Venus Optics has carved a niche in the World of speciality macro lenses: six of their seven macro models reach beyond 1:1 (1x) magnification, the limit for most ‘standard’ macro lenses, at least without the help of extension tubes or bellows. Meanwhile, the Laowa 100mm f2.8 2x Macro APO becomes the only light telephoto macro lens which can focus all the way from infinity to 2x magnification. And the lens has other good points in its favor: it is quite sharp across the full frame although it benefits from stopping down to f4.0 or f5.6. It shows only little colour aberrations and has practically no field-curvature which is important when reproducing flat objects. Bokeh is nice and this all comes at an affordable price.
What’s not to like? First and foremost, the lens is manual focus only, aperture has to be operated manually too (except for the Canon EF version), and no EXIF data are transmitted to the camera. This may not deter you when doing macro work. But the missing autofocus is a hindrance when using the lens as a light telephoto and it also prevents the use of focus bracketing which some of the mirrorless cameras offer. And manual focus is not made easier with the very short focus throw. The Laowa 100mm f2.8 2x Macro APO also does not cope well with challenging contra-light situations: beware of flare, ghosting, and (veiling) glare which can reduce overall contrast considerably. There are also three minor inconveniences which might not bother you at all: focus-breathing can be distracting when shooting videos, there’s no weather sealing, and distortions and vignette have to be manually corrected in post-processing.
Let’s put this into perspective and have a closer look at how the Laowa compares to the Sony FE 90mm f2.8 Macro G OSS or the more recent Sigma 105mm f2.8 DG DN Macro Art.
Compared to Sony FE 90mm f2.8 Macro G OSS
Sony’s FE 90mm f2.8 Macro G OSS is a very good macro lens which also doubles up as a light telephoto for FE mount cameras. Sharpness, field-curvature, Bokeh, and colour aberrations of the Sony are similar to the Laowa although the Sony is sharper at longer distances and a little less sharp in the corners in close-ups. The one area where the Sony is much better than the Laowa optically: The Sony is far less susceptible to flare, glare, and ghosting. And it has a pretty complete feature-set with autofocus, electronically operated aperture, thorough weather sealing, optical image stabilization, focus limiter, focus-lock button, and the option to switch manual focus between linear and non-linear gearing for precise manual focus. But this also results in a price that is about double that of the Laowa. And the Sony reaches only 1x magnification (without the help of bellows or extension tubes), not the 2x of the Laowa.
For more details see my Sony FE 90mm f2.8 Macro G OSS review where it earned a recommendation.
Compared to Sigma 105mm f2.8 DG DN Macro Art
The 105mm f2.8 DG DN Macro Art is an excellent performer, out-resolving the Laowa in every test producing extremely sharp images devoid of colour aberrations and field-curvature. It copes much better in challenging contra-light situations and has a very good feature set with autofocus, electronically operated aperture, thorough weather sealing, de-clickable aperture ring, and the options to use teleconverters to get to 1.4x or 2x magnification or get the lens-mount swapped (at a cost). Currently the lens is available in Sony FE- and Leica L-mount only – but I’d expect Sigma is working on versions for Z- and RF-mount too. For all this optical goodness and rich feature set, the Sigma is only 50% more expensive than the Laowa. But if you want to reach 2x magnification you need to get (or have) a 2x teleconverter – or use bellows or extension tubes.
For more details see my Sigma 105mm f2.8 DG DN Macro Art review where it came Highly Recommended.
Laowa 100mm f2.8 2x Macro APO final verdict
Laowa’s 100mm f2.8 2x Macro APO is a good macro lens which also doubles up as a light telephoto. It produces sharp images with very little field-curvature – although for best results it should be stopped down a bit. It has pretty soft Bokeh and almost no colour aberrations. But its major attraction is being able to focus from infinity down to 2x magnification without any additional gear – and that it comes at an affordable price. Its major drawbacks like the manual focus and aperture operation or even the vulnerability to flare and glare might not bother the hardened macro photographer working from a tripod and a focus rail. So the 100mm f2.8 2x Macro APO certainly earns a recommendation for macro work.
- Can focus from infinity to 2x magnification.
- Good resolution across the full frame at all object distances.
- Only little longitudinal colour aberrations.
- Very little field-curvature.
- Nice Bokeh.
- Affordable price.
- No autofocus, no EXIF data, no lens profile.
- Manual operation of aperture with too soft click-stops.
- Prone to flare and glare.
- Overall contrast could be better.
- Needs stopping down to improve acuity.
- Focus throw too short for easy manual focusing.
- Focus breathing could be lower.
- No weather sealing.