Lots of choice is a good thing when it comes to camera lenses. There was a time when you could only trust the same make as a camera for optics, but not any more. Many third-party lens manufacturers are producing fine zoom and prime lenses, as evident with the Laowa 100mm f/2.8 2x Ultra Macro APO.
Laowa may not be the most obvious lens make in the world, but they are sure producing some fine optics of late. In this case a 100mm prime with the rare ability to achieve 2X macro magnification.
To put the 2X macro mode into perspective, most macro lenses produce 1:1 magnification. The Laowa in comparison can achieve 2x (2:1), which means it’s in a very niche camp of optics.
Digging into the basic specifications, the lens has a maximum aperture of f/2.8, with a 24.4 degrees of view. The minimum focusing distance is 24.7cm, with everything weighing in at a reasonable 638g. Inside the lens are 12 elements arranged in 12 groups, with a nine-blade diaphragm. Two low dispersion elements have been included, to reduce the effects of chromatic aberration. The 100mm focal length also means this lens will work for portrait photography or a general medium telephoto lens.
As for the build of the lens, its extremely well put together, with the modern and simple design principles found on many top end lenses. The lens barrel is solid metal, with extremely smooth and easy to turn focus and aperture rings. Aperture and distance scales are marked on the lens barrel, with a blue ring below the 67mm filter thread. If you didn’t know the make of this lens, you could easily pass it off for something that costs far more money.
Ultimately, a simple and straightforward lens, without the need for additional features. The lens is also available for a variety of camera bodies.
The Laowa 100mm f/2.8 2x Ultra Macro APO In Use
The obvious first thing to do with the Laowa 100mm f/2.8 2x Ultra Macro APO is to see how well it can capture the smallest of subjects. The lack of autofocus and image stabilization are immediately apparent, more in the case of IS than anything else. The majority of ultra-small subjects are capturing in manual focusing mode, but the large helping hand of image stabilization would have been a nice addition with the 2:1 macro reproduction. Therefore, it’s more critical to use a tripod with this lens, especially with such shallow depths of field.
Initially, rattling off some test images of small bugs produced extremely bright, clear, and detailed renditions. Cropping images down produced accurate detail of a subject. Not exactly world-class straight out of the box, but of a high enough quality to tick the boxes of most professional shoots.
Chromatic aberration is kept to a minimum with the inclusion of the low dispersion elements and is one of the features of this lens. This is a major benefit when shooting the tiniest of subjects, saving loads of post-processing work. Vignetting is also extremely low, with only a slight slight drop-off in the extreme corners.
As for sharpness, the lens provides plenty of detail. When coupled with a high resolution camera, such as a Sony a7 III, things like individual hairs on bugs or small text on watches are brought out in sharp detail. Far more impressive than the price point would imply.
The lack of image stabilization was a notable omission, especially with hand-held shots. If you have a camera with built-in stabilization, just like with the Sony, this will get you half way there, but we also realize IS would increase the weight and cost. This means that tripod use in this case is a must.
How Does the Laowa 100mm f/2.8 2x Ultra Macro APO Compare?
Comparing the Laowa 100mm f/2.8 2x Ultra Macro APO with other lens offerings will ultimately come down to which make of camera you strap the thing onto. As far as price is concerned, the Laowa is the most cost-effective when compared to macro lenses from Sony, Nikon, Canon and Sigma. The Sony FE 90mm Macro G OSS is the most expensive of the lot, plus it doesn’t provide 2x magnification. The nearest in price comparisons is the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro.
There’s also the highly regarded Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro, which offers variable magnification from 1x-5x (5:1). The highest quality offering of the bunch, but it’s also macro only and costs more than twice the amount of the Laowa.
|Laowa 100mm f/2.8 2x Ultra Macro APO||Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro|
Considering the cost of this lens, the Laowa 100mm f/2.8 2x Ultra Macro APO makes for a fantastic macro solution, with the rare benefit of 2:1 magnification. The anti-chromatic aberration lens elements do a fine job of keeping subjects clean and crisp, cutting down the workload in post-production. Also, once you nail the focus, this lens is very sharp across the frame, bringing out fine detail in the smallest of subjects.
However, the lens does have some downsides, as the aforementioned lack of autofocus and image stabilization. This means most of your macro images will be shot on a tripod or with very steady hands. Live view helped out loads in this respect, but it was still down to tripod use to gain the sharpest detail. This means that without prior macro shooting experience, there will be a trial and error period to grow accustomed to what the lens can and cannot do.
In total, considering the price point, the Laowa 100mm f/2.8 2x Ultra Macro APO is a fantastic way to enter the world of macro photography and won’t let you down, even on a commercial shoot. The lens also has the benefit of focusing to infinity, which means it can easily double as a useful portrait lens. If you want to explore the world of macro photography without breaking the bank, the Laowa is a viable option.