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Canon EF 100mm f/2.0 USM

by Steve Rach Mirarchi, 1996


I bought my Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM lens in 1996 because I needed a fast lens for concert work; I couldn't afford any of the "L" series zooms. Years later, as I look over the images it's produced, I can say that it's one of the finest lenses I've ever used. [Image above: Chris Cornell himself. Canon A2, 1/90 at f/2.0, Kodak E200.]

The Great Debate: the 100/2.0 or the 85/1.8?

Gavin Rossdale of Bush I've done a modest amount of portrait work over the years, and I've compared an 85/1.8 side by side with my 100/2.0. The 85/1.8 to my eye captures too much proportion; the extra 15mm of the 100/2.0 flattens features just right. Portraits with the 85 look too standard for my taste; the 100 manages to make portraits interesting without that excessive 300/2.8 two-dimensionality that's all the fashion these days.

Wide open at 2.0 the lens performs magnificently, tack sharp in the eyes (with a soft tip of the nose, of course) up to 16x20. Edge to edge quality is better at 2.8, and at 4.0 the lens produces sharper Images than my 70-200/2.8L on the same settings. Even if you're including a bit of the subject's shoulders in the Image, you get terrific background blur at 2.8.

Did Somebody Say Concerts?

I once brought my camera bag to a concert I was going to review in the unlikely event the promoter would let me shoot. He did, and to my greater surprise I found the fastest film in my bag was 400. I pushed it to 1600 and still was shooting 1/60 at f/2.0 with the lens. The results? Publishable quality Images (i.e. they were bought by a national magazine). The lens' extra stop saved the prints from contrast death, and the quality of the glass saved the images in the first place. [To the right: Gavin Rossdale of Bush. Canon A2, 1/60 at f/4.0, Fuji SG+ 800.]

Ergonomics

The manual focus ring is big and rotates very smoothly. The USM is remarkable: ultra-fast, super-quiet, and deadly accurate. I've caught many fast-moving rock stars thanks to the USM. The lens is rugged. It goes to over 100 rock concerts every year, and I can't remember how many times beer's been spilled on it. It takes shoves, nudges, and knocks whenever I leave the barricade. It's still in excellent condition.

Michael Hedges I highly recommend the dedicated hood: I've never had a flare or vignetting problem, even with ever-changing stage lights. One of those wonderful snap-on types, the ET-65 II hood is easily added and removed, not to mention constructed of an almost indestructible plastic (it's saved my glass countless times from the horrors mentioned above).

So...

You can't go wrong with this lens. If you're trying to choose between this lens and the 85/1.8, decide what kind of portraits you want: standard looking, or a little more punchy. The subjects I shoot like creative Images, so I use the 100.

Update, 10/99

I'm still using the same 100/2.0, and it's performing superbly. One event a few months ago had such dim lighting conditions that I had to shoot nearly the entire stage portion with the lens wide open. Again, excellent results.

Dedication

The story about shooting under surprise circumstances occurred at a Michael Hedges performance. Three weeks after I photographed him at that particular concert, he was killed in a car accident. Considered by many (myself included) as one of the greatest guitarists of all time, Hedges was a deeply spiritual man, which makes his very early death all the more tragic. Having taken the photo to the left with the 100/2.0, I dedicate this page to him. God bless you Michael.

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All Text and Images Copyright 1996-1999 Steve Rach Mirarchi. All rights reserved.

Article created 1996

Readers' Comments


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Russ Arcuri , February 17, 1998; 12:07 P.M.

The 100/2 and its twin, the 85/1.8, are both fine lenses. I just wanted to make a quick comment about the statement from the review, "The subjects I shoot like creative Images, so I use the 100." [As opposed to the 85.]

I think this is misleading. "Creative" is not a function of focal length -- and in fact, 100mm is generally considered a more traditional focal length than 85mm for portrait work. If your subject fills the same percentage of the frame, a shorter focal length provides a less flat look than a longer focal length; i.e. a person's nose will be magnified more in proportion to their eyes (assuming their nose is closer to the camera). Whether you think a flatter perspective is more "punchy" or not is a matter of opinion.

