Laowa 100mm f2.8 CA-Dreamer Macro 2x Review

Venus Optics has successfully shaken up the market in recent years after the launch of many unique optics and “World’s First” kind of lenses. Under the brand name “LAOWA“, a great deal of their focus was on the niche market of macro photograhy, introducing wide-angle macro lenses, the crazy-looking macro probe lens, extreme macro lenses and a line-up of lenses that offer higher magnification (2:1) while retaining infinity focus.

Needless to say, I was thrilled when I received a review unit of their new 100mm f2.8 CA-Dreamer Macro 2x lens that was made available in June 2019.

First Look

Upon unboxing the product, I was delighted at the gorgeous full-metal construction of the lens. Made completely out of glass and metal, the lens only weighs 638g. Compare this to the widely popular Canon EF 100mm f2.8 L that weighs in at 625g, while giving twice the amount of magnification at 2:1. Its overall size and length is also similar to other 100mm lenses in the market.

cr: nikonrumours

The internal movement of the internal lens elements are pretty large from infiinity to 2:1. However, all the moving elements are kept within the lens housing and there is no external visible movement that can be seen during use. Focus travel is short as well, it does not require you to turn the focus/magnification ring multiple rounds before reaching both ends of the magnification spectrum. The lens also comes with a standard 67mm UV filter to protect the front element and to prevent dust from entering.

The front element moves to the edge of the lens barrel at 2:1 and retracts about 3 inches into the lens barrel at inifinity as shown above.

A lens hood is also given but I would think it is more useful for outdoor portraiture rather than outdoor macro work as it affects your focusing distance and cuts out too much light. You may purchase a separate tripod collar for $30 USD but it may be uneccessary for most experienced macro photographers due to its light weight and size.

This lens can be used on both full-frame and cropped sensor cameras. For this review, I used both the Canon EOS 80D as well as the Canon EOS RP (coupled with the Control Ring Mount Adapter EF-EOS).

Technical Specifications

cr: https://www.venuslens.net/product/laowa-100mm-f-2-8-2x-macro-apo/#tab-description

The lens is available in the Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony FE and Pentax K mounts and all come with slight variations. According to Laowa, the Canon version has a 9-bladed iris, Nikon/Pentax has a 7-blade aperture diaphragm and the Sony version has a 13-blade aperture diagphram. This ultimately affects the bokeh rendering which I am unable to test across systems. Physically, the Canon model does not have a manual aperture ring whereas the others do.

The Canon model is the only one that is equipped with a CPU chip and aperture motor which allows the user to control aperture values and exposure through the camera body itself as well as record EXIF data in the photos. This auto-aperture feature is the first of its kind in Laowa lenses. The aperture only closes during shutter-release which allows you to compose your image without the viewfinder getting dark when using smaller apertures.

Should you use a different system and want to get the Canon model, you have to use an electronic adaptor with the appropriate contacts to be able to change your aperture settings.

Image Quality & User Experience

A 100mm focal length is perfect for macro photography as it allows you to get closer to your subject without bothering it. It also grants you a fantastic minimum working distance. For this lens in particular, even at 2x magnification the distance to your subject from the front element (not sensor) is 7.5cm.

The 12 elements in 10 groups optics design delivers crystal sharp images at both ends of the magnification spectrum. You get great subject isolation and smooth bokeh too.

<Huntsman Spider (Heteropoda venatoria)
EOS 80D
1/200th, f/9, ISO 100 (single shot @ < 1:1)

Depth-of-Field

The ability to get to 2x magnification makes it a breeze to photograph smaller arthropods. In the case of Depth-of-Field (DOF), we all know that when magnification increases, the DOF decreases. However, the DOF does not suffer much at the maximum magnification. Technique (such as aligning focus planes, stacking etc) however, play an important role in how much DOF you get.

<Forest Ant (Polyrhachis armata)>
EOS 80D
1/200th, f/9, ISO 100 (single shot @ 1:1 and cropped)
<Green Crab Spider (Thomisidae)>
EOS 80D
1/200th, f/9, ISO 100 (4-image stack @ 2:1 and cropped)

The lens is so sharp and it delivers amazing image quality. If conditions do not allow 2x magnifcation, you can photograph at 1:1 and crop in without sacrificing too much image quality while retaining a larger DOF as compared to a single shot at 2x. If the photograph is taken well, you won’t have issues making large prints even if you crop.

Here are some sample images shot at full 2x magnification, uncropped. Note the DOF and detail.

