Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM review: a classic never dies

Friday, September 07, 2012

Lens Review
Introduction | Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM lens performance | Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM versus competition | Conclusion

Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM vs. Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM mounted on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II

The Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM looks remarkably similar to the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM. Both are black, lightweight and compact, and affordable – the EF 85mm f/1.8 USM is priced at around $380 (USD), and the EF 100mm f/2 USM costs about $440.

The two even have similar lens performances. The duo produce minimal image distortion, control chromatic aberration and vignetting, and they’re both ideal candidates for working in low light conditions. But don’t let appearances or their similar image performances fool you, these two lenses have a few distinguishing differences.

Limiting resolution map in the image field at selected focal length and aperture

EF 100mm f/2 USM
Resolution performances at different apertures for the Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM, left, and the Canon 85mm EF f/1.8 USM.

What separates the two can be found in their resolution. The EF 85mm f/1.8 USM’s resolution of 66 lp/mm spanked the EF 100mm f/2 USM’s already solid sharpness rating of 59 lp/mm. The EF 85mm f/1.8 USM’s resolution is impressive in that its sharpness is applied beyond the center of an image and into the corners and edges, especially at middle apertures like f/5.6.

Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM vs. Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T 100mm f/2 ZE Canon vs. Sigma 105mm f/2.8 ED DG OS HSM Canon mounted on Canon EOS 5D Mark II

German-based optics company Carl Zeiss AG and Japanese manufacturer Sigma are prolific makers of lenses that compete with Canon’s vast selection of lenses. The two rivals  have products that are in direct competition to the EF 100mm f/2 USM.

The sleek, but expensive ($1,840) Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T 100mm f/2 ZE for Canon has strikingly similar image quality results to the Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM: both are bright, have identical resolution scores, and similar control of chromatic aberration and vignetting. The lenses big differences rest with their mechanics. Like most of the Carl Zeiss Z-series of lenses, the 100mm f/2 ZE only has manual focus. On the upside, its macro capabilities give photographers the flexibility of a portrait lens combined with the added benefit of taking incredible macro-oriented detail shots.

Sigma’s 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM, costing $970, also received high image quality grades for its ability to keep distortion, vignetting, and chromatic aberration in check. Other big perks of Sigma’s 105mm include:

  • Its slightly stronger resolution, 61 lp/mm, compared to Carl Zeiss’s macro 100mm f/2 ZE and Canon’s EF 100mm f/2 USM resolution score of 59 lp/mm.
  • Its stabilization system, which will help limit motion blur for photographers shoot in fast-paced environments like a basketball game.

The lens’ one weak point, at least compared to its Canon and Carl Zeiss equivalents, is that it is not as bright. Its transmission score of 3 T-stops, while good,  cannot compete with the Canon EF 100mm f/2 USM’s 2.2 T-stops and the Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T 100mm f/2 ZE’s 2.3 T-stops.