Sigma Versus Canon Macro Shoot-off: Can You Tell the Difference?

Sigma Versus Canon Macro Shoot-off: Can You Tell the Difference?

Once upon a time, Sigma was a brand thought of by many as the compromise lens if you couldn't afford the household names. Times have changed, though, and Sigma has gone beyond offering competitive lenses to making remarkable lenses and even some notable industry firsts. Being a photographer who works heavily in product work, I decided to put the Sigma 70mm f/2.8 DG Macro Art lens in a shoot-off against the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro, and the results were... well, read on and find out for yourself! 

Before we dive in, I'm going to give you a pop quiz. I will place three images side-to-side for you to guess which was shot with Canon and which was shot with Sigma. These are SOOC (straight out of camera) images with no retouching. 

One is shot with Sigma and one with Canon- can you tell which is which?

Keep your answers nearby, and we will come back to them at the end.

Now, let me introduce you to the Sigma 70mm f/2.8. It's a light, weather-sealed lens designed for image clarity and true 1:1 magnification for macro photography. After photographing with it for three days, I was unexpectedly impressed with the lens. The truth is, there were some occasions in which I had to turn my camera around to see which lens I actually had on. They both weighed the same amount: 515 g / 18.2 oz. They both photographed sharp, clear, and crisp images. It wasn't until I looked at them in post that I could detect some small differences. 


The sharpness between the two seemed nearly indistinguishable to me, which surprised me, because my Canon 100mm is one of my most beloved lenses because of its impeccable clarity. There was one point of differentiation when it came to sharpness. When working on the creme gel macro-texture, the Canon lens struggled to focus. I put the focal point on a highlight in an attempt to give it a higher contrast point, but it did a lot of searching due to the low contrast of the subject. I was frustrated. The Sigma, on the other hand, did not focus-search and took the images quite effortlessly. When reviewing the images on my computer, I discovered that although the Canon lens searched aggravatingly for its focus, it delivered perfectly sharp images on every shot. The Sigma lens, which gave me no problems focusing, delivered a handful of images out of focus, but only about 15-20%. The other 80%+ were impeccable in their quality. 

The Surprising, Disappointing Discovery

Just as I was wrapping up my in-studio work, I had one last image on my checklist: my macro texture. For this shot, I reached for my extension tube. If you're unfamiliar with extension tubes, you can read my article here. I shot some beautiful ultra-macros with it and then reached for the Sigma for a few comparison shots. To my surprise, it refused to focus. Categorically, absolutely refused. After troubleshooting and researching, I discovered that the Sigma 70mm is a focus by wire lens. Focus by wire means that the focusing is not mechanically coupled with the focus ring on the barrel. Instead, electronic signals from the autofocus system or the focus ring are received by the focusing motor to achieve focus. Focus by wire lenses are reputed for performing better with autofocus, delivering faster and quieter focusing. This type of focusing system, though, is reputed to underperform in manual focusing, and in my case, with the extension tube, I wasn't able to focus at all. Speaking with a Sigma rep at Imaging USA, I learned that they offer a conversion lens, which functions similarly to extension tubes, amplifying the focal length by 1.2x. 


Going into this shoot-off, I intentionally didn't look at the price difference. Once the entire experiment was over and I had made my opinions on the lenses, I looked up the price point of the Sigma. Based on how competitively it performed I expected it to be slightly less expensive, maybe two or three hundred less. The Canon 100mm f/2.8 is priced at $1,299. To my astonishment, the Sigma 70mm f/2.8 came in at a shocking value of only $569 — 57% lower!

Shoot-off Results

Now, having all your facts and technical details, the real test: can you see the difference in the images? It's easy to get geeky with technical jargon about focusing mechanisms and optical designs, but for many of us, it comes down to two simple things: performance and cost. Grab your answers and find out: could you actually tell which lens costs more than double the other?

Closing Thoughts

To me, the difference in the image quality ranged from minor to indistinguishable. It almost pains me to say this, as I'm a serious member of the Canon fan club, but the reality is that the Sigma 70mm is a seriously badass lens. Many times, I had to turn my camera around and look to see which lens I actually had on my camera. It weighed the same, and it shot quietly and sharply. Coming in at less than half the price, it's clear that Sigma has proven that it is producing state-of-the-art lenses at shockingly valuable prices. Am I applying to be a Sigma rep? Not yet. But if I find myself in charge of too many more gear comparisons with the brand, I may feel a little bit like a wayward lover. Sigma delivered a top-of-the-line lens here and made me rethink my perception of the brand entirely. 

How did your pop quiz go? Were you correct in identifying which image was shot with Canon and which was shot with Sigma? Have you ever used a Sigma lens? If so, what were your impressions? If you haven't, why haven't you? The most interesting part of my articles is your contributions in the comments below. I'll close the article by sharing some finished images which I shot with the Sigma 70mm f/2.8 DG Macro Art lens

Which of these lenses do you prefer?

Michelle VanTine's picture

Michelle creates scroll-stopping images for amazing brands and amazing people. She works with businesses, public figures, sports & products. Titled “Top Sports Photographers in Miami” in 2019 (#5) and 2020 (#4), she was the only female on the list both years. Follow the fun on IG @michellevantinephotography @sportsphotographermiami

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Great comparison. The third party lens options today are so good for the money

Thanks boss! I was truly surprised by the quality

Hi, same point with other brands ! I'm a Sony user since a while. At the moment, with my recently purchased A7 R V, I have only one Sony lens in my bag : 100mm STF (a very special lens). Other lenses are in the Sigma "new" serie DG DN Contemporary (24 f2, 35 f2, 65 f2) and this macro 70 tested here, manual focusing Voigtlander 40 f1.2 and Apo Lanthar 50mm f2 are closing the set. All these are beautiful lenses, very high quality on build and image.

I'm glad to hear that you found the same. Sigma has really delivered great lenses at very competitive prices. I was surprised by the result.

Great to hear this feedback. I was SO impressed with the quality of the image. I'm glad to hear you have had the same experience

I used to be a fan of the Canon 100mm f/2.8L macro for product shots.

This summer, I bought a EF 90mm f/2.8L TS-E Macro lens.

Trust me, this is the dream lens for product photography. Once you use it and see the possibilities, you'll wonder how you lived without it!

I bought a used Canon 100 mm EF Macro lens last Friday at The Pixel Conection in Nashville Tennessee. I got it for $275.00 with tax. I think it was a decent price. The lens is in great condition. It doesn't have image stablizer. I hardly ever used that feature. I know it would come in handy though. I think both lenses are good. It's really hard to tell which is better by the pics you showed. I look forward to shooting the 100 mm macro Canon lens. I am retired after 45 years of shooting. My eyesight isn't what it used to be. I have double vision even while sober. LOL Word ti the wise, if your sight is bad, time to retire. In the past I have reshot many photos because of a photographer with bad eyesight. Most expensive doesn't mean its always better. What 8s important to me as a photographer is to know your equipment. I need to know my equipment better. I have got some new to me, used equipment that is in great shape but a lot more complicated than what I am use to. I am getting older and blinder but I am going to try to get back shooting for, friends,families and charity. WISH ME LUCK,,,,