Canon EF 180mm L Macro

This is Canon’s offering in the long, medium telephoto macro area of interchangeable lenses. Long because it is about as long as true Macro lenses go although it is still only a medium telephoto lens in the overall picture. We take a look here at how it performs.

Canon 180mm f/3.5 MacroSpecification

  • Focal Length 180mm
  • Max aperture f/3.5
  • Min aperture f/32
  • Construction 14/12 elements/groups
  • Closest Focus 0.48m (1:1)
  • Filter size 72mm
  • Hood ET-78 (supplied)
  • Size 82.5x186.6mm
  • Weight 1.09kg
  • Price (RRP) £1129.00

Build and handling
This lens has the well-built feel and finish of Canon’s L range and gives the impression that it will last a lifetime. It is supplied fitted with a slightly chunky looking tripod collar that can only be removed with the lens off the camera. A control panel on the left of the barrel, just in front of the collar, contains two switches, one for the AF/MF and the other a focus limiter that can switch from the full range of 0.48m-infinity to 1.5m-infinity. This cuts down the focusing time when the lens is used as a normal medium telephoto. Next up is a broad manual focus ring that has a 44mm area of rubber ribbing attached. Last on the barrel is a distance window marked in metres and feet with the token (f/32 only) depth-of-field scale on it. The barrel increases slightly in diameter here before it reaches the front element and its 72mm filter thread.

Autofocus is achieved by ultrasonic motor and is almost silent in use. However, as with most Macro lenses, tracking through the full focus range is still a little slow. The limiter does speed the process up a tad, but don’t expect lightning. Once locked on, the focus is accurate.
The lens is possibly slightly heavy, but this is mostly due to the very solid metal barrel which gives it a bombproof feel.

Optical quality
F/3.5 does seem a strange point to start this lens off, especially as it is a macro lens that will, by it’s very nature, be used well stopped down. From f/4, the lens performs well at the centre with the aperture set wide, although there it softens towards the edges. From f/8 onwards the resolution is fairly consistent across the frame and with the legendary contrast and colour rendition of L class lenses it produces pleasing results that cannot really be criticized. All of the normal problems and awkward areas are well controlled and with a distortion reading of only 0.19% barrel that is invisible to the eye, there are no nasty surprises.


The focal length of this lens is ideal for natural history photography where a good distance to the subject is handy in not disturbing (or annoying) the subject, as seen here with these two images of wild native snakes taken on a Canon 20D

The full frame and a 100% crop from the yellow area shows the detail this lens is able to capture on this Essex Skipper. Shot at 1/200sec at f/8 and ISO200 on a Canon 20D

Click on each comparision photo below to view full size versions

180mm set at f/8

180mm set at f/3.5

Below is our lens test data. To find out how to use these graphs look at this article: How we test lenses

A lens that is obviously built to last a lifetime of hard work is the way I would describe this optic although the robustness leaves it looking a little chunky. It possibly goes some way to warranting the price, which is high. Optical output is at the high end of good for the type, although it is not outstanding.

I would like to see Canon develop a quick release mechanism for their tripod collars to make hand holding a little more comfortable. Having to remove the camera body, with today’s problems of dust getting on sensors, is not really on.

In summary, the positive points of the Canon EF 180mm L Macro are:
Superb build quality.
Good optical quality
Good contrast and colour with no distortion

The negative points are:
A little heavy.
Trapped tripod collar (when on camera)

Check the latest price for the Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L Macro here

Discuss this lens and other related lens subjects here

Test by Ian Andrews

By: Yannos 4797 days ago
Small problem: The church wall test picture here, and the one for the Sigma 180mm f3.5, are exactly identical, apart from some contrast - pixel for pixel. That is simply not possible with two different lenses. I have posted the same in the Sigma review.
By: keekimaru 2720 days ago
May I introduce you to one of the least know and yet most superb lenses Canon makes. You probably even stumbled on to this page by accident, looking for another Canon lens, looking at various macros, or even just intrigued by this higher-priced lens you've probably never even considered.

Let me just say this about this lens: Ultra sharp. Ultra colorful. Ultra contrast. Ultra solid.

Like everybody else, I initially bought this lens for its macro. The 60mm and 100mm options were a lot cheaper, but my collection is entirely L-class and I'd learned to trust putting gobs of money into the lenses with the red ring. So I put my money where my L-faith is and went with this lens. Needless to say, my faith was rewarded again.

Yeah, sure it's got the 1.0x macro capability, and this is important. But what I wasn't expecting was the image quality. It is unbelievably good. Now I'm not somebody who's taking his first trip into L land and comparing this lens to the $300 run-of-the-mill glass. I've used six L-class lenses significantly and I'm comparing this lens' image quality to THOSE.

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