After a long hiatus of releasing macro products, macro enthusiasts like myself have been waiting in anticipation for Venus Optics to launch a new lens in their macro product line-up. Known for developing both innovative and affordable products, the launch of the new Laowa 85mm f/5.6 2x Ultra Macro APO lens definitely does not disappoint. Being the smallest full-frame macro lens that is capable of 2x magnification, this could truly be a game-changer for some.
Do note that the lens I was using was a sample review unit.
The lens came in a tiny box, further accentuating the tiny size of this macro lens.
The overall construction is rather typical of Laowa lenses with its all metal construction and signature blue ring. Being a fully manual lens, you will notice the manual aperture ring near to the front element (46mm filter thread) and the large focusing (magnifying) ring just below it. Having the aperture ring in front (compared to behind on the Laowa 100mm 2:1) was a good choice as you will not accidently switch up apertures during shoots (which happens to me a lot when using the 100mm). The ring also features clicked stops and is much tighter than the 100mm. A little hood comes with the lens as well if you ever need it, it was a bit loose and came off easily when I tested this particular unit.
The lens itself weighs a mere ~259g. I mounted the lens on a Canon EOS R5 and the lens felt almost weightless on the body, especially when I am used to shooting with the Canon EF / RF 100mm f/2.8 L IS USM and the Laowa RF 100mm f/2.8 2:1 lens. This is huge for macro shooters as we are required to shoot single-handedly in most cases when out in the field. A lighter set up would only mean more stamina and sharper images due to the reduced shake.
Having a smaller aperture is definitely one of the reasons how Venus Optics managed to reduce the size of this macro lens that goes up to 2x magnification. The smaller aperture does not really affect macro shooters as we mostly shoot in the f/8 – f/16 range, depending on the amount of depth-of-field required.
So how does the lens perform? A huge, or rather the largest benefit to this lens would be the size and weight of it. However, taking into account that the lens has no image stabilisation (IS), you would still need to get your basic techniques right to obtain sharp images, this is a fully manual lens after all. If done right, you will get sharp images.
Shooting at 85mm in theory, should give you a slightly larger DOF compared to shooting at 100mm. However, shooting at 2x magnification, DOF is razor thin, you would need to align your sensor well, or utilise other techniques such as focus stacking to get more in focus. The minimum focusing distance at 2x is within working range (approx 6 inches) and the lens is able to focus to infinity as well. Having an internal focusing system also results in no extra structural movements from the lens that may affect shooting.
A slight misalignment of the sensor could greatly affect your DOF. Shot at 2x, the shallow DOF didnt allow anything more than capturing the compound eyes of this planthopper. Instead of doing stacking, I shot at 1.2-1.3x and cropped in, getting more of the planthopper in focus albeit the loss of resolution.
You may notice that chromatic aberation is well managed due to the APO design of the lens. Color fringing was also kept to a minimal, making capturing scenes of high colour contrast a breeze and saving time in post processing. The 85mm focal length would make it easier to capture larger subjects as well as getting more into your scene, just like the example below of mutualism between ants and planthoppers.
The lens is perfect for those looking for lightweight macro set ups that can allow them to shoot for hours in the field. I can already picture people pairing this lens with the EOS RP for crazy results. Even photographing with the heavier EOS R5, the shooting experience was very pleasant and the image quality coming straight out from the set up is commendable. However, do note that this would require a change in your diffuser design as this lens rather short. Personally, I used twin flashes and diffusers mounted on arms for better flexibility for lighting.
Here is a quick spec sheet for the lens:
The lens is available for viewing at https://www.venuslens.net/product/laowa-85mm-f-5-6-2x-ultra-macro-apo/ref/429/
There isn’t a full-frame macro lens in the market that is the size of those tiny micro 4/3 macro lenses. Furthermore, this enables 2x magnification without the need for additional diopters or close up filters. Being priced at USD $449 – $499 (Leica M), the value you get and the experience of shooting with this lens is unparalled.
Feel free to ask me any questions!
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