Sigma APO Macro 180mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Lens


    Photo Review 8.5
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    Sigma APO Macro 180mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Lens

      In summary

      Buy this lens if:
      - You want a macro lens with a good working distance for photographing active insects and other small animals.
      - You require built-in image stabilisation.
      - You want fast and quiet autofocusing.
      - You require internal focusing.

       Don’t buy this lens if:
       - You can't handle the weight and bulk of this lens.
      - You can't cope with some autofocus hunting in low light levels and with low-contrast subjects.

      Full review

      Sigma's APO Macro 180mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM lens replaces the popular  Sigma AF 180mm f/3.5 EX DG HSM APO macro, which has been around since May 2005. The original lens (which is no longer available)will be a hard act to follow, offering excellent performance plus a generous working distance for a competitive price when we reviewed it in August 2010. A number of key features have of features have changed in the interim.

      The Sigma APO Macro 180mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM lens shown with the tripod collar but without the supplied cylindrical lens hood. (Source: Sigma.)

      Like its predecessor, the new lens is designed for use with full frame digital SLR cameras but may also be fitted to cameras with smaller APS-C sized sensors where it yields an effective increase in focal length to about 260mm in most cases. The new lens is faster, considerably larger and heavier and includes optical stabilisation. The table below compares specifications for the old and new lenses.

       

      APO Macro 180mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM

      AF 180mm f/3.5 EX DG HSM APO macro

      Picture angle

      13.7 degrees

      Minimum aperture

      f/22

      f/32

      Lens construction

      19 Elements in 14 Groups (includes three FLD glass elements)

      13 elements in 10 groups (includes two SLD elements)

      Lens mounts

      Sigma, Canon, Nikon, Sony/Minolta 

      Canon, Nikon-D, Pentax, Sigma, Sony/Minolta, Four Thirds

      Diaphragm Blades

      9 (circular aperture)

      Focus drive

      Ultrasonic (HSM)

      Stabilisation

      Sigma OS (Optical Stabiliser)

      None

      Minimum focus

      47 cm

      46 cm

      Filter size

      86 mm

      72 mm

      Dimensions (Diameter x L)

      95 x 203.9 mm

      80 x 182 mm

      Weight

      1638 grams

      965 grams

      RRP at time of review

      AU$1849

      AU$1299

      A couple of factors contribute to the difference in sizes and weights between the new lens and its predecessor. The first is the increase in lens speed; there's a lot more glass in the new lens to support the 0.66x increase in light transmission provided by increasing from a maximum aperture of f/3.5 to f/2.8.

      The optical design of the new lens also contains19 elements in 14 groups. Three FLD low dispersion elements are included.  Sigma's proprietary FLD glass claim low dispersion performance similar to fluorite, coupled with high light transmission.

      It also benefits from high anomalous dispersion, minimising residual chromatic aberration  but it lighter than conventional optical glass and more affordable, making it ideal for large aperture lenses. The diagram below (sourced from Sigma) shows the location of the FLD elements in the design of the new 180mm macro lens with the FLD elements highlighted in yellow.
       
       

       There are also additional components associated with the OS (Optical Stabiliser) technology, which claims a shake correction of up to four f-stops. It uses two sensors inside the lens to detect vertical and horizontal movement of the camera and a moving element to adjust the optical path.

      Naturally, the extra glass  and additional components increase the price of the lens, although not unreasonably. Sigma's Super Multi Layer Coating is applied to lens surfaces to reduce flare and ghosting while maintaining contrast. The HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) ensures quiet and high speed autofocus as well as full-time manual focus capability, making it a good choice when shooting movies.

      Although termed a 'macro' lens, the inclusion of stabilisation makes this lens suitable for portraiture and photographing sports, where its speed can be advantageous, particularly in low light levels. On APS-C cameras, the effective focal length changes to approximately 270mm due to the sensor's crop factor, which can also be useful for some types of wildlife photography.

      The lens is supplied with a 100 mm long cylindrical hood that is attached with a bayonet connection. Front and rear lens caps are included with the lens. A removable tripod collar is also supplied with the lens. It attaches with a screw nut that enables the camera body to be rotated between horizontal and vertical positions without requiring the lens to be detached from the tripod. White reference marks on the lens barrel and tripod collar allow precise alignment.

