Review

Laowa 85mm f/5.6 2x Ultra Macro APO Field Review: World’s Smallest 2:1 Full Frame Macro Lens

on
29 November 2021

The new Laowa 85mm F/5.6 2x Macro lens is one of the smallest macro lenses that I’ve ever used for a full-frame sensor. It is even smaller than the Laowa 50mm F/2.8 2:1 for Micro Four Thirds, and that’s no mean feat! The reason for a small f/5.6 lens is that very few photographers ever take macro shots at f/2.8. Of course, the small size does come with some drawbacks. In this field review, I’ll show the results from this lens and explain the practical considerations you’d have before deciding if this lens should go into your camera bag.

Equipment Used for Field Test

For this field test, I used a Nikon Z7ii kindly loaned to me from Chris Ang and the sample lens was loaned from Laowa.

Should you get this lens?

As with every lens review, there are a number of pros and cons to each lens. Let’s get into the details here.

Lens size and weight

The Laowa 85mm F/5.6 2x is small and light, there’s no doubt about it. Here’s a quick comparison between other macro lenses for full-frame mirrorless mounts.

Laowa 85mm Compared To Other Macro Lenses

Lens Weight Size
Laowa 85mm 2:1 252g ø53mm*78mm
Laowa 100mm 2:1 650g Φ72mm×155mm
Nikon Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S 630g Φ85mm×140mm
Canon RF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM 730g Φ81.5x148mm
Sony FE 90mm F2.8 Macro G OSS 602g Φ79×130.5mm
Meike 85mm F/2.8 1.5x 500g Φ64x120mm

The Laowa 85mm is clearly a tiny and powerful beast, with its weight at less than half of that of most competitor lenses.

Auto-focus

The Laowa 85mm is a completely manual lens with no electronic contacts. There is no auto-focus, but that really isn’t needed for high magnification work beyond 1:1. I recommend fixing the focusing ring at the desired magnification before taking the shot and moving the camera in slowly to get the subject in focus.

Aperture coupling

As a manual lens with no electronic contacts, there is, unfortunately, no aperture coupling. This means that the lens is stepped down at the current aperture setting when composing your photo. This is important for a few reasons.

  • Dark image

    Without a wide-open aperture while focusing, the image is very dark. Fortunately for most mirrorless cameras, disabling the live view exposure simulation alleviates that problem.

  • Less precise focus

    Another issue with stepped down focusing is the loss of precision in the depth-of-field. The deeper DOF while focusing means that it is more difficult to get precise focus as more of the subject appears to be in focus. This will require a bit of experience in handling this lens to overcome. It is also mitigated slightly with focus peaking features on the camera.

  • Aperture ring position

    The aperture ring is at the tip of the lens. Depending on your flash diffuser design, this aperture ring might be blocked by the diffuser, making it difficult to adjust the aperture while looking at the numbers on the lens. After some experimenting, I found that it was easier to turn the ring to f/22, and then click it down once for f/16, or twice for f/11. This way, there is no need to look at the aperture number.

Lens Diameter

A small lens diameter makes it easier for us to approach subjects without knocking into too many things. It also allows for better lighting for close-ups, since lenses with big diameters tend to block out light at the shortest working distance. The Laowa 85mm f/5.6 shines in this aspect with a filter ring of just 46mm. This is even smaller than the Laowa 50mm f/2.8 2x for MFT, which has a filter ring size of 49mm.

An important advantage of a smaller lens diameter is that using the Raynox DCR-250 would not be subject to vignetting. Vignetting makes these close up filters unusable for big lenses like the Laowa 100mm.

Magnification

Like most Laowa ultra macro lenses, the Laowa 85mm f/5.6 focuses from infinity to 2x. The working distance at 2x is at a comfortable 69mm. To boost your magnification, just attach a Raynox DCR-250 and you’ll get a decent magnification of about 4x.

Focus Throw

The focus throw for this lens is shorter at approximately 160° when compared to other Laowa macro lenses like the Laowa 50mm 2:1 for MFT, which had an amazing focus throw of 215°. This won’t be a problem if you fix the focusing ring and move your camera in and out to get the subject in focus. But if you work on a tripod, the precise focus will be more difficult to attain. Then again, there is little reason to go for a lightweight lens if you are working on a tripod.

Working Distance

The working distance of this lens is 96mm at 1x, and 69mm at 2x. These are very comfortable numbers to work with. A relatively small flash diffuser would also suffice to cover the subject well.

