extensions and lenses to see what worked best or felt best in hand.

The Teleplus Pro 1.4x extension worked favorably on the 100 2.8. After that, it was day after day relearning to focus and use the extension on the lens. At first I worked with plants as they can't jump or fly away. Putting an extension on a macro lens requires patience. The skill in focusing has to be refined, but because a long barrel lens has suddenly gotten a great deal longer, there has to be greater precision in how the lens is aligned and focused so that shadow and vignetting is avoided. On the 400D there isn't much iso range without becoming psychedelic with noise or having the problems of speckling. As a result the default iso setting on 400D became 400, but with 7D there is normal range. The cameras are vastly different in regards to noise and exposure problems.

The extension went on the lens and never came off. If the 1.4x extension has been put onto another lens or accidentally left at home, I'm at loss how to use the lens. It feels strange in my hands s if I've never used it.

But by adding the extension, I solved one of the most irritating problems I ahd encountered with my lens and suddenly I was shooting the images I wanted consistently.

I have three other macro lenses, but none are used as heavily as the 100 2.8 which even after 12 years of work is still my primary lens. I've shot hockey, lacrosse, show-jumping and airshows, but despite those glamorous big lenses, Sigma 70-200 2.8 and Sigma 50-500 4-6.3; the original lens that came with the 400D camera is still my main lens.

The other macro lenses are the EFS-60 2.8, EF 50 2.5 and EFS-30 2.8.

The EFS-60 2.8 is a great still life lens. It's sharp on all edges and very precise lens that can be used for walkabout. Because the 60 2.8 has very sharp edges and is solidly built, it is generally the lens used for table work and still life. I've used this lens for shooting ballet.

When the 100 2.8 went in for its first refurbishment; it had to be sent away for three-six weeks at the opening of bug season. As a result, I needed a second macro lens. After much review reading, I bought the EF 50 2.5. I later bought another extension for this lens so that it is possible to work at minute level. The third macro lens is new addition, and EFS-30 2.8 which I hope to use for video applications.

When it comes to video, using the 100 2.8 for insect video is extremely difficult. It is awkward to hold. Due to the long barrel, there is constant problem of shooting the inside of the barrel rather than the subject at the end of the lens. Secondly, the lens isn't easy to focus. With the combination of the 7D, it's impossible to use the back screen with 100 2.8 and have much confidence in accuracy. The 60 2.8 is possible and much easier to do.

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2 responses

  • Andrea Petersen

    Andrea Petersen gave props (20 Sep 2018):

    Excellent narrative on your photo essay and images!!

  • Justin Berrington

    Justin Berrington said (1 Oct 2018):

    That's a great lens. I used to use it for my headshots. I've upgraded to the L lens

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