180mm Macro Lenses - Canon vs. Sigma

DanP

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I'm looking to buy a 180mm macro lens and would like to hear comments from anyone with experience with both the Canon and Sigma versions regarding relative performance and picture quality. The reviews for the Sigma appear to be generally positive and it is a much newer design, but probably lacks weather sealing (although I don't expect to be trying to do macro photography in the rain). It's also 50% heavier than the Canon, but is the same weight as my Canon 100-400 V2, and I don't have any problem with that weight - will probably be on a tripod most of the time anyway. Not sure if OS is of much use when handheld at MFD. Also not sure F2.8 is an advantage for macro as depth of field is already too narrow at close focus, but I suppose there is an advantage in having more light for focusing. In Canada, the Sigma would cost me about $315 more than the Canon (more if I buy any filters due to the larger filter size). I only intend to use the lens for macro, not as a telephoto prime. I would be using it on a 5D III. The Sigma in Canada is a special order, meaning I can't return it.
 

Mt Spokane Photography

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Most Macros, if not all are excellent. The newer models like the Canon 100mmL with hybrid IS are easy to handhold. The only reason I can think of for f/2.8 is easier to focus if you have limited light.
 

picturefan

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Dec 31, 2015
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Hi.
Like Mt. Spokane said, all newer macro lenses are very good.
Depending on your subjects, I would choose the lens. If you are into insects, small animals etc., 180mm might be better than 100mm, as you don't have to get so close. i enjoy my 180 here. if you're doing a lot of macro work, it might be worth a look, but it is not as handy for a "carrying around lens" like the much smaller and lighter 100mm macro. in macro i don't see much diff between 2.8 and 3.5 in practice. take into consideration that your 100-400 has a very good mfd, one reason for me to buy it. you can combine with a canon close up lens or intermediate rings. for other macro work, a 100mm (canon, sigma, tammy) would do fine.

have fun choosing!
 

GMCPhotographics

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I've had copies of both and the Canon is a far far better lens to use in a muddy field (which is where you are going to be using it presumably). On paper they are very similar lenses, 180mm...similar size and weight and the same 1:1 ratio. BUT...the Sigma looses a lot of focal length as it focuses closer and closer. By 1:1 there is a huge difference in the size of the object in the viewfinder. I seriously doubt the Sigma is any thing like 180mm at 1:1. The Canon seems to retain it's image size as it's focused. I found with the Sigma I would focus...then have to move the lens closer....re-focus...etc. The Canon was a lot easier to operate.
Wide open, both lenses are a little soft. They are designed to be stopped down to quite small apertures. I got slightly sharper results out of the Canon, but not by much. Stopped down to f16 and they both produce sharp results.
The Sigma lens collar is fine for general use, but it's pushing it's design when using it for macro work. It's not as smooth or stable as the Canon design. The Sigma lens hood is not as nice as the Canon and mine wobbled in strong winds...also not good during a long exposure at f16. The Sigma has the most horribly gritty focus ring, it's very hard to get very fine and accurate focus tweaks to it without disturbing the whole lens. After using the Canon...my Sigma went straight on Ebay. I've had several friends complain about the sigma issues and I can only hope the newer versions of this lens are better (f2.8).
S/H there are quite a few canon 180L macro lenses out there. It's a relative bargain and a far better lens. But both are hopeless if you have a hopeless tripod. It's not a lens for hand holding like a ef 100mm f2.8 LIS macro.
 

BeenThere

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Sep 4, 2012
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It is possible to use a 180mm Macro handheld. With flitting insects, like butterflies, I handhold to quickly get the best aspect and framing. I also manually focus on these shots, getting rough focus with the focus ring and then fine focus using the viewfinder by moving the camera slightly in or out as the insect moves. See some examples here:

http://www.ronbrunsvold.com/galleries.html

Click on the "Butterfly and Flowers" Gallery

All the butterflies and flowers shot with the Canon 180mm Macro. I would estimate about a 50% success (keeper) rate using this technique. Flowers were shot on a tripod. Also notice the nice out-of-focus backgrounds that are possible with the 180 Macro.
 