Internal Focusing

With internal focusing and no recessed front lens element, less dust would get into the lens. Also, skittish subjects like jumping spiders would not be able to jump into any recessed areas of the lens.

Image quality

The Laowa 85mm f/5.6 is very sharp, even with a dual-glass element Raynox DCR-250 attached. Areas of high contrast also show minimal to no signs of chromatic aberration. I personally use F/11 for 1x to 2x magnification and F/16 for lower magnification shots. This minimises diffraction and light loss while maximising DOF.

Comparison with other macro lenses

The only other full-frame lenses that can focus from infinity to 2x are the Laowa 60mm f/2.8 2x and Laowa 100mm f/2.8 2x. The Laowa 85mm f/5.6 2x is clearly a better choice than the Laowa 60mm due to the much smaller size. The Laowa 100mm has a slight advantage for Nikon F mount with its aperture coupling capability. Otherwise, the Laowa 85mm is the obvious lens to go for.

Price

The launch price for the Laowa 85mm f/5.6 2x is at 449USD for Nikon Z, Canon RF and Sony E mounts, and 499USD for Leica M mount. It is just a little bit cheaper than the Laowa 100mm and a little bit more expensive than I expected. But with the APO design and 3 extra low dispersion lenses, the price is fair. There is also no other similar lens in the market to compare with!

Recommended use

I would personally pair the Laowa 85mm f/5.6 2x with a Raynox DCR-250. This covers a very good range for most macro subjects with a full-frame width of 8mm at 2x and 55mm at infinity. Using a small flash like the Meike MK320 matched with a concave diffuser and reflector would result in a very effective and compact setup.

Field Test

As with most of my other lens reviews, I am focusing on practical use and field tests rather than studio tests based on specifications. A macro lens review must be based on its intended use. I tested this lens over 3 short sessions, but most of it was in the last session as I had spent the first 2 sessions fumbling with camera settings that I was unfamiliar with.

Camera Settings

I used the settings below for most shots in this review.

  • ISO 250
  • Shutter 1/100s to 1/250s
  • Aperture f/11 (1x to 2x) or f/16
  • Flash power ranges from 1/32 to 1/16
    Shield bug (Cantao ocellatus) - DSC_0663x
  1. Shield bug (Cantao ocellatus)

    I started simple at 1.25x on this shield bug.

  2. Shield bug (Cantao ocellatus) - DSC_0673x
  3. Shield bug (Cantao ocellatus)

    Then attempted close-ups at 2x, cropped. For those interested, I have a checklist of Shield Bugs & Stink Bugs.

  4. Jumping spider (Siler semiglaucus) - DSC_0732x
  5. Jumping spider (Siler semiglaucus)

    As expected, stepping down to F/8 or F/11 was a little harder to focus as it was difficult to see where the exact focal plane was. This shot was pretty messed up as I shot it in low quality JPEG and the white balance was way off.

  6. Ant (Polyrhachis sp.) - DSC_0825x
  7. Ant (Polyrhachis sp.)

    At 1x, I tried f/16 but the light loss was significant and there was a bit of diffraction.

  8. Common wolf snake (Lycodon capucinus) - DSC_0945x
  9. Common wolf snake (Lycodon capucinus)

    I also had some test shots at about 0.25x on this common wolf snake at f/16. Tack sharp!

  10. Jumping spider (Pystira ephippigera) - Z72_1155
  11. Jumping spider (Pystira ephippigera)

    One of the key features of this lens is its 2x magnification so most of my shots would be at its maximum magnification. This was shot with the Raynox DCR-250 attached at f/11. If you like jumping spiders, visit my Salticidae Checklist: Jumping Spiders.

  12. Treehopper (Membracidae) - Z72_1147
  13. Treehopper (Membracidae)

    This treehopper stood pretty still, so I was able to do a stack of 3 shots for this photo. For more photos of treehoppers, check out my Membracidae Checklist.

  14. Pseudoscorpion (Pseudoscorpionida) - Z72_1073
  15. Pseudoscorpion (Pseudoscorpionida)

    I found lots of pseudoscorpions. Those familiar with these arachnids would know how small they are. This individual has a mite attached to it. Approximately 50% crop.

  16. Stalk-eyed fly (Diopsidae) - Z72_1002
  17. Stalk-eyed fly (Diopsidae)

    This stalk-eyed fly was always on the move, so stacking wasn’t possible. At f/11, the DOF at this magnification is pretty thin, so only 1 eye was in focus.

