180mm F2.8 MACRO EX DG OS HSM features:
- Designed for use with full frame digital SLR cameras. May also be used with smaller APS-c size sensors with a corresponding effective increase in focal length to about 260mm with most cameras
- Focuses down to 1:1 magnification ratio at its closest working distance of 18.5 inches
- Optical Stabilizer allows for hand held photography
By Robert O’Toole
Recently Sigma introduced the new 180mm f/2.8 APO Macro to replace the long discontinued 180mm f/3.5 APO Macro lens. With a bright f/2.8 aperture this brand new 180mm lens really stands out from the macro lens crowd with the world’s fastest maximum aperture and at the same time the only lens to offer optical stabilization in a 180mm focal length. Sigma made one of the new 180mm f/2.8 lenses available to me for a test drive and I was just able squeeze in a short trip to a local botanical garden right before I leave on a trip to the Pantanal in Brazil. Thankfully the Southern California clouds and fog hung around just long enough after the garden’s gate opened at 9 am to give me excellent lighting conditions as I explored what the new 180 macro lens has to offer.
Design and features
When you pick the lens the most obvious change is the new style smooth finish. One of the most important but not so obvious change is the addition of the OS, or Optical Stabilization. If you plan to handhold the lens you should know that the weight has gone up due to the addition of OS and the more complex lens design with 19 elements in 14 groups (13 and 10 for the old lens) including 3 Low Dispersion FLD elements (2 for the old lens). The new optical design was necessary to include the OS system and for the new faster f/2.8 maximum aperture. It is important to note that this lens designed for both full format or crop bodies. The primary application of the lens is, obviously, macro photography but as with most macro lenses the lens works great for all kinds of nature photography at all distances.
The very broad rubberized focus ring operates very smoothly and the AF speed of the virtually silent HSM AF drive is very good. The three-step focus limiter is a welcome feature on a macro lens like this. This relatively long working distance of the 180mm is the major advantage of this lens for macro photography especially when photographing subjects like insects and reptiles. Aat life-size, 1:1 magnification, the working distance is a generous 18.5 inches. The lens features a detachable tripod-ring (the same as the150mm OS lens), and a large hood as well as a soft case. Also for DX format users there is a lens hood extension ring included. Be awarer that the filter size is now 86mm up from the 72mm of the previous lens.
Handling in the field
This lens is very solid with very high build quality and although it is not light, the weight was well balanced on my pro-sumer body and seemed to be very stable especially when hand holding. In the field I was shooting mostly handheld with flash but I was also able to use a monopod set up for macro and a tripod with a gimbal head. In the field the lens worked flawlessly without any issues or handling problems. The OS worked very well at normal distances but I do normally keep OS turned off when shooting very close as the stabilization can make it hard to frame very accurately when actively stabilizing.
In the field the 180mm F2.8 APO Macro is a very capable macro lens but what really matters are the image that it can produce. So exactly how sharp is this lens? To give you a better idea I have included a couple of 100% actual pixel crops in addition to the normal web size resized full frame images. In addition to the high resolution results, I did not see any vignetting and found distortion to be non existant. I found background with this lens to be nice and smooth without any unpleasant effects. I did not have enough time to shoot at all apertures but at my main working apertures of f/8 to f/11 the image quality was excellent.
The lens is also compatible with Sigma’s teleconverters so the focal length is 252mm f/4 using the AF 1.4x EX teleconverter and even 360mm f/5.6 with the AF 2x EX converter. I did not have enough time in the field to test the 180mm f/2.8 macro with teleconverters in the field but I will add my experiences and images in part 2 of this lens exploration.
Since I was only able to spend a couple of hours with this lens I did not have close to enough time to fully explore what this lens has to offer so look for a second part to this article right here next month. This time I will have a chance to share images made wide open and small apertures. Also I will look at performance with teleconverters and I will have plenty of time to check AF performance. Also I will see how this lens compares to the its close relative, the 150mm OS macro. If there is something you would like to know leave a question below or feel free to email me. Feel free to ask a question or share a comment below.
All of the images in this post were made outdoors in the field and all of the animals were 100% wild and free and none were ever chilled or kept cold or captive at any point in time.
|Lens Construction||19 Elements in 14 Groups|
|Angle of View||13.7 degrees|
|Number of Diaphragm Blades||9|
|Minimum Focusing Distance||47cm/18.5in|
|Filter Size (mm)||86mm|
(Diameter x Length)
|Sony/Minolta||OS, HSM, APO, EX, DG|
OS – Optical Stabilizer Function
HSM – Hyper-Sonic Motor
APO – Apochromatic
EX – EX Lens
DG – DG for Digital* The appearance, specifications, and the like of the product are subject to change for improvement without notice.
Robert O’Toole is a Sigma Pro and has been a professional photographer for more than 20 years. As an accomplished instructor, Robert leads photography workshop tours across the US and internationally. For more info visit Robert’s web site at robertotoolephotography.com