YuengLinger

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GMCPhotographics said:
I've had copies of both and the Canon is a far far better lens to use in a muddy field (which is where you are going to be using it presumably). On paper they are very similar lenses, 180mm...similar size and weight and the same 1:1 ratio. BUT...the Sigma looses a lot of focal length as it focuses closer and closer. By 1:1 there is a huge difference in the size of the object in the viewfinder. I seriously doubt the Sigma is any thing like 180mm at 1:1. The Canon seems to retain it's image size as it's focused. I found with the Sigma I would focus...then have to move the lens closer....re-focus...etc. The Canon was a lot easier to operate.
Wide open, both lenses are a little soft. They are designed to be stopped down to quite small apertures. I got slightly sharper results out of the Canon, but not by much. Stopped down to f16 and they both produce sharp results.
The Sigma lens collar is fine for general use, but it's pushing it's design when using it for macro work. It's not as smooth or stable as the Canon design. The Sigma lens hood is not as nice as the Canon and mine wobbled in strong winds...also not good during a long exposure at f16. The Sigma has the most horribly gritty focus ring, it's very hard to get very fine and accurate focus tweaks to it without disturbing the whole lens. After using the Canon...my Sigma went straight on Ebay. I've had several friends complain about the sigma issues and I can only hope the newer versions of this lens are better (f2.8).
S/H there are quite a few canon 180L macro lenses out there. It's a relative bargain and a far better lens. But both are hopeless if you have a hopeless tripod. It's not a lens for hand holding like a ef 100mm f2.8 LIS macro.
Very little, if any, of what you have written here applies to my new Sigma 180mm f/2.8. I'm thrilled with it. One point which is absolutely false on my copy is the "gritty" feel of the focus ring. Just this morning I was thinking how easy it is to use for fine tuning manual focus.

Also, afaik, neither has weather sealing, which is a shame.

My lens hood is tight but not a pita to remove; no clicking or wobbling, good depth, easy to get the lens cap on an off without removing the hood.

I have no experience with the Canon, but I went back and forth based on reviews and specs. What tipped me to the Sigma were comparisons of sample images and the ability to use OS for portraits. It works great for frame filling close ups of infants!

I read one customer review complaining about the tripod collar/foot, but found it to be a non issue when paired with a Kirk plate. Very stable and easy to position as needed. I consider myself picky.

I highly recommend the Sigma, and I've already started to accessorize it with ground-level/tabletop tripod and a used 86mm B+W CP.

Btw, I'm using it on a 5DIII.

As for the special order, no return situation, that sounds horrible. If this were something that could not be worked around, I'd go for the Canon and enjoy the lighter weight. Don't you have Amazon or somebody as good as B&H? Like I said, it was a tough call for me, but I have zero reservations about my decision. The lens is a finely crafted beauty.

Attached is a shot of my son, f/4, and then a quick grab of milkweed this morning as breeze was picking up, f/3.5. The milkweed is near 100% crop--I had to be VERY careful with the tripod in my neighbor's yard, so I couldn't get as close as I would have liked.
 

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YuengLinger

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I'm very eager to plunge into garden photography with my new Sigma 180mm f/2.8 macro, but right now, I have, as an example of what the lens can do with portraits, handheld, f/2.8, 1/200th, ISO 1250, in a spontaneous situation, a sequence of my son eating beef for the first time.
 

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danski0224

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Apr 24, 2011
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DanP said:
I'm looking to buy a 180mm macro lens and would like to hear comments from anyone with experience with both the Canon and Sigma versions regarding relative performance and picture quality. The reviews for the Sigma appear to be generally positive and it is a much newer design, but probably lacks weather sealing (although I don't expect to be trying to do macro photography in the rain). It's also 50% heavier than the Canon, but is the same weight as my Canon 100-400 V2, and I don't have any problem with that weight - will probably be on a tripod most of the time anyway. Not sure if OS is of much use when handheld at MFD. Also not sure F2.8 is an advantage for macro as depth of field is already too narrow at close focus, but I suppose there is an advantage in having more light for focusing. In Canada, the Sigma would cost me about $315 more than the Canon (more if I buy any filters due to the larger filter size). I only intend to use the lens for macro, not as a telephoto prime. I would be using it on a 5D III. The Sigma in Canada is a special order, meaning I can't return it.
They both have an about equal manual focus throw of almost 270 degrees.

