Review Sigma 180mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM APO Macro (C APS-C)
In 2012, Sigma presented the world's first 180 mm macro telephoto lens with image stabilization, which additionally offers a constant f/2.8 brightness. It is a general misunderstanding that a macro-lens is only suitable for photographing small subjects. This lens, which can be used on either an APS-C or on a camera with a full-size sensor, also serves exceptionally as a razor-sharp telephoto lens or portrait lens. We (still) test macro-lenses in the same distance range as all other lenses, so that you can directly compare the performances against each other. Until mid-2012, we unfortunately didn't have the capacity to test this attractive lens. We're rectifying that now, starting with a test of the Sigma 180 mm macro on a Canon 650D.
Sigma 180mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM APO Macro @ Canon 650D
Sigma 180 mm macro @ f/6.3, 1/2000, 400 ISO
On a camera with an APS-C sensor, the view angle of a Sigma 180 mm macro 2.8 is nearly equivalent to the view angle of a 300 mm 2.8 telephoto lens on a camera with a full-size sensor. The shortest distance setting of 44 cm means that you can bring your subjects in very close. At the same time, this focal length is very long for a macro-lens. That's great, because you can photograph butterflies and other small animals, without getting so close that you chase them away. The Sigma 180 mm macro delivers a beautiful combination of high sharpness with a lovely background sharpness. You still need to account for a limited depth of field, even if you stop down a couple stops.
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With a weight of more than 1.5 kg, this Sigma lens breathes quality and solidity. The lens seems a bit heavy in comparison to the test camera. If you support the lens with one hand, while holding the camera steady with the other, then this won't bother you. The removable tripod collar and the focus limiter that limits the focus range of the AF contribute to the ease of use.
With heavy and very sharp lenses, the quality of the mount becomes extra important when it comes to maintaining quality over the long term: to us, a small lens depends on the mount when you hang the camera around your neck; a heavy lens taxes the mount more heavily, and there's a chance that play can develop in the mount. The resolution power of the Sigma 180 mm is so high that the slightest degree of play can lead to lower resolution. This lens has a precise metal bayonet mount, which has undergone a special surface treatment to increase its strength and durability.
The HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) ensures silent AF. With this lens, at any given moment – without setting the switch to MF (manual focus) – a manual correction to the focus can be made. The internal focus with "floating elements" works with two separate lens groups, each of which has a different position in the optical path. This system prevents astigmatism and spherical aberration, and ensures an exceptionally high image quality from infinity to 1:1 in the macro range. The length of the lens in this design does not change when focusing, maintaining the optimal balance. We recently tested the Sigma 120-300 mm Sports, and in comparison with that lens, the Sigma 180 mm was noticeably slower. What was nice is that the focus first jumps to a point where the focus is almost right, then commutes around that point until the maximum focus is reached. Many other lenses commute from close up to infinity, and that can be very disturbing to work with.
This lens is the world's first telephoto macro-lens with optical stabilization. Because the image stabilization occurs in the lens, you also get a steadier image in the viewfinder, so that you can more easily frame and focus. The system also compensates in the macro range for camera movement, although Sigma reports that the effectiveness of the OS-system decreases as the shooting distance becomes smaller. Normally we test image stabilization at a focal length of 70 mm. With a fixed focal length lens with a focal point of 180 mm, that's clearly not possible, so the results of this test are probably not comparable on a 1 to 1 basis with the image stabilization test of other lenses that we've done before. With the image stabilization on, we found with the combination of a Sigma 180 mm macro on a Canon 5D MK2 an advantage of 2 stops. In practice, you have 3 extra stops available: the shot is then admittedly no longer as sharp as a shot taken from a tripod, but it's still a sharp image.
Thanks to the limited depth of field, with the Sigma 180 mm 2.8 macro you can put the emphasis on the subject.
