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Here's a brief look at the Sony 100mm F/2.8 macro lens.  Scroll down for the review.

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Lens

Box contents

Front and rear caps, hood and users manual.

Cost

$848 retail

Build quality

Very good

Additional information

Has focus hold button and focus limiter switch.  Longer working distance than the smaller 50mm macro.

Specifications below

 

Optical configuration

8 elements in 8 groups

Angle of view

24° (full frame)  16° (APS-C)

Aperture

9 blades, circular

Full frame and APS-C

Yes, made for full frame.   APS-C equivalent, 150mm

Depth of field and focus scales?

Yes and yes

Minimum focus, image plane to subject

14.4"  (350mm)

Minimum focus, end of lens barrel to subject

6.2"  (157mm)

Hard stop at infinity focus?

No

Length changes when focusing?

Yes

Focus ring turns in AF?

No

Filter size

55mm

Filter ring rotates?

No

Distance encoder?

Yes

Max magnification

1:1

Min. F/stop

F/32

Sony teleconverter compatible?

No

Dimensions W x L (my measurements)

2.9" x 3.9"   75mm x 99mm

Maximum  extended length (my measurements)

5.8"  (147mm)                                                      

Weight bare (my scale)

17.1oz  (484g)  17.9oz (508g) with caps


Requisite product shots.

Aug08/100macbox.jpg
Box and contents.

Aug08/100macsdex.jpg
Fully extended.

Aug08/100macft.jpg
Deep front element.

Aug08/100macbk.jpg
Backside.

Aug08/100macswt.jpg
Focus limiter and focus hold buttons.

2012/s100macmtf.jpg
Sony X-ray view and MTF chart


The Sony A700 and A900 were used for this review.  For full frame results, go to the bottom of the page.  For a better understanding of my review methods and terminology, go here.
 
The Sony 100mm F/2.8 macro lens (made in Japan) is very compact, but extends out another 1.9" (48mm) at full macro.  It's nicely made, but lots of plastic.  The finish is satin black.  Filters are 55mm.  The lens is multi-coated, with the usual green/magenta look.  It has a 9 blade circular aperture as opposed to the 7 blades of the Sony 50mm macro lens.  I believe this lens has anomalous dispersion glass, but I'm not sure.  Konica Minolta lists it, but when Sony put their name on it, they didn't mention it.
 
The lens has the focus distance window with standard markings for FT/M, and DOF marks at F/32.  It has magnification levels from 1:1 to 1:10 written on the extended lens barrel.  Other useful items include a focus hold button, which can be changed to DOF preview on select Sony camera bodies, and a focus limiter switch, full, for the full focusing range, and two limited ranges, close, which cuts the focus travel down to approximately 6.2"- 12" (157mm-304mm) and about 12" (304) to infinity at far range.  This helps speed up focusing, but don't use auto focus for extreme close ups, use manual to get the subject in focus and then move the camera back and forth until your target is sharp.  The figures above are for end of lens barrel to subject distances.
 
The Sony focuses quickly and accurately, though plan on using manual focus for super macros, read above.  It takes about a manual 2/3 turn from close-in to infinity focus. It has the usual loud focusing sound typical of Minolta/Sony which has the focus motor in the camera body, unless it's an SSM, this one isn't.  The Sony 100mm macro has a nice 6.2" (157mm) distance from the front of the lens barrel to the subject at close macro.  That's about 4.3" (105mm) longer than the Sony 50mm macro.  The extra distance is good to keep shadows out of the frame, but that's at maximum macro, and not everyone will need to be that close.
 
Lens flare/ghosting.  No problems unless the sun is at a certain angle, see images below.  Veiling glare is about average.  Additionally, the lens has plenty of recess for the front element from about 1:2 to infinity focus.  At 1:2 macro and closer, the lens comes out towards the front which can exacerbate ghosting, but that shouldn't be a problem when you're shooting macro type subjects.  You don't need to use the hood with this lens unless super bright lights are near the camera front, and even then it doesn't seem to make much difference, use your hand for best results, and the elimination of glare.  This lens shares the same hood with the 75-300mm lens, replacement cost, $25.
 
Color.  Looks the same as other Sony lenses.
 
Filter size 55mm.  This is the most popular size for Sony, other lenses using it are: 35mm F/1.4, 50mm F/1.4, 50mm F/2.8 macro, 18-55mm, 75-300mm and the 55-200mm.
 