One last comment: many times in concert photography, you are not able to move significantly closer to or further away from your subject than your current shooting position. The perspective (relative size of nose vs. eyes, for example) only changes when the distance to subject changes. Therefore, your subject will look exactly the same whether you use a 50, 85, 100, 135, etc. The only difference will be that the subject will be bigger (fill more of the frame) in shots taken with a longer focal length.

John Song , February 22, 1998; 03:12 P.M.

Canon 100 F/2.0 is a great lens for not being a "L" lens. Image wise, this lens is just as sharp or sharper than "L" lenses; but not the construction wise. I've had a 100 F/2.0 for about 3 years, and unlike my other "L" lenses, it has some dust inside the barrel on the lens. Also a little black dust-ball moves around the inside which I haven't seen on any of my lenses except on a 10+ year old Nikon 200 F/2.0 lens that I own (which is expected as it is very old). Also, it makes a slight clicking noise when the lens moves from the infinity focus to close focus. But, these doesn't affect the image, as far as I can tell. Of course it wasn't like this when I first bought it. The lens is not sealed very well and the construction is kind of "weak" compared to the "L" lenses but image wise, it is very good. Also the price is reasonable as well, unlike some of the "L" lenses. If canon comes out with 100 F/2.0 "L" (or faster)with tighter seal and better construction, it will definetly be one of my favorite lens.

Steve Mirarchi , March 02, 1998; 12:49 A.M.

Just a comment about my admittedly context-lacking use of "creative."

One of my friends at Canon (who has no vested interest in lying to me) tells me that the 85/1.8 is one of their best-selling lenses, and that the 100/2.0 is one of their worst-selling ones. That confirmed for me the trend I thought I was seeing--that 85 was becoming more popular for portraits as of late, at least by Canon users. I meant "creative" in that sense: that Canon users, at least, aren't turning to 100mm as much for portraits; they're using 85 or 135.

Paul Tsong , March 06, 1998; 04:34 P.M.

If the above comment is true, I can think of a couple of reasons why. First, the 85 and 100 are much more similar than they are different. They are both reasonably fast, high quality medium telephoto lenses. The difference in perspective and cropping are SUBTLE. A lot of people would probably prefer to spend $70 or so dollars less IF they don't notice a big difference between the two.

Also, if one already owns or is thinking of owning Canon's 100 macro but wants that last ounce of speed or the USM motor, there is the duplication of focal lengths if one buys the 100 f2.0. Those people would probably gravitate toward the 85 also.

I'm buying the 100 because I do prefer the perspective of that focal length at similar magnifications. That decision was made much easier when I decided on buying the 180 macro rather than the 100.

alan mandel , July 24, 1998; 08:49 P.M.

this lens is great, great, GREAT! i bought it based on this review, and have never been disappointed. its razor sharp! this is the lens i take everywhere, and sometimes its the only one i need.

buy this lens. you wont be sorry.

Cliff LeSergent , March 01, 1999; 04:13 P.M.

A couple of years ago I started shooting concerts in small venues with an EF 85 f1.8. In one particular venue, the stage lighting is arranged so that there are always some lights in the frame, and I found that flare was a real problem with the 85mm. The lens hood didn't help due to the placement of the stage lights. I borrowed a 100 f2 to try at the next concert, and the difference was incredible. The same direct light sources that were such a problem with the 85mm caused almost no flare at all with the 100mm f2. While these two lenses appear very similar on the outside, there is something about the optical construction of the 100 f2 that really makes a difference in tough lighting situations. While this may not make much difference to the average shooter, for me it justifies the slight additional cost of the 100 f2.

Tze Ho Tan , April 20, 1999; 02:39 A.M.

About the flare problem with the 85/1.8, I've also heard about it from a friend who has used both lenses. Apparently the 85/1.8 is also a little softer at the edges compared to the 100/2.

Casey Lessard , June 01, 2000; 08:26 P.M.

I think I got lucky in being able to buy this lens used for $450 Canadian ($300 US). Compared to the lens that came with my Elan IIe (the 28-80mm f3.5-5.6), this lens is insanely good. I wish I would have discovered this site before buying the kit. Now that I have the 50mm f1.4, I realize the 100mm's limitations but still find it a great lens.

