Why this old and slow Sigma 180mm/5.6 APO Macro lens ?
When i bought a Fuji X-E1 it was to have a smaller and lighter system, so i try to keep the lenses small and light as well without compromising the IQ. The Fuji short registration distance is an advantage when you want to adapt older lenses. I already own a Tamron 90mm/2.8 Macro (1:1 ratio), so i wanted a longer Macro lens for photographing frogs or subjects that are difficult to get close. Then i remembered that Sigma did produced a 180mm/5.6 APO Macro in the film days. I was lucky to find a MF version in Olympus OM mount in good condition but without the lens hood, so i bought a rubber hood for it. I paid around 170$ Canadian for it, a good price for a Macro lens that long.
Sigma didn’t produced many of these probably due to the slow maximum aperture which was not that useful in film days when slow films were the norm to obtain better IQ, the f/2.8 version was probably more popular. But now with digital sensors a slow lens is more manageable, especially for a 180mm Macro lens that will be stopped down anyway to gain some DOF.
At only 435 gr. and a filter size of 52mm it’s a surprisingly small lens, if you compare it to my Tamron 90mm/2.8 Macro (model 72E) which is a 1:1 repro ratio lens and weights 403 gr. with a filter size of 55mm.
Here is the specifications of both lenses:
Sigma 180mm/5.6 APO Macro:
Tamron 90mm/2.8 Macro model 72E:
Handling and built quality
It’s clear that in those years Sigma lenses were not the best made lenses, i’ve owned other Sigma lenses made in the same years as this one and they all felt like this one. Good but not as well made as Pentax, Fuji or Canon that i’ve used. The aperture ring is not smooth in operation, but i can live with it, if i drop that lens i think it would not survive unlike some of my older Pentax lenses especially the Takumar M42 lenses !
The positive thing is that the focusing ring is large, which i like to have on my lenses, i hate those tiny small focusing rings that some AF lenses have. On my lens the focusing ring is not constant, when i turn it it goes from smooth to some tension and then back to smooth, maybe it would need some tune-up of the focusing system inside. In general it’s easy to use with the OM adapter on my X-E1 because it’s a lightweight lens, if i would have bought the newer 180mm f/3.5 version the combo would have been bigger and heavier.
Usually Macro lenses are sharp and choosing from one or another one is a matter of functionality but also of focal length. This Sigma certainly can deliver images with very good details when stopped down. At f/5.6 i think it’s the weakest aperture of that lens, but from f/8 to f/16 the lens produce very good images. Being an older lens that was design before the digital era, the contrast is lower than modern Macro lenses but it’s easily corrected in PP.
Just for fun i decided to take some test shots with this Sigma 180mm and my Tamron 90mm/2.8 Macro (model 72E) to really see how good it really is. I found dead leaves in my backyard as my subject and started at f/5.6 then f/8, f/11 and finally f/16. I was not surprised to see that the Tamron was the winner at f/5.6 since it was already stopped down 2 stops and the Sigma was W/O, if needed the Sigma can be used at f/5.6 since it’s good but not as good as the Tamron here. From f/8 to f/16 the Sigma closed the gap but i think the Tamron can still produce a little more details, but the Tamron 90mm Macro is one of the best Macro lens, in any of it’s versions that was made. Even then i think that the Sigma is more than sharp enough from f/8 to f/16 to be used without any problem, you just need a little more PP to bring some contrast in the photos.
As for the color reproduction, the Sigma has a colder rendering than the Tamron but again now with PP it’s easily corrected to your preferences. The Sigma can produce images with beautiful rendering and the Bokeh is not too bad either probably due to it’s 8 blades diaphragm.
That’s it for now, they are my first impressions after some weeks of using it in the field, i will post more photos in future articles. So, if you need more reach in your Macro work but don’t want to break the Bank, give this lens a serious look. The Sigma 180mm/5.6 APO Macro might not be the best in any department but certainly can deliver sharp and beautiful images when you have learned how to use it at it’s best settings. Sure the newer f/3.5 and f/2.8 versions from Sigma would certainly get you sharper photos but at a big cost in size, weight and price (especially the new f/2.8 version). So if you’re on a tight budget or don’t want a heavy 180mm Macro lens this f/5.6 version can be a very good option.
I took this week photo along a river that is on my way to my work, i had about 30 minutes to find a subject and get a good shot. I finally found that moss covered rock with the river in the background.
I went to a small pond where i knew i could found some Green Frogs and sometimes Bullfrogs at this time of the year. In just a small part i found about 6 Green frogs and was able to get the portrait of this one posted here.
Telephoto zoom lenses are very popular because of their versatility and space saving compared to having several prime lenses to cover the same range. I’ve owned some of them in different mounts, so when i switched to Fuji i wanted to cover the maximum range with the minimum lenses. So i bought the 18-55mm and not long after i bought the XF 55-200mm because of it’s attributes (aperture ring, built quality and OIS) and IQ. Sure the XC 50-230mm is smaller and lighter but i wanted the better IQ and built of the XF 55-200mm.
