Review: LAOWA 60mm f/2.8 2:1 Macro lens
Review: LAOWA 60mm f/2.8 2:1 Macro lens
Looking at the Venus/Laowa 2x macro lens
In 2015, Venus Optics (Anhui ChangGeng Optical Technology Company Ltd.) announced a specialist manual focus macro lens for full frame and crop sensor cameras. The lens is now sold under the Laowa brand.
The 60mm f/2.8 gives a very useful 2:1 magnification and focuses to infinity.
Available in a wide range of mounts, it comes in around £320 (inc. VAT) in the UK.
Macro lenses are all too often a bit of a compromise in performance, and you sometimes feel that the lens designers just moved the close focus distance a bit closer allowing the marketing department to add the word ‘Macro’ to the lens name.
The Laowa 60mm is a genuine macro lens with a maximum 2:1 reproduction ratio or 2x magnification -and- can be used as a normal 60mm lens.
That means the area in the photograph is half the size of the sensor of your camera.
I have the unusual Canon MP-E65mm [Testing the MP-E65 lens], which goes all the way up to a 5:1 magnification ratio, where the field of view is 1/5 the size of the camera sensor. That lens doesn’t even have any feature for focus – you just move the camera back and forth.
At the other end of the line is my EF24-70 2.8L which has the word macro written on the lens…
Slap bang in the middle of this sits the Laowa 60mm f/2.8 Macro – not only does it cover a range of uses, at £350 in the UK it’s not a bad price either.
I was kindly lent this lens, along with the 15mm Macro [full review] and have written up some of my observations using it on my 18MP Canon 100D.
I’d note that for macro use, the 18MP of this lens gives only a bit less resolution that my 50MP 5Ds (albeit with a wider FOV on the full frame camera)
|Angle of View||25.3 degrees|
|Format Compatibility||APS-C (Macro and normal shooting)
Full-frame (Macro shooting only)
Slight vignetting will appear for full-frame camera at normal shooting.
No effect for macro shooting
|Lens Structure||9 elements in 7 groups|
|Min. Aperture Size||22|
|Min. shooting distance||18.5cm|
|Max. Magnification Ratio||2x|
|Dimensions||95 x 70mm|
Sample photos and videos can be found in the maker’s web site (http://www.venuslens.net)
The lens feels hefty and attached to my cameras with a firm action – this is a good solid lens that doesn’t feel like bits are going to fall off…
There is no electronic communication with the camera, so for my Canons, the camera thinks you are shooting with no lens attached (aperture reads 0)
The lens comes with a soft padded bag.
A good solid centre-pinch lens cap (62mm) won’t fall off in a hurry.
Take the lens cap off and where are the optics?
The lens optics extend forward by quite a bit for macro use, and reaches the front for the closest focus (maximum 2:1 or 2x magnification)
The rectangular aperture works as a lens hood for non-macro use, although with a full frame camera this can introduce a bit of vignetting. The lens is of widest use on a crop sensor camera.
The aperture also means you should be careful not to get stuff inside the lens (leaves/insects etc.) since you’ve effectively got direct access to the lens internal mechanism.
The lens mount has no electronic connection to the camera, and fitting depends on the model of lens. Mounts are available for Canon EF, Nikon F, Pentax K, and Sony A. Other mounts (mirrorless) need a simple adapter.
My own macro work is mostly engineering related – so I’m afraid non of the usual staples of macro photo forums… Quite a few people have good collections of insects/seeds/fungi taken with this lens.
I’ve put the camera on my StackShot motorised macro rail, via a macro slide plate (you can see the threaded brass rail just below the camera body.
The whole thing is on a hefty studio stand.
For my commercial work I often drive the StackShot via Helicon Focus for making stacked macro photos.
The subject is a 68LC040 microprocessor from an old Apple Mac. Lighting is from CFL light panels – I do use flash for very small stuff, but the CFL panels are easier to set up and give a softer lighting.
I’ll show some shots at f/2.8, f/8 and f/22 at 50cm distance and then with magnification set at 1:1 and 2:1
I’ve included some 100% crops (unsharpened) to give a feel for the detail.
Why the pine cone? – just happens to be one of my standard test objects when sorting out stacking and lighting.
Exposure is a bit hit and miss, with wide open aperture needed to use the viewfinder, followed by manually stopping down the lens for the exposure.
An improvement over the Laowa 15mm is that the aperture ring has click stops at whole stop settings making it easier to use without looking at the lens.
Even using liveview, the exposure that gives a good view, is not the exposure for correct levels – this comes from the lack of aperture info., so the camera thinks it’s got no lens on at all and assumes a value set in the camera preferences (I only have Canon bodies here, but Nikons do have similar lens registration features).
As with the 15mm lens, I’d be tempted to look at getting an aperture confirm chip for the lens mount if it were mine – if you go this route, be very careful with attaching the chip unit (last one I got was from eBay).
At this image size, f/22 doesn’t look so bad…
Three 100% crops.
To give an idea of scale, the gold pins are on a 0.1″ (2.54mm) grid.
Moving to f/22 greatly increases the depth of field, but as you can see from the overall sharpness, comes at the price of some diffraction blurring.
This is the sort of blurring that modern computationally intensive tools such as Piccure or Focus Magic can help with (links are to reviews) but there is only so much you can do if the detail just isn’t there.
Moving up to 1x magnification needs a good old twist of the lens – it has a long ~3/4 turn throw.