While I can see its value for concert photography, I have found this lens very useful for fashion shows and theatre as well. Sitting about 10 feet from the foot of the stage at a fashion show, I shot 400 speed film and ended up with some amazing shots (comparable to the concert shots here). Even with stage lighting, I had no problems shooting with fairly fast shutter speeds and the autofocus did not let me down. A professional photographer hired to shoot had none of his photos turn out, so the organizer was ecstatic about the shots. Same story with theatre work, where I was able to shoot a dress rehearsal of a play and sell $500 worth of pics to the actors (my first ever sale!).

In both cases the clients said the shots were among the best pictures they had ever seen... I give a great deal of the credit to this lens, and the same can be said of the 50mm f1.4 (if not more so).

Pierre-Frederic Caillaud , June 11, 2000; 01:13 P.M.

I bought this lens six months ago, and never had any bad surprises. It is exceptionnally sharp, autofocus is fast.

It fell from 3 ft. face down (with camera on it) on a concrete floor, and shows absolutely no sign of being hurt. I hear no strange noises when I shake it, or focus it, and it's as sharp as ever. The construction seems rather strong. (however, my B&W filter now has a big dent, as a souvenir.)

I wanted to add my 2 cents about night photography : this lens works wonderfully at night. Lights in the frame pose no problem. No flare, very little light spill around light-bulbs. Texture in stones under contrasty streetlights is amazing.

This is often an overlooked detail, but the diaphragm has 8 or 9 blades, which makes for much rounder shapes in the out-of-focus areas than, for instance, the 50/1.8 which has 5 blades ! Take a night portrait with streetlights in the (blurred) background ; with the 100 at f4 they will look more like circles ; with the 50 they will be pentagons...

Matteo Casalini , September 22, 2000; 07:17 P.M.

It is one of the best lens i have ever used; i bought it "used",for 500.000 Italian lire (250$) and i think it is my best business (why peaple need to sell something perfect like that). I was sure of it's quality becouse of MTF test, but using it, i think it is better than any other. F/2 is very fast, but at the some time the image quality is very good, whitout any problem of distorcion or vignetting.I use this lens for 50% of my photo.Buy it!!! Se qualcuno volesse ulteriori informazioni in italiano,mandatemi un messaggio.

Shamim Mohamed , November 08, 2001; 10:58 P.M.

Until a year ago I was using my trusty Nikon FM with the excellent 28/3.5, the 50/1.4 and the so-so 100mm Series E. I liked the perspective of the 100, but it seemed a little... well, I paid $90 for it (used) and for that price it was a great lens.

Then I read this review, about a year ago. Since it talked about exactly my kind of usage (clubs, avail. light), it convinced me to get the lens. And, since I didn't really want to branch out into Canon EOS, the Rebel body.

I'm hooked. I really like this lens. It's been 6 months since I've taken the FM out with me. Going from the f/2.8 of the Nikon Ser E to f/2 made a bigger difference than I thought. And the images I get - amazing! I really like its "look". (Available light, Kodak EPH @ 1600.) I think of it as very flattering to the subject, and the background blur looks nice. Just a monopod is enough for any sort of lighting, it seems. Until a year ago I really liked the idea of available light shooting; thanks to this lens I've found out that I really like it in practice as well. (You can see a few of my images using this lens on www.phliar.com.)

I also took it to Burning Man. I fashioned a dust-proof cover with a UV filter and a Zip-Loc bag clamped between the hood and the filter. I thought at the price I wouldn't be too unhappy if it got destroyed.

Have I mentioned I really like this lens?

Ted Mishima , July 24, 2003; 01:48 A.M.

Seeing that a lot of these reviews are before the digitaldom that we live in now, I wanted to chime in about this lens and the Canon 10D. There were focus issues where I was not getting consistent results with any of my lenses. After sending the body back twice and my lenses the second time (100 being one of them), I'd like to reiterate how great this lense is. I shoot a lot of portraits wide open, so the point of focus is critical. Now that my 10D and lenses are in sync, I have regained confidence in shooting wide open. And the results with the 100 are great. I hope to get more perspective on many of the lenses with digital, as it does not always translate with film cameras.

Ted Mishima http://www.mishimaphotography.com

Russel Harris , December 10, 2010; 05:07 A.M.

Shot with an EF 100/2; 1D classic

Watching TV

I have this lens - love it. Just beautiful bokeh, fast AF-lock... in fact it's the reason why I switched back to Canon


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