‘Laowa 100mm f/2.8 - 2x APO’ real world review
Once again, Laowa have released a fresh new lens to their lineup and quite possibly, a lens to rock the world of macro photography! The build quality and overall aesthetics of the lens are fantastic and feels like a very solid chunk of metal and glass. The smoothness of the focus ring and aperture ring oozes quality! But there are loads of high quality 100mm macro lenses?…..So what makes this lens so different? Read on to see why!
Macro - A brief introduction
Macro basically means anything photographed at a minimum magnification of 1:1 - the subject is being projected onto your camera sensor is a lifesize representation. You may have seen some zoom lenses, like the Sigma or Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6, which say ‘Macro’ on them, but this isn’t true macro at all really. It’s just a marketing ploy to say that the lens focuses close.
True macro lenses, will focus all the way down to the true 1:1 ratio. Some of these lenses include the Canon 100mm f/2.8 L - Nikon 105mm f/2.8 G, Tamron 90mm f/2.8, Nikon 200mm f/4 and there a plenty of others on the market too. The greater magnification ratio of 2:1 is where the Laowa beats the big boys! 2:1 is twice the magnification of 1:1, don’t get it confused with 1:2 - half life size. If you’re just beginning your journey into the micro world of macro photography, read on to see why I would recommend this 2x lens over any other 1x! Lots of light is needed when shooting macro. The more magnification you use, the more light you need.
Features & Specs
100mm f/2.8 - f/22
2:1 magnification through to infinity
67mm filter thread
Electronic diaphragm (EF mount only)
APO (Apochromatic optics)
Full frame compatible
24.7cm minimum focusdistance
9 aperture blades for Canon EF - 7 aperture blades for Nikon F - 13 aperture blades for Sony E
Seriously, Laowa are no slouch when it comes to producing some optically fantastic lenses. This lens is slightly different though as the optical elements incorporate an APO (apochromatic) design. APO lenses are designed to correctly focus the red, blue and green light that enters the lens, thus creating an image that is corrected against CA (chromatic aberrations). As I mentioned earlier, lens manufacturers can often use the term ‘macro’ as a marketing tool. Well, the same goes for ‘APO’. I currently own a sigma 400mm f5.6 AF Macro APO; great lens, but again, this isn’t true macro, but 1:3 and even with an APO lens design, there is still some green fringing, even though it isn’t much. True to the APO design, the 100mm shows no sign of any CA, incredible!
The lens produces some very sharp images throughout the frame, even wide open. Stopping down improves and my tests show that f/11 is the sweet spot, although f/16 and f/22 are still sharp enough and very much usable. Sharpness drops towards the edges of the frame, but the center areas are pin sharp.
Bokeh quality is very much a personal subject, but the 100mm produces some very soft and smooth out of focus areas. It looks very pleasing to the eye and there are no signs of ‘bokeh fringing’.
Flare and ghosting is quite bad when pointed towards the sun, so shooting back lit subjects can be difficult.
With an all metal build, the 100mm feels solid in your hand. The focus ring is large, smooth to turn and ribbed for added grip. At the rear of the lens (NOT the Canon EF mount) is a traditional aperture ring. Unlike some of their other lenses, there is no ability to turn the clicks off; something to keep in mind if you shoot video. Otherwise, for stills it is great to have that feeling of it clicking as you dial in your desired F stop. I did find it quite easy to accidentally turn, perhaps slightly more resistance would be better.
The Canon version is Laowa’s first lens to incorporate electronic contacts, allowing the aperture to be controlled through the dials on the camera. The Nikon features aperture coupling, which basically means the blades stay open even if you stop down. The camera meters for the desired F stop and the blades are released once the shutter is fired. The Sony E version is the same as the other manual lenses.
It doesn’t feel too heavy and is roughly the same weight as most of the other 100mm macros on the market. As with their other lenses, it lacks any kind of weather sealing, something i would love to see added in the future. The design is a bit of an odd one and something i’ve not come across before. The front element is a UV filter, so if you remove this, it exposes the inside of the lens to dirt and dust, so best to keep it on permanently. Removing the UV does not make for a sharper image, so there is no sacrifice in quality.
