Canon 180mm f/3.5 L
Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L Macro (Full-frame, 1.3x and and APS-C coverage, 72mm metal filter thread, 37.3 oz./1,057g lens only, 41.4 oz./1,173g with collar, 1:1 1.5'/0.48m close focus, about $1,450 after rebate). enlarge.
This ad-free website's biggest source of support is when you use those or any of these links to approved sources when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. It helps me keep adding to this free website when you get anything through these links — but I receive nothing for my efforts if you take the chance of buying elsewhere. Never buy at retail, since Canon doesn't seal its boxes so you can't tell if it's a used, returned or damaged lens or missing accessories. Thanks for your support! Ken.
Best Macro Lenses: an overview of what focal lengths and why.
Sample Images (many more in the review) top
This EF 180mm f/3.5 L macro is Canon's sharpest lens. While all Canon lenses are sharp, if you like to split pixels and try to force lenses into situations where you can see slight differences in sharpness, no other Canon lens is as sharp as this one.
Based on my own testing as well as Canon's MTF curves, it's sharper than every Canon ultrawide, sharper than every Canon normal and sharper than every Canon zoom lens of any range.
It's sharper than every other Canon Macro lens.
It's sharper than every other black Canon lens.
It's sharper than every Canon lens less than 300mm.
This lens is ultra sharp at every distance, even wide-open.
The only Canon lenses as sharp or marginally better are some of Canon's five-digit price tag ultra-telephoto fixed lenses like the 300/2.8 L IS II, 400/2.8L IS II, 400/4 DO IS II, 500/4 L IS II, 600/4 L IS II and 800/5.6L IS.
If you can't get a sharp photo with this lens, you're doing something wrong. It needs to be held still; mirror lockup will help when shot at speeds between 1/4 to 1/30. Its long focal length will show clearly any atmospheric heat shimmer typically when shooting at distances longer than about 50 feet (15 meters) outdoors.
Better than optical perfection (almost all lenses are imperfect and more than good enough to make great photos), this lens is an all-metal mechanical masterpiece. The only plastic is the dinky bayonet hood.
Just move the focus ring at any time for instant manual-focus override.
This is a full-frame lens, so it works on all formats.
Full frame lenses are at their best on full-frame, which is how I will be reviewing it.
You can make the usual inferences when used on smaller sensors.
This works perfectly with every Canon EOS camera ever made, meaning every Canon DSLR and every Canon autofocus film camera made since 1987.
Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L. enlarge.
Canon calls this the CANON LENS EF 180mm f/3.5 L ULTRASONIC.
EF means "electronic focus;" there is an autofocus motor inside the lens.
L means as expensive as L.
ULTRASONIC means that the focus motor operates reasonably silently.
Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L internal diagram. UD Glass.
The front element is concave; it curves in from the front!
14 elements in 12 groups.
Three elements are of UD glass, designed to increase sharpness and eliminate secondary color fringes.
Internal 18 focussing.
When used on an APS-C camera, it sees an angle of view similar to what a 300mm lens sees when used on an FX or 35mm camera.
Angle of View, full frame
Canon 180mm f/3.5L at f/3.5. (EF diaphragm not visible).
8 straight blades.
Stops down to f/32.
Aperture range is always f/3.5 to f/32 as indicated on your camera, even though the effective aperture gets smaller as focussed closer.
Close Focus top
1.5 feet (0.48m) from the image plane.
Working Distance top
1.12 feet (13.5" or 0.34m) between front of lens and subject at 1:1.
Maximum Reproduction Ratio top
1:1 (1.0 x), lens alone.
1:1 means life-size, or that the image at the sensor is the same size as the subject.
Hard Infinity Focus Stop? top
Focus Scale top
Depth-of-Field Scale top
Not really, it has two marks next to each other for f/32.
Infra-Red Focus Index top
Close-Up Lenses, Tubes and Converters top
Canon specifies 3.2" (82.5 mm) diameter by 7.3" (186.6 mm) extension from flange.
41.360 oz. (1,172.6g), lens with collar as shown.
37.285 oz. (1,057.0g), lens alone without collar.
4.075 oz. (115.6g), Tripod Mount Ring B (B) only.
Canon specifies 38.4 oz. (1,090g).
It's the same hood as included with the EF 135mm f/2 L.
Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L with hood attached. enlarge.
Tripod Collar top
Tripod Mount Ring B (B) is included.
If lost, it's $140 to replace it.
Canon includes a zippered and velcro closing padded nylon LZ1324 case.
Included LZ1324 case.
