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

Gary Wolstenholme puts the Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L Macro USM Lens to the test to find out how it performs.

|  Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L Macro USM in Interchangeable Lenses
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Handling and Features

Canon 180mm Macro L Lens (6) | 1/160 sec | f/14.0 | 35.0 mm | ISO 200

The Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L Macro USM is a telephoto macro lens which sports an ultrasonic focusing motor, internal focusing and a removable tripod collar and costs around £1249.

Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L Macro USM Handling and Features

Build and design is typical of Canon's L series lenses, with tough black plastics and metal used throughout. Unlike many other Canon telephoto lenses, this optic lacks any weather sealing, so appropriate protection is advised if shooting in inclement conditions. The lens balances well on the Canon EOS 1Ds MKIII used for testing, but may feel a little lens heavy on smaller EOS bodies.

Canon 180mm Macro L Lens (5) | 1/160 sec | f/14.0 | 35.0 mm | ISO 200

A metal tripod ring is supplied with the lens, which can be detached for hand-held shooting. The foot on the tripod ring isn't very deep, so an extender might be necessary to prevent the vertical grip on 1D series bodies fouling up on your tripod. This shouldn't be an issue with more compact bodies, so long as there isn't a vertical grip attached.

Canon 180mm Macro L Lens (4) | 1/160 sec | f/14.0 | 35.0 mm | ISO 200

Auto focus is powered by an Ultrasonic motor, and focusing is fast as a result at normal distances if the focus limiter is used appropriately. If not, the lens can get stuck hunting around nowhere near correct focus. Luckily manual adjustments can be made quickly at any point by turning the focus ring. The focusing ring is smooth and precise, which makes fine manual adjustments a pleasure to apply. Minimum focus is 48cm from the sensor plane, which gives a decent amount of working distance from your subject.

As focusing is performed internally, the 72mm filter ring does not rotate, and the lens does not extend. This is ideal for use with graduated and polarising filters.

Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L Macro USM Performance

Shooting at f/3.5 yields images with excellent sharpness in the centre of the frame and good sharpness towards the edges. Clarity across the frame improves as the aperture is stopped down up to f/8, where sharpness is outstanding across the frame.


How to read our charts

The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges. Averaging them out gives the red weighted column.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution. The taller the column, the better the lens performance. Simple.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Canon EOS 1Ds MKIII using Imatest.

Chromatic aberrations are very well controlled, barely exceeding half a pixel width at any aperture. This low level should be invisible, even in large prints and harsh crops from the edges of the frame.
Falloff of illumination towards the corners is also very well controlled. At f/3.5 the corners are only 1.36 stops darker than the image cetre and visually uniform illumination is achieved when stopped down to f/5.6 and beyond.


How to read our charts

Chromatic aberration is the lens' inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.

Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Canon EOS 1Ds MKIII using Imatest.

A very mild level of 0.453% pincushion distortion is present, which is virtually invisible without assistance. If lines need to be absolutely straight, you'll be glad to here that the distortion pattern is uniform across the frame, so should be easy to correct in image editing software afterwards.

Although no lens hood is supplied as standard with this lens, rarely suffers with flare and contrast remains high, even when shooting into the light.

Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L Macro USM Sample Photos

Value For Money

High quality lens from manufacturers don't usually come cheap, and this 180mm macro optic from Canon is no exception. With an asking price of around £1250, it is a serious investment.

The closest Sigma offer to this Canon optic is their 150mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM, which sports a slightly brighter maximum aperture and optical stabilisation for around £800.

Tamron offer a similarly specified 180mm macro lens. However their SP AF 180mm f/3.5 Di lens lacks a silent autofocus motor and full time manual focus override, but only costs around £700.

Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L Macro USM Verdict

Even though this 180mm macro lens from Canon costs a fair amount more than the competition, could it be a case of getting what you pay for?

The optical quality of this lens cannot be criticised. It takes pictures with excellent sharpness, beautiful background blur and low CA and falloff towards the corners. It's a shame Canon didn't see fit to include a lens hood for the price, and that the foot on the tripod collar is a little short. Saying that, hoods can be bought if needed, and extenders can be sourced for the tripod collar.

If this is a lens you will use a lot, it may well be worth the extra outlay for the superb optical quality and build alone.

  The Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L Macro USM delivers superb optical quality and build.

Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L Macro USM Pros

Good build quality
Excellent optics
Low falloff
Low CA
Low distortion

Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L Macro USM Cons

Foot on tripod collar may be too short to use with pro bodies
No hood supplied as standard
Price versus performance doesn't add up


Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L Macro USM Specifications

Lens Mounts
  • Canon EF USM
Focal Length180mm
Angle of View0 - 12
Max Aperturef/3.5
Min Aperturef/32
Filter Size72mm
35mm equivalentNo Data
Internal focusingYes
Maximum magnificationNo Data
Min Focus48cm
Box Contents
Box ContentsNo Data

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