The Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5X Ultra Macro Lens was announced way back in 2018. It is quite a specialty lens and I think that is one of its drawcards.
As the lens is now available in Canon RF and Nikon Z mounts I wanted to take a look at it to see how it performs when shooting video.
So what is it?
Most of us have used macro lenses for video work at some point in time, but extreme macro lenses are an altogether different animal. The Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5X Ultra Macro is a specialized macro lens for filming subjects at magnifications greater than life-size.
The majority of macro lenses feature a 1:1 reproduction ratio. In the case of the Laowa lens, it has a 2.5:1 to 5:1 range. This allows you to capture tiny objects at 2.5 to five times their actual size.
Not only does this lens have a 2.5:1 to 5:1 range, but it also features a wide-angle focal length of 25mm. This makes this lens very unique because it allows you to obtain a greater depth of field compared to longer focal length macro lenses. This is important when shooting at extreme macro magnifications.
Size & Weight
The Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5X Ultra Macro tips the scales at 14.11 oz / 400 g. This makes it very lightweight compared to a lot of other macro lenses.
The lens is 82mm long, but it does extend out when you increase the magnification.
As a comparison, the Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5X weighs 1.56 lb / 710 g and it is 98mm long.
The lens features an all-metal design and it feels solidly made. The barrel that increases or decreases the 2.5:1 to 5:1 range is quite tight and it does take a bit of effort to move the barrel. However, this is done on purpose so that the barrel will not move when you are shooting.
The aperture ring is at the very front of the lens and it has hard f-stops.
The only thing that I did notice is that the loan lens that was sent out for this review did have dust inside it. This is a big issue as the slightest amount of dust is very noticeable when shooting with an extreme macro.
How do you focus?
The lens doesn’t have a focus mechanism. The only way to focus is by controlling the distance from the lens to your subject. This means that you need to make minute adjustments to get subjects in focus. You really do need to have some patience when working with this lens.
Shooting any object that is moving can be extremely tricky, especially when it comes to video. The other downside is that unlike most other macro lenses, this lens can only be used for macro shots. You can’t use it as a regular lens.
I quickly found out that you really need to just use this lens with a tripod for locked off shots. That is not to say you can’t use it hand held, but if you are going to do this it is better to shoot at higher frame rates.
Minimum Focusing Distance
The 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5X Ultra Macro has a minimum focusing distance of 6.8″ (17.27cm) at the 5:1 setting. This allows you to get very close to objects while still providing you with a wide field of view.
At the 2.5:1 position, a minimum focusing distance is 9.2″ (23.36cm).
The optical design of the lens consists of 8 Elements in 6 Groups. There is an extra-low dispersion element that is claimed to deliver an unprecedented corner to corner sharpness. The extra-low dispersion element is also claimed to help reduce color fringing and chromatic aberrations.
The lens also has 8 aperture blades.
The Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5X Ultra Macro is available in the following mounts:
- Canon EF
- Canon R
- Nikon F
- Nikon Z
- Pentax K
- Sony FE
The nice thing about the lens is that you can also get a range of optional mount adapters:
- Laowa Lens Mount Adapter (Canon EF – Fuji X) $30.00
- Laowa Lens Mount Adapter (Nikon F – Fuji X) $30.00
- Laowa Lens Mount Adapter (Canon EF – Micro Four Thirds) $30.00
- Laowa Lens Mount Adapter (Nikon F – Micro Four Thirds) $30.00
- Laowa Lens Mount Adapter (Canon EF – Sony FE) $30.00
- Laowa Lens Mount Adapter (Nikon F – Sony FE) $30.00
When shooting with extreme macro lenses you really want that lens to be nice and sharp. Above you can see how the lens performs when used at 2.5:1 and 5:1 at a variety of f-stops.
As a reference, above you can see the size of the object I was filming. In the sharpness tests, I am shooting part of the robot’s mouth. The robot is around 12cm high.
The lens is certainly sharper at 2.5:1 than it is at 5:1. It is softer when used wide open and at f/4. I found that sharpness is optimal at either f/5.6 or f/8.
The lens does lose some contrast as well when you are using it at 5:1.
Above you can see a couple of still images of some tiny Amber Snails captured with the lens.
Chromatic aberration can be a problem with macro lenses, especially when using them wide open. So how does the Laowa perform? I purposely over exposed fine metallic objects on the robot I was shooting to find out.
I was surprised to see that there weren’t any real visible signs of chromatic aberration when using the lens at 2.5:1.
At 5:1 when used wide open at f/2.8 you can see some chromatic aberration if you look very closely, but it is well contained.
Real World Use
I tried shooting a variety of things with the lens to see how it performed and to get a sense of how useable it was for video.
Above you can see a short test where I used the lens on an iFootage Shark Slider Mini. The trouble when you use an ultra macro with any small sized slider moving at very slow speeds you are going to see some small movement and it isn’t going to be silky smooth. In saying that, this combination does allow you to get some interesting shots.
As a reference, above you can see what I was actually filming for that shot.
Above there are some quick shots I took of some tiny Amber Snails.
As a reference, above you can see how small the biggest snail was in relation to everything else.
It is difficult to shoot with an ultra macro without a very stable platform. The slightest movement gets magnified and it is very easy to get very shaky shots. If you also try and change the focus by adjusting the magnification your whole image will shake. I found it was easiest to just pick your focus, lock off the tripod, and hit record. Trying to follow objects with this lens on a tripod is almost impossible.
The trouble with a lens like this is if you are combining it on a camera that doesn’t have built-in ND you could run into potential issues if you are trying to use it outdoors in bright conditions. I am not aware of any ND solution that is available for a lens such as this. It would be very hard to run a matte box given how close the lens has to be to your subject.
The Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5X Ultra Macro retails for just $399 USD which makes it excellent value for money for a specialty lens. As a comparison, the Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro Photo Lens is $1,049.00 USD.
I am personally a big advocate of using unique and interesting lenses. Adding unusual lenses to your collection can certainly help to add a different dimension to projects that you are working on. Like any specialty lens, you need to use it appropriately and with restraint. It is easy to get carried away with something that is different and the tendency is to overuse it.
For projects where extreme macro lenses are required the Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5X Ultra Macro ticks a lot of boxes. It is lightweight, affordable and it still produces reasonably sharp images with minimal chromatic aberration. However, it is a very tricky lens to use when shooting video and it is only going to be suitable for select shots.
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Matthew Allard ACS