The Laowo 25mm 2.5x to 5x Ultra Macro lens.
Having been a good boy all year my reward on my birthday was a Laowa 25 mm macro lens. I’ve had a Canon 100 mm Macro lens for a good while and it’s a great all round macro lens for a full frame or crop sensor camera. I have even used it for Astro photography so it’s a handy bit of kit to have and the macro results are superb. It gives 1:1 magnification so if you wish to go a bit beyond life size macro to extreme macro, the likes of 5x magnification, you would have use a selection of extensions tubes and reversed lenses. It is easily possible produce fantastic images but can, but not always, sacrifice a little in quality, particularly around the edges. They are very cheap rigs to make up though and will get you into the realms of extreme macro at very little cost. The other approach is to use a dedicated ultra or extreme macro lens. There are two main contenders on the market.
Pretty much the king of the extreme macro lenses is the Canon MPE-65. Image quality is second to none. It does have a couple of minus points. It is a very big lens when extended out to 5x and it is quite expensive. At £1000 new and £600 for a well-used model it’s not for everyone’s pocket.
The new market leader for the average Joe is the Venus Optics Laowa 25 mm 2.5x to 5x ultra macro lens. Made in China, and what isn’t? this £399 model is more reasonably priced and a very solidly built lens. The lens comes in a nice foam packed box which contains also the warranty and a brief instruction leaflet. The lens is fully manual focus and has no electronic couple for the aperture ring, unlike the MPE 65, so your subject must be well lit in order to focus with the lens stopped down a couple of stops. There is no focus ring, focusing is achieved by moving closer to or further from your subject. This isn’t too much of an issue as at magnifications of 2.5x and greater it is nigh on impossible to photograph hand held so a tripod must be used or a use a studio macro rig (see last week’s blog post). The MPE starts at 1:1, which is manageable hand held, though focusing is still manual. However, I didn’t get the Laowa lens for photography out in the field. I’ll stick to my 100 mm for that. This lens was purchased to get as close as possible for the highest quality at an affordable price.
So how has it done? Brilliantly I’d say. I have a couple of examples of a fly at 2.5x and 5x and a Bee at 5x. Each were taken with my macro rig using either LED ring lights or remote speedlites. As mentioned there is no electronic coupling to the lens aperture so its manual exposure only and of course your camera will show aperture at 00. The camera exposure meter will still work though even though an exposure simulation won’t, just disable that part.
The working distance from the front of the lens is about 6 cm regardless of max or min magnification. However, when increasing the magnification the front of the lens extends out by about 8 cm so you will have to realign your subject. i.e. move it back.
Depth of field is an issue for any macro photographer. When using a 100 mm macro lens at 1:1 at f8, the DoF will be about 1-2 mm. With extreme macro that drops to 0.8 mm at 2.5x and 0.1 mm at 5x. You don’t have much to play with so careful stacking is the key. I’m still working on that part.
Experimenting and research indicates the best compromise between depth of field, sharpness and aperture is f5.6. It seems to be working well for me anyway. F16 does suffer from excessive diffraction and probably best avoided as the gain in DoF is minimal.
All in all it is a great lens and, with practice, you won’t be disappointed. The MPE 65 is a little better quality wise but only at laboratory test level. For me this Venus optics is a winner because of it’s compactness, build quality and simple basic operation. I just love it. A lot more practice on the stacking set up is needed though but watch this space.