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.