The age of the optical design is most likely a non-issue. If/when Canon updates the 180 macro, it will probably go to 2x the price of the current model.

I would check your 5DIII manual and see what focus points are available with the Canon 180mm macro and what focus points are available with a f/2.8 lens.

The elephant in the room is the AF performance of the Sigma lens on a Canon body- an issue that doesn't exist for a Canon lens on a Canon body. That alone would steer me away from a non-returnable special order, despite the many good reviews of the Sigma lens.
 

YuengLinger

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The AF on the Sigma WAS a big concern, but it is quick and accurate even with outer points of my 5DIII. (I had bad luck with the 50 Art, great AF with the 35 Art, but felt the AF on the macro is so differently engineered, could only know by trying myself.)

Will soon try on 80D.
 

Bennymiata

EOS R
CR Pro
Have you thought about the Sigma 150mm macro?

Much newer optics and design to either of the 180's and easier to use as it's lighter.

The 150 os macro was the first of the really good Sigmas with their new design optics.
I find it really good for macro.
 

chauncey

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Jun 5, 2011
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Ah...Canon Utility Software is an absolute must use in using a macro lens...tethered shooting is the way to go. Kinda rules out Sigma.
 

YuengLinger

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Bennymiata said:
Have you thought about the Sigma 150mm macro?

Much newer optics and design to either of the 180's and easier to use as it's lighter.

The 150 os macro was the first of the really good Sigmas with their new design optics.
I find it really good for macro.
The 180mm was released a year AFTER the 150mm! You might be thinking of an older version, the f/3.5?
 

Zeidora

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Regardless of which one you will obtain, also get a matt focusing screen (www.focusingscreen.com). On a 5D3 you have to use a watchmaker screwdriver to get to the screen, but not that hard. Did it on my 5DsR.
IMHO, AF is useless in macro. The AF performance of the 180 is famously sluggish. As others have pointed out, you use the focusing ring to get magnification, then focus by moving back and forth. To accurately judge focus, a matt focusing screen will be critical. AF confirm works, but often you want focus not where the focus points are. [Or it is way quicker to visually select in-focus-point, than fiddling with selecting AF points.]
I only used the Canon 180M, so cannot compare to Sigma. But I find the hood on the Canon very poorly designed. It is not easy to get it on straight, and the torque feel is very poor; bad gritty plastic on plastic feel. Nothing like the Zeiss Makroplanar hood. The lens also has some lateral color (none in Zeiss 100 MP). I use the 180 as a lens of last resort, if the Zeiss can't reach it.

Attached a couple of shots from yesterday in Melbourne (Australia). Leaf curling spider Phonognatha graeffei at f/8 on 5DsR. One full overview, second 100% crop. Shot with Canon 180 and MT 24Ex. The 180 also works quite well with TC 1.4x for 252 mm macro, and a bit > than 1:1. That is the third shoot of a mosquito (Aedes sp., I think), also from yesterday at f/11. Maybe a bit more relevant than baby portraits ;-) All hand held. Just quick and dirty jpegging in DPP; am on the road right now.
 

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YuengLinger

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The AF on my Sigma 180mm f/2.8 is not "sluggish." It's quick, much quicker than on my Canon ef 100mm f/2.8. Quick enough to confidently take pictures of children!

I do notice that the focus limiter switch is very important to set properly to one of three settings. When it is set correctly, very quick AF.

As for the Sigma 180mm being "famously" anything, I have to laugh. It is one of the most overlooked, rarely reviewed lenses sold by a big named lens company. In fact, several reviews promise a more in depth look, and never follow through.

