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.

“Tarantula Fishing” at Bukit Fraser, Malaysia

During our 3 day trip to Fraser Hill, there was no doubt that we were going to head out to explore and discover the creatures of the night. Our goal was to look for the 3 species of Tarantulas that Fraser Hill is known for, mainly from the Coremiocnemis Genus. They are Coremiocnemis hoggi, Coremiocnemis cunicularia and Coremiocnemis obscura (ranked in order of rarity). To sum it all up, we had a pretty productive trip, scroll down for more photos and a video!

Being a nocturnal species, Tarantulas are more active at night, look carefully and you just might spot some long hairy legs sticking out of a hole. In the day, these burrows would just appear to be plain, empty holes in the ground. Take a look at some of my shots of these arachnids in their natural environment~

Some of these photographs are light 2 image stacks.

Disclaimer: Locations for macro shoots would not be disclosed to protect the arthropods from poaching.

Look at how the colours blend in with the environment!

<Coremiocnemis hoggi>

Tarantulas whether they are arboreal or terrestrial species are ambush predators, waiting in their burrows for crickets, roaches or even small mammals like mice to come along. These spiders have poor eyesight but that does not stop them from being formidable hunters, the tiny hairs that cover their body are hyper-sensitive to the surrounding environment, sensing and feeling out any vibrations close by. Once the potential prey comes close enough, Tarantulas strike with insane speed and accuracy (arguable haha), injecting venom from their large fangs.

<Coremiocnemis hoggi>

“Tarantula Fishing” (not an official term) is essentially teasing the arachnid out of its burrow using an object like a stick or blade of grass. When coaxing, think “cricket” and gently brush along the parameter of the burrow and you will see the Tarantula slowly creeping out of its burrow, waiting to strike. Some species are more skittish than others and would not stay out for long once out of its burrow, take a video that you can review later for your own purposes.

<Coremiocnemis hoggi> grabbing the stick we used.

Look at that deep purplish-blue colouration! Coremiocnemis hoggi can be identified by the two hind legs that are “bushier” than the other legs. This was also the first shot I took where the entire spider came out of its burrow. Its sheer size was astonishing.

<Coremiocnemis hoggi>

This is a widely known method used by biologists, scientists, hobbyists and photographers/film makers (just to name a few), for a myriad of purposes like observation, documentation, research etc. Do note that the spiders are not harmed in any way and this is just part of their natural behaviour. Needless to say, continuous attempts to coax the same spider out from its burrow would cause unnecessary stress to it and it would probably just stay in the burrow and ignore you.

One of my favourite shots from the trip!

Entire spider out from its burrow.

Fun fact: This species of Tarantula is named after Stephen Hogg, a.k.a. the Stephen of Stephen’s Place in Fraser. He observed and documented these spiders years before they were officially described.

Another method people use to coax the spider out from its burrow is the “flooding method” where a low pressure stream of water is introduced into the burrow and the spider will naturally exit the burrow. I’ve seen people do this to rehouse their Tarantulas at home and it seems pretty effective (we did not do this).

Sling

There is definitely a healthy population of Tarantulas in the area we found them. Burrows were rather close to one another and we saw many slings (lingo that refers to baby spiders, or early instars). Juveniles are hard to ID as they mostly look similar but this one is probably hoggi.

<Coremiocnemis cunicularia>

Another species known to be found in this area is Coremiocnemis cunicularia and it has a pretty similar colouration to hoggi but does not have the bushier hind legs. This particular individual has a really dark, black colouration and its a possible cunicularia.

<Coremiocnemis cunicularia>

This species is rather uncommon as compared to hoggi and we probably only encountered only 2-3 of them. Some Tarantulas stayed in their burrows and some did not come out enough for us to get a positive ID.

Still awaiting a positive ID of this one, but it could possibly be the rare obscura. The temperament of this individual was so different from the rest. It was daring enough to grab onto the stick, refusing to let go and kept its pursuit. Watch the video I compiled below to see what I mean!

Being the largest spiders in the world, they inject fear into the majority of people, but do know that although they inflict a painful bite, their venom is not potent enough to kill and is only comparable to a bee sting. As long as you keep a distance and respect the arachnid, you would not be harmed!

Watch the simple video compilation I did to show you how these shots were taken. Disclaimer: I had no intention to do a video in the first place so you could probably tell its pretty messy~ video is unlisted on Youtube.

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqSi71-QZxg

The Tarantulas shared this wonderful habitat with other spiders like the Huntsman Spider you see above. I could not find an ID for this one but it has a gorgeous pair of chelicerae. Black stripes and a dash of blue in front? I’ve never seen that before on a huntsman. Do dm me if you know huntsman this is!

This one had an overall redder coloration but with similar chelicerae. Possible Lunula?

Other interesting ambush predators you can find there are the Funnel Web Spiders, much smaller in size than the Tarantulas with smaller burrows. These guys are way more skittish and don’t stay out at all, at most a second or less.

Lastly, the elusive Malaysian Black Trapdoor Spider (Liphistius malayanus) can be found in that area as well. It is one spider with a really unique round abdomen! This specimen was not extracted from its home, but instead, this was just a really unusual and pretty sad sight to see.

You will rarely find Trapdoor Spiders out of their burrows especially in the day, they cannot survive in hot temperatures and stay in their burrows to keep cool. We chanced upon this huge Trapdoor Spider crawling and tumbling across this sandy slope in the scorching Sun with no burrow in sight when we were birding in the morning (this was shot with a telephoto lens). Naturally we returned to the location at night and found that this individual had been crushed along the roadside, probably a victim of roadkill.

If you want to see how the trapdoor hunts and how its home looks like, check out this video done by bugsnstuff on Youtube.

It will give you a good idea on how interesting this species is 🙂

Do share this article if you like what you see! More to come!

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#macrophotography #singapore #biodiversity #wildlife #discovery #insects #arthropods #photography #malaysia #bukitfraser #fraserhill #hoggi #coremiocnemis #tarantula #spiders