Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L USM Macro Lens Review

The Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L USM Macro Lens is Canon's longest macro lens. This lens offers the longest 1:1 macro working distance of any Canon lens and produces a beautifully smooth out of focus background. Another distinction the 180 L has is that it is currently the Canon's longest and heaviest black lens. This is an L lens, so addictingly excellent build quality comes along with this weight.

ModelWeightDimensions w/o HoodFilter
Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens11.8 oz(335g)2.9 x 2.7"(73.0 x 70.0mm)52mm
Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens14.3 oz(405g)2.8 x 3.8"(71.0 x 97.0mm)55mm
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro Lens21.1 oz(600g)3.1 x 4.7"(79.0 x 119.0mm)58mm
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 L IS USM Macro Lens22.1 oz(625g)3.1 x 4.8"(77.7 x 123mm)67mm
Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro Lens15.8 oz(450g)2.9 x 3.7"(74.0 x 95.0mm)58mm
Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM Macro Lens32.0 oz(895g)3.1 x 5.4"(80.0 x 137.0mm)72mm
Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L USM Macro Lens38.4 oz(1090g)3.2 x 7.3"(82.5 x 186.6mm)72mm
Sigma 180mm f/3.5 EX DG APO HSM Macro Lens33.6 oz(965g)3.2 x 7.1"(80.0 x 182.0mm)72mm
Tamron SP 180mm f/3.5 Di LD Macro Lens32.0 oz(921g)3.3 x 6.5"(84.0 x 165.0mm)72mm

Canon Macro Lenses Size Comparison

Pictured above from left to right are the Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens, Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM lens and Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L USM lens. The 180 is shown with its included tripod ring and an optional Wimberley P20 Lens Plate.

Canon (as of this writing) states "Advanced USM for high-speed, quiet AF" on their website description of this lens. The person who wrote this never used this lens. There are few (if any) Canon lenses that focus slower than this one. Though it has Ring USM (Ultrasonic Motor) and focuses quietly, the 180 L' AF is anything but high speed. Fast AF is generally not important for a macro lens being used for macro purposes (MF is frequently used), but this lens can very easily be used as a normal 180mm telephoto lens. And for this purpose, fast AF could be very useful. A focus limiter switch enables the minimum focus distance to be restricted to 1.5m or full range (.48m to infinity). You will likely want to use this switch if your subject is not close. As slow as AF is on this lens, it seldom bothers me during use.

The frequently-used-for-macro-photography manual focus ring is nicely-sized, smooth rotating and well damped. FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is enabled. This is an internally focusing lens - when the subjects are close, it is very helpful to have a lens that maintains a constant length as this one does.

I really like the image quality this lens delivers. Colors and contrast are very nice. Very slight pincushion distortion will not be noticed in most pics. Minor light fall-off is apparent wide open (f/3.5), but it is mostly a non-factor after that. An 8-blade aperture helps the 180mm focal length to create a beautifully-blurred background - especially with macro-distance subjects.

Canon's macro lenses are all very sharp - and the Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L USM Macro Lens is no exception. The 180 L is sharp wide open, from center to full frame corners, with little improvement when stopped down. Since DOF (Depth of Field) is so shallow at near-life-size (1:1) magnifications, very narrow apertures are often used to keep as much of the subject in focus as possible. And since diffraction begins to reduce image sharpness at and beyond the camera's DLA (Diffraction Limited Aperture), the aperture chosen for the best results often ends up being a compromise between necessary DOF and desired image sharpness.

Because narrow apertures are frequently used in macro photography, light becomes an issue. This issue is generally resolved with longer shutter speeds or added light. Longer shutter speeds require a tripod (as well a motionless subject), and the added light is usually in the form of a flash (or studio lights). The 180 L's included tripod ring can be a great asset for both - it makes tripod use much easier and readily accepts certain macro flash brackets. Flash as the main light is the solution that will stop both subject motion and camera shake as the flash of light happens extremely fast. Of course, using a tripod and a flash is often the best solution.

ModelMFDMWDMM12mm ET25mm ET1.4x2x
Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens7.9"(200mm)3.5"(90mm)1x1.28x1.61xNN
Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens11.4"(290mm)3.9"(99mm)1xYY
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro Lens12.0"(300mm)6.0"(150mm)1x1.19x1.39xNN
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 L IS USM Macro Lens11.8"(300mm)5.9"(146mm)1x1.17x1.37xNN
Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro Lens12.2"(310m)4.8"(122mm)1xNN
Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM Macro Lens15.0"(380mm)7.6"(194mm)1xYY
Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L USM Macro Lens19.2"(480mm)9.5"(240mm)1x1.09x1.21xYY
Sigma 180mm f/3.5 EX DG APO HSM Macro Lens18.0"(460mm)1xYY
Tamron SP 180mm f/3.5 Di LD Macro Lens18.5"(470mm)1xYY

I mentioned early in this review that the Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L USM Macro Lens has the longest 1:1 macro working distance of any Canon lens. A minimum focus distance of 1.6' (0.48m) (measured from the sensor) is necessary to achieve the 1x maximum magnification. At this distance, the subject is imaged life size on the sensor - which makes the subject much larger than life size on even a small 4x6 print. Adding 12mm and 25mm Extension Tubes yields a 10% and 20% maximum magnification gain respectively to 1.09x and 1.21x. Infinity focus is lost when extension tubes are used - not a significant issue when shooting at macro distances.

