Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5X Ultra Macro
Focal Length: 25mm
Max. Aperture: f/2.8
Angle of View: 10.3°
Format Compatibility: Full Frame & APS-C
Lens Structure: 8 elements in 6 groups
Aperture Blades: 8
Min. Focusing Distance (Distance from sensor to object): 17.3 cm (5x) – 23.4 cm (2.5x)
Working Distance (Distance from front element to object): 40 mm (5x) – 45 mm (2.5x)
Max. Magnification: 5x
Filter Thread: N/A
Dimensions: 82 x 65 mm
Weight: Approx. 400g
Mounts: Canon / Nikon / Pentax K / Sony FE
When I was chatting with the guys from Venus Optics earlier this year, they told me they are going to release a new ultra macro lens very soon and if I am interested in trying it out. Of course I can’t say no and a few days later a pre-production sample showed up at my door.
But what is an ultra macro lens? How different is it from normal macro lens?
Normally a macro lens is a lens that can give you 1:1 magnification ratio. What it means is the size of the object you are shooting when projected onto the sensor is the same size as the real object.
With the ultra macro lens, you get magnification ratio that is larger than 1:1. In this case with the Laowa 25mm f/2.8 ultra macro lens, you get between 2.5x to 5x magnification.
Here is an example to show you the difference between normal 1x macro and the 2.5x and 5x ultra macro shots.
This is the object I’m shooting with a normal lens, a mini Manfrotto desktop tripod that Lok Cheung (ex-DigitalRev) recommended to me when he visited New Zealand last year.
And this is what it looks like when shot with a normal 1x macro lens:
Normal (1x) macro photo
And now with an ultra macro lens, I can capture photo like this, at 2.5x and 5x magnification:
2.5x Ultra macro shot with Nikon D800 | Laowa 25mm f/2.8 ultra macro
OK now we are all clear what this Laowa ultra macro lens can do, let’s start the actual review.
Throughout this review, I’ll show you some of the sample photos I’ve shot with the Laowa 25mm f/2.8 Ultra macro lens. I’ll let you guess what are the objects I’m shooting. Hint: They are all photography related objects, e.g. camera, lens..etc
To find the answers, just scroll to the end of this review.
The Laowa 25mm f/2.8 Ultra macro is the second ultra macro lens from Venus optics, they already have a Laowa 60mm f/2.8 2X Ultra-Macro lens. But unlike their 60mm ultra macro lens, the Laowa 25mm ultra macro lens does not offer infinity focus. So you can only use this lens to shoot ultra macro photos and you cannot use it as a normal lens to shoot objects far away.
This is actually pretty common for ultra macro lens as the lens is so optimised for super close focus performance which has a completely different optical design than the normal far focus lenses.
The Laowa 25mm f/2.8 Ultra macro lens is made of metal. It feels very solid and well made. Even the lens cap is made of metal and feel nice when you try to attach or remove it.
There are only two things you can control. One is the focus ring and one is the aperture ring.
I don’t know if focus ring is the right name as it actually controls the magnification rather than the focus. Basically you choose the magnification you want which is between 2.5x and 5x, and that determine the required focus distance. So you just move the camera closer / further away from your subject until it’s in focus.
The focus ring is a bit tight but smooth. This is probably necessary as the focus ring also controls the magnification and I don’t want it to change too easily.
One thing you need to be careful when shooting with this lens is that the barrel extends quite a lot when you increase magnification. So be careful when you are shooting and looking through the viewfinder. Don’t poke your subject when adjusting the focus/magnification.
The aperture ring starts from f/2.8 and there is one click per stop all the way to 22. ( f/11 and f/22 has no marking on the lens). The aperture ring feels very nice and thank the maker they didn’t make it a de-clicked aperture ring or I’ll be so annoyed.
If you have shot macro photos, you would know one of the biggest challenge when shooting macro photo is that the lens barrel quite often would block the ambient light and cast shadow on the subject. When shooting with the Laowa 25mm ultra macro lens, the distance between the front of the lens and your subject is around 4-5 cm so the lens is pretty close to the object you are shooting. Fortunately the lens barrel diameter is quite small especially the front end so this has minimised the problem of the lens itself blocking the ambient light.
Overall the build quality is good and definitely exceeds my expectation for a lens that retails at only US$399.
While the build quality of the lens is very good despite it’s low price, I can’t say the same about it’s aesthetic design. It’s not like there is something wrong, but the overall design just doesn’t look very pretty. A lot of those are just minor details, for example, the fonts they use at the top and bottom of the lens is too generic and unattractive. The metal lens cap while feels great and so much better than the lens cap on the Laowa 7.5mm lens, has no brand name, logo or anything on it so it looks like an early prototype. That’s the first thing I report to Venus Optics and they said they will look into it.
If the retail version end up has a nice looking lens cap, i’ll claim the credit.