Filter use.  No additional vignetting using a regular filter, even on full frame. 
 
Axial Color fringing is fairly heavy at F/2.8, and it goes away as you stop down.  By F/4 it's much better and F/5.6 it's nearly gone.  Lateral color fringing also shows up along the sides, and doesn't go away by stopping down.  This lens isn't as good as the 50mm macro for handling color fringing.       
 
Bokeh.  Smooth, and very similar to the Sony 50mm F/2.8 macro.  See samples below.
 

        Sun in shot, F/5.6

         Sun centered, F/5.6

october08/s100mcsunoff.jpg

october08/s100mcsunctrff.jpg

        Bokeh,  F/2.8

         Bokeh,  F/4

october08/s100mcff28bok.jpg
october08/s100mcff40bok.jpg

 
When the sun is at a certain angle, you'll get a neat looking ring in the corner, by moving the sun angle, you can nearly eliminate this.  When the sun is centered, everything looks good.  Veiling glare is strong when the sun is near the outside image edge, use your hand for a shield and eliminate it.  Most people won't buy this lens to shoot into the sun, so don't worry about this.  Bokeh looks good, but maybe not quite as good as the Sony 50mm F/2.8 macro.
 
Distortion.  Very good job.  If you like to look at your pictures with a grid overlay, you'll see very slight pincushion distortion.  Again, very similar to the Sony 50mm macro lens.  See image below.
 

Aug08/100macdis.jpg
Mild pincushion distortion.


Light fall-off,
(directly below) No problems at all when using an APS-C sensor camera.   Images below were taken at infinity focus.
  

            F/2.8

            F/4

Aug08/100mac28lf.JPG

Aug08/100mac40lf.JPG

 

Light loss at high magnification. 

 

Here are the approximate F-numbers you will get as you increase the magnification, the table below is from the Sigma 105mm F/2.8 DG macro, but is close to the Sony model.  Sony lists exposure compensation in the owners manual, but it's not nearly as clear as the Sigma table.  These numbers will not be indicated on the camera, and will still read F/2.8 even at 1:1 magnification, but look at your shutter speeds and you'll notice the loss.  This is for your information only, so just shoot away, the camera will adjust your exposure automatically.  I'm simply providing this in case you're wondering why your shutter speeds are so low when the LCD says F/2.8.

 

Magnification

F-number

1:40

2.8

1:4

3.6

1:3

3.8

1:2

4.2

1:1.5

4.7

1:1.2

5.1

1:1

5.5

 
Below, check out the corner softness, lower left.

You'll see some corner softness at wide apertures, but it's doesn't show in regular pictures.  It gradually sharpens up 'till F/8.  It's really about the same as the centers.  Also notice the color fringing I mentioned earlier.
 

            F/2.8

            F/4

Aug08/100mac28cn.jpg

Aug08/100mac40cn.jpg

            F/5.6

            F/8

Aug08/100mac56cn.jpg

Aug08/100mac80cn.jpg


Here are some center crops for comparison.  Look below for an explanation. 

            F/2.8

            F/4

Aug08/100mac28ctra.jpg

Aug08/100mac40ctra.jpg


The shots above are from the center of the image.  The Sony 100mm F/2.8 macro is a little soft with weak contrast at F/2.8.  It does sharpen up at F/4, and stopping down to F/5.6-8 doesn't make any difference in this scene.  Maximum sharpness comes at F/8 when shooting close items like the postage stamp below.  Look at this dumb shot at F/2.8 in full sunlight, 1/1600s ISO 100!  In low light F2.8-/4 looks fine.     

Requisite macro paragraph.  As with all 1:1 life size macros, sometimes it can be a little tough to focus, and a tripod is highly recommended, especially if you go full size.  Hand held field shooting is limited to 1:2 in my opinion, any more and you'll fill up a 16GB memory card trying to get a decent shot.  At F/4 the depth of field is razor thin, at F/16 you  lose your shutter speed, so some extra though is required before your photo session begins.  I often have to bump up the ISO to get a sharp picture with hand-held shooting.  Even on a bright sunny day you'll be surprised at how low your shutter speeds are, and with jittery hands it's all the worse.  If you like to compare shots from other lenses and cameras, don't be too critical about it at 100% screen size.  Getting a uniformly sharp image from a flat object like my stamp is very difficult, especially when it's a full 1:1 macro.  I use the stamp so you will know about how big an area is covered, and get an idea of the sharpness.  Keep this in mind when viewing the macros.

