When I was offered the chance to review the Laowa 65mm f2.8 2X Ultra-Macro APO lens, I must admit I wondered what all the fuss was about. From a quick look, it appeared roughly the same size and price as the Fujifilm 60mm f2.4 R macro lens – but it is a manual focus lens.
Then I realized I had misread the specs – this is not a 1:2 macro like the Fujifilm XF 60mm f2.4 R lens, where objects appear half their size on the sensor. Nor is it a true 1:1 macro like the Fujifilm XF 80mm f2.8 R LM OIS WR lens, where objects appear their actual size. The Laowa Ultra Macro lens boasts 2:1 magnification. That’s right! It can take photos where objects appear up to twice their actual size.
In this gear review, I put the Laowa 65mm f2.8 2x Ultra Macro APO lens through its paces on my Fujifilm X-T2. If you’re not a Fujifilm shooter, keep reading anyway, Laowa has released lenses for many full-frame and APS-C mount systems.
Venus Optics has made Laowa lenses in China since 2013. Most of the lenses they’ve created so far have been for full-frame cameras. Their line-up boasts an impressive range of lenses, including fisheye (fancy a 4mm f2.8 lens?), probe, ultra-wide, and ultra-macro lenses for a variety of camera systems.
The Laowa 65mm f2.8 2X macro APO is the first macro lens that Venus Optics has launched for non full-frame cameras. While this review is for the Fujifilm X-Series mount lens, it’s also available for two other mirrorless camera systems: the Sony E-mount and Canon M-mount.
Let’s take a look at the specs for this lens, the Laowa 65mm f2.8 2x Ultra Macro APO.
- The focal length is 65mm, which is approximately 97.5mm in a full-frame equivalent when you take into account the 1.5 crop factor of APS-C cameras.
- 2x Ultra Macro refers to the magnification of this lens – it’s possible to take images where objects appear twice as large on the sensor as real life.
- Typically, a macro lens is considered a true macro when it achieves 1:1 magnification. So with double that magnification, it seems the Laowa offering is worthy of the title “ultra macro.”
- APO stands for apochromatic optical design. The lens has 14 elements in 10 groups, including three extra-low dispersion glasses to minimize chromatic aberrations across the frame.
- Apertures range from f/2.8 to f/22, which you control via the aperture ring on the lens. It focusses from 17cm (2X life-size) to infinity.
The Laowa is slightly bigger in size and weight to Fujifilm’s 60mm macro lens, but is still very compact. It measures 57mm in diameter, 100 mm long, and weighs 335g. It takes 52mm filters.
What’s in the box
The lens comes attractively packaged in a sturdy box. Rather oddly, the lens seems to have two different names. On the website, it’s the Laowa 65mm f2.8 2X Ultra-Macro APO lens. On the packaging and on the lens itself, it’s the CF 65mm F2.8 CA-Dreamer Macro 2X.
Removing the sleeve from the box, there’s an illustration of the lens on the lid. Inside the box, there’s plenty of foam to protect the lens, which comes wrapped up in a plastic bag with a drawstring.
The build quality of the lens – especially at this price point – is excellent. Unlike many other lenses at this price point that are plastic, this lens is an all-metal construction. Even the lens hood is metal, with only the lens cap being plastic.
Using the lens
The Laowa 65mm f2.8 2X macro APO is a manual focus lens – there’s no communication between the lens and the camera body. You achieve focus by rotating the lens until the subject comes into focus.
Given that the lens has quite a wide range of magnification (from infinity to 2x life-size), sometimes it feels like you are twisting the barrel quite a lot to get your subject in focus at different distances.
If you’re new to manual lenses, don’t be put off. A lot of macro photography work is done using manual focus, anyway.
At first, I did find it difficult to determine exactly what was in focus and what wasn’t, but this is more due to my eyesight more than anything else. As soon as I turned on focus peaking on my X-T2, things became much easier. I did find that at very close distances, focus peaking didn’t seem to work at all.
When using the lens, remember to check the barrel to see which aperture you’re using. As there’s no communication between the lens and the camera body, this won’t show up in your viewfinder display.
You may also want to keep notes on which apertures were used for your images, as these won’t record in the metadata either.
The lens has a nice click as you change aperture across the range. My only issue is that the settings for f/16 and f/22 do look a little alike at first glance due to the design of the indicators.
Depth of field at even the narrowest aperture of f/22 is very shallow when shooting up close. You may want to consider focus stacking to get a sharp image across the frame.
There are some stunning sample images on Laowa’s website, but I’d guess they achieved them with both focus stacking and possibly even extension tubes.
I’m really impressed with the image quality of photos taken with this lens. As well as being sharp, they display good color and contrast.
I took the lens down to my local beach and took a lot of images of boats, items on the beach, as well as very fast-moving soldier crabs. I took the images of the boats handheld but shot the close-up images using a tripod and remote release. These two items are essential when working at such close distances, where shutter speeds may be slower than 1/60 second, and where any tiny movement may blur the shot or change focus.
Value for money
The lens sells for around $399 USD. This is very good value considering the image quality, and build quality, and the fact that you’re unable to achieve this magnification with any other lens available at present.
The Laowa 65mm f2.8 2X Ultra-Macro APO lens boasts some impressive specifications. The most impressive, of course, is its ability to produce images of objects that are up to twice their actual size.
Image quality is very good, I’m happy with the results the lens gave me on my Fujifilm X-T2. Photos were sharp and displayed good color and contrast.
The lens is light and compact, has an excellent build quality, and is competitively priced.
Although I’m not a specialist macro photographer, I really enjoyed using the lens. If you enjoy shooting macro images, I’d recommend giving it a go. It’s certainly a great lens for flora and fauna enthusiasts, keen to get up close to the action.
You may also like:
- Review: Laowa 17mm f1.8 Lens with Micro-Four-Thirds Mount
- Review of the Venus Laowa 15mm F/4 Wide Angle Lens for Landscape Photographers