If you say, Richard it’s just a camera lens, who cares how it looks as long as it takes nice photo. Well you are not wrong but it doesn’t stop me from wanting to have a better looking lens. The small diameter lens barrel may also contribute to the unattractive design, but at least there is a reason behind it.
The Laowa 25mm f/2.8 ultra macro lens is a pretty sharp lens from 2.5x to 5x magnification, even at the maximum f/2.8 aperture.
As you can see both centre and corner are pretty good even at f/2.8. And there is not much chromatic aberration even at maximum aperture. Surprisingly there isn’t much vignetting either despite it’s small lens barrel.
Actually when you are shooting at f/2.8, image quality is not a problem at all, the biggest problem is that at that very close focus distance and f/2.8, your depth of field is ridiculously shallow. Even with the camera on a tripod, shooting in liveview and my object is fixed on a table, I still have a hard time getting perfect focus at f/2.8 as a tiny touch of the camera would change my focus point from sharp to slightly out of focus.
So in reality, since you can’t use this lens to shoot normal non-macro photos, you’ll almost never shoot at f/2.8. You’ll need to stop down the lens to get yourself more depth of field. Most of the photos I shot for this review were at around f/16 and even then I still don’t really have too much depth of field.
And that lead to the next point, when you are shooting with this lens, you’ll need light, lots of light, especially when you are shooting indoor where there isn’t much ambient light. Best way is to use a ring flash, or LED light designed for macro photography to provide even illumination of your subject.
And because this lens doesn’t have auto aperture, which means your viewfinder would dim signifcantly when you stop down to say f/16, a constant light would be better than the flash. If you are using a mirrorless camera, or using liveview, then it is better as the camera would boost the brightness automatically but still have a constant light source would allow you to preview the scene in much better quality.
I shot all the photos with two small YongNuo YN300 III LED lights and most of my photos were shot between ISO 1000-6400 because of the small aperture I used and I was also shooting at relatively fast shutter speed to minimise blur.
Overall, while there are things you need to be careful when shooting with the laowa 25mm ultra macro lens, I don’t think you’ll have much complain about the image quality. If the photo doesn’t look good or not sharp, it’s probably due to not having enough light or your own mistakes.
When shooting with this lens, I feel like I’ve become the Ant man (the super hero) myself. I got shrink into a tiny size and suddenly everything in this world becomes gigantic and that completely changed how I see the world. Every ordinary object looks completely different and unusual. Even objects like a tripod or camera lens that we are so familiar with would look so different all of a sudden. I found myself spending hours and hours shooting objects I’m very familar with and the photo I got is really quite interesting.
Look at all the sample photos in this review, they are mostly just photos of something from my camera bag. And as you can see, looking at them through an ultra macro lens gives you completely different perspective. I could use this lens to shoot some projects when I’m stuck at home. Ultra macro photos of the food in the kitchen, books and magazine, my foreign coins and notes collection..etc the list could go on and on. Basically anything with interesting texture, colour or pattern could work quite well.
Now if you are someone who has never done any macro photography before, would I recommend this lens to you?
I don’t have a solid answer, but my answer is probably not if you are just starting photography and never done any macro photography. For a few reasons.
- Macro photography is not really an easy topic. You are very close to your subject so any tiny camera movement would hugely affect or ruin your photo, lighting requirement is different to normal photos and you have very limited depth of field. And an ultra macro is basically macro photography on sterioids. Whatever challenge you have when shooting normal macro photos just multiple it by a few times so it’s not the easiest way to get into macro photography with a ultra macro lens.
- If you are just starting photography, you don’t have a lot of camera gears. You are in the phase where you want to buy the gear that you can use the most. I would suggest you start with a typcial 90-100mm macro lens as it can be also used as a nice portrait lens and a short telephoto lens. It’s a good multi-purpose lens. While the Laowa can’t focus to infinity and it can only be used to shoot ultra macro photos only. Or if you are really interested in ultra macro photography, consider get the Laowa 60mm f/2.8 ultra macro lens instead as that lens support infinity focus so it’s also a good general purpose lens.
But having said that, if you already have a macro lens in your camera bag, or you have done a bit of macro photography before and want to have more fun, then you should definitely check out this lens.
The image quality is excellent, the build quality is quite good and being able to do ultra macro photography at pretty affordable price is just awesome.
While I still prefer the lens to have a more attractive design and probably auto-aperture as well, these are things I could live with consider it’s attractive price and performance.
What I like
– Solid metal construction
– Excellent image quality
– It is super fun, even when you are stuck at home
– Ultra macro at affordable price (USD$399)
What I don’t like
– Not a beautiful looking lens
– No auto-aperture (for DSLR shooters using viewfinder)
– No infinity focus
Where to buy?
If you would like to buy this lens, I would recommend you get it from your local Laowa dealer and support your local camera shops.
If you are from New Zealand you can order from the Laowa reseller Photogear.
If you don’t have a Laowa dealer in your area, you could also order directly from Laowa’s official website
And here are the answers to all my ultra macro photos, how many of them have you guessed correctly?