Laowa 100mm f/2.8 Ultra Macro Review

Laowa 100mm f/2.8 Ultra Macro Review

Laowa 100mm f/2.8 Ultra Macro Review

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2 X Macro Goodness

TrueToad
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UpDate: The Laowa 100mm lens is now available in several camera mounts including the native Z mount for Nikon/ The Z mount version allows direct mounting to your Z camera without an adapter.  I bought Mine prior to the availability of the updated mount supporting the Nikon Z camera.

Bottom Line:  This is a fantastic "manual" focus macro lens and optically equal or superior to top brand macro lenses. I use focus peaking to assist with manual focusing + I also use focus stacking if the subject stands still long enough when at the higher magnification 1.5 - 2x. If you understand the challenges of a manual focus lens then I can highly recommend this lens to any seasoned Macro Photographer. 

Please Note To fully enjoy the lens on a Nikon Z - Go into your camera Menu and set up the lens as a non-CPU lens.

The arrival of this lens at the beginning of summer is perfect timing for outdoor Macro Photography and I am enjoying using this well-made lens. All images posted here were taken with the Laowa 100mm Macro lens and a Nikon Z7 camera. None of the images show the true capability, as these were mostly taken handheld. Below is a summary of what the lens is comprised of and its technical specifications. 

Cardinal In Molt

Cardinal In Molt

Compatibility with Nikon FTZ: The FTZ adapter and the Laowa 100mm lens works well together but does not support exposure readout in the EVF/LCD, meaning that you can not use the command dial on the camera to set an aperture and if you manually turn the aperture the setting does not show in the EVF. This does not appear to impact using the lens or TTL flash photography as I was able to get proper exposures using flash, the camera knows what aperture is set and acts accordingly. Additionally, the EXIF data was available in post-processing.

  • Focus Aids: If you have trouble acquiring maximum sharp focus I suggest you can turn on focus peaking in the Z6/Z7 menu (menu item d10) to help with focus. 
  • Image Stabilization: To allow the Nikon Z to support this lens for IBIS you will need to go into the Z6/Z7 menu and set up the Non-CPU Lens Data (Wrench Menu then Non-CPU Lens), once that is set you will have an image stabilization as long as it turned on in-camera - use normal stabilization for macro.
  • Challenges: Like all Macro lenses when you get to 1:1 and closer your depth of field is very shallow. Having a manual focus lens with manual f/stops your viewfinder can get dark making focusing difficult. This situation will require you to adjust your aperture, shutter, and or ISO to maintain enough light to focus on. My experience with focus peaking thus far helps but is not 100% reliable and with the Z7's built-in stabilization which works great if you are using the lens as a normal 100mm lens, once you get into the macro range the stabilization effect is reduced.

Tie Down Full Crop

Tie Down Full Crop

 The benefit of using this lens with a Nikon Z camera: Depending on your ISO and Shutter Speed setting as you turn the aperture dial your EVF will become brighter or darker, which gives you real-time visual exposure. If the EVF is dark you simply open the aperture or lower the shutter or increase the ISO.

  • The other benefit of using this lens with a Nikon Z mirrorless you can enable image stabilization in the camera

 

How does this lens stack up to the legendary Nikkor 105mm Macro? I would say on-par with image quality and sharpness, but the edge goes to Nikon for in-lens image stabilization and autofocus capability.  Below are two images of a Hornworm taken with the Laowa 100mm and the Nikon 105mm to give you an idea.

Laowa 100mm Macro f/22 1/160 Nikon 105mm Macro f/22 1/160
Hornworm with wasp infestation taken with Loawa 100mm macro

Hornworm with wasp infestation taken with Loawa 100mm macro

Hornworm with wasp infestation taken with Nikon 105 Macro

Hornworm with wasp infestation taken with Nikon 105 Macro

The physical makeup of the lens is metal with a robust feel but does not have a weather seal gasket at the mounting flange. This Venus Laowa Macro is what I think a first from Laowa incorporating camera to lens couplings which allow the camera to control the aperture automatically when taking the picture. The other upside to the electronic couplings is EXIF data, your image files will show the aperture along with ISO, Shutter Speed, etc.

