Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM vs EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro

Just bought that first macro lens? Post here to get helpful feedback and answers to any questions you might have.

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Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM vs EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro

Post by papakatz45 »

I am new to macro photography but have done a lot of wildlife at distance. Now I want to get close-up. Bugs & flowers.

Are there any thoughts of preference to the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM vs EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM?

Seems to me the extra working distance would be a benefit. What are the pros and cons?

I am using a Canon EOS-50D.

Money is not an issue.

Also, Ringlight or Twin-Head?

Any help you "experts" can give me will be greatly appreciated.

Peter M. Macdonald
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Post by Peter M. Macdonald »

Hello and Welcome,

Let me be the first to rely to your question, without actually giving you an answer! However, I will try to give you some things to consider when making your own decision.

I have used both a 100 mm and a 180 mm macro lens for some years. The 100 mm is the old style, non L series, Canon macro lens. It is my workhorse macro lens, as it is much easier to work with handheld than the 180 mm. However, for things like butterflies and large moths, the 180 comes into its own as the extra working distance makes it much easier to get within range of a skittish subject. Flies can often be approached with either lens. Do you have a particular set of subjects in mind, or do you want to shoot a broad spectrum of small wildlife?

I have used both of the lenses which you are considering. Whichever one you choose, you will not be upset by the optical or the build quality. They are some of the sharpest macro lenses ever made.

The 100 has image stabilisation, the 180 does not. Whilst not as useful for macro photography as it is for some other subjects, there are times when it will come is useful. Handholding when on your knees on sharp stones can use all of the help which modern technology can give.

One other thing to consider is that the 180 mm is now one of the longest serving models in the Canon range. Canonroumours has recently suggested that there is some evidence to suggest that a new version may be along next year. However, given the length of time which normally passes between a Canon lens anouncement and it appearing in the flesh (even without a tsunami) it is probably two years before we will see the replacement. On the other hand, the 100 L is a very new model.

Turning to your flash question, I will come off the fence! I own both models. There is no doubt that the twinflash wins onalmost everything but price and marginally on weight. It is very much more versatile, with much more scope for controlling the lighting. The extra power is useful too.

It you get the twinflash, the light output can be a bit harsh. It is worthwhile getting the Stofen diffusers which clip (rather loosely) to the two flash heads. I have mine attached with a few tiny dabs of hot melt glue after nearly leaving one behind whilst photographing some orchids. Even the basic Stofen may leave the light a little harsh for your tastes. I cut several pieces from a white plastic milk bottle and stacked these into the diffusers before I glued them on. If memory serves correctly, there are three layers of bottle plastic in there. This certainly absorbs some light. However, it also gives very nice gentle shadows.

The light output from the ring light is more diffuse than the unmodified twinlight, which is just as well as it would be a lot more difficult to make modification to the ring.

Do you live near to a an EOS professional dealer? If so, it should be possible for you to try out the two flashes. There is nothing like actual hands on experience. I managed at a demonstration in Edinburgh to amuse the head of CPS UK just after the 100 mm L came out when I produced a matchbox from my pocket with a butterfly which I had found dead in the garen. My conclusion from a set of test shots was that the new lens was better than what I own, but not so much better that I felt compelled to change. A few minutes with the lenses and flshes in your hand shooting at something of the sort which is typical of your aims for the new toys will be infinitely better than all of my ramblings.

Good luck with your choice.


Eric F
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Post by Eric F »

Hi Papakatz45,

If money is not an issue (Yow!), then why not purchase the two lenses being discussed and add two more: the EF-S 60mm Macro and the MP-E 65 Macro?
The EF-60 is excellent and allows much closer focusing than the 100 (to about .7x -- ca. 90mm); and the MP-E is the 'King of the Real Macro", allowing you 5x at 41mm. As for flash, I would go with the MT-24EX macro twin lite (or -- perhaps -- both)!



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Post by papakatz45 »

First to Peter, thank you for the information. I have posted this question on two other sites I visit and have not been able to get a clear answer or opinion as to the pros or cons of the two lenses. Your response has gone a long way toward helping me make a decision.

As to Eric, money is not an issue to a point. Obviously I am not going to go out and buy every lens there is. That is why I asked for some guideance. I am looking for some answers from people who are helpfull, not sarcasm. Your reply is worthless. I suggest if you do not have helpfull information then don't post a response to the question.

Site Admin
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Post by rjlittlefield »

papakatz, let me offer that the harshness of your response is also out of line at this website.

Now that we're done with the rebukes, perhaps we can get back to discussing substance.