This is a very useful sturdy padded case. You can use the double-handled zipper for solid closing, and once open, there's velcro on the top for shot-to-shot open and closing. Bravo!
Back of LZ1324 case.
Bottom of LZ1324 case. bigger.
Canon Model Number top
Price, USA top
2015 January: $1,450 after rebate.
Box, Canon 180/3.5 Macro. bigger.
The Canon 180mm f/3.5 L is Canon's sharpest lens, is easy to focus at any distance, is superbly made of all metal, and has no distortion.
The 180/3.5 is optical and mechanical perfection for use as a telephoto, portrait, nature and landscape lens, as well as being Canon's best macro lens ever.
Autofocus is fast enough for normal use.
Autofocus isn't very good; because of the huge range of focus distances covered by this lens, if you're not already in about the same range of focus, your camera may simply give up and not autofocus until you manually move the lens into the correct region. Use the Focus Limiter and this ought not be a problem, but overall this lens' autofocus is among Canon's worst. That's OK, because we focus manually in macro anyway.
It is extremely difficult for any lens to get autofocus to work well over such a huge range, and if you get the lens to the correct range manually, all is fine. If you don't want this inconvenience, then use a different lens for general use.
Autofocus is always dead-on.
Just grab the ring anytime for instant manual-focus override.
Macro shots are usually made with manual focus.
It takes 210º to turn from ∞ to the closest distance.
Sadly, I find that manual focus is geared more for speed than precision, and therefore it is more difficult to set the correct focus manually because I need to be so careful with small movements of the manual focus ring.
The manual focus ring is fine, but considering what a critical control it is for a macro lens, it should be much bigger since it's so important.
Bokeh, the quality of out-of-focus areas as opposed to the degree of defocus, is swell.
Backgrounds get very soft and never distract. This, and better facial rendering than shorter lenses shot more closely, are why 180mm lenses are great choices for portrait lenses.
Here's a full-frame sample. Click for the camera-original JPG:
At f/3.5. Camera-original © file.
Canon makes a very high quality dual-element close-up lens, the 72mm Canon 500D, which screws on the front.
It lets you get magnifications from 0.36x to 1.48x.
Canon suggests not using autofocus with the close-up lens.
There is no coma.
It's sharp right out to the corners, even at f/3.5.
There is no measurable distortion at all normal distances, and only the slightest invisible pincushion distortion at macro distances.
For more critical use in the macro range, use these values in Photoshop's Lens Distortion tool to remove it:
© 2015 KenRockwell.com. All rights reserved.
Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L ULTRASONIC.
Ergonomics are great for normal use. Focus and everything is great.
Manual focus moves with just a fingertip.
For macro use, I find manual focus a little bit too fast, making it more difficult to set precise focus than I would prefer.
Canon suggests not using autofocus with extension tubes.
Canon EF-12 (12mm long)
You can use the Canon EF-12 or Canon EF12 II, however all it does is shift your focus range to 0.477 ~ 2.930 meters, with a magnification range from 1.09x ~ 0.07x.
In other words, the EF12 is a waste of time unless you really need to get just 10% closer than you can without the tube.
Canon EF-25 (25mm long)
The Canon EF-25 or Canon EF25 II doesn't do much more.
It lets you focus from 0.48~1.501 meters, with magnifications of 1.21x ~ 0.15x.
Again, I'd skip this tube unless you need just a little help getting just a bit bigger than life size.
Falloff is invisible. It's invisible wide-open, and gone by f/5.6, even without a lens correction profile and regardless of focus distance or reproduction ratio.
I've greatly exaggerated this by presenting it against a gray background. In actual photography, it's completely invisible.
There's no problem with vignetting, even using a stack of ordinary 72mm filters.
I shot it straight into the sun as seen under Sunstars, and had no problems.
Focus breathing (the image changing size as focused) is mostly of interest to cinematographers who don't want the image changing size ("breathing") as the lens is focused among different subjects.
The image from the 180 macro gets much larger as focussed more closely.
There are no lateral color fringes, even without a lens profile on full frame.
This is superb, and as expected for such a lens.
There is little depth of field at macro distances with all macro lenses.
If we photograph flat things, we can get amazingly sharp results even wide-open:
Damp fabric at a few feet wide-open at f/3.5 at 1/500 hand-held at ISO 100 on full-frame 5D Mark III, 22 December 2014. Full resolution 5D Mark III file.
Window shade at a few feet wide-open at f/3.5 at 1/1,000 hand-held at ISO 100 on full-frame, shot through window glass, 22 December 2014. Full resolution 5D Mark III file.