      Build and Ergonomics
      Weighing a little more than 1.6 kg, this lens is an even more substantial handful than its predecessor. Its size and weight of this lens make hand-held shooting physically challenging and cause this lens to be more suitable for larger camera bodies. We used the Canon EOS 5D Mark II for our review.

      The front element is recessed approximately 8 mm back from the leading edge of the lens, just behind the threading for an 86 mm diameter screw-in filter. Behind the hood mounting a thin gold band is inset into the barrel, which steps out for roughly 8 mm then contracts again.

      A 50 mm wide focusing ring is located about 25 mm further back. It carries a 47 mm wide ridged rubber grip that turns through a full circle but rotates roughly 270 degrees as you go from the closest focus (0.47 metres) to infinity.

      Behind the focusing ring is a distance scale, which is recessed into the outer barrel beneath a transparent panel. It carries distances in metres and feet from infinity to 0.47 metres. Just aft of the distance scale and a little to its left is AF limiter slider with three positions. There are three limit positions – 0.47 to 0.67 metres and 0.67 metres to infinity plus a Full position that covers the entire range. The focus limiter only works in AF mode.

      Autofocusing is driven by an HSM (Hyper-sonic) motor, which is fast and near-silent. Full-time manual focus over-ride makes it easy to swap between auto and manual focusing in one-shot AF mode. Sigma's floating inner focusing system minimises aberrations which occur as shooting distances change.

      Coupled with the OS system it provides a stable viewfinder image that makes it easier to compose shots with the camera and lens hand-held. The maximum f/2.8 aperture should provide its maximum resolution between f/5.6 and f/8, while also admitting enough light for handheld shooting, should the need arise.

      Below the AF limiter are two additional sliders. The upper one is the AF/MF switch, which supports full-time autofocusing, enabling users to tweak focus manually in AF mode. The focusing ring turns smoothly in both modes but doesn't provide quite enough resistance in our view. However, once set, the focused position doesn't appear to change when the lens is pointed downwards or upwards.

      The final slider  controls the optical stabiliser. It has three positions: off plus position 1 for general use and position 2 for panning. Sigma claims its system allows users to set shutter speeds up to four-f-stops slower than they would with an unstabilised lens. Going by our experience, three f-stops would probably be more realistic when the camera is hand held.

      This lens is compatible with Sigma’s optional Tele Converters, which come in two magnifications, 1.4x and 2.0x. Both enable photographers extend the working distance of the lens or achieve magnification ratios greater than 1:1.  

      Performance
      We found the full-time AF over-ride to be absolutely essential with this lens. Despiteusingthe focus limiting settings, in anything dimmer than bright sunshine we found this lens frequently hunted for a second or more in an attempt to find focus. Even bright overcast conditions  could present problems for the focusing system and we often had to use manual focusing to bring the focus to a point where the AF system could take over.

      However, when focused, the lens delivered sharp and colour-accurate images with the Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera body we used for our tests. Subjective assessments were confirmed by Imatest, which showed the lens to be capable of just meeting expectations for the sensor's resolution. Edge softening was slight for such a fast lens.

      As expected, the highest resolution figures came from aperture settings between f/5.6 and f/8, although even at wider apertures, the lens was able to resolve plenty of detail. Diffraction cut in rather abruptly at f/9 but thereafter the decline in resolution was gradual. The graph below  shows the results of our Imatest tests.
       

       
       At the maximum aperture of f/2.8  and minimum focusing distance of 47 cm (which provides a 1:1 reproduction ratio), the depth of field is extremely shallow at and it becomes quite difficult to keep moving subjects in focus. If you're prepared to move back a bit and stop down to f/5.6 (or smaller), you can cover a slightly wider distance within the subject. Using the lens as a portrait lens provides even more flexibility.

      Lateral chromatic aberration skated along the lower edge of the 'low' band in our Imatest tests. In the graph of our Imatest tests below, the red line marks the boundary between negligible and low CA values, while the green line separates low from moderate CA.
       
       

       Rectilinear distortion was effectively negligible. Vignetting was detectable at f/2.8 but gone by around f/4. Even at f/2.8, it probably wouldn't be noticeable in most situations and shouldn't be an issue for potential purchasers since most modern cameras provide built-in corrections for both these aberrations.

