The Laowa 25mm f2.8 2.5-5x Ultra Macro from Venus Optics is a special macro lens: It can only focus very close (4 cm / 1.6in. working distance) but delivers a magnification of 2.5-5x – which is much greater than the 1:1 (1x) magnification most “standard” macro lenses can achieve without the use of bellows or extension tubes. The lens is corrected for full-frame cameras where it frames an area of 10x15mm at 2.5x magnification which is about the size of a small postage stamp. Going up to 5x magnification the area of sharp focus becomes just 4.8×7.2 mm. The Laowa 5x ultra macro is manual focus and manual aperture only and does not transmit EXIF data to the camera.
The Laowa 5x Ultra Macro is available for Canon EF & RF, Nikon F & Z, Pentax K, Sony FE, and Leica L mounts and costs about 400-500 EUR / 400 USD / 360 GBP depending on the mount. Venus Optics also offers a special front LED ring light and a tripod collar to go with the lens.
Facts and features
Let’s have a closer look at the technical data and features of the Laowa 5x Ultra Macro. As usual I’ve rated the features with a [+] (or [++]), when it’s better than average or even state of the art, a  if it’s standard or just average, and [-] if there’s a drawback. Size and weight were measured for the Nikon Z-mount version of the lens.
Size: The lens has a diameter of 66mm (2.6in.) at the mount and only 43mm (1.7in.) at the front. This makes lighting subjects from the front easier at the short working distance of 40mm (1.6in.). When set to 2.5x magnification the length of the lens is 114mm (4.5in.). It extends to a length of 168mm (6.6in.) at 5x magnification. The Laowa 5x Ultra Macro is not a small lens despite its short focal length of 25mm. 
Weight: 469g (17 oz.). The all metal barrel gives the lens a pretty solid feel but also quite some weight. 
Optics: The Laowa 5x Ultra Macro is a pretty simple design with 8 elements in 6 groups including one special dispersion element. The glass elements have multi-layer anti-reflection coating. [+]
Closest focus distance is 0.17m (0.56ft.) at a magnification of 2.5x and 0.22m (0.73ft.) at 5x magnification. This results in a working distance of only 45mm (1.8in.) at 2.5x and 40mm (1.6in.) at 5x. The lens has a double barrel construction and extends 54mm (2.1in.) while focusing from 2.5x to 5x magnification. A maximum magnification of 5x is pretty unique for a macro lens. Only Canon and Mitakon have lenses which reach 5x magnification. But the working distance is very short – especially compared to the Mitakon Creator 85mm f2.8 Super Macro which offers 100mm of working distance at 5x magnification. [+]
Image stabilization: The Laowa 5x Ultra Macro has no optical stabilization. You only get the built-in sensor-shift stabilization which modern mirrorless camera bodies provide. But normally you would be operating from a tripod anyway. Should you dare to shoot this lens free-hand I’d suggest to input the longest focal length your camera allows (on a Nikon Z under “Non-CPU lens data”) which makes the camera stabilization work best. Or better yet: use a flash to stop any shake or motion blur. 
Filter-thread: There’s no filter-thread at the front or gel-holder at the back. The front has instead a bayonet socket which can be used to either mount the front lens cap or the optionally available LED ring light. [-]
Auto focus: No, the lens is manual focus only. The focus ring is 14mm wide with a slightly ribbed metal surface. Operation of the focus ring requires a good grip and quite some force – so you need not fear focus-creep when the lens is operated in a vertical position. The focus ring turns 110 degrees between 2.5x and 5x magnification and the frontend of the lens extends 1mm for every 2 degree of focus turn. This makes it completely impractical to focus with the focus ring as depth of field is always shallower than 1mm (see below). So normally you would use the focus ring of the lens to set the magnification / field-of-view only and focus by moving the camera back and forth, preferably on a macro-rail. The lens has an engraved magnification indicator instead of a distance scale. By the way: none of the alternatives has autofocus. 
Aperture: The Laowa 5x Ultra Macro has 8 aperture blades. The aperture is operated manually via an aperture ring with 1 stop clicks from f2.8 to f16 and a little beyond. The partially ribbed surface of the ring is 8mm wide and the click-stops feel solid. The lens has no electric contacts and does not transfer EXIF data about the aperture to the camera which means that its value is not recorded in the image-file. And don’t be fooled by the nominal aperture values engraved on the aperture ring: These are calculated with the lens at infinity. More relevant are the effective f-numbers which depend on the magnification: They vary between f9.6 at 2.5x magnification down to f16.8 at 5x when the aperture is set to f2.8. These f-numbers indicate that image resolution is already influenced by diffraction even if operated wide open. Keep this in mind when you stop the lens down: at a nominal aperture value of f8 the effective f-number is between f27 at 2.5x magnification and f48 at 5x. [-]
Depth of field (dof) depends on the magnification and the (effective) aperture of a lens. And with magnifications larger than 1:1 dof tends to be much shallower than 1mm. So it’s a good thing that Laowa has included a table in their users manual (see below). It also shows the reason why you need a (good) focus rail to focus the lens correctly: At 5x magnification and a nominal aperture of f2.8 dof measures just 50 microns. So for focus stacking you’ll need a rail which can consistently move in steps of 25-50 microns. 