This is a lens for, among others, garden, product, and insect photographers. It should also be good for food if there is enough room to back away from the subject, because with the 180mm focal length, photographer, camera, and tripod can be far enough from the subject to not interfere with lighting.

I have not yet looked into a ring light, but I understand the 86mm filter thread means adapters would be necessary.
 
For me, Canon is more usable - I have them both :) and can compare.

Sigma is somehow weird - as Sigma usually is :)

It's really heavy, IS is, IMO, weak and strange (sometimes works, sometimes does not work), filter size is unnesessarily large, shifting through modes is uncertain (and switch itself is prone to fall off)...

AF itself is far from being reliable (5d3, 1d4, 70d, 100d - all the same), lens likes to search even in good light and adequate contrast.

When Sigma 180\2,8 OS just appeared on the market, it looked awesome - but since I've tried 3 of them, each had some issues.

IQ is, IMO, pretty good in both lenses, but Canon needs less efforts to take this image :)

Though for portraits Sigma may look better - but 135\2 looks much better, and I don't know why to keep 180mm macro for portraits.
 

danski0224

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Apr 24, 2011
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Zeidora said:
Regardless of which one you will obtain, also get a matt focusing screen (www.focusingscreen.com). On a 5D3 you have to use a watchmaker screwdriver to get to the screen, but not that hard. Did it on my 5DsR.
IMHO, AF is useless in macro. The AF performance of the 180 is famously sluggish. As others have pointed out, you use the focusing ring to get magnification, then focus by moving back and forth. To accurately judge focus, a matt focusing screen will be critical. AF confirm works, but often you want focus not where the focus points are. [Or it is way quicker to visually select in-focus-point, than fiddling with selecting AF points.]
I only used the Canon 180M, so cannot compare to Sigma. But I find the hood on the Canon very poorly designed. It is not easy to get it on straight, and the torque feel is very poor; bad gritty plastic on plastic feel. Nothing like the Zeiss Makroplanar hood. The lens also has some lateral color (none in Zeiss 100 MP). I use the 180 as a lens of last resort, if the Zeiss can't reach it.
I would disagree about AF being "useless".

If one wants true macro, which is 1:1 and greater, then the AF does have to be turned off because once the focus ring moves, then one is not at 1:1 anymore. Move back and forth and click with the AF beep :)

If one is seeking "close-up" moreso than the definition of macro (>/=1:1), then there is nothing wrong with using AF.

Most of my "macro"/close-up is taken with AF. I cannot focus a 5 series DSLR manually- even with a different screen (I have tried), and split screens are really only good for the center. Live view and a tripod, I can do. I find the OVF of a 1 series to be much better (clearer) than the 5 series, but manual focus for me is still way more miss than hit.

I suspect that the "sluggish" AF of the Canon 180mm macro is intentional and is there for focus accuracy.

I would really like to see Canon come out with a 1D series body and an EVF, or some sort of EVF overlay that shows focus peaking.
 

YuengLinger

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mehraban said:
Though for portraits Sigma may look better - but 135\2 looks much better, and I don't know why to keep 180mm macro for portraits.
I see the very good OS on this lens as a bonus, not the main reason for buying it, so it works well for tightly framed portraits. For a portrait session, I'd not choose a macro for the standard shots, but sometimes it's nice for extreme close ups, extra shallow depth of field, something a little different. And it's fun! (If I just get done using the Sigma 180mm for garden photography, or my kids come out when I'm in our yard with it, I'm glad it works for photos of them too.)

At least we agree about the excellent 135 f/2!
 

