Review: The LAOWA 50mm f/2.8 2x 2:1 Ultra Macro APO MFT

Review: The LAOWA 50mm f/2.8 2x 2:1 Ultra Macro APO MFT

Introduction

Lesser stag beetle, photographed with the Laowa 50mm 2x on OM System OM-D E-M1 III

Is the LAOWA 50mm f/2.8 2X Ultra Macro APO 2:1 the best macro lens for MFT?

It definitely is a unique lens with superior flexibility and has hardly any competition in micro-four-thirds format.

Why is that?

Let´s take a look at this macro lens from Venus Optics / LAOWA and see how it performs.

Disclaimer – non-technical review:
As usual, while reviewing lenses, i focus on my personal approach and user experience – which means, that all of my personal opinions & subjective verdicts should be taken with that in mind.
If a lens does not fit my personal style of shooting that does not mean it does not fit yours – it might be the perfect lens for you, while i cannot incorporate it into my workflow – and vice versa.

The lens & build

Given the attractive price (from 399 USD to 500 Euro, depending on where you buy) for a dedicated macro lens, capable of going up to 2x magnification, the build quality of the Laowa 50mm f/2.8 2X Ultra Macro APO is great!
The lens feels solidly built and not like one of those cheap 3rd party plastic lenses.

Being a manual focus lens (it has aperture coupling though), the friction of the focus ring is rather important.
While it indeed allows for very accurate settings and smooth turning, i would have liked it to be have bit more drag/friction.
It has a long focus throw though.

The size of only 79mm is compact (similar to the M. Zuiko 60mm) and it focuses internally – just perfect for a small and lightweight micro-four-thirds setup.

It weighs only around 240g.

The specifications

Focal Length50mm (equivalent to full frame 100mm)
Max. Aperturef/2.8
Lens MountMicro-four-thirds MFT
Lens Structure14 elements in 10 groups
Aperture Blades7
Min. Focusing Distance13.5cm (sensor to subject)
Min. Working Distance44.5mm (lens to subject)
Max. Magnification2x
Focus ModeManual Focus
Filter Threadø49mm
Dimensionsø53.5mm*79mm
Weight240g

You can read more about the lens and all the important specs on the product page on Laowa´s website here.

Image quality

The image quality of the Laowa 50mm 2:1 is superb.
Regarding sharpness it is up to par with the OM System (Olympus) M.Zuiko 60mm macro.

However comparing similar photos taken with these lenses, to me it feels like the Laowa has a recognizable touch more of a 3D look.
The photos feel more plastic and vivid.

Colors and contrast also seem to be more intense, adding to the before mentioned effect.

After using it for thousands of photos in the field, i did not recognize any chromatic aberrations – thanks to the apochromatic optical (APO) design.

Using the LAOWA 50mm 2:1 Ultra macro in the field

Macro photography, and the specific extreme close-up style that I am shooting in particular, requires to get close to the subjects often.
We are not talking 30 cm or more, but really close, meaning 5cm or less.

This can be a challenge when foliage comes into the way, especially when using a flash diffuser – or when you are trying to photograph a skittish and fast moving species.

Focusing

Focusing on live, moving, tiny insects or spiders makes quick focusing a challenge by nature, and the Laowa 50mm 2:1 does not make these obstacles easier to overcome.

It is the opposite – the Laowa 50mm 2:1 needs you to get really close, especially when using a magnification higher than 1:1.

The working distance of the lens is really short, even for the macro range.
It is not an easy lens to handle, but if you know how to use it, it produces tack sharp, high contrast, high magnification images.

Laowa mentions the minimum focusing distance to be approx. 13,5cm, which effectively results in the front lens being only approx. 4-5cm away from your subject or point of focus at 1:1/2:1.

Aperture

At higher magnifications like 1:1 and especially 2:1 the DOF is extremely shallow, so it is important to find a good compromise of DOF and sharpness (possible diffraction at higher f-stops).

Using f/6.3 gave me great results.

It may require you to take small stacks though, of 2-4 shots.

Challenges

One thing i noticed, however, was that the lens is prone to stray light.
Since, with my setup, the diffuser panel ends right at the front lens element, I have to be careful that the images do not end up looking a bit flat and less contrasty.
If they do, that is a good indicator, that you might have a problem with stray light and need to either adjust the diffuser, or add a little custom-made lens hood.

Example photos

Single shots

Salticus scenicus Jumping spider
Misumena vatia crab spider

Small stacks

Attulus pubescens Jumping spider (2 shot stack)
Lesser stag beetle (7 shot stack)

Pros:

  • up to 2:1 magnification
  • compact and small size
  • great color rendering and contrast
  • excellent build quality and value for money
  • smooth focusing ring and long focus throw
  • chipped for aperture coupling and exif data transfer to camera

Cons:

  • very short working distance, especially above 1:1 magnification
  • thin DOF at high magnification (but that is a classic issue in macro photography and not with this lens in particular)
  • prone to stray/front lighting (can lowers image´s contrast)
  • no autofocus

Conclusion

So, is the LAOWA 50mm 2:1 macro lens the ultimate macro lens for MFT and OM System in particular?

Yes, currently it is – without a doubt – if you are fine with it being a pure manual focus lens.

It comes down to your personal style of photographing: if you need an automatic focus lens to use your camera´s focus bracketing or stacking modes, then this lens will not let you use these modes.

If you photograph and focus manually most of the time, then the LAOWA 50mm 2:1 will give you unparalleled freedom (in MFT) and flexibility (if you can live with the above mentioned cons).

Being able to seamlessly switch between infinity-focus, 0.25;1 to 1:1 up to even 2:1 means you can photograph an immense spectrum of magnifications, subject sizes and levels of details. It is a one-for-all solutions (in the close macro field).

Update 2022-09: OM System just announced and added a 90mm f3.5 4:1 to its roadmap.
This will be compatible with all OM System camera functions like focus bracketing and stacking.
I will compare both lenses side-by-side as soon as the 90mm gets released.

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