Macro at 1:1
There is zero depth of field at 1:1 with all macro lenses. Therefore only the face of this watch is in focus. The hands are out of focus, the hour markers and tachymeter scales are out of focus, and the numbers in the date window are out of focus, all because they rise up from or descend down from the face of the watch.
Crop from above at 100%. If this is about 6" (15cm) on your screen, printing the complete image at this same high magnification would result in a 40 x 60" (100 x 150 cm) print! Full resolution 5D Mark III file.
What looks like noise is the precise surface texture of the watch.
If you look at the full resolution file, what seems like fuzziness and color fringes on the sides is actually the optical limitations of the watch's crystal so clearly captured by this lens.
Shot wide-open at f/3.5 at 1:1 it has some slight spherochromatism ("color bokeh"), and this goes away by f/5.6.
In fact, this lens is essentially diffraction limited by f/5.6, which is its sharpest aperture at 1:1.
All lenses change their effective f/number as focussed more closely. It's only noticeable when we focus lenses to macro distances.
This is this lens' weakest point. This lens does not compensate automatically for the the normal exposure loss that almost all macro lenses exhibit as focussed more closely.
This makes no significant difference at normal distances, but at macro distances can make lenses a stop or two slower than they are at infinity. Look through the finder, and you'll see the image get darker as focused much closer. This is normal.
This is no problem for shooting in any automatic mode as most people do at normal distances, but will result in different exposures as you change distance once you set a fixed exposure manually as pros often do in macro or studio settings.
I shoot most of my macro in a studio with studio strobes at fixed power in manual exposure. With this lens, I have to change my aperture setting slightly as I change distance to keep my exposure constant.
This is why I prefer to shoot the Nikon in my studio, since Nikon cameras and lenses compensate for this automatically — even in manual exposure. If I set f/22 on this Canon lens and focus more closely, it can be a stop or more underexposed, while with Nikon cameras and lenses, they compensate and give the same exposure.
Don't let me scare you away from this lens since most of you always shoot in automatic — or with TTL flash, but if used with everything set manually and you need to change distances significantly, you will have to change your aperture setting to get the same effective exposure at each distance.
You can ignore this with auto and manual TTL exposure, but it must be heeded when used with manual studio strobes or external exposure meters.
See more on page 8 of Canon's manual.
The Canon 180mm f/3.5 L is an all-metal jewel.
Printed on plastic ring on outside front of lens.
Rubber covered metal.
Looks like all metal.
Engraved into bottom rear of barrel near the mount, and filled with white paint.
Printed on rear light baffle as shown above.
Mine has date code UB0914, meaning my sample was made in Canon's Utsunomiya plant in September 2013.
Rear Gasket (moisture seal at mount)
Noises When Shaken
Made in Japan.
Image sharpness depends more on you than your lens, and lens sharpness doesn't mean much to good photographers. It's the least skilled hobbyists who waste the most time blaming fuzzy pictures on their lenses, while real shooters know that few photos ever use all the sharpness of which their lenses are capable due to subject motion and the fact that real subjects are rarely perfectly flat.
I've covered this above: the 180mm f/3.5 is Canon's sharpest lens, essentially diffraction limited even wide-open.
If you can't get an ultrasharp image from this lens, you're doing something wrong. It could be haze or heat shimmer in warm weather, or subject or camera motion, or the simple fact that there is no depth of field at f/3.5 at 180mm and that your subject is three dimensional. See also Fixing unsharp images.
Here's Canon's MTF curve, which shows engineers just how nearly perfect it is:
Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L MTF Curve.
Spherochromatism, sometimes called "color bokeh" by laymen, is a minor aberration which can add slight color fringes to out-of focus highlights.
There is no spherochromatism at normal distances.
There is slight spherochromatism at 1:1, which goes away by f/5.6.
With its straight 8-bladed diaphragm, this Canon 180mm f/3.5 makes 8-pointed sunstars on brilliant points of light.
Canon 180mm f/3.5 L Macro sunstars at f/11. bigger.
Canon 180mm f/3.5 L Macro sunstars at f/32.
Canon EF Extender 1.4x II
It works with the Canon EF Extender 1.4x II, making it a 252mm f/5.
More importantly, the 1.4x converter lets you get to 1.4x life size. You can fill a full-frame sensor with a subject just 17 x 26 millimeters.
Only the more central autofocus zones work on DSLRs like the 5D Mark III. They won't all display; it's as if you have fewer autofocus areas covering only a smaller region towards the center.
Autofocus doesn't work very well with the 1.4x converter. Autofocus wins no prizes without the converter either, and with the converter, often gets stuck or confused.
