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Tamron SP 180mm f/3.5 Di Macro LD-IF Review

by Bob Atkins, December 2013 (updated January 2014)


The Tamron SP 180mm f/3.5 Di LD (IF) 1:1 Macro Lens for Canon, (compare prices) is a macro lens that will focus down to 1x magnification. That means it will image an area 36mm x 24mm when used on a full frame (D)SLR or around 23mm x 15mm when used on a Canon APS-C DSLR. It’s also a regular 180mm telephoto lens of course (with full frame equivalent focal length of 288mm when used on a Canon APS-C DSLR). It’s available in mounts for Canon, Nikon and Sony (D)SLRs

The Tamron 180/3.5 has a couple of unusual features. First is the manual focus switching mechanism. When you push the focusing ring forward, the lens is in autofocus mode, but if you pull it back it switches to manual focus mode. This does make switching between AF and MF a little quicker than having to use a switch on the lens or camera since you’re already holding the focusing ring when you switch to manual focus. However you can’t really autofocus and then switch to manual focus without slightly changing the focus setting, since you inevitably turn the focusing ring slightly when pulling it back.

The second unusual feature is that there is a ring right at the front of the lens which turns the filter threads. This is very convenient when using a polarizer on the lens with the deep lens hood attached because otherwise you’d have to remove the hood to turn the polarizer!

The tripod collar can be removed, which makes handholding the lens a little easier.

The Tamron 180/3.5 does not have any image stabilization and the focusing motor is a regular geared motor, so it’s not as fast as an Ultrasonic motor and it makes more noise. For macro work while IS can be useful, it’s generally less effective than at longer focus distances and a tripod is almost always better. However IS for general use as a handheld telphoto lens would be quite useful.

The main advantage of a macro lens with a long focal length is that there is more distance between the subject and the lens when you are close focused at 1x magnification. This distance is called the “Working Distance” and is about 10" (25cm) for the Tamron 180/3.5 Macro. A longer working distance makes it easier to get light onto the subject and allows macro images of subjects (insects and small animals) that might be disturbed if the lens was closer to them.

Tamron 180mm f3.5 Macro Specifications

Focal Length 180 mm
Aperture Maximum: f/3.5, Minimum: f/32
Available Lens Mounts Canon, Nikon, Sony
Minimum Focus Distance 1.54ft (47 cm)
Minimum Working Distance About 10" (25cm)
Maximum Magnification 1x
Groups/Elements 11/14
Diaphragm Blades 7
Filter Thread 72 mm
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 3.3 × 6.5" (8.38 × 16.51 cm)
Weight 2.02 lb (920 g)

Tamron 180mm f3.5 macro LD-IF performance

The measured autofocus speed on an EOS 7D was 1.8s from closest focus to infinity. From 4ft to infinity (or infinity to 4ft) took just 0.35s. It’s unfortunate that the Tamron 180 macro doesn’t have a focus limiter switch, since if the camera has a problem finding focus or goes the wrong way when searching, it can take several seconds for it to rack through the focus range. Focus was accurate, even in the macro range, with occasional overshoot and correction being observed.

Vignetting at f3.5 on an EOS 5D full frame camera was about 1.3 stops with the lens focused at infinity and 0.3 stops at closest focus (1:1). Stopping down to f5.6 the vignetting at infinity focus was about 0.5 stops and at closest focus vignetting was less than 1/3 stop.

For a given light level, the Tamron 180 macro required about 2.3 stops more exposure at closest focus (1:1) than it did when focused at infinity. This is normal for macro lenses. Canon cameras display the physical aperture of the lens at all times (e.g. f3.5) rather than the effective aperture for metering (which in this case, at f3.5, would be around f8). Camera metering and auto exposure takes care of this of course, so there are no exposure issues, at least not unless you are using manual exposure with an external exposure meter.

 


Full image, EOS 5D, Tamron 180mm @ f16. Closest focus (1:1), 1/6s @ ISO800

 

Resolution on an EOS 7D at 1:1 was over 80 lp/mm from f3.5 to f8 with slight peaking at f5.6. At smaller apertures the effects of diffraction were visible and resolution decreased. F11 and f16 were not too bad, but at f22 the image was noticeably diffraction softened. For those who think in terms of LPPH (lines per picture height) 80 lp/mm would correspond to 2384 LPPH. This is more of a sensor limitation than a lens limitation since visual examination of the aerial image formed by the lens showed an intrinsic resolution of over 228 lp/mm (which is the group 7 element 6 limit of my USAF 1951 chrome on glass macro resolution target).

 


100% crop from image center. EOS 5D, Tamron 180/3.5 at f5.6, 1/1000s @ ISO 400

 

In the non-macro range the Tamron 180/3.5 contrast is a little lower at f3.5 than at f5.6 in the center of the frame but the resolution doesn’t change much. Optimum contrast and sharpness peaks at around f8 and I measured close to 90 lp/mm in the center of frames shot with the EOS 7D. F16 and especially f22 are noticeably diffraction softened. Image corners (full frame on EOS 5D) were slightly soft due to mild astigmatism and diminished contrast wide open, but sharpened up nicely on stopping down to f5.6 and were nearly equal to the center at f8.

 


Left: In focus at f3.5, Right: Out of focus at f3.5

 

The Bokeh (out of focus blur) produced by the Tamron 180/3.5 macro is quite smooth as can be seen from the illustration above.