  18. Owlfly larva (Ascalaphidae) - Z72_0965
  19. Owlfly larva (Ascalaphidae)

    I was pleasantly surprised to find this owlfly larva nestled comfortably on the fibre of a mossy rope. It was really wet, but there’s so much detail on its body!

  20. Harvestman (Opiliones) - Z72_0924
  21. Harvestman (Opiliones)

    There were lots of harvestmen perched on the railings, so I did a 5-shot stack on this individual at maximum magnification.

  22. Red springtail (Neanurinae) - Z72_0888
  23. Red springtail (Neanurinae)

    These red maggoty springtails are really beautiful when viewed up close, like little gummy worms.

  24. Black springtail (Pseudachorutinae) - Z72_1413
  25. Black springtail (Pseudachorutinae)

    This shot is out of focus as I couldn’t get these little guys to stop moving. But… so cute!!

  26. Leaf beetle (Chrysomelidae) - Z72_0860
  27. Leaf beetle (Chrysomelidae)

    This is a poorly processed stack from 3 shots. But the details on the beetle’s elytra are pretty much retained!

  28. Planthopper (Fulgoroidea) - Z72_0811
  29. Planthopper nymph (Fulgoroidea)

    Some of these shots have missed frames in the stack due to problems with my camera settings. Purely my problem as I was new to the camera.

  30. Huntsman spider moult (Pandercetes sp.) - Z72_0793
  31. Huntsman spider moult (Pandercetes sp.)

    Found a huntsman spider exoskeleton, perfect subject for testing sharpness!

  32. Trilobite beetle (Platerodrilus ruficollis) - Z72_1362
  33. Trilobite beetle (Platerodrilus ruficollis)

    During my night shoot, Melvyn kindly pointed me to this trilobite beetle. Look closely and you’d see a little springtail on top of it. For more information on these beetles, check out Platerodrilus Checklist: Trilobite Beetles.

  34. Trilobite beetle (Platerodrilus ruficollis) - Z72_1387
  35. Trilobite beetle (Platerodrilus ruficollis)

    Close up of its head at maximum magnification. I was happily getting used to this lens!

  36. Trilobite beetle (Platerodrilus ruficollis) - Z72_1404
  37. Trilobite beetle (Platerodrilus ruficollis)

    Close up of its dorsum. It was a really wet night and raining half the time, hence the water droplets.

  38. Trilobite beetle (Platerodrilus ruficollis) - Z72_1396
  39. Trilobite beetle (Platerodrilus ruficollis)

    And one of my favorite angles for most trilobite beetles!

  40. Trilobite beetle (Platerodrilus ngi) - Z72_1516
  41. Trilobite beetle (Platerodrilus ngi)

    Just one log away, I found 2 other trilobite beetles of a different species. Same same but different.

  42. Mud spider (Cryptothele sp.) - Z72_1555
  43. Mud spider (Cryptothele sp.)

    On one of the logs, I found this highly cryptic mud spider. It was about 5mm, an ideal size for this setup!

  44. Black pill cockroach (Perisphaerus sp.) - Z72_1537
  45. Pill cockroach (Perisphaerus sp.)

    Still on the same log was this black pill cockroach. These little guys conglobulate when disturbed, like pill bugs and pill millipedes.

  46. Man-faced stink bug (Catacanthus incarnatus) - Z72_1274
  47. Man-faced stink bug (Catacanthus incarnatus)

    Amazingly, this bug is pretty common but this is the first time that I’ve ever photographed it. I’ve seen it on numerous occasions in the past but never had my camera with me. Tilt your head to see the “man-face”. This is also often called the Elvis Presley bug.

  48. Scale insect (Monophlebidae) - Z72_1938
  49. Scale insect (Monophlebidae)

    Vince kindly showed me this scale insect, probably immature or a female.

  50. Scale insect (Monophlebidae) - Z72_1972
  51. Scale insect (Monophlebidae)

    The only way to see its eyes, from beneath!

  52. Planthopper (Derbidae) - Z72_1911
  53. Planthopper (Derbidae)

    This is a very common derbid planthopper. Interestingly, we’d only see its pseudopupils in the day.

  54. Treehopper (Membracidae) - Z72_1846
  55. Treehopper (Membracidae)

    Also found this super tiny treehopper nymph. It kind of mimics a thorn and is often accompanied by ants who offer it protection. In turn, it produces sugary substances for the ants in a symbiotic relationship. This is from a single shot and heavily cropped.