--Rik (Admin)

Craig Gerard
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Post by Craig Gerard »


Knowing Eric F as I do, I see no intended sarcasm in his response. The problem here is one of interpretation and misconception, possibly a consequence of exposure to other online forums where members are not genuinely interested in offering helpful advice.

Eric has listed some fine examples of Canon glass, each with their own advantages depending on your intentions. The option to 'rent' lenses is also a realistic approach.

Peter has mentioned the benefits of working distance when comparing the EF 100mm f/2.8 L Macro vs EF 180mm f/3.5 L Macro, but from your initial post I get the impression you want more magnification than either of those lenses offer 'out-of-the-box' which would lead to consideration of the additional lenses Eric mentioned.

The MT-24EX will require a custom diffuser (and an adapter if it is to be used with the aforementioned lenses), but it is to be preferred over the MR-14EX ringlight.

However, you are not limited to using just those particular flash units. A single speedlight can be sufficient for macro (and in some cases the preferred option of many photographers) once attached to an appropriate bracket and articulating arm. I would go so far as to say the 'throw' of a 580EX II or 430EX II would be an advantage when used with the 180mm.

To use a classic quote from 'Antz' - "I almost know exactly what I'm doing!"

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Post by papakatz45 »

Let me apologize for the way I responded to Eric. I have tried to get this question answered on three other sites and all I get is things like, "Just try them all and see what you like" or "I have not used these but I hear either one is good" and "Go with Nikon instead". In other words nothing but garbage so his response about buying them all just hit a nerve.

I thank each of you for your remarks and insite which will go a long way in helping me make a decision. My main goal is bugs and wild flowers so I think the 180 will be the way to go. Maybe the MP-E 65 after I see how I like it.

Craig Gerard
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Post by Craig Gerard »

A feature of the 50D is micro adjustment capabilities. I would recommend exploring this feature with whatever EF lens you decide upon. I have a EF 24-105 L IS and the resulting images are indicating it requires a micro adjustment 'tweak' (I hope that's all it requires) :?

To use a classic quote from 'Antz' - "I almost know exactly what I'm doing!"

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Re: Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM vs EF 180mm f/3.5L Ma

Post by mlackey »

papakatz45 wrote:Are there any thoughts of preference to the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM vs EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM?
I have Canon's 100/2.8 (non-L) and 180/3.5L. I am using them on a FF body.

Most of my work is done at the kitchen table using diffused north light or in a converted bedroom using flash/tungsten/halogen, etc. For work like that the 180mm is almost too long, I find myself backing into walls and furniture to get the distance needed. And that is on a FF, you would need even more distance on a crop sensor. I find the 100mm to be a very good focal length for more than just macro, I use it for shots of family, pets, etc., and find 100mm length just right. On a crop sensor body the 65mm would be an equivalent focal length.

The 180 also fits squarely into the large and heavy category. It's not as big as the biggest, but it is large an heavy. I use it exclusively on a tripod, but hand-held the weight is something to consider.
Best regards,

Yann E.
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Post by Yann E. »

Well, you may consider my response worthless too because I don't use Canon glass, but here it is : I use Sigma glass for "normal" (read : not full-manual, over 1:1 on improbable setups) proxy & macro, the whole set 2.8/50, 2.8/70, 2.8/105 & 3.5/180. I can say that I've been through all the pros and cons for each focal length. I use these professionnally, as photography plays an important part in my work as an independant consultant in environment management & ecological assessment.

Here's my take on the subject, for field work & mostly handheld :
- If you are to take only 1 macro lens along and have something else in your pack for distant subjects, if your macro subjects are mostly flowers & "normal" insects, get the 100mm. Good working distance, lightweight, versatile, an excellent compromise, and the right choice if you want to buy only 1 macro lens.

- If you are to take only 1 lens along and may have to do some distant subjects, or if your macro subjects are mostly dragonflies or shy butterflies, get the 180. But keep in mind that the very long working distance can be a problem sometimes, as some branches, stems, etc...may get in the way in some cases. My advice would be to get the 180 only if you can (or wish to) spend money on a 50mm-60mm to complement it for those subjects where you must get close to avoid having the environment getting in the way.

That said, nowadays, my typical field gear for work is the 180 macro on the camera, the 50 macro in the pocket "just in case", and the 2.8/300 and 1.4x TC hanging alongside the backpack, also "just in case".

One last remark : have you considered the lens that can be seen as the perfect compromise between a 100-105 and a 180-200, I mean the 2.8/150 Sigma, wich you can get in its HSM-OS version (same features as a Canon IS-USM) ? Optically renowned, and a very interesting focal length..might be worth considering if you're not "Canon only" :wink:

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