Other than the lack of weather sealing, the 100mm feels solid and is great to use out in the field.
What does 2X magnification look like?
Here is a side by side comparison of the 100mm shot at 1x, 1.5x and 2x. As you can see, 2x allows you to really get up close which for macro photographers is always very welcoming. Sure, you could use a standard 1x macro lens coupled with an attachment like the Raynox 250 or even add some extension tubes, but just remember, this lens offers 2x without the need for any extras. By adding the same extras to this lens, you can gain even more magnification compared to a standard 1x macro lens!
Questions asked by the public on Instagram
On my instagram story I asked everyone what they wanted to know about then and that I would answer any of your questions, so here goes!
@dbeni91 - ‘Hi! If I already own the Laowa 60mm macro, is the the upgrade to the 100mm worth it? A lot less DOF (depth of field)?’.
@jamesbanksphoto - ‘Have you used the Sony 90mm macro and how do they compare?’.
@jeroen.photography - ‘What accessories do you need to make those sharp macro shots (body and lens aside).
@chanschoon - ‘Would you ever use it handheld, no tripod? How does it do in terms of getting clean shots without stabilisation?.
@gavin_swonnell_photography - ‘How close can you take a photo?.
@chambers35th - ‘How does it compare to macro lenses of a similar focal length, aside the 2X?
Yes, but only if you need full frame coverage throughout the focal range from infinity to 2X. The 100mm is larger and heavier too, so bear that in mind.
At the time of this review I have not managed to get hands on with the Sony 90mm f/2.8, however, I have got one coming in a few weeks time so I will be doing a big head to head with a variety of other similar focal length macro lenses! Stay tuned!
Technically, you just need a quick enough shutter speed. Macro photography isn’t easy and external lighting such as flashes really helps, especially shooting at small apertures.
98% of the time I shoot macro handheld. I only ever use a tripod or monopod if I know i can shoot a large amount of stacked images with a non moving subject. Stabilization isn’t a necessity. Shutter speed and freezing the action is key and this is where you need external lighting or bright sunlight.
Minimum focus distance is 24.7cm at 2X magnification.
A big head to head is in the works, so stay tuned to see the final results!
Overall thoughts and final conclusion
I knew this lens would be good, but to be honest, I didn’t think that the 2x magnification would be that useful. When I was shooting, I constantly had it set to 2x and if the subject was too large, I just simply reduced the magnification. This feature is what really sets it apart from any of the competition and if you are after a true dedicated macro lens, then you seriously need to get one. Auto-focus is not needed when it comes to macro photography, simply set your focus and move yourself and the camera until the subject is sharp, hold your breath and fire away! The ability to magnify your subject even more is highly sought after with macro photographers. Just because it has this feature, doesn’t mean you need to use all the time, but for me, I couldn’t help shooting at 2x as much as possible so I know this is a lens that would get some good use for the type of images I love to shoot!
It is really sharp!
Strong metal build
Sleek and sexy design
The price! $449 - £469!
Full frame compatible
Not weather sealed!
No EXIF data for Nikon & Sony mounts
Flare and ghosting is quite strong
The things that some people might care about
The front filter design might be off putting for some people
During my short time with the lens, I have thoroughly enjoyed using it. As someone who LOVES macro photography, the 2x magnification was a joy to use! Serious macro photographers should definitely consider picking one up, because there isn’t really a need to go with any other 100mm macro unless you desperately need auto focus. Yes, I do wish that the flare issue could be handled better and that it featured weather sealing, but these are certainly outweighed in my opinion.
A big head to head of lenses with a similar focal range is currently in the works and will be published soon, so stay tuned and keep up to date by following me on instagram or facebook.
This lens is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
If you fancy picking one up for yourself, you can buy it HERE