Macro shot.
 
Below, check out the sample and click the picture to see it full size (2.2mb, large file), it may have been cropped or straightened to reduce size.  The sample shot was taken with the Sony A 700 12.2mp camera.  The subject is a standard US stamp, 1"x 3/4" or 25.4mm x 19mm.  Also, note the macro shot was taken as close to the subject as focusing allowed; In this case, about 6.2" or about 157mm, measured from the front of the lens barrel to the subject.

Aug08/100mm66mac4.jpg
Full 1:1 macro shot 2.2mb F/8

 

The macro shot is very sharp as expected.  It also shows great changes in sharpness from F/2.8 (real soft) to F/8, (real sharp) when photographing small detailed objects like the stamp.  Maximum sharpness comes at F/8.

 

Full frame results using the Sony A900 below.

 

Check out the differences when using a film or full frame camera below.  I'm only pointing out the noticeable issues as compared to the APS-C bodies, so if I don't show it here, the results are not significantly different enough to warrant posting an additional set of images in this section.

 

Light fall-off 

 

         F/2.8

          F/4

october08/s100mcvig28.jpg

october08/s100mcvig40.jpg

 

Light fall-off shows up more with full frame coverage.  At F/2.8 it's moderate to heavy, and slightly noticeable in real shots, but one stop down and things change dramatically for the better.  The corners don't lighten up any further by stopping down past F/5.6.  Images above were taken at infinity focus, at close macro range there's no problem.

 

Full image from A900 below.

 

october08/s100mcffover.jpg

 

The dark corners are noticeable here, and as usual, the perceived severity depends on subject placement and background.  This shot was F2.8, ISO 200, 1/2500sec.    

 

Corner samples next.

 

         F/2.8

          F/4

october08/s100mcff28cn.jpg

october08/s100mcff40cn.jpg

         F/5.6

          F/8

october08/s100mcff56cn.jpg
october08/s100mcff80cn.jpg

 

The corner sharpness is about the same as the APS-C crops show, although F/2.8 is more soft with full frame coverage.  The corners are their absolute best at F/8. The exposure differences are from light fall-off.  Don't compare these crops with the APS-C crops I showed earlier, as they were taken at a different time and distance.

 

Distortion.

 

october08/s100mcffdis.jpg
Mild to moderate pincushion distortion on A900

 

This lens produces some pincushion distortion, and looks slightly stronger than the APS-C image shows.

 

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Conclusion.

 

The Sony 100mm F/2.8 macro is a good lens, but not quite as good as the Sony 50mm macro.  It's pretty sharp through F/4 to F/11, very sharp from F/5.6-8.  Color fringing is somewhat strong at wide apertures, but clears up nicely around F/5.6.  It focuses good, though keep it on manual up close.  The main differences in the Sony 100mm F/2.8 macro and the Sony 50mm F/2.8 macro are; the 50mm is smaller, lighter, less expensive and sharper at F/2.8 and has better CA control.  The 50mm has a lens barrel to subject distance at maximum macro of only 1.9" (48mm) as opposed to the 100mm 6.2" (157mm) distance.  Normally, close working distances will bring you problems with shadows on your subject from the lens, although some people won't get that close so they won't be bothered by this.  If you shoot a lot of really close macros, you might want to choose this lens over the 50mm macro.  Both have a smooth background blur or Bokeh.  The Sony 100mm F/2.8 macro could also serve duty as a portrait lens or medium telephoto for low light events where the 50mm might not be enough.

 

I think the Sony 50mm F/2.8 has about a one stop advantage for sharpness (at or near wide open apertures) and maybe a two stop advantage for color fringing.  If you really need the 100mm length, then go for it.  If you don't need the length and would rather have a smaller and lighter lens for convenience, consider the Sony 50mm F/2.8 macro or Tamrom 60mm macro below.

 

APS-C users; don't forget to check out the Tamron 60mm F/2 macro lens or super small DT 30mm F/2.8 macro.

 

For full frame users; as usual, light fall-off is stronger, but that's about the only real negative I can come up with when comparing the differences in coverage.