Once you get focus, it is extremely sharp.
Canon EF Extender 2x II
The Canon EF Extender 2x II makes this a 360mm f/7.1.
More importantly, the 2x converter lets you get to twice life size. You can fill a full-frame sensor with a subject just 12 x 18 millimeters!
There is no autofocus on a 5D Mark III or other modern DSLRs. All the autofocus zones blink as you press the shutter halfway, but they don't do anything.
Focus manually, which is what we do when shooting macro anyway, and it works fine, even if the finder is dark and we have no focus aids other than the ground glass.
The tripod collar won't win any prizes.
It isn't very smooth.
It has some play (slop) when not locked.
It does not have 90º clicks.
You have to take the lens off the camera and then slip it off the back of the lens to remove it, and when you do, there are a few metal nubs left on the lens that are not comfortable to grip.
See also Best Macro Lenses for an overview of all available macro lenses.
This is Canon's best macro lens ever. Most importantly its longer focal length allows us to stand back for better perspective and more room so we don't block our lighting.
Versus the Canon 100mm /2.8 L IS
The 100mm f/2.8 L IS is mostly plastic. Image Stabilization serves no purpose for serious macro shooting with strobes or flash.
100mm is too short to get the best perspective rendering. You have to get too close to get close, and not only is the perspective inferior to a 180mm lens, you block too much of your light.
The 100 L is for girly men; who wants to pay top dollar for a plastic lens? Serious macro is shot with flash or studio strobes, so Image Stabilization serves no purpose.
Versus the Canon 100mm /2.8 USM
The 100mm f/2.8 USM is also plastic and too short for serious use.
However at half or one-third the price of the other lenses, it's an excellent choice on a budget. Real macro shooting doesn't need IS.
Versus the Nikon 200mm f/4 AF-D
The Nikon 200/4 AF-D Macro is much better.
Both the Canon 180 and the Nikon 200 are all metal and optically fantastic.
The Nikon has better manual focus. It has a bigger focus ring, and focus is more precise for macro use. This Canon's manual focus moves too quickly for careful adjustment.
Critical for me in a studio environment with manual studio strobes and manual exposure is that this Canon lens does not compensate for varying exposure factors with distance, while Nikons do. As I change distance from my tabletop setup I have to change the aperture on this Canon lens, but not with my Nikon cameras and lenses.
Some people are confused because the indicated aperture range changes with the distance with the Nikon lens, while it's always f/3.5-32 on this Canon. The problem is that the Canon is designed so no one returns it as defective as happens with Nikon macros when people want to know why it won't go larger than f/4.7 at close distances, while with this Canon and manual exposures, you get darker pictures more closely if you don't change the apertures manually as you change distance.
When used on any autofocus Nikon, the Nikon 200 automatically compensates and keeps its effective aperture constant as you get closer, while the Canon does not.
The Nikon's tripod collar does not come off, while Canon's does.
The Nikon 200 Micro has a solid metal hood which is so sturdy I hold it as if it's part of the lens, while Canon's hood is crappy plastic.
Canon 180/3.5L. bigger.
Controls, Canon 180mm f/3.5 L.
AF — MF
Use AF for normal shots.
In AF, it autofocuses, and you can grab the focus ring at any time for instant manual focus override.
M is manual focus only and locks-out autofocus. Use M when shooting macro, for which manual focus works better when photographing 3-D subjects. In manual, just look at the ground glass and focus snaps-in much faster than diddling around with moving AF points around.
Focus Range Limiter
Use the 1.5m-∞ range for normal shots. It prevents the AF system from getting lost looking very close.
Use the 0.48m-∞ range when shooting macro.
Close-Up Lenses, Tubes and Converters
These let us get even closer.
This is THE lens for shooting macro with Canon. When you need to get close, you need a lens this long so you can stand back far enough from your subject to render it in natural perspective, and not block your light.
As Canon's sharpest lens, if you're a tripod-using nature and landscape shooter, this is your lens. It's not good for random handheld use in available light since it has no image stabilization. It is extraordinary when held still for all other uses.
If you need to get even closer than life-sized, consider Canon's special near-microscopic lens, the Canon MP-E 1~5x Macro.
If you've found the months I've spent researching and sharing all this, please know that this ad-free website's biggest source of support is when you use those or any of these links to approved sources when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. It helps me keep adding to this free website when you get anything through these links — but I receive nothing for my efforts if you take the chance of buying elsewhere. Never buy at retail, since Canon doesn't seal its boxes so you can't tell if it's a used, returned or damaged lens.
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21 December 2014