Many macro photographers interested in capturing the fine detail of small subjects are aware of the Canon MP E65mm macro lens, the only standalone lens thus far capable of achieving up to 5x magnification. This has however changed with the release of a new macro lens by Venus Optics, the Laowa 25mm f2.8 2.5 – 5x Ultra Macro lens. The Laowa 25mm is available in mounts for most of the major camera brands and non Canon users are no longer limited to the use of reversed lenses, bellows etc. for high magnification macro shots. As a long time MPE-65mm user, I was interested in the performance of the Laowa 25mm and was fortunate to get the opportunity to test one recently.
Let me just say that this is not a detailed review, nor a scientific, side by side comparison between the Laowa 25mm and the Canon MP-E65mm but merely my impression of the Laowa, some of the positives and negatives and examples of what can be achieved with this lens. There are excellent and detailed side by side comparisons and reviews by highly regarded macro photographers Nicky Bay and Gil Wizen.
My first impression of the lens was that it is very well made, compact and durable. It is constructed out of metal and is smaller and lighter than the MP-E 65mm (400g for the Laowa 25mm vs 730g for the Canon MP-E 65mm).
Magnification and versatility
The Laowa 25mm has a magnification range of 2.5x – 5x magnification. It is therefore not as versatile as the Canon MP-E 65mm that can magnify from 1x – 5x. Venus Optics manufactures another macro lens, the Laowa 60mm f2.8 macro that is a good companion for the Laowa 25mm and extends the magnification range.
Ease of use
The Laowa 25mm is a fully manual lens and the aperture is set by turning the aperture ring on the front of the lens. Magnification is achieved by turning the lens barrel that extends from 83mm at 2,5x to 137mm at 5x magnification.
Extreme macro lenses like the Laowa 25mm and the MP-E65mm takes time to get used to and are not ideal lenses for beginner macro photographers. I found the Laowa 25mm more difficult to use for handheld field shots compared to the MP-E65mm.
The Laowa’s manual aperture with no auto aperture control means that the viewfinder is very dark and it is therefore difficult to see if the subject is in focus. This will not be an issue when the lens is used for studio photography and where a desk lamp can be used as a light source for finding focus.
For handheld field shots, a decent additional focusing light is required to see if the subject is in focus. I created a temporary solution by taping a Lume cube to the flash heads but it was not very effective . Venus Optics has just released a focusing light created specifically for use with the Laowa 25mm. This additional focusing light should make it easier to find focus. Unfortunately the light was not available at the time that I tested the lens and I therefore can not attest to its effectiveness.
The lack of auto aperture control should also not be a problem if shooting is done with a tripod. The aperture can be set to wide open to find focus and then dialed back to the preferred shooting aperture before taking the shot.
Users of the Canon MT-24EX macro twin flash should note that the flash does not fit on the front of the Laowa 25mm. This is due to the smaller front diameter of the Laowa 25mm (43mm vs the 58mm of the MP-E65mm). I attached a strip of window sealing foam rubber to the MT-24EX to enable me to use it with the lens. It was workable but not a permanent solution and not recommended as there could be a risk of damaging the aperture ring.
Sharpness and Image Quality
The lens is very sharp, it matches the sharpness of the MP-E65mm and even outperforms it as it is slightly sharper at f2.8 and f4 at 5x magnification. This is important to me, even if it is only a small difference. When photographing finely detailed, small subjects sharpness is highly valued.
Depth of field is on par with the MP-E65mm.
I do not know why, but there is a colour difference between shots taken with the Laowa25mm and the Canon MP-E65mm. I prefer the slightly more vibrant colour of the Laowa 25mm. This colour difference was also mentioned by Gil Wizen in his review and he suggests that it could be the lens coating. My technical knowledge is severely limited and I can only confirm that I found the same colour difference.
The Laowa 25mm is a much more affordable lens and is almost half the price of the MP-E65mm.
The above are by no means all the differences between the Laowa 25mm and the Canon MP-E 65mm. The rest have been very well covered in the two detailed reviews mentioned in the beginning . I’ve just listed those that are most important to me and my specific requirements.
Some sample shots taken with the Laowa 25mm f2.8 2.5x – 5x Ultra Macro Lens:
*All photos were shot on a full frame Canon 5DSR but a 1.6 crop was applied to some images (equivalent to a APS-C sensor size) The flash was a Canon MT-24EX macro twin lite or Kuangren KX-800 macro twin lite and a homemade diffuser. Deep stacks were shot using a Wimberley gimbal head attached to a Badger ground pod (for keeping up with moving subjects).
All the spiders and insects (with the exception of the lacewing larvae that was photographed in a park) are from my garden. Some were photographed in the garden and others were collected, photographed at a table and released afterwards.
Thyene natalii female – single frame – 5x @ f5.6
Thyene natalii female – 37 Frame stack – 5x @ f5.6
Vida van der Walt is a macro photographer living in South Africa. To view her incredible gallery of jumping spiders, click here.