Canon EF 180mm Macro f/3.5L USM review

The EF 180mm Macro f/3.5L is a sharp telephoto macro lens for Canon D-SLRs. It supports 1:1 magnification, but lacks image stabilization.
Photo of Canon EF 180mm Macro f/3.5L USM

The EF 180mm Macro f/3.5L USM ($1,579 list) is a telephoto prime lens for Canon cameras that features macro shooting capability. At its closest focusing distance it supports 1:1 magnification, which means that an object in the image frame will be projected onto the camera’s sensor at its actual size. The lens can also be used as a standard telephoto optic—there’s a switch on the side of the barrel that allows you to choose between the full focus range for autofocus or to only try and focus on objects that are close to the front element of the lens. One downside to using the lens as a handheld telephoto optic is the lack of image stabilization—something that the similar Sigma 150mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM APO Macro does include.

The lens is very long, but not overly wide—it measures 7.3 by 3.3 inches and is heavy at 2.4 pounds. A tripod collar, which wraps around the lens near its base, is included. It’s a good idea to use it rather than your camera’s tripod socket, as it evens out weight distribution to lessen the amount of stress placed upon the lens mount. Standard 72mm filters are supported, and the front element is stationery so using a polarizing filter is feasible. A lens hood and carrying case are included.

I used Imatest to check the sharpness of the lens when paired with the full-frame Canon EOS 6D. I also shot the lens with the APS-C Canon EOS Rebel T4i, whose smaller sensor gives the lens a field of view that is nearly 300mm, which came in handy at a baseball game. The lens puts up impressive sharpness figures—it notched 2,414 lines per picture height at f/3.5, well in excess of the 1,800 lines that mark a sharp photo. Performance increases a bit at f/8, where it hits 2,497 lines. Distortion is not a concern—there is only a negligible 0.2 percent shown in test results. The Sigma 150mm is not as sharp at f/2.8 at 1,843 lines, but it does hit 2,400 at f/4 and comes close to 3,000 lines at f/8.

Aside from the lack of image stabilization, which is not a concern when it comes to macro tripod work, there isn’t much negative to say about the Canon EF 180mm Macro f/3.5L. It’s expensive, but its price is not out of line for its class—the Sigma 150mm is priced at $1,600, although it often sells for much less, and Nikon’s similar AF-S Micro-Nikkor 200mm f/4D IF-ED costs nearly $1,800. If you can live with the slightly wider field, choosing the Sigma will add image stabilization without sacrificing magnification or sharpness at comparable apertures—but there’s very little chance that you’ll be disappointed by the images that this Canon macro lens can capture.

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Verdict
The EF 180mm Macro f/3.5L is a sharp telephoto macro lens for Canon D-SLRs. It supports 1:1 magnification, but lacks image stabilization.
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