Gear spotlight: Canon’s EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM

I think I’ll try something different today. I’ve been pondering doing a post about my photographic gear for a while, but I’m not sure how much people would actually get out of looking at my kit. Instead I want to highlight just one piece of equipment in particular: Canon’s EF-S 60mm macro lens.

The motivation behind this post is that I’ve had several new DSLR owners ask me about lenses. It’s perfectly natural to want more than one lens after buying into a camera system. I got to thinking about what lenses I bought when I got my first DSLR, and what lenses I actually use most. It didn’t take much thought – my favorite lens, by a mile, is Canon’s EF-S 60mm macro.

Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM
Dusty because it’s always sitting at the ready (or because I forgot to clean it before taking this shot).

This is actually one of the first two lenses I bought when I got my Rebel T2i. For under $500, it produces fantastic images. It’s sharp even when wide open, has great color rendition, produces nice bokeh, and resists glare and flare reasonably well.

Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM

Image quality isn’t the only area where this lens excels. On a crop body, the 60mm focal length is very versatile. It can serve as a portrait lens, performs decently in low light thanks to its f/2.8 max aperture, and is light and small enough to use on walkabouts. In fact I do carry this lens with my Rebel daily, though I don’t actually do much street photography.

Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM

The build quality is very good – more than adequate for studio work, though I’d be more careful with it in inclement weather or tough field conditions. This isn’t a rugged, weather-sealed L lens after all. Luckily there really isn’t much to go wrong with this lens. Above, you’ll see the only two controls: the focus ring, and the auto/manual focus switch. The focus ring has a nicely damped action that you can use fairly precisely.

Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM

A gold band circles the front of the lens barrel indicating the presence of Canon’s USM autofocus motor. It’s fast, silent, and very accurate. Another benefit of USM is that it allows full-time manual focusing, so you don’t have to worry about toggling the autofocus switch. You can also see a distance scale. Many of Canon’s cheaper consumer-grade lenses don’t have one (or don’t have as nice of one). I rarely use it myself, but some people will be glad to see one here.

Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM

Above you can see the reason behind the EF-S designation. The protruding rear element reduces the distance between lens and sensor, allowing for smaller, lighter, and cheaper lenses to be made.

So basically, this is the lens I cut my teeth on. I’ve used it more than any other lens (at least for figure shots). Many of my favorite shots and photo sets were taken with it. To name a few:

Gift’s Saber Lily

Saber Lily by Gift

Max Factory’s Asuka

Asuka Langley Shikinami by Max Factory

Part of the set for Yamato’s Cammy

Cammy by Yamato

Yamato’s Kneesocks

Kneesocks by Yamato (17)

…and certainly many more. So that’s why, whenever I’m asked about lenses, I say to find a 100mm macro or the equivalent for a crop body (60mm on a Canon APS-C body translates to about 96mm on a full-frame). You’ll get excellent image quality for the money, and a very versatile piece of kit.

6 Comments

  • If someone ever asked me for a lens recommendation, this is the lens I'd recommend, which is a little odd since I don't actually own it. In the last year or so, I've gone back to using my 15-85mm lens a lot (which is quite sharp, but I really hate the variable aperture) and I almost always use it at a focal range between 60mm and 70mm. I've even begun using my little 50mm lens a lot (previously, it spent a lot of time as a body cap on my old camera). I've kinda gotten over the newbie gear obsession that everybody goes through when they get into photography; most of the photographic gear I've recently bought are secondary things (a couple of 35mm film cameras, an old Polaroid Land camera ... I did get a micro 4/3 camera but it's not nearly as cool or useful as I thought it would be). It's gotten to the point where I've kinda viewed gear acquisition as being a sign of weakness, that it's an admission that I can't get it done with what I've got now. That's a stupid way to think, of course, and being that for the last year, I have found myself thinking "man I wish I had that 60mm EF-S lens" over and over, maybe it's time I dropped the skrilla on one.
    • Which Micro 4/3 camera did you end up getting? I can see why the format's advantages are less relevant to someone who shoots mostly in-studio. It would be cool to hear about your experiences with the system in any case. What you said about gear obsession is totally true - I blew more money than I want to admit as a newbie on stuff that's mostly going unused now. I do think camera bodies and lenses can be worthwhile to collect, especially when they're in different formats. I've always wanted a rangefinder body and a medium format body, but digital ones are way outside of my budget. As for the 60mm, it seems like you already have the gear to do what it does. But it can go a long way toward simplifying your kit, if that's something you're after.
      • I got a GX1; it was the Deal of the Day over at Amazon sometime last year. I'd been thinking of doing some traveling and so the timing seemed serendipitous. As it turned out, I still haven't gone anywhere, primarily because I don't think that I like to travel very much (give me a choice between a week spent in Tahiti and a week spent watching ero anime, and I'm pretty sure I'd choose the latter). The biggest problem I have with it is something that didn't get much mention in the reviews I read, which is that it has only one autofocus point. There's an automatic autofocus mode, which I don't think is very useful because it generally just locks onto whatever it thinks is closest, there's a face-detection mode, and there's a single-point mode. You have to use either the touchscreen (which you obviously can't do if you have the optional viewfinder, or if you're using the new camera with the built-in EVF), or you have to use the arrow keys to push the point around. The problem with that is that every time you want to set a new point, you have to access the autofocus menu, select the option to set a new autofocus point, and then push the point around. It's annoying as hell. I'm probably going to write more about my (admittedly very limited) experience with it soon; it's the subject of the camera post I occasionally talk about writing. It's a little odd that nobody's made a commodity-based digital rangefinder camera. The cheapest one that I know of was made by Epson, of all companies. The thing about the 60mm is that it obviously has a very nice close-up focusing ability. I have had a bunch of times - probably dozens of shoots, actually - where I was using my 15-85mm zoom and found it to be too slow, and then I switched to the 50mm lens and found that it couldn't focus close enough. I still have a distrust of close-up filters (even though I wrote a post saying how happy I was with them) and my ongoing experiment with extension tubes is not going very well. The 60mm lens would solve all of these issues quite nicely.
        • That makes sense. Since the 60mm is relatively cheap for a lens, I say go for it. You should be able to find used ones in good condition for $450 or so.
  • Thanks for sharing this, I've been eyeing both macro lenses actually, 100mm f/2.8 and this one. I've tried the former and was amazed at it's focusing ability, sharpness but I wept when I saw the price tag T,T I haven't seen anyone use 60mm but I guess I have to look around again and try it first after seeing your post. I've always been using my standard kit lens and I'm craving for more DOF to be honest LOL. I sometimes feel that portrait lenses shouldn't be used in figure photography because you have to make adjustments unlike using a dedicated lens like a macro lens like this. Sharper details + great focusing FTW!
    • Canon's 100mm macro (I'm assuming that's the one you tried) is a great lens indeed, but the 60mm does have certain advantages. You already mentioned the price, which is the biggest thing as the 60mm is a much better value. The lightness and compact size of the 60mm shouldn't be ignored either, especially if you're using it as a daily driver. It also allows for a shorter working distance, which is more convenient for indoors shots. If you're shooting on a full-frame body, though, the 100mm is your only choice as the 60mm won't fit.