The lens does not have image stabilization and autofocus. However, in the hands of the experienced, this is not an issue. Furthermore, modern camera bodies are equipped with In-Body Image Stabilisation (IBIS) which may help you in some tricky situations. I’ve seen reviews online that mention a tripod/monopod is a must. I’m here to debunk that. All the images you see here are shot handheld (even the stacks) and are shot at 1/200th or less. In fact, I find carrying a tripod out in the field a hassle unless I’m looking at capturing more abstract work (UV) or going for extreme macro images. Good technique and skill is all you need.

<Lacewing Larva>
EOS 80D
1/200th, f/9, ISO 100 (6-image stack @ 1.5:1 and cropped)

Macro photographers mostly manual focus especially when dealing with higher magnification and low contrast/light situations as it is both accurate and fast, so no autofocus? Not much of an issue. However, for those who want a macro lens that can double up as a portrait lens, it may not be that enticing without autofocus.

<Eight-Spotted Crab Spider (Platythomisus octomaculatus)>
EOS RP + Control Ring Mount Adapter EF-EOS
15s, f/10, ISO 100 (single shot)
<Huntsman Spider (Heteropoda sp.)
EOS 80D
1/200th, f/9, ISO 100 (single shot @ 2:1 and cropped)
<Ant-mimicking Jumping Spider (Synemosyna(?))>
EOS 80D
1/200th, f/10, ISO 100 (single shot)

Ant-mimic jumping spiders are known to be tough subjects to photograph due to their constant, erratic movement. This individual measured only about 5mm. I shot this close to 2x and cropped in further.

Colours

This lens also features an Apochromatic (APO) characteristic that generally, only premium macro lenses have. It renders chromatic aberration (CA) non-existent. Laowa prides itself in the performance of this lens as it suppresses CA in the entire image and not just areas in focus. Thus, this makes it easy for photographers who want to get better backgrounds for subject isloation/contrast and not worry about any color fringing.

<Planthopper nymph (Fulgoromorpha)>
EOS 80D
1/200th, f/9, ISO 100 (single shot)

Although white balance and light play a vital role in colours of the image, I would say that the colours captured without much post processing, is very accurate.

<Jumping Spider (Cosmophasis)>
EOS RP
1/125th, f/9, ISO 100 (single shot)

Summary

To sum up my opinions on this lens, here is the list of its advantages and disadvantages.

Pros:

  • Overall construction and build quality
  • First inclusion of electronics for automatic aperture control (Canon)
  • In-built 2:1 magnification
  • APO charateristic grants good contrast and CA control
  • Accurate colours
  • Simple handability
  • Inexpensive

Cons:

  • Presence of greese within the lens barrel that facilitates the internal movement of the front element.
  • No weather sealing

In my time spent with it, there really is not much to dislike as the lens truly delivers when it comes to performing in the field and getting great images. That said, I would definitely prefer to pair this with a mirrorless system due to it being a full manual lens, focus peaking will immensely increase your hit rate and help in low light situations.

This review is solely based on macrophotography which is why I did not touch much on bokeh which potrait photographers may be more interested in.

The biggest drawback for me would be the greese in the lens barrel. My only advice is to leave the UV filter that it comes with on permanently. You do not want any dust or fine particles to come into contact with the greese for obvious reasons. Laowa should definitely find a better way keep internal movement smooth instead of using greese.

At its price point, the value you get far supercedes its imperfections. It would be an exciting lens to add to your arsenal. Do feel free to contact me should you have any queries and do share this article if you enjoyed reading it!

If my review has enticed you to get one of these lenses, do refer to this link to further support me in generating more content like this!

https://www.venuslens.net/product/laowa-100mm-f-2-8-2x-macro-apo/ref/429/

For more sample images, do visit my instagram portfolio.

Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x Macro Lens Review

In macro photography, the question on the minds of many often revolve around “how close can you get?”. This is where the concept of magnification comes to play and I was fortunate enough to be able to take this extreme macro lens out for a spin, so here’s my quick review about the lens to address the concerns of many users on whether this lens is more suitable for studio work or field work. I would not be touching on the technical specs but rather more of what really matters when you shoot outdoors. I’ll be making comparisons with the Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS Macro EF L IS USM, which is the primary lens I use for my macro work.

Housefly – ISO125 f6.3 1/125sec, 29 images stacked, 5x magnification

Jumping Spider (Plexippus Paykuli) – ISO100 f9 1/200sec, Unstacked (handheld), 3x magnification

If you have ever considered macro photography as a genre to explore, you would have probably heard about the concept of 1:1 magnification. In a nutshell, dedicated macro lenses (generally 1:1) are capable of projecting the subject at life size on the camera sensor. 2:1 means twice of life size and so on.

The Canon EF MP-E65 f2.8 1-5x macro lens is one exceptional macro lens that allows users to achieve 1 to 5x life size magnification, enabling users to really get up close. .