The front lens barrel is an open design that begs to have a 67mm front filter attached - the good news Laowa includes one. Without the front filter, you would likely accumulate dirt and dust into the lens housing.

The overall length of the lens is 72 x 125 mm(Sony version: 72 x 155 mm), which by comparison to the Nikon 105 VR Macro the Laowa is smaller in girth, slightly lighter, and not as long. The lens is an internal focus with all elements remaining within the lens barrel - the lens does not get shorter or longer during focusing.

Image
The focus throw is somewhat short making the ease of acquiring focus manually rather quick, this is a manual focus lens only, and turning the focus ring is stiff and stays put, which I prefer for manual focus lens.

The aperture ring moves from f/2.8 through f/22 and I find it a little on the loose side, and not having the EVF readout I need to take my face away from the camera to ensure I set the f stop properly at times.

Laowa has put out some fantastic Macro lenses in the last couple of years such as the awesome 60mm f/2.8 2:1 Macro.  Following on the heels of the 60mm now comes the 100mm f/2.8 2:1 Macro is the 2nd member of the Laowa 2:1 macro line-up. 

Dragonfly shot with a Nikon Mirrorless and  Loawa 100mm macro lens

Dragonfly shot with a Nikon Mirrorless and Loawa 100mm macro lens

The Glass: The new 100mm f/2.8 Macro features 2 apochromatic (APO) lens elements that corrects chromatic aberration at both ‘in-focus’ & ‘out-of-focus’. This new 100mm lens can cover full-frame sensor size and focus from 2:1 magnification to infinity, so this means those users of larger MP sensors will be able to pull exception details using this lens. The Laowa 100mm f/2.8 macro is similar in size to other 100mm Macro lenses available but its 2 x magnification range allows macro photographers to capture subjects at 1:1 and 2:1 sizes. The Laowa 100mm f/2.8 lens has the capability to focus on infinity and serve as a portrait lens with exceptional optics quality.

Lighting Your Subject: When using the 2:1 macro strong lighting is recommended for best results due to the very shallow depth of field and closing down to f/20 will be challenging without strong lighting.  I use a Nikon R1C1 system with my Nikon DSLR which does a very good job of providing proper lighting when needed.

Tripod vs No Tripod: I rarely travel without a tripod and carry it with me out shooting unless I am doing a simple walk and shoot. Using a tripod allows me to stay out longer without getting overly tired trying to handhold, and with my Arca quick release, taking the camera and lens off the tripod is quick when I need to chase something like a dragonfly. 

This Macro lens is a very good manual focus macro lens, and if you do not mind manual focus and want a top quality lens I recommend picking one up. Not mentioned, this lens can double as a standard lens unlike some of the other Laowa macro lenses. So, you are not stuck with just a macro lens with this lens.

Image
Who is this lens best suited for: The Laowa 100mm f/2.8 is best suited for Macro Photographers who don't mind the manual operation of the lens and enjoy the challenge of this type of Macro. Having to manually focus may somewhat limit you to more stationary subjects and not those faster-moving bugs. 

Image Quality based on my photos all had very good rendering with extreme details on the right camera body. Shooting at 2x macro will require strong lighting as mentioned above, such as direct sunlight or flash, especially at apertures above f/8.  As you can imagine the depth of field is very shallow when you are at 2:1.

Overall this Macro lens is a serious tool that can capture stunning details.

This lens will also support an optional Tripod Collar - which I am going to order.

Edwin the Cat Evil
What do I think about this lens? It is a fun lens to use and inspires me to go out and take the challenge of a manual macro lens. If you are not accustomed to using manual lenses, this lens will require a few outings to become familiar with its operation and capabilities. Overall I am enjoying using this lens and can recommend it to anyone not afraid of manual lenses.

Specifications Overview
Focal Length 100mm
Max. Aperture f/2.8
Angle of View 24.4°
Format Compatibility Full Frame
Lens Structure 12 elements in 10 groups
Aperture Blades 9 (Canon), 7 (Nikon), 13 (Sony FE)
Min. Focusing Distance 24.7cm (2X)
Max. Magnification 2:1
Filter Thread 67mm
Dimensions Ф72 x 125 mm(Sony version: Ф72 x 155 mm)
Weight 638g
Mounts Canon / Nikon / Sony FE

 

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