I'm considering purchasing either the Canon 50mm Macro or the 100mm Macro with IS.

From what I've researched the only real difference is how close you have to be to your object to take the pictures.

I do get that the smaller lens doesn't have IS, and that could be important depending on the object you are photographing.

As a novice/intermediate photographer, is it worth spending nearly $500.00 more for that extra 50 mm?

If it matters, I am using the Canon T5i.

  • Don't think of it as only 50mm more (in this case), think of it as double your focal length. We aren't really a recommendation site...what are you going to mainly be photographing? I love my 50mm (non-macro) as a general purpose, but that might not suite your particular needs.
    – SailorCire
    Jul 1 '15 at 3:49
  • True on not being a recommendation site. I guess it's more of a which lens is better for my purpose. I'm mainly going to be photographing inanimate objects with the occasional creepy crawly. I'm looking for the (really) up close and personal shots. Good point about thinking of it as doubling my focal length as well... Jul 1 '15 at 3:52

The 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro lens is not a "true" macro lens. It does not magnify 1:1 (i.e., 1:1 means that the size of the image on the sensor is the same as the actual size of the object); it only magnifies 1:2.5. So, it doesn't let you get as close as a true macro lens like the EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro.

In addition, the design's a lot older. It was introduced in 1987, while the 100L Macro is a much newer digital-era design from 2009. The 100L is also an L lens (Canon's "luxury" line of pro lenses which are typically considered their best (but most expensive) offerings), with a UD (ultra-low dispersion) element, and its "Hybrid" IS unit is also relatively special in that it can correct for two types of shake (shift and angular), rather than just one (angular), like most of Canon's IS lenses do. Whether it's "worth" the additional cost is up to you, and how much handholding you plan on doing.

"True" macro Canon alternatives you could consider would be the older non-L EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro (note there's no IS), or the EF-S 60mm f/2.8 USM Macro lens (which can only be used on crop). These both cost more than the 50mm compact macro, but far less than the 100L Macro lens. Depending on what you plan to shoot, the longer lenses may be more useful by allowing you to use a larger working distance and not scare off critters that can hop/fly/crawl away when they sense you looming right over them; although, of course, with wildlife of any kind, field craft will be more important than the length of your glass. Shorter lenses and small working distances, however, are less of an issue with flower or product shooting.

I once shot a pretty bug with a midnight blue body and bright orange wings with my EF-S 60mm f/2.8 USM Macro on an XT/350D. It was only later that I realized I'd shot a tarantula hawk--a very large hornet with a very painful sting--from a distance of roughly six inches. If I do it again, it'll be with my EF 400mm f/5.6L USM on extension tubes. Maybe. If I don't run screaming first. :D

  • Thank you for the very detailed answer. This is exactly what I needed to know. Jul 1 '15 at 4:26
  • @GreenChili you're welcome!
    – inkista
    Jul 1 '15 at 4:26
  • 1
    the 400 as a beatstick, not to take pictures, I guess? =)
    – null
    Jul 1 '15 at 12:44
  • 1
    @null [grin]. No, no, no. I'd never treat my birding lens like that. I think.
    – inkista
    Jul 1 '15 at 15:44

Another difference is that the 50mm isn't a true macro lens since it doesn't let you reach a 1:1 scale.

The 100mm can also be used as a short telephoto but otherwise, you might be better off getting a Canon EF-s 60mm f2.8.

  • I would have never considered the 60mm, but now that you mentioned it, I'm going to look into it. Jul 1 '15 at 3:59
  • For the record, the 60mm macro in an EF-S lens and therefore can only be used on APS-C cameras, and not all of them.
    – crunch
    Jul 1 '15 at 9:53
  • The EF-S series of lenses can be used with all Canon APS-C cameras except the 10D which came out in early 2003 and was replaced by the 20D in August of 2004.
    – Michael C
    Jul 2 '15 at 0:47

From what I've researched the only real difference is how close you have to be to your object to take the pictures.

It's true that the 100mm lens lets you shoot from twice the distance as the 50mm lens and get a similar composition. That's because the angle of view for a 50mm lens is twice that of a 100mm lens. But the composition won't be exactly the same -- different focal lengths have different effects on an image.

Think about this: imagine that you're taking a regular, non-macro photo of a group of friends who are all standing together. With a wide angle lens, you can stand just a few feet away and get everyone in the shot. With a telephoto lens, on the other hand, you have to stand farther back to fit everyone in the frame. You get a similar composition, since everyone fits in both shots in the same relative arrangement. With the wide angle, though, there's a big difference in the way you see the people in the middle of the frame versus the ones at the edges. You're looking at the person in the center of the frame straight on, but you see the people at the edges at a fairly severe angle -- you probably see only one side of their nose, and you certainly won't see the ear on the side that's farthest from you. With the longer lens, on the other hand, the difference in the angle at which you see everyone is much smaller -- you see everyone more or less straight on. Also, because you're standing relatively far away from everyone, differences in front-to-back distances between the people in the frame seem much smaller than when you're shooting closer.

So, all that's to say that for reasons of simple geometry, the two lenses will give somewhat different looks. It's also worth pointing out that for similar reasons, the longer lens will afford greater depth of field at the same f-stop.

As a novice/intermediate photographer, is it worth spending nearly $500.00 more for that extra 50 mm?

Consider that the difference in price covers a lot more than the difference in focal length. The 100mm you're considering is an L-series lens, i.e. top of the line, built to perform very well under heavy everyday use by professional photographers. And as you point out, it also features image stabilization. In short, this is a lens aimed at pros with a price tag to match.

A better comparison would be to the EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM, which is closer to the 50mm Macro in construction and also lacks image stabilization. The difference in price between the 50mm and this 100mm is more like $250. And as others have pointed out the EF-S 60mm is another lens you should consider.


I have a 50mm Sigma Art Lens, and the 100mm Canon IS L lens. I would buy the 100mm as my macro for the greater detail, and as if you do upgrade it will go onto full frame cameras. I also use it as a portraiture lens so it is very versatile and great to shoot with in low light as well. I would part with most of my other lenses before the 100mm if I had to. Clear, crisp and rugged.

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