The focal plane is now some 55mm in front of the end of the lens.
1:1 or 1x magnification
This size starts being a real test of positioning – and I’m not shooting stuff trying to escape me.
The fourteen blade aperture does give nice soft out of focus areas – no distracting sharp edges.
f/22 clearly shows the DOF/Sharpness trade-off – f/11 and f/16 are sharper.
If I can deal with the limited DOF, then f/5.6 to f/8 probably give the best image quality.
A 100% view at f/8
Note the dust…
When photographing tiny electronic components (~2mm square) for clients, I know that I have no more than an hour before dust settling out of the air will likely be noticeable (it’s usually easy to clone out though). Leaving a macro set-up overnight is definitely a no-no.
The sensor of my 100D is pretty clean, so no obvious dust spots in these shots, but be aware that the higher your aperture, the more likely tiny dust shadows will become visible (they get smaller and sharper as you stop down).
In these examples, I’m using Kuuvik Capture camera tethering software [Kuuvik review]. One of the useful features it has, is focus peaking. In the liveview window you can get it to show up where there is extra fine detail.
The screenshot below, from when I was taking the chip photos, shows fine detail in red.
The narrow plane of focus is quite clear. Look at the pins towards the back. The red speckles show how the focal plane is tilted backwards relative to the surface of the chip.
2:1 or 2x magnification
Now we are getting into -very- thin DOF.
The plane of focus is some 45mm in front of the end of the lens.
A 100% crop at 2:1 and f/2.8, shows how tricky camera focus is at this size
Note the longitudinal chromatic aberration at f/2.8
Going to f/8 reduces this and makes the available DOF a bit more usable.
Whilst the lens indicates an aperture of f/8, remember that these numbers are for infinity focus, and as magnification increases they effectively become much higher.
Full 2:1 reproduction at f/22 is a bit better for web use (this is unsharpened), but not what you want for huge prints.
You can add extension tubes or teleconverter to the lens and increase the magnification even further, but expect even thinner DOF, darker views and increased softness of the image.
By all means experiment, but much above 3 or 4x magnification you are in a very different realm.
It performs perfectly well as a straight 60mm manual focus lens.
This shot down our street (100D f/8) has only slight chromatic aberration – easily fixed when opening the RAW file in ACR.
Like in many real world photos, the pincushion distortion is not readily visible.
A 100% crop gives an idea of the detail – I’ve used less sharpening in RAW processing than I normally would, but it looks OK
It’s softer in the corners, but this is not meant to be a comparison with the sorts of Canon ‘L’ series lenses I use for my day to day work.
It’s definitely better for this sort of stuff at ~1:1.2
One of the cacti I raised from seed a year or so ago
Even at f/8 the DOF is thin – see this 100% crop
You can see individual cells on the surface of the plant.
Buying the Laowa 60mm f/2.8 2:1 Macro
Our review lens was kindly supplied by UKDigital
A very effective solution if you are looking for that bit extra magnification for your subjects.
The lens is excellent towards the centre of the frame, by the time you get to f/5.6 to f/8, but the edges soften up rapidly, especially if used on a full frame camera, where I’d likely stick to using it for macro and near-macro items.
My suspicion is that most users of this lens will be concentrating on subjects close to the centre of the field and that the vignetting at wider apertures won’t be an issue.
Vignetting on full frame cameras is more noticeable wide open – this is very much a lens primarily for macro use in that case.
On a crop camera, it’s a nice focal length for portraiture – as long as you know how to use it well. Fumbling round with apertures and exposure, not to mention manual focus, doesn’t make for happy subjects, and that’s when you -can- ask them to be still.
The lens shows a distinct basic pincushion distortion – almost the opposite of the rectangular aperture at the front of the lens.
Lens settings are clear and easy to read – my friends in the US will be pleased to note that unlike the 15mm, the distance scale is in metres -and- feet.
That said, I (and quite a few others in the UK) still mentally use metric -and- feet and inches, so a distance of 18.5cm is far easier to visualise than 0.61 feet (7.3″).
The indicated distance is from the focal plane of the camera. There is usually a mark on the top of the camera body showing this.
The fourteen blade aperture gives smooth focus gradation.
As the front part of the lens moves all the way forward, the rear element also moves forward, but only 7-8mm.
I mentioned that with macro work, the effective aperture shrinks as you get closer in. There is a compensation table in the lens manual, which I’ve copied below. The list of F numbers below the magnification values are what we need.
They are the effective F number for a setting of f/2.8, so for example at 1x magnification, you are shooting (for exposure purposes) at ~f/5.6
For 2x, this goes to f/8. What this means is that were you to shoot at f/11 at 2x, your effective aperture is f/32 (3 stops)
Note that the exposure compensation values are shifted ~2 positions over to the right, so 1/2 should be under 3.5
It’s tables like this that remind me how much easier it is to get reliable exposure with digital cameras…
The lens is very solidly built – the focus action is smooth, but in the lens I looked at was quite stiff.
With the open front, it also needs some care to avoid small items getting into the lens – more of a problem if you are poking it up close to plants and the like.
Feel free to add comments/questions below
A flexible 60mm macro lens giving a useful 2:1 reproduction ratio whilst retaining adequate performance on a crop sensor body for normal use.
Fully manual operation. Supplied in a range of mounts and including a padded lens bag.
See the full range of Laowa lenses at UKDigital
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