The lens has a fantastic built and is very well constructed. Its is slightly heavier than the 100mm and when extended to 5x, its approximately 4 inches longer than the 100mm prime. It also has a 58mm thread and an unusual looking front element. The lens is not weather sealed, has no image stabilisation as well as tripod sensing as compared to the 100mm f2.8L. It does however, come with a removable tripod collar for better balance. You can separately purchase the Canon tripod mount ring D for the 100mm f2.8L if you find the need for one.

Focus

As you probably would have noticed by now, it’s a full manual lens with no aperture ring and focus ring. Just like how most macro photographers focus on their subjects, you set the magnification you desire and move the camera forwards and backwards to focus. A good point to bring up here is that the lens doesn’t function like a regular 65mm lens and doesn’t support infinity focus, unlike the 100mm f2.8L which many also use as a portrait lens. Focusing distance of this lens is extremely short, at 5x, expect your subject to be approximately 1.6 inches away from your lens, which means that finding your subject and skittish subjects would also be a huge challenge. I recommend setting the lens at 1:1, frame your shot, before adjusting the desired magnification.

Sharpness & Depth of Field (DOF)

The first thing I wanted to test was ‘exactly how sharp is this lens?’ I mounted the lens on my 80D together with my diffuser and headed out to the garden for some test shots. Using various fstop values, I found that the sweet spot of the lens was around f8-f10. Even at 1:1, images were softer even when focus was on point at small apertures (f11-16). This was also after experimenting with higher shutter speeds/using a tripod (which I don’t really use much for macro) to minimize any shake. The lens also has a minimum aperture of f16.

Comparing this to the 100mm f2.8L at 1:1, I could easily get away with sharp images at f16 before diffraction kicked in. This was when I realised that my usual way of shooting will not work with this lens.

Shooting at a larger apertures would mean that you will be working with a shallower DOF which is not ideal for macro photography if you want to achieve the most detail at high magnification. As a general rule, aperture and magnification both have an inverse relationship with DOF.

I started photographing subjects at f9 from 1-5x magnification. The DOF does indeed get drastically shallow (possibly a millimetre or less at 5x) and you need A LOT of light to illuminate your subject if you are using a DSLR system (optical viewfinder). It’s important to note here that shooting at high magnification would mean that any shake, regardless of how minor, would be magnified and this will affect the shutter speed you will set as well as making it extremely difficult to get your shot in focus of you are shooting handheld. With the razor thin DOF at magnifications higher than 3, focus stacking is inevitable to achieve a compelling image, getting more of your subject in focus.

Getting equipped for field work

It was definitely more difficult finding the subject and getting the stack right when moving in and out due to the magnified movements. There’s a reason why most people who do extreme macro have multiple light sources, a sturdy tripod, use macro focusing rails and dead subjects.I’ve never owned a macro focusing rail cause I never saw the need for one. However, when using this lens, getting precise with your focus planes are of utmost importance and a rail would save you much time and it’ll definitely be less frustrating.

So is this lens suitable for work in the field? Simply put, this lens is not for the beginner just starting out in macro photography and it’ll only bring about more frustrations. I wouldn’t call this a go-to lens and I’ll pick my 100mm f2.8L and Raynox DCR250 (2.5x diopter) for field work in a heartbeat. You probably realised that the lens extends quite a fair bit when adjusting the magnification levels, this will affect how you diffuse your light. It will not be easy designing a diffuser for this lens for field work if you are using standard on-camera speedlights. The length of the lens will affect how your light travels down to the subject (usually just a few cm away from your front element) and the lens also blocks off a fair bit of light. Placement of your focus light would also be an issue to think about.

This is also why most people who use this flash tend to go for the expensive ring/twin flash units that are attached to the front element or in the cases of strobe flashes, it gives more flexibility for light placement. The lens has a mounting ring in the front that allows compatibility to Canon’s twin flashes. Diffusing light in the studio should not be a problem, you have all the time in the world to get your lights set up.

Getting out on the field would require a stable and reliable set up as you never know what you will come across and hardly any wild subject will stay put for you to stack 20 or more photos of it. Consider that you will be doing this handheld as well. Some who have had much practice with this lens are able to stack handheld at 3x should the subject allow. Having powerful flash units that can keep up with high shutter speeds and frame rates make it easier to stack due to the high recycling speed.

As you can see from the images above, when shooting at high magnification (2.5x & 3x respectively), any sort of sensor dust would also be picked up! Remember to do some spot healing for your final product!

Some alternatives to this lens should you still desire more magnification is the Laowa 25mm f2.8 2.5-5x, released in January 2018. An in-depth comparison has been done by Nicky Bay on Petapixel, check it out here:

The $399 Laowa 25mm Macro Lens vs the $1,050 Canon MP-E 65mm

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