      Shots taken in strong backlighting showed no evidence of flare or ghosting, thanks to the generous lens hood. It was only possible to force the lens to flare when bright lights were directed directly into the lens and, even then, internal reflections and scattering were minimal.  

      Bokeh was particularly pleasing, both in macro shots and when the lens was used for portraiture. Gentle backlighting delivered some attractive results.

      Conclusion
      Longer focal lengths are desirable in macro lenses when you want to photograph moving subjects like insects and small animals. But you need a good working distance to avoid spooking such subjects – and also to allow enough light to reach the subject to illuminate it evenly. These factors make the 180mm focal length desirable for many photographers.

      Sigma’s APO Macro 180mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM is the fastest macro lens with a 180mm focal length currently available. Canon has an EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM lens but it's not stabilised and it was selling for more than AU$2000 (US$1580) when this review was written.

      Tamron has a 180mm f/3.5 macro lens, which is also unstabilised and was selling for around AU$1350 at the same time (US$750. However, it has neither stabilisation nor a focus limiter and autofocusing is driven by a conventional AF micro-motor, which is relatively slow and quite noisy.

      The closest Nikon equivalent is the AF micro Nikkor 200mm f/4D IF-ED lens, which is slower and was selling for AU$2050 (US$1650), when this review was written. This lens has been around since the mid 1990s and has no internal AF motor, relying on a slotted drive screw operated by the camera. A focus limiter is provided but autofocusing remains slow and relatively noisy.

      Pentax and Sony camera owners are limited to the 100mm focal length for their macro lenses. The smc Pentax D FA 100mm f/2.8 WR Macro is currently selling for  around AU $750 (or US$850 through the Pentax online store). Sony's SAL100M28 100mm f/2.8 macro lens is currently priced at AU $1040 through a leading online re-seller. In the US it sells for US$798 online.

      Even though it's relatively pricey, for its features and performance  the Sigma lens represents good value for money. Photographers looking for a long macro lens should consider it as an option, particularly if they are prepared to focus manually in some situations. 

      Buy this lens if:
      - You want a macro lens with a good working distance for photographing active insects and other small animals.
      - You require built-in image stabilisation.
      - You want fast and quiet autofocusing.
      - You require internal focusing.

       Don’t buy this lens if:
       - You can't handle the weight and bulk of this lens.
      - You can't cope with some autofocus hunting in low light levels and with low-contrast subjects.
        

      SPECS

       Picture angle: 13.7 degrees
       Minimum aperture: f/22
       Lens construction: 19 Elements in 14 Groups (includes three FLD glass elements)
       Lens mounts: Sigma, Canon, Nikon, Sony/Minolta 
       Diaphragm Blades: 9
       Focus drive:  HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor)
       Stabilisation: Sigma OS (Optical Stabiliser) 
       Minimum focus: 47 cm
       Maximum magnification: 1:1
       Filter size:  86 mm
       Dimensions (Diameter x L): 95 x 203.9 mm
      Weight: 1638 grams

      RRP: AU$1849; US$2400
       Distributor: C.R. Kennedy & Company; (03) 9823 1555; www.crkennedy.com.au.

      TESTS

      Based on JPEG files taken with the Canon EOS 5D Mark II:

       

       

       

      SAMPLES

      Vignetting at f/2.8.

       

       Rectilinear distortion.
       

      Hand-held shot of a moving subject at f/4; 1/250 second at ISO 100.
       
       

      Hand-held shot at f/3.5; 1/500 second at ISO 125.
       
       

      Hand-held shot at f/8; 1/400 second at ISO 100.
       
       

      Hand-held shot at f/7.1; 1/320 second at ISO 100.
       
       

      Hand-held shot at f/10; 1/250 second at ISO 100.
       
       

      Bokeh at f/4.5; 1/800 second at ISO 100.
       
       

      Bokeh at f/3.2; 1/1600 second at ISO 100.
       
       

      Used as a portrait lens; 1/200 second at f/4; ISO 3200.
       
       

      517: Used as a normal telephoto lens; 1/160 second at f/10; ISO 100.
       

      Rating

      RRP: AU$1849; US$2400

      • Build: 9.0
      • Handling: 8.5
      • Autofocusing: 8.0
      • Image quality: 8.8
      • Versatility: 8.0

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