This unique bright macro-lens has, according to Sigma, an uncompromisingly high image quality thanks to three glass FLD-elements ("F" with Low Dispersion), that perform just as well as genuine fluorite. The sharpness is indeed unusually high: at maximum aperture the sharpness is already high. At f5/6, the peak sharpness is reached, but all apertures from f/2.8 up to and including f/11 are nearly as good. Another strong point is the remarkably small difference in sharpness between the center and the far corners. During the tests, we saved the test shots as both RAW and jpg files with the standard in-camera sharpening. The RAW files were developed with DCRAW and standard sharpening, such that all RAW files from different camera brands go through the same process. At full aperture, we got from the RAW files an even higher sharpness than out of the jpg files.
Over the whole range of the Sigma 180 mm 2.8 macro, vignetting is well controlled. At aperture 2.8, you can spot vignetting now and then in pictures of very evenly lit subjects, but from aperture 4 vignetting disappears.
Macro lenses in general show very little distortion and the Sigma 180 mm macro is no exception. The distortion of the Sigma 180 mm macro is extremely low. This lens is thus especially suited for the most demanding reproductions or architectural shots.
The aperture consists of 7 rounded blades, which means that the background sharpness/bokeh is nicely round and unusually attractive. On a camera with an APS-C sensor, if you show pictures made with the Sigma 180 mm macro to someone who does not know what camera was used for the pictures, they'll immediately conclude that the shots were taken with a full-size sensor.
In the development phase of Sigma's flagship in macro-photography, flares and ghosts were already limited in an early stage of the development. The Super Multi-Layer Coating suppresses flares and ghosts very well, whereby even in critical backlight situations you get sharp pictures with high contrast. If there is no light source in the field, then you won't be bothered at all by flares and ghosts. In our practice shots, there were a few pictures taken directly into the sun, with a small zone of reduced contrast and a small ghost at the bottom of the image. The worst case of this is show below. Under comparably extreme circumstances, most lenses we've tested have shown more and larger ghosts. This was very good performance from the Sigma 180 mm macro.
This lens is suited for both cameras with an APS-C sensor and cameras with a full-size sensor. Because a smaller view angle is used on a camera with an APS-C sensor, in that case you need a longer lens hood to protect against obliquely incidental light. Sigma, so far as I know, is the only manufacturer that takes this into account. The lens not only comes with a luxuriously padded pouch, but also with a supplemental lens hood adapter. The lens hood adapter extends the lens hood so that it's optimally suited for cameras with an APS-C sensor, and it ensures extra protection from obliquely incidental light that can reduce the image quality.
FLD-glass is the kind of glass with a very low color dispersion and an extremely high light transmission. This optical glass performs as well as fluorite. FLD glass has, in comparison with other kinds of glass, a high refractive index. Chromatic aberration is indeed quite low. That would not be possible with regular optical glass, while utilizing fluorite would probably have led to higher costs.
Conclusion review Sigma 180mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM APO Macro
WYSIWYG score: This table shows the performance of this lens if you store the files in the camera as jpg, where you have all available in-camera lens corrections applied. This score gives you for this lens/test camera combination: "What you see is what you get".
Pure RAW score: This table shows the performance of this lens when the file is stored in the camera in RAW format. This score approaches the intrinsic quality of the combination of lens and test camera.
Finally a macro with which you keep distance from your subject and yet take a screen-filling shot.
Extremely high image quality in all aspects
High brightness in combination with a low focal length
Built-in image stabilization
Rock-solid construction and includes tripod collar, padded pouch, lens hood and lens hood adapter
Big and heavy
Every photographer who goes for the highest image quality, should consider acquiring this macro-lens. From our tests, it appears that macro-lenses, in terms of image quality, are among the very best lenses. Among the macro-lenses that have tested so far, the Sigma 180 mm macro aims high. This is a top class lens in every aspect. We're fairly certain that the resolution of the Canon 650D with an 18 megapixel sensor was the limiting factor in this case.
Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.