I will be talking on how this lens performs in the field as a Nature photography telephoto lens, covering landscape, close-ups and some wildlife. Telephoto zoom lenses in that range are very useful in my photography, a big part of what i photograph is covered by the XF 55-200mm.
Currently i’m using it on my X-E1 and mostly on a tripod, i would say that this lens is the limit in size and weight that i would use on this camera, bigger than this lens and it would require an X-T1 with a grip (which i plan to buy eventually). One of the reason i went with Fuji is because they have designed their system like the old days with an aperture ring on the lenses and direct dials on their cameras. As already pointed often in reviews and by users the aperture ring can be accidentally knock off from the aperture you had selected, but i don’t think it’s too bad as i always check the info in the EVF or on LCD before shooting to see my settings. With some time now after using it in the field i’m used to the balance of the lens on my X-E1 and it’s not too bad after all, sure not the best combo but worth it.
The lens hood have some play when installed, i bought a JJC hood but it also have the same loose fit, so Fuji still have some work to do on the lens hood locking system. Another thing is the zoom ring that is not too smooth, it’s on the stiff side but i prefer that than having a zoom ring that is too easy to turn and having a lens that suffers from zoom creep …. i really hate zoom creep because i’m mostly a tripod shooter so i’m pointing the lens up or down quite often to get the compositions i want in my photography and i want a lens that keeps steady during the exposure. On the plus side about the Zoom ring, i really like it’s rubberized finish, easy to grip and to differentiate it with the focusing ring. I would have liked the focusing ring and aperture ring to be like the XF 14mm but i guess we can’t have it all !
The lens focuses relatively close at 1.1 meter which is about the same as the Pentax DA*50-135mm/2.8 and Canon 70-200mm/4 L that i was using before i switched to the Fuji X system. You can get some good “close-up” shots and still maintaining good IQ (see crop below), the lens also performs really well at normal and long distances, for a zoom this is very good indeed. Sure a good prime lens in the same range might resolve more details at wider apertures but the convenience of that zoom wins over ultimate sharpness. Up to now i like how the lens performs in terms of color rendering and sharpness. That lens have nothing to envy to other brands top quality lens, i’ve owned Pentax DA*50-135mm/2.8, Canon 70-200mm/4 L and Sony 70-300mm G Series Telephoto zoom lenses and the Fuji is as good as all of them.
With Extension tubes
Well, when i bought it i was hoping to use my extension tubes with that lens to photograph Frogs when they are in the water and are difficult to get close. After using it on some occasions the results are not as good as i was thinking it would be. I tried the lens with my 2 extension tubes (with the 10mm or with both for a total of 26mm) to get closer focusing when photographing Frogs. The IQ in the center remains very good but even the in-focus areas in the borders and corners looks smeared, (see below the crop from the border of a photo of a frog) … btw the eye of the frog is perfectly sharp. I don’t know if it’s because the lens was designed to be close to the sensor are it doesn’t work well with extension tubes. I’ve never had such problems when using FF lenses with ext. tubes on my Pentax or Canon cameras, maybe it’s because it’s an APS-C lens or OIS and as the lens gets farther away from the sensor IQ of the corners suffers more ???
The next 2 photos of a small river near my home were taken on a cold morning (0°C), in fact it was our first time that we had frost on the ground during the month of September this year. It shows how useful is the XF 55-200mm for landscape photography because you can quickly change the composition, especially with fog it’s important to work rapidly because when the sun start to warm it up, the fog will quickly evaporate.
For the price i paid (550$ Canadian in sale for a brand new one) i think it’s a great buy ! Fuji did an excellent job with that lens, a good compromise between IQ, size, weight and maximum aperture. It’s a lens that i really like and is doing very well in the field when i need some reach for my landscape photography but also “close-up” and some wildlife. I don’t know if i will switch to the new XF 50-140mm WR when it will be available because i think i would probably miss the gap between 140-200mm ….. i was missing that gap when i was shooting with my Pentax DA*50-135mm.
This lens might not be for everyone, some will find it too big and heavy for their taste or use, but for me it ticks most cases. I would recommend that lens to any Fuji users because it’s a versatile lens backed by a very good IQ and renders beautiful images.
In the Autumn i like to go to Grenville-sur-La-Rouge and drive the dirt road along the Rouge River, it’s a beautiful place ! Along that river there is also smaller rivers and i always look at them to see if something interesting is worth shooting. This shot was taken when the sun was high enough to illuminate the yellow leaves of distant trees that reflected on the water surface.
I found this adult Green Frog in a shallow pond covered with autumn leaves, always good to photograph Frogs in different seasons.