Zeidora

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Feb 15, 2015
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danski0224 said:
Zeidora said:
Regardless of which one you will obtain, also get a matt focusing screen (www.focusingscreen.com). On a 5D3 you have to use a watchmaker screwdriver to get to the screen, but not that hard. Did it on my 5DsR.
IMHO, AF is useless in macro. The AF performance of the 180 is famously sluggish. As others have pointed out, you use the focusing ring to get magnification, then focus by moving back and forth. To accurately judge focus, a matt focusing screen will be critical. AF confirm works, but often you want focus not where the focus points are. [Or it is way quicker to visually select in-focus-point, than fiddling with selecting AF points.]
I only used the Canon 180M, so cannot compare to Sigma. But I find the hood on the Canon very poorly designed. It is not easy to get it on straight, and the torque feel is very poor; bad gritty plastic on plastic feel. Nothing like the Zeiss Makroplanar hood. The lens also has some lateral color (none in Zeiss 100 MP). I use the 180 as a lens of last resort, if the Zeiss can't reach it.
I would disagree about AF being "useless".

If one wants true macro, which is 1:1 and greater, then the AF does have to be turned off because once the focus ring moves, then one is not at 1:1 anymore. Move back and forth and click with the AF beep :)

If one is seeking "close-up" moreso than the definition of macro (>/=1:1), then there is nothing wrong with using AF.

Most of my "macro"/close-up is taken with AF. I cannot focus a 5 series DSLR manually- even with a different screen (I have tried), and split screens are really only good for the center. Live view and a tripod, I can do. I find the OVF of a 1 series to be much better (clearer) than the 5 series, but manual focus for me is still way more miss than hit.

I suspect that the "sluggish" AF of the Canon 180mm macro is intentional and is there for focus accuracy.

I would really like to see Canon come out with a 1D series body and an EVF, or some sort of EVF overlay that shows focus peaking.
I only shoot MF, and have no problems. I grew up at a time when there was no AF, so that may have something to do with it. Plenty of Zeiss shooters can focus fine on Canon bodies.
I tried using AF on the 180, and even when I used it as a moderate tele, I turned it off again. At close up distances it gets worse and it is nothing but an annoyance. I find AF truly useless on that lens. The only other AF lens I have is a 300/2.8 IS, and AF is moderately useful there. But I usually turn it off there as well, so that focus is where *I* want it, with a composition that *I* want, not where AF wants to place it, or adjusting composition so suit AF point. The other canon macro I have is the MPE 65 (well-known to be MF), no problem shooting that handheld.
 

danski0224

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Apr 24, 2011
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Zeidora said:
I only shoot MF, and have no problems. I grew up at a time when there was no AF, so that may have something to do with it. Plenty of Zeiss shooters can focus fine on Canon bodies.
I tried using AF on the 180, and even when I used it as a moderate tele, I turned it off again. At close up distances it gets worse and it is nothing but an annoyance. I find AF truly useless on that lens. The only other AF lens I have is a 300/2.8 IS, and AF is moderately useful there. But I usually turn it off there as well, so that focus is where *I* want it, with a composition that *I* want, not where AF wants to place it, or adjusting composition so suit AF point. The other canon macro I have is the MPE 65 (well-known to be MF), no problem shooting that handheld.
I have also used MF only film 35mm cameras, for a short time, but I did use them. I was younger and I'm certain that my eyes were better- but still corrected like today.

I don't know what it is, but I just can't really see very well in a DSLR focusing screen. The exception would be a 1D body over a 5D body- there is a noticeable difference in my eyes. I held onto that Nikon for a long time and regret selling it, but the viewfinder was always brighter than any later camera that I had with AF- even my EOS 620 that I still have today.

I do have a few older manual focus lenses, and I find those to be much easier to use than a typical electronic focus lens being used in MF mode (notable exception would be focus by wire USM lenses). The Canon and Sigma 180mm macros both have a focus throw of nearly 270 degrees and are an exception, compared to around 90 degrees (or less) for many other auto focus lenses.

I rented a Zeiss, and found that I couldn't focus it reliably on a DSLR without live view. Saved a few bucks there :)

For what it's worth, I also choose my AF point :)
 

YuengLinger

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Not definitive, but it matches my experience generally. Here's a link that shows a 30 second video of the Sigma 180 f/2.8 being focused on two targets, back and forth.

Pretty quick for macro, I think. My only other direct experience is with the Canon ef 100mm f/2.8.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSptAaMJNkM