Sigma 180mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM APO Macro
November 6, 2012
by Andrew Alexander
The Sigma 180mm ƒ/2.8 EX DG OS HSM APO Macro is an update of a macro lens produced by Sigma for several years, the 180mm ƒ/3.5. The new lens is a complete overhaul of the design: a new layout of elements and optical stabilization making up the list of changes.
The Sigma 180mm EX was designed as a full-frame lens, and on ''sub-frame'' APS-C sensor-based camera bodies the lens provides an equivalent field of view of either 288mm (Canon) or 270mm (Nikon and others). The lens is available in Canon, Nikon, Sigma and Sony mounts.
The lens takes very large 86mm filters, ships with a round lens hood, and is available now for around $1,700.
The Sigma 180mm ƒ/2.8 EX DG OS HSM APO Macro provides a very sharp image even wide open at ƒ/2.8, but for maximum sharpness you need to stop down to ƒ/5.6. There are very light traces of corner softness at ƒ/2.8, which settle down nicely at ƒ/4, and all but disappear at ƒ/5.6. Performance at ƒ/8 is more or less the same as ƒ/5.6 (though according to the numbers, just very slightly less sharp). Diffraction limiting sets in by ƒ/11, though you don't notice any practical impact on sharpness until ƒ/16, and even then, it's still very good. At ƒ/22 we begin to see some light softness across the frame.
The lens performs slightly better on an APS-C camera body as compared to a full-frame camera body, but this is to be expected as the smaller sensor does not pick up any of the light corner softness issues.
Chromatic aberration is kept very much in check with this lens; there is some to speak of in the corners when the lens is used on a full frame body (in this case, the Canon 1Ds mk III), but it isn't by any means excessive. Peeping at 100% crops, you'll note very light magenta-blue fringing in the corners on the full-frame sample images - but it's very light indeed.
Mounted on the sub-frame Canon 7D, the Sigma 180mm ƒ/2.8 showed very little corner shading - just 1/4 EV darker in the corners, when set to ƒ/2.8. At any other settings, there is no light falloff.
Mounted on the full-frame Canon 1Ds mk III, there was a bit more falloff - more so when used wide open at ƒ/2.8. In this case the corners are over 2/3 darker than the center. At ƒ/4, the corners are just over 1/3 darker than the center. At smaller apertures, there is no problem with light falloff.
The Sigma 180mm ƒ/2.8 EX DG OS HSM APO Macro produces no meaningful distortion whatsoever, on either the sub-frame 7D or full-frame Canon 1Ds mkIII.
The Sigma 180mm uses Sigma's HSM focusing system, which provides moderately fast and near-silent autofocus operation. These focus results can be overridden by just turning the focusing ring. There are a lot of large glass elements in this lens, and being a macro lens, it travels quite a distance: accordingly, it's not surprising that it took over two seconds to go from closest focus to infinity. Small changes in focus happen very quickly. The front element does not turn during focusing, making life a little easier for polarizer users.
The Sigma 180mm provides excellent macro performance, offering full 1:1 (100%) macro reproduction, with a minimum close-focusing range of 47 cm (over 18 inches).
Build Quality and Handling
The Sigma 180mm ƒ/2.8 EX DG OS HSM APO Macro is a heavy lens (1,640g, 3 1/2 lbs). It's finished with Sigma's matte black texture and offers a metal mount, and plastic 86mm filter threads. The lens is a complete redesign of the previous ƒ/3.5 version: it now features 19 elements in 14 groups, including 3 FLD ("F" Low Dispersion) glass elements. There are now nine rounded diaphragm blades instead of nine straight ones, to improve bokeh performance. And to top it all off, Sigma has thrown in optical stabilization, very useful for when you don't want to bring a tripod into the field.
The lens offers a few control surfaces of note: in addition to the focusing ring, there is a small panel on the side of the lens which features a switch to enable or disable autofocus, and a switch to enable image stabilization in mode 1 or mode 2, or disable it completely. There is also a focus limiting switch, offering options of 47cm - 67cm, 67cm - infinity, and no limit (47cm - infinity).
The lens also provides excellent scales. There is a distance scale in feet and meters, as well as reproduction ratios as the lens is focused towards its close-focusing distance (1:10 to 1:1). However, there are no depth-of-field indicators, nor is there an infrared index marker.
