Choosing one of the best 100mm lenses these days usually means not just a high quality prime lens in your hands, but many also double up with macro facilities. This means the lenses are not just good for areas such as portrait photography, but are also an ideal focal length to fill the full frame with the smallest of objects.
Traditionally, a focal length of 90-105mm is ideal for macro photography, with the 100mm versions being a happy medium to produce telephoto shots with a slightly compressed look. Plus, you get the added quality of a prime lens at generally a respectable price. Thus, let’s take a closer look at some of the best 100mm lenses available.
1. ZEISS Otus 100mm f/1.4 (Overall Winner)
We couldn’t help but include the ZEISS Otus 100mm f/1.4 in this list, most importantly for its sheer optical qualities. There is no macro mode and only manual focusing, but what you do get is a very wide f/1.4 aperture, aspherical and low dispersion elements, ZEISS T* anti-reflective coating and a gorgeous lens design.
The all-metal barrel has a manual aperture ring and simple distance scale, while the smoothly working focus ring has plenty of rotation to fine tune focusing. Image quality and sharpness simply can’t be faulted, with exceptional detail and natural clarity to all images. For the ultimate in image resolution at this focal length, you can’t really beat the ZEISS Otus 100mm f/1.4.
The only downside is its expensive price point, but when you’re at this end of the optics scale, a cut above the rest will always command a higher premium. If you want the ultimate in a 100mm lens, then look no further.
The Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM features the usual L-series build quality, wrapped around some very useful features. These include hybrid optical stabilization system, three-position autofocus limiter, and full weather-proofing.
Maximum magnification comes in at 1:1, with a minimum focusing distance of 11.8 inches. The image stabilization system helps out tremendously in this regard, providing two stops of compensation in macro mode and four stops when being used as a regular lens. The ultra-low dispersion (UD) element and Super Spectra coating keep lens anomalies in check, while the ring-type Ultrasonic Motor (USM) is the usual fast and efficient system as found on the L-series platform.
Images are finely detailed at the macro end throughout the aperture range, with the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM also doubling up as rather good portrait glass. Although sharpness is on a par with other offerings on this list, as an all-round solution for Canon owners, it’s a good choice at this focal length.
Pentax can be a brand that can be easily lost in the mix, but the SMC Pentax-D FA 100mm f/2.8 WR Macro lens provides a good balance between quality and price point. This is a solidly built lens, with a weather-proofed lens barrel and is useful on both full-frame and crop sensor camera bodies.
Although there is no image stabilization on this lens, it does feature a Quick-Shift focus system for quickly swapping between auto and manual focusing. Plus, it offers a constant f/2.8 aperture, 1:1 magnification, minimum focus distance of 30cm, and is very lightweight 340g, considering its physical size.
Image quality is very good considering the price point, but as the autofocus system is not the most rapid, for macro work it’s best to stick with the manual focus, which is usually the case anyway. The SMC Pentax-D FA 100mm f/2.8 WR Macro lens is very reasonably priced and a good option for the Pentax platform.
The Laowa 100mm f/2.8 2x Ultra Macro APO may seem a bit of a left-field choice for some, but it has features not found on other lenses. It comes with a healthy aperture range of f/2.8-f/22, with a close focusing distance of 24.7cm, reasonable weight of 638g and, most importantly, a magnification of 2:1.
Most quality macro lenses produce an image at 1:1, while the Venus Optics Laowa has 2:1 capabilities. This means the smallest of objects can be magnified to a far larger extent than with other lenses. This lens also has manual focusing, with a manual aperture ring set out in full stop increments.
As a straight portrait lens, images are sharp and defined even when the lens is wide open. While in macro mode the Laowa 100mm f/2.8 2x Ultra Macro APO is certainly a lot of fun to use, with images at this level being extremely detailed. The image quality may not be on a par with more expensive lenses, but we can’t complain about the overall quality for this price.
One thing to note is when this lens is used on a Canon camera, there is an included dedicated aperture control motor for setting the aperture via the camera body, along with transferring Exif data.
The Rokinon 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens, which is available for the Canon, Nikon, and Sony mount, balances price point with optical quality. With a manual focusing lens and manual aperture ring, this lens provides 1:1 magnification, high-quality optics, and a reasonable price.
The f/2.8 aperture produces better than expected bokeh effects, while the sharpness of detail is very good as both a traditional lens and in macro mode. Colors have are rich and vibrant, with plenty of contrast and although some people have complained about its 720g weight, it’s a small price to pay for the return of lovely imagery.
In total, the Rokinon 100mm f/2.8 Macro is an unexpected addition to this lens list, giving you excellent image quality without too high a price.
6. Tokina atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF Macro (Budget Winner)
The benefits of the Tokina atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF Macro are initially that it is available for both the Nikon and Canon mounts, and offers 1:1 magnification and a flat-field optical design. A multi-layered coating improves contrast and color renditions, while also reducing the effects of ghosting and flaring.
A One-Touch focus clutch mechanism is a quick way to switch between manual and auto focusing, while the manual aperture ring is a handy addition if you prefer a more hands-on way of working. The nine-blade aperture is higher quality than expected at this price and produces some nice bokeh effects, which works very well for portraits.
The Tokina atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF Macro is modestly priced and considering its double workings of portrait lens and macro facilities, this is a worthy purchase for Nikon and Canon users.
Adding 100mm Lenses to Your Kit
The addition of a 100mm lens to your gear bag may seem like a specialist offering, but if you strike the right balance between price, image quality, and macro functionality, these lenses can cover a lot of range in application. There are zoom lenses on the market which include 100mm and an f/2.8 aperture, but none include macro facilities and have that extra level of zest that a prime lens can deliver.