 


100% crop from the corner of an APS-C 1:1 macro shot at f5.6 (taken using an EOS 7D)
Left: As shot, Right: After correction

 

Chromatic aberration is visible towards the corners of the frame, even the APS-C frame. The above image is a 100% crop of a 1:1 macro image at 80% of the distance from the center of the frame to the corner (EOS 7D, APS-C). The color fringing is 5-6 pixels wide, which is significant. CA can be minimized digitally by a number of image editors as shown on the right in the above image

Summary and Conclusions

The Tamron SP 180mm f/3.5 Di LD (IF) 1:1 Macro Lens for Canon, (compare prices) is a good lens, with high central resolution, even wide open at f3.5 and closest focus (1:1). Resolution holds up quite well even out to the edges of the frame, especially when close focused. At longer focus distances the corners wide open are a little soft but sharpen up well by f5.6. Distortion is very low and vignetting is well controlled at both normal and close focus distances. Even wide open at infinity focus, vignetting is only about -1.3 stops at the extreme corners of a full 35mm frame, which is pretty good. There is visible chromatic aberration, and that’s probably the most noticeable aberration of the Tamron 180 macro. However it can be minimized digitally if it proves to be a problem.

Focusing is rather slow, at 1.8 seconds from infinity to close focus (3.6 seconds for the “round trip”) and that could be an issue at times. There is no focus limiter so you can’t restrict focus to a smaller region (say 4ft to infinity – which only takes 0.35 seconds) when you know your subject will be at a particular range of distances (macro or non-macro). Focusing isn’t silent since the focus motor isn’t ultrasonic, though it’s not loud enough to be a problem in normal use.

The Tamron 180/3.5 macro is, as far as I know, the least expensive telephoto macro lens currently available by a significant margin. Other options (see below) are up to twice as expensive, though some of them have optical stabilization and all have ultrasonic focusing motors.

Alternatives

There are other similar focal length macro lenses available, but if you don’t need the large working distance of a 180mm macro lens, then I’d certainly look at a lens like the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro, (compare prices). The working distance drops from around 10" to around 6" at 1:1 imaging (which is still pretty good), but the 100/2.8 macro is smaller and has both IS and a USM motor. The Canon EF 180mm f3.5L Macro USM, (compare prices) (review) is very good, but about twice the price of the Tamron 180/3.5 macro. There was a Sigma AF 180mm f/3.5 EX HSM APO macro, but it’s been discontinued. The new Sigma 180mm f/2.8 EX DG IF HSM APO Macro, (compare prices) is priced about the same as the Canon 180/3.5L at about $1500.


Text and photos © 2014 Bob Atkins.

Article revised January 2014.

Readers' Comments


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M. Mehtar , January 10, 2014; 02:59 P.M.

The new Sigma 180mm macro with OS is f/2.8, not f/3.5. Also, there's a Sigma 150mm f/2.8 macro with OS as another option.

Bob Atkins , January 10, 2014; 07:01 P.M.

Thanks for the correction. The text has been edited. The old 180 Sigma lens was f3.5 but the new lens is f2.8.

 

Yes there is a Sigma Macro 150mm F2.8 EX DG HSM which is a little cheaper than the Canon and Sigma 180mm lenses (around $1100 VS $1500) at the cost of less telephoto capability and about a 2" shorter working distance than the Tamron 180/3.5.

Nathan Crawford , January 15, 2014; 12:33 P.M.

Comment on the tripod collar please. More then a few reviews have pointed to a flimsy tripod collar. Not so important for portraits but for natural light macro at f11 and upwards (typical f stop used in this type of work), the tripod collar is reported to not dampen vibration. Very similar to the issue with the nikon 300mm f4 ED lens tripod collar issue. The Tamron does not have a Third party replacement collar to overcome this deficiency. Suppose could do the annoying wine cork trick. Gets tedious because it has to be removed and replaced each time you wanna chang framing!

Derek Isaacs , January 16, 2014; 05:26 P.M.

Bob –
An absolutely ‘spot-on’ review!   As an owner of both the Tamron 180mm/and 90mmMacro lenses for Canon, I have been very pleased at the build, features, functionality and image quality of the lenses.  Perhaps due to my lack of experience – but I have not noticed much in the way of visible chromatic aberration in my images.
I agree that the focusing is slow, but as my subjects (flowers mostly, with the occasional Butterfly, bee or hummingbird)  this has not really been an impact to my image pursuits. I really do feel that the “Click out and Click in” (to change from Manual to Automatic focusing) is one of my favorite attributes of these lenses.
I chose the  Tamron 180 and 90mm macro lenses as they gave me the capability I needed in a price range I could afford. I have an Canon EF-S 60mm Macro lens for use only on my 7D, but the 90/180mm set has worked great for me on both my 7D and 5Dmkii bodies.

 

Regards -

Derek

Bob Atkins , January 17, 2014; 04:03 P.M.

Regarding the tripod collar, I'll admit I was unaware of any previously reported issues. However when using the lens I typically used the tripod collar to mount it and I had no issues with it. Testing included shooting resolution test charts using a rigid tripod at shutter speeds from around 1/8s to 1/500s and I didn't notice any resolution difference related to shutter speed. If there was some wobble or resonance in the system, the resolution tests would most likely have revealed it. Since I no longer have the lens I can't do any further testing. All I can say is that in my use I didn't see any problems.

James McDonald , January 18, 2014; 02:45 A.M.

Does this lens bear any relation to the original Tamron 180mm SP adaptall lens which was an expensive lens in its day, in fact more expensive than this lens when you factor in currency depreciation?

Bob Atkins , January 20, 2014; 04:00 P.M.

I doubt that the 180 macro manual focus adaptall mount lens is closely related to the current 180 macro AF lens. For one thing the earlier adaptall lens was f2.5, while the current AF lens is f3.5. Changing the maximum aperture would probably have required an optical redesign which may have included the use of newer types of glass as well as new optical optimization techniques. While both lenses no doubt incorporate floating element groups to compensate for the additional aberrations that appear when a lens is close focused, they are certainly not just the same lens in a different package.


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