The focusing ring for the lens is very nice - two inches wide, composed of rubber with deep ribs. The focusing ring turns easily and has a nice resistance. The focusing range ends in hard stops at the close and infinity ends, and offers a generous 270 degrees of travel. The lens will focus slightly past infinity.
Sigma's OS (Optical Stabilization) technology features in this lens, which in our testing provides close to Sigma's claim of four stops of stabilization performance. It makes a slight whirring noise when it's activated.
The lens ships with a round lens hood, ribbed and painted a smooth black on the interior to reduce any flare. Sigma also includes a subframe hood adapter, which is intended for use when the lens is used with (obviously) sub-frame cameras such as the 7D. Without the adapter, the hood adds 4 inches to the overall length of the lens - with the adapter, that goes up to around 6 inches.
The lens also ships with a removable tripod ring mount. The ring loosens and removes easily, but does not offer 90 degree click stops. It is compatible with Sigma's 1.4x and 2x teleconverters.
Sigma 180mm ƒ/3.5 EX DG IF HSM ~$700
We never had the opportunity to test the older version of the Sigma 180mm ƒ/3.5, though if you don't need optical image stabilization, this lens can probably be found used for quite a bit less than the asking price of the new Sigma 180mm ƒ/2.8.
Canon EF 180mm ƒ/3.5L Macro USM ~$1,580
The Canon 180mm ƒ/3.5 has not yet been tested by us, and for a comparable price does not offer image stabilization or the faster ƒ/2.8 aperture. It is however an L-series lens, offering excellent build quality for the money.
Nikon 200mm ƒ/4D ED-IF AF Micro Nikkor ~$1,650
We tested this lens some time ago on the subframe Nikon D200; it was one of the sharpest lenses we had the opportunity to test. No image stabilization here, either.
Konica Minolta 200mm ƒ/4 Macro APO G AF ~$?
It would be a bit of a search, but if you wanted a lens loyal to the Sony mount the closest offering would be this Minolta lens; at the time of writing Sony has not re-introduced it as an alpha lens.
As usual, Sigma has identified a hole in other manufacturers' lens lineups and produced an excellent product to fill the gap. There is a lot to like in the Sigma 180mm ƒ/2.8 OS Macro: optically, it's one of Sigma's finest, certainly standing head to head with any other lens in the category.
The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.
As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.
Sigma 180mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM APO Macro User Reviews
10 out of 10 points and recommended by fotolooney (1 reviews)super sharp, very effective OSJust a tad heavy
I have been shooting with zooms in recent years, and I bought into the narrative that they are almost as sharp as primes. Never having used a truly excellent prime lens, I didn't know.reviewed January 31st, 2015 (purchased for $1,500)
When I opened some images taken with this lens on my computer, they were so drop dead sharp that I almost fainted. I have some zooms of high repute, but they are not even in the same league with this bad boy.
I have used it for wildlife photos and indoor sports photography. The wildlife photos are amazingly sharp. The sports photos are the best I have taken. Which is to say pretty good. Lighting in gymnasiums around here is so poor that even with f/2.8 I still have to use ISO's of 2000 or above which doesn't make for cuttingly sharp images. In this low light, the focusing is a little slow but it is just as good as any other f/2.8 lenses I have used in this same situation.
Although I haven't used it extensively for macro work yet, the testing I have done indicates it is somewhat, though not dramatically, sharper than my Canon 100mm 2.8L IS.
My only complaint is that is a tad too heavy for this old man to hold up for a whole basketball game, so I use a monopod with a cine head. That is a sweet set up and works really well for me.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by deej2005 (1 reviews)Sharpness, effective OS, flare resistance, coloursweight
The lens design is without compromise. There are no optical defects, only biting sharpness at all apertures. The optical stabilization (OS) is extremely effective. I think of this lens as a 180mm focal length prime that happens to focus close. I chose this lens over any of the 70-200 variants. Despite being a prime, I find this lens exceedingly versatile and use it for landscape, portraiture, street photography and macro. I would buy it again and highly recommend it.reviewed May 31st, 2013 (purchased for $1,700)