A much greater magnification gain can be achieved with extenders. The 180 L is compatible with the Canon EF 1.4x Extender II and the Canon EF 2x Extender II - increasing the magnification (to 1.4x and 2x) and increasing the usefulness of this lens for a relatively small additional amount of money. The 1.4x adds barrel distortion, adds CA and reduces image sharpness slightly. Stopped down to typical narrow macro apertures, the 180 + 1.4x combo works quite well. I am not as happy with the results from the 180 + 2x combo as sharpness takes another hit. The 180 + 1.4x will AF on 1-Series bodies only and the 180 + 2x will not autofocus even on a 1-Series body.

The 180 L comes packaged with a Canon ET-78II Lens Hood and a nice padded Canon LZ1324 Case. Like many of Canon's other L primes, this lens takes 72mm filters.

Canon Telephoto L Lens Comparison

In the above comparison picture from left to right are the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM Lens, Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L USM Lens, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM Lens and the Canon EF 300mm f/4.0 L IS USM Lens.

If you do not need a macro lens, I suggest you consider the Canon EF 200mm f/2.8 L USM Lens. It is smaller, faster (both AF and aperture), less expensive and delivers image quality that is at least as good. But, macro photography can be really fun and impressive results are easily achieved. There are always interesting macro subjects crawling around - or at the local flower shop.

So, which macro lens should you choose? Good question.

Choosing the right focal length is probably the first criteria. Longer focal length macro lenses generally give you more distance-to-subject working space for the same subject framing. Insects will often be frightened away at the Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro lens' 3.5" or so (9cm) 1:1 working distance. The Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens allows about 6" (15cm) and the Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L USM Macro Lens allows about 9.5" (24cm) of working distance at 1:1 magnification.

The focal length also affects other macro photography aspects. Longer focal lengths require more distance to acquire the same subject framing. The result is a change of perspective - the telephotos compress/flatten the subject features more than short focal lengths. The wider angle of view of the short focal length macro lenses mean that more of the background will be in the picture - and that the background will be less-diffusely blurred. Picture what I am talking about ...

Focal Length Background Blur Comparison

The pictures above were taken with three macro lenses (180mm L, 100mm and 60mm). They are identically framed using the same aperture setting (f/16) and have identical subject to background distances. DOF (Depth of Field) is not different (same framing, same aperture = same DOF until closer to the hyper-focal distance), but perspective/compression and angle of view are very different. The 180mm lens shows only a small physical area of background subject that is compressed/enlarged to magnify the blur. Background subjects in the 60mm picture appear to be more in focus. They are not - they are just about as blurred, but they appear much smaller in the picture - and there are more of them because of the 60mm's angle of view. This gives a less diffuse looking background blur. If you are using a backdrop (such as rolled paper), the background blur aspect might not be important to you. It is easier to find a pleasing background for a 180mm macro picture because there is less background in an identically-framed shot.

If your goal is the ultimate nature macro photos, there is probably not a better choice than the Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L USM Macro Lens.

If you are looking for a great general purpose lens that also does 1:1 macro, consider the much less expensive Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens. It focuses much faster, has similar image sharpness and comes in a better portrait and general use focal length. The 100mm macro is handholdable at lower shutter speeds than the 180 (about 1 stop lower at comparable apertures) when flash is not used as the main light. It offers excellent optical performance and middle of the road focal length, working distance and size/weight. The 100mm macro is bargain-priced while the 180 L is priced in the serious-photographer-only range. The 100mm focal length makes a decent medium-to-tight portrait lens as well.

Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L USM Macro Lens Compared to Canon Macro Lenses

Three great macro lenses. Shown above from left to right are the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens, Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM Macro Lens and Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L Macro USM Lens. Use the mouse-over text links under the image to see the lenses with their hoods in place. The much less expensive but nearly as long Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM Macro Lens is worth consideration.

Although the newer Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 L IS USM Macro Lens has a place in my heart, the Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L USM Macro Lens is my primary macro lens. All of the images in the Lens Specifications and Measurements Tool are shot with a semi-permanently locked-down 180 L. I use my second 180 L for product images, flower and insect closeup pictures and various other tasks. It performs excellently for me.

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My Recommended Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L USM Macro Lens Retailers
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