Saw an "Open Box" Sigma EX 180/3.5 DG APO (IF) Macro at Adorama for well under $700 USD. I'd heard that this lens has been discontinued, at least in the K mount, the only online dealers that still apparently have stock had it priced at $899 -- and I've seen used examples going for @ $900-1K in the PF Marketplace. A couple of years ago, I passed on an EX graded A*200/4 Macro for $999, and have been kicking myself ever since as these and the FA*200/4 Macro have been commanding @ $2K or better lately. In the meantime, I've gradually built up all the possible scenarios that a lens like this would be good for, and I've rationalized myself into wanting one -- so I stuck it in the cart. I realized that this might be a return, but Adorama is a very reputable dealer, and I knew from previous experience that I could return it if there was anything I didn't like about it. . .
It arrived today -- with the original box, soft case, hood and caps, and all the papers (including warranty card), and plastic bags and such. The hood appears to never have been unpacked. 0 scratches or fingerprints -- looks like it had been opened, but never used. In my initial inspection, I noticed the aperture blades were sluggish so I got out a flashlight to look at them, but they didn't show any signs of oil on the blades. I then noticed that the aperture lever was bent inwards and was barely rubbing against the mount. I bent it back, so 5 seconds with a small screwdriver and all was snappy and well -- and I saved over $200 -- not a bad day's work. . .
It's slightly longer, and a little bigger in diameter than my FA*300/4.5, but the FA* is a bit heavier, probably due to the metal hood. The EX takes a 72mm filter while the FA* uses 67mm. The EX plastic hood is about .5" longer than the FA* -- all in all, they are really close in size, and I'm so used to carrying the FA*, that this lens should be pretty natural for me to carry and use. It uses the same short footed detachable tripod collar that the EX 300/2.8, EX 100-300/4, and 70-200/2.8 (I think) come with.
It was very cold and windy outside, so I limited myself to playing with it indoors, waiting until it got up to room temp. It has a focus limiter with 2 ranges -- 0.46-0.61m (18-24") and 0.67m (26") to infinity. The entire focus range takes up about 120 degrees of rotation on the focus ring. The macro range is about 65 degrees of rotation, so the normal tele focus range takes about a 55 degree turn. Both of these are pretty short, so the AF is pretty fast when the limiter is engaged, and even a full range hunt is a lot faster than one with the D FA 100 Macro (where lock to lock is about 275 degrees). I'm assuming it will be even faster in daylight, so this lens should be pretty quick outside for the tele range (fingers crossed).
From what I can see with the few shots I've taken just playing around, this lens is very
sharp wide open with little or no CA/PF (I'll reserve judgment on this though) -- and it's just as sharp at both tele and macro distances. I'd say as a tele lens, this guy is easily in the same class as my A*200/2.8 and Tamron 180/2.5, which puts it in very good company indeed!
At 1:1 macro, the focusing distance is a touch over 18" from the sensor plane. The lens is about 8" long, so there's a bit over 8" in front of the lens for working distance, and the lens has internal focusing, so it doesn't get longer at macro distances. This is far enough away to not only be a bit less scary for creatures, but it also allows use of the pop up flash without the lens (sans hood) casting a shadow at the bottom of the frame, despite the length of the lens. This will be very handy for opportunistic creature shooting while I'm out birding.
I was hoping that this would be a practical K20 2nd body lens, with the K7 and either a 300/2.8 or 4.5 with TC(s) as the primary. I think this will work out very nicely for my intended use.
The DOF wide open at full macro is, of course very narrow. I'm attaching three quick shots of the back of a quarter at f3.5,f6.3, and f14. All of these are jpegs straight from the camera, just resized. K7, EX180 macro, pop up flash with a Lumiquest Soft Screen diffuser, AF C, tripping the shutter at first lock.