When looking at the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM and the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 L IS USM the biggest differentiation is the included image stabilization(also the MTF chart, and "L" designation). How useful or important is having image stabilization in a 100mm macro actually in use? Specifically, when would I find it a benefit to actually getting a shot? I am looking for specific examples in use such as outdoors, indoors, bugs, flowers, tripod, no tripod, etc.

From the little I know about macro photography, I understood that when you are at the minimum focusing distance, the effective maximum aperture is decreased, if that is the case does that mean that IS is actually more useful on a macro lens?


4 Answers 4


I have the 100/2.8L, and I would highly recommend it. It uses a new type of IS that is really helpful at close subject distances. Traditional IS starts to lose effectiveness as the distance to subject decreases. The new IS on this lens compensates not only for angular movement but also for shifting.

Don't expect 4 stops at macro distances, though. I'd say it helps with about 1 stop. But that's 1 stop more than any other lens. :) For subjects at normal distances, I see close to a 4-stop improvement.

You're also getting better optics for the extra money, too.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Eric has it nailed here. Its the new type of IS that is built into the 100/2.8 L Macro that is useful FOR MACRO. The type of camera shake that you usually encounter at close focus distances is quite different than at far focus distances, so the IS in this particular macro lens should be somewhat helpful. \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Commented Jan 9, 2012 at 5:28

When you extend some macro lenses to their fullest extent (though not the two you refer to), the front element can move so far from the sensor that there is a significant amount of light falloff. Most modern cameras, using TTL metering, are able to compensate for the light falloff, so exposure compensation is not necessary, however the reduction in light will, as you say, require wider apertures or slower shutter speeds, which is where IS will come in very useful.

Of course if you're using a tripod, then IS is not necessary (and is to be avoided as it can actually increase motion blur), however hand-held macro shots can be tricky even with IS as apart from the panning movements that it can compensate for, it is very difficult to hold the camera at a steady enough distance from the subject to ensure it is sharp with the tiny depth of field at such distances, as this question discusses.

The IS would be a more obvious advantage at longer focus distances, as the depth of field increases to the point where forward and backward camera motion would be less of an issue. It would also help more with moving subjects, such as insects, where you are likely to be panning more than with static subjects like flowers.

The difference between indoor and outdoor macro photography will primarily be lighting, so unless you're using your own lights, indoor macro work would benefit more from the IS than outdoors (with the greater available light), all else being equal.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Just to note, neither of the lenses @dpollitt mentioned change physical focal length, as they both have internal floating groups that affect focus. So the note about light falloff doesn't really apply. \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Commented Jan 9, 2012 at 5:26

My experience is with the Nikon equivalent (105mm VR). The IS/VR performance of the Canon and Nikon lenses are reported to be very similar, so hopefully this will help.

Everything I read about the lens before buying said that VR was ineffective at macro distances and autofocus wasn't much use either, as it would hunt and you should be using a tripod anyway.

Well my experience has been quite different.

At closest focusing distance (1:1), image stabilisation has some effect, but very little. AF does work, even at 1:1, if you have a good contrasting edge and use a single focus point. I don't tend to use AF thought as it will sometimes hunt, and that's frustrating.

However, most of my macro images are not taken at closest focus distance, and for these close, but not quite 1:1 subjects, I find image stabilisation is very helpful.

For bugs: many move too quickly or will run/fly away if you get too close, so you may have a hard time getting to 1:1. I've taken handheld shots of houseflies at 1:2 using VR. It may have only given me a stop or two, but I believe it made the difference.

Flowers: except for the occasional abstract shot, 1:1 is too close, for most of the images I take anyway.

Indoors: hopefully you're not chasing bugs indoors. Most things I shoot indoors are inanimate, so especially with the light it's best to use a tripod, so IS not that helpful

Tripod: IS not necessary, and in some lenses can cause motion blur rather than reduce it.

Outdoors: except on a sunny day with aperture wide open, where IS might not be needed, if you stop down, or it's cloudy, your shutter speed will be in a range where IS can definitely help.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the answer! This is exactly the kind of "actual use" examples I was looking for! \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Commented Jan 9, 2012 at 13:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well half of my answer got truncated when I posted. I've added back the rest as best I can remember :) \$\endgroup\$
    – MikeW
    Commented Jan 9, 2012 at 17:42

The problem with IS/VR at 1:1 macro distances is one of parallax (distances from a few feet out or more can't show this) when you're THAT close to a subject - as in 1:1 - only 1mm or 2mm of camera movement can show parallax discrepancies as the image is recorded from up and down or right and left and (even though the lens is "stabilized") the result will be an odd kind of stable "blur" - shake can be corrected for but varying parallax in the same image can't be. Get a tripod and turn image stabilization off at very close distances! Macro lenses take great portraits too so at those distances IS/VR can be very helpful - that's when to turn it on.


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