Macro photography is a great way to discover details of nature that can easily go unnoticed with the naked eye, and to create graphic compositions and abstractions. One of the challenges of macro work is lighting—as you get closer to your subject, you’re increasingly likely to block ambient light, requiring reflectors or specialized ring lights to provide fill. Canon’s EF-M 28mm f/3.5 Macro IS STM lens for its EOS M mirrorless cameras has a unique solution to this, with an LED Macro Lite built-in. Two curved LEDs surround the front of the lens and provide six settings: both lights can be activated at once or independently, with two brightness levels. The LEDs are concealed behind a screw-off ring to which the lens cap mounts. The ring protects the LEDs when you’re not using them.
I’ve been shooting with this lens and the EOS M5 camera, and the combination is everything photographers like about mirrorless systems. The lens is remarkably small and lightweight, and when not in use, the front elements retract into in the lens barrel, further reducing its profile to just 1.8 inches in length. Together, the camera and lens are comparable in size to a fixed-lens compact zoom camera.
The EF-M 28mm f/3.5 Macro IS STM has two optical settings, Normal and Super Macro. At its Normal setting, magnification is 0.5x and the lens can focus as close as 3.82 inches out to infinity, with a 35mm-equivalent focal length of 45mm, making it a versatile prime for a variety of subjects beyond macro. In Super Macro mode, the lens can focus as close as 3.66 inches and provides 1.25x magnification for enhanced close-up enlargement.
Shooting at this level of magnification means even small camera or subject movements can compromise image sharpness. A tripod is always a good idea for close-up work, but when handheld photography is the best or only option, the lens does have Canon Hybrid IS stabilization. With this enabled, and a faster shutter speed, you can mitigate sharpness degradation. The images in this article were shot handheld with Hybrid IS activated at 1/500 sec.—the fastest speed I could reasonably use without pushing the ISO too far or opening up the aperture to the point where I’d have too shallow a depth-of-field.
Autofocus performed quite well, generally quick and accurate, especially when using the EOS M5’s touchscreen to tap the area on which I wanted to set focus. For close-up work, however, manual focus is often a better choice, especially if you’ve selected a wider aperture to reduce your depth-of-field for dreamy soft-focus effects. One manual focus technique you can use for macro work is to set the lens to its closest focusing distance and then move the camera closer or further from your subject as needed.
Canon doesn’t specifically state the output of the integrated Macro Lite. I found it to be most helpful when shooting in Super Macro mode as a fill to help lighten shadow areas, but don’t expect it to work miracles. It’s not bright enough to be your primary light source unless you’re using a long exposure on a tripod, so you’ll still need ample ambient light, especially if shooting handheld.
I’ve really enjoyed working with this lens and camera combination. With an estimated street price of $299 for the lens, if you’re looking for a relatively inexpensive introduction to macro photography, the EF-M 28mm f/3.5 Macro IS STM paired with an EOS M camera is a very compact, highly portable solution. The 45mm equivalent focal length means you have much less working distance than you would with a 90mm or 180mm macro lens, but that wider perspective does make the lens more useful for general-purpose photography in addition to close-ups.