  56. Huntsman spider (Heteropoda sp.) - Z72_1742
  57. Huntsman spider (Heteropoda sp.)

    This huntsman spider was busy with its prey on a tree, so it was an easy target. Just one shot for testing. 🙂 For more huntsman spiders, check out my Sparassidae Checklist.

  58. Moth-like planthopper (Ricaniidae) - Z72_1729
  59. Moth-like planthopper (Ricaniidae)

    This moth-like planthopper had see-through membranes on its wings, so I positioned a flash behind it. The points of high contrast showed little to no chromatic abberation.

  60. Fingerprint ant (Diacamma sp.) - Z72_1695
  61. Fingerprint ant (Diacamma sp.)

    The fingerprint ant is great for highlighting details. Single shot, cropped.

  62. Fingerprint ant (Diacamma sp.) - Z72_0958
  63. Fingerprint ant (Diacamma sp.)

    Found another individual bringing food back to its nest. Also single shot following a moving subject. For those of you interested in ants, visit the Formicidae Checklist.

  64. Planthopper nymph (Fulgoroidea) - Z72_1640
  65. Planthopper nymph (Fulgoroidea)

    These planthopper nymphs were about 4 to 5mm in size, but there are lots of details on their bodies!

  66. Red velvet mite (Trombidiidae) - Z72_1606
  67. Red velvet mite (Trombidiidae)

    Interestingly, I found several of these red velvet mites on fallen logs.

  68. Planthopper nymph (Fulgoroidea) - Z72_1817
  69. Planthopper nymphs (Fulgoroidea)

    Finally, I was lucky to get these 2 planthopper nymphs together and in focus. The small one was walking around and only perched in position for a few seconds before walking off again. The fireworks-like waxy tails are often a treat to photograph!!

Technical Specifications

Lens Name Laowa 85mm f/5.6 2x Ultra-Macro APO
Focal Length 85mm
Max. Aperture f/5.6
Min. Aperture f/22
Angle of View 28.55°
Format Compatibility Full Frame (Mirrorless)
Lens Structure 13 elements in 9 groups (3 Extra-Low Dispersion glasses)
Aperture Blades 7
Min. Focusing Distance 16.3cm (sensor to subject)
Min. Working Distance 44.5mm (lens to subject)
Max. Magnification 2x
Focus Mode Manual Focus
Filter Thread ø46mm
Dimensions ø53mm*78mm (Leica)
Weight 252g
Mounts Canon RF, Sony E, Nikon Z, Leica M
Launch Price US$449, except Leica M at US$499

Working Distance Chart

Focus distance is measured from the sensor to the subject’s plane of focus, while working distance is measured from the front-most glass to the subject’s plane of focus, rounded off to the nearest millimeter.

Magnification Focus Distance Working Distance
0.1x 920mm 826mm
0.25x 430mm 336mm
0.5x 270mm 176mm
0.75x 220mm 126mm
1.0x 190mm 96mm
1.25x 180mm 86mm
1.5x 170mm 76mm
1.75x 165mm 71mm
2.0x 163mm 69mm

Conclusion

This is a limited field review with photos from 3 short field trips, during which, most of the time was spent getting used to the camera body and its settings. Despite this, most of the initial issues faced could be overcome and I got quite comfortable with using the lens. To see the other photos, I have compiled them into a Flickr album.

Pros Cons
  • Wide focusing range from 2x to infinity
  • Ridiculously small and light-weight for a full frame lens
  • Decent working distance
  • Great image quality, sharp with minimal CA
  • Pairs very well with Raynox DCR-250 or Raynox DCR-150 without vignetting
  • No aperture coupling
  • No autofocus
  • Short focus throw between 1x and 2x

The Laowa 85mm f/5.6 2x is a tiny yet powerful lens. It is sharp, compact, lightweight, and produces great images. It is just shy from being perfect due to the lack of aperture coupling, something that I wish would make more progress in Laowa’s macro lens lineups.

You can order the lens directly from Venus Optics or MacroDojo. Purchasing via MacroDojo helps me out a little bit (I am not paid to write any of this). 🙂

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2 Comments
  1. Reply

    Gianfranco Folchitto

    30 November 2021

    is it possible to mount the Laowa lenses on normal FX Nikon camera like D4s or D750

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NICKY BAY
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Hi my name is Nicky Bay. I am a macro photographer, instructor and book author, travelling the world to document the vast micro biodiversity that nature has to offer. Follow my updates and discover with me the incredible beauty and science behind our planet's micro creatures!

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