As a company, Laowa has been making some really interesting and unique lenses. My personal favorite so far is the 12mm f/2.8 Zero-Distortion lens, although this new lens might just take its place.
In my latest video, I review the Laowa 24mm f/14 macro probe lens to see what it's all about and how practical it actually is. With its relatively tiny aperture, I was initially very skeptical. As someone who regularly makes YouTube videos, I was trying to figure out exactly how I would use this lens. Sure, you can use it for commercial videos where you're filming products up close, but that market is relatively small. Fortunately, I realized it's potential when I was filming some B roll; this lens is simply incredible for that purpose. I love how you're able to film something with a wider view and then cut to a shot super close. This gives you a whole new dimension to the type of clips you can produce, and I properly enjoy it. I don't think there is another lens from any of the major manufacturers that can produce the kind of clips the Laowa 24mm lens can, making this very unique. To see how the lens performs for specifically filming, check out the full video.
Build Quality and Design
Laowa clearly cares about build quality, and it's an area they do not take lightly. As with some of their other lenses, the build quality on the 24mm probe lens is fantastic. The solid metal design is very pleasing and gives a proper premium feel to it. This lens is completely manual and does not have any electronic contacts on the mount. This means there's no autofocus and the aperture can only be controlled from the lens. The focus ring has a long enough throw on it for those who want to be precise with their focusing. Although with the super small aperture on this lens, it's not that difficult to find focus. The aperture ring is de-clicked, making is great for videographers. Unfortunately, in my use, I found the aperture ring to be a little loose, and on several occasions when using the lens normally, I found the aperture ring inadvertently closed down to f/16 or even f/22. I don't consider this to be a major flaw, but it has affected some of my footage; I think the aperture ring may be too close to the focus ring.
The design of this lens is what really makes it stand out. The long, probe-type design really did catch many viewers' eyes when I was out filming. The reason why this lens is so long in design is purely so it can focus close enough to achieve it's 2:1 magnification without disturbing the subject. This is double the magnification of most macro lenses available on the market, meaning you can have your subject much larger in the frame.
Other features of this lens include the LED lights built into the lens, which can be powered by a portable battery. I personally have mixed feelings about this, because on one hand, I absolutely love it and think it's a fantastic feature to offer. I'm sure someone somewhere who needs that extra little bit of light will find it invaluable. On the other hand, I really didn't like using them, because the light quality isn't great. I ended up not using them at all for the same reasons that I don't use built-in flash.
The long, probe-like design does cause a few issues in regards to transporting the lens. When filming, chances are you'll be carrying a selection of equipment, and the Laowa lens does create a challenge because it's difficult to fit in a bag properly. Even with a relatively large backpack like the Lowepro Flipside 400 II, the lens didn't fit properly and took up a lot of space. Due to this, although I think it's a fantastic lens, it does make me think twice before packing it for a shoot.
When it comes to image quality, there a couple of things I found. First thing is that although this lens does allow you to focus all the way to infinity, at that distance, footage and images look very soft. As you can see with the images below, the Canon 24mm f/2.8 is much sharper and more detailed even when looking at the images from a distance. Both images have been shot with the exact same settings and camera.
You'll also notice some very heavy vignetting in the Laowa image, and the colors are different too. In my use, I've found that the Laowa lens has a very distinct yellow cast to the footage and images it produces. Sure, this can be corrected with some adjustment in post; however, straight out of the camera, you won't get accurate colors. Essentially, if you are interested in making sure the colors are accurate, then you will absolutely need a color checker passport for this lens.
Fortunately, when it comes to video, the color shift is actually very pleasing and gives a more cinematic, warm look to the clips. This can, of course, be corrected, but I actually preferred it,
Where this lens shines is at very close distances, and that's where you can really get the most out of it. It's simply incredible how close you can get to your subject and still have sharp focus. Images at close distances look very sharp and detailed, and although the colors may need some work, the detail is definitely there.
When comparing the Laowa 24mm to a more standard macro lens like the Canon 100mm f/2.8L, there are some very notable differences. For one, due to the wider angle of view, at any given magnification, you'll have noticeably more in the frame with the Laowa lens than you will with the 100mm macro. The benefit of the Laowa lens is that you can have context with the shots you produce, so not only can you get really close to your subject, you can also have more interesting backgrounds. The issue is that due to the working distances, you'll notice significantly less compression with the Laowa lens at any given magnification. The images below have been shot with the same lighting setup, camera, and settings. The images have also not been edited.
What I Liked
- A relatively unique lens with incredible potential.
- Fantastic image quality up close.
- Build quality is fantastic.
- De-clicked aperture.
- Fantastic for video shooters.
What I Didn't Like
- It's easy to accidentally knock the aperture
- A little unwieldy and difficult to take with you on shoots.
- Small aperture can make it a little tricky to use in lower-light scenarios.
- A very prominent color shift.
Although you can use this lens for photography, it's more effective for video shooters. Even the configurations available to buy from Laowa demonstrate that they are positioning this lens more towards video shooters than photographers. Sure, you can use it for photography; however, the impact of this lens can only properly be felt when filming. For video, this lens is absolutely incredible. The kind of footage you can produce is very unique and gives a whole new dimension. You can start with a context-building shot and then cut to a very close shot. This, I believe, will give videographers some amazing creative possibilities. The other fantastic thing about this lens is the lack of compression at any given magnification. In many cases, people consider that to be an issue; however, if you know how to use perspective tricks to your advantage, you can create some very interesting shots.
I have created a short video for a company using this lens, which can be seen at the end of the video above. In any case, if you're a videographer, I highly recommend this lens. For photographers, I'd say it depends.
You can preorder the lens for $1,499 here.