Lens profile: The lens does not come with a lens profile nor does Lightroom or Photoshop provide one. So for correcting vignetting and distortions you have to rely on manual settings in post-processing. 
Covers full frame/FX or smaller. [+]
Price: 400-500 EUR (incl. 19% VAT) / 400 USD / 360 GBP depending on the mount. The front LED ring light is 40 USD, the tripod collar 30 USD. [+]
The lens comes with a transparent plastic pouch with a string to pull it close. There’s no lens hood which at a working distance of 4cm would only get in the way of lighting your subject. But there is a small frame inside the lens to block some of the stray light not meant for the sensor (see above). The frame’s position moves inside the lens depending on magnification. Front and back lens caps are included with the front cap having a bayonet type mount. The optional front LED ring light comes with a USB cable to plug into any USB charger or powerbank. 
Sealing: No, not even a rubber grommet at the lens-mount. So if you’re shooting outdoors you should shield the lens from the elements. [-]
Accessories: Venus Optics offers a special LED ring light (40 USD) which can be mounted at the front bayonet socket, and a tripod collar (30 USD) specifically designed for the lens. The LED ring light has a diameter of 59mm and needs some additional space on the side for the USB connector. It has a solid metal housing and weighs 31g (without cable or power source). You can power it from a standard 5V USB connection or power-bank. It becomes quite hot after a few minutes and Laowa claims it is for focus assist only. Well, who is going to stop you using it as illumination for your shots? Its color rendering may not be the best but at least it is not overly blue, color temperature is around 4200K. Just make sure the light doesn’t overheat. And be aware that ring lights produce distinct effects on bubbly, shiny surfaces – like a thousand angel’s eyes on insects or froth. [+]
At a score of 3[-]/7/5[+] the Laowa 25mm f2.8 2.5-5x Ultra Macro offers the special opportunity to reach 5x magnification at a reasonable price and a robust (albeit not weather sealed) full metal body. The missing autofocus might traditionally not be viewed as a problem in macro photography. But with the advent of focus bracketing in modern cameras autofocus made it back on the wish list for macro lenses. The other drawbacks of missing filter mount and manual aperture are easier to live with.
There are few macro lenses that go beyond a maximum magnification of 2x without the use of bellows or extension tubes. And all of them are manual focus only and cannot focus to infinity:
- The Canon MP-E 65mm f2.8 macro lens offers a maximum magnification of 5x. It’s available in Canon EF-mount only but can be used on other cameras via the appropriate mount adapters. It costs around 980 EUR / 1050 USD / 1060 GBP and comes with a detachable, rotatable tripod collar. Its major benefits over the Laowa 5x Ultra Macro: It covers a wider range of magnifications starting at the more usual 1x magnification with a working distance of 101mm (4.0in.) (but only 41mm at 5x), has an electronic aperture, a 58mm filter-thread, and relays EXIF data (incl. distance information) back to the camera.
- Mitakon has the Creator 85mm f2.8 Super Macro with magnification between 1x and 5x. It costs 530 EUR / 500 USD including a detachable, rotatable tripod collar and a front LED light. It is available in Sony A & E, Canon EF, Nikon F, Pentax K, Fujifilm X, and Micro Four Thirds mounts but can be used on other cameras via the appropriate mount adapters. Like the Laowa 5x Ultra Macro the aperture has to be operated manually and EXIF data are not passed to the camera. It has a 58mm filter-thread and offers the longest working distances of all the alternatives: 272mm (10.7in.) at 1x magnification and 100mm (3.9in.) at 5x.
- Mitakon also offers the Creator 20mm f2.0 macro lens with a limited range of magnifications between 4x and 4.5x. It has a minimum working distance of only 20mm (0.8in.) and effective apertures should start around f8.0. It’s the cheapest of the alternatives at 200 EUR / 240 USD and is available in Canon EF & EOS-M, Nikon F, Sony A & E, Pentax K, Micro Four Thirds, and Fuji X mounts but can be used on other cameras via the appropriate mount adapters. Its aperture is operated manually and EXIF data are not passed to the camera. The lens has no filter-thread and only three aperture blades which should produce a strange out-of-focus blur when stopped down.
If you think a magnification of 2:1 (2x) is enough for your purposes then Laowa’s 100mm f2.8 2x Macro APO might be another alternative. It has one distinct advantage over the Laowa 5x Ultra Macro: It can focus to infinity and thus doubles up as a light telephoto lens. It also has a slightly more comfortable working distance of 0.08m (3.1in.) at 2x magnification.
Here is the field of view from the Laowa 5x Ultra Macro at 2.5x and 5x magnifications compared to the Laowa 100mm f2.8 2x Macro APO at 1x and 2x magnification:
Next check out my quality results!Check prices on the Laowa 25mm f2.8 2.5-5x Ultra Macro at Amazon, B&H, Adorama or WEX UK. Alternatively get yourself a copy of my In Camera book or treat me to a coffee! Thanks!