Laowa 24мм F14 2x Macro Probe

Venus Optics officially announces the Laowa 24mm f14 2x Macro Probe lens, a weird but revolutionary lens for macro videography

Bug-Eye Perspective
The new Laowa 24mm Probe lens can create a Bug-Eye perspective that cannot be done by conventional macro lens. Not only can it focus really close (2cm @ 2:1) and show a great amount of detail and texture, but also achieve a compelling wide angle ‘Bug Eye’ view (84.1°). More background details can then be included into the shots to create a very informative and stunning macro bug-eye perspective. For telephoto macro lenses, the subject will fill most of the frame and appear isolated from the surrounding environment instead.

2:1 Magnification to Infinity Focus
The new Laowa Probe covers a focusing range from 2:1 macro magnification to Infinity Focus. Photographers can take advantage of the 2:1 maximum magnification to shoot really small bugs/objects and reveal details that cannot be seen by naked eye. The wide focusing range (from Macro to infinity) is also particularly useful for videography as both finer details and environmental background can be captured in one shot.

Deep Depth-of-Field
The wide angle design also means much more depth of field at close distance (compared to the telephoto macro lens) so that more background details will now be visible. Being able to focus so close but still having a deep depth of field is a BIG advantage for both studio and wildlife shooting. The less blurry background allows the habitat of the subject to be visible in your photo.

Waterproof front lens barrel
The front barrel of the lens is waterproof and it can be used to shoot in any environment. This makes shooting in liquid no longer a limitation. The waterproof design also implies that shooting in super dusty environment or with fine powders are not going to be a problem.

40cm long & Tubular Lens Barrel
Thanks to the 40cm (15.7″) long barrel, photographers can focus really close to the subject but still keep themselves and cameras distance away. This unlocks the possibility of shooting in areas which were not accessible in the past. E.g. Shooting a frog hiding in the bushes using our Probe lens, compared to getting a telephoto macro lens super close to avoid leaves blocking your subject. The long lens barrel also allows photographers to keep a safe distance away when shooting lethal animals. The big camera body and lens will no longer ‘alert’ the subject too.

Tiny 2cm lens tip
The tiny 0.2cm-in-diameter lens tip unlocks the possibility to get very low to the ground level to capture a ‘delicious’ perspective and maximize the visual impact. The viewers will be like walking on your shooting subject (e.g. Pizza) now. Moreover, you can insert the lens into tiny caves, bottle or burrows to shoot. The smaller lens tip also enables proper lighting hitting onto the subject whereas typical macro lenses with larger lens barrels will block most of the light.

LED Ring Light at the tip
A LED ring light (powered through the micro-USB slot on the barrel) is mounted at the tip of the lens to provide additional lighting for focus assistance and video shooting.

Full frame coverage
The Laowa 24mm f/14 Probe can cover both the standard 35mm full frame and Super35 image sensor.

The new Laowa weighs only 1.04 pounds (474 grams) and it’s super light and easy to carry.

The lens has one of the most complicated optics design and houses with 27 elements in 19 groups to deliver the exceptional image quality. Canon EF, Nikon F and Sony FE mounts are currently available for standard version. A cine version with click-less aperture and focus gears in Arri PL mount is also available to order.

Image quality

The lens is pre-production, and the price hasn’t been finalised yet, but it’s clear this lens needs a little bit of work to get the best results possible. Normally for lenses, a rule of thumb regarding shutter speed is that you use a higher one than your 35mm equivalent focal length. So if the lens is around 50mm, 1/60 is pushing it, but should be enough for sharp photos. This time around though, I’m not exactly sure what shutter speed would be sufficient to get sharp images. I shot the image below at 1/100 of a second, but it still looks to suffer a little from motion blur. Another photo taken at the same speed was sharp however, so perhaps to guarantee sharpness you might have to play safe with something like 1/200. Or it may just have been my hands shaking in anticipation, who knows.

Most of the shots I took with the lens were quite soft and low in contrast, with light falloff in the corners. I’ll admit some of the soft images are due to poor focusing, mainly because the lens can essentially only be used in Live View, because the f/14 aperture makes the viewfinder impossibly dark to see out of.

There was also some flare in this image below, even though there was no light source that would immediately cause concern for the lens. The problem with this is that low contrast and light falloff can be fixed in post, but flaring is harder to rescue.

This isn’t a full review, and as we mentioned before, the lens is definitely not ready for launch yet. The price hasn’t been decided, and I’m sure the engineers at Venus Optics will tinker with the formula to make sure the lens is improved for launch. Maybe they just rushed the construction of it in time for Photokina, since they thought it would be great for the show

And really, it’s exactly what the photography world needs. I’m not talking specifically about a 24mm f/14 lens on a stick, for shooting insects – I’m talking about specialist lenses for small niches. Everyone in the world makes a 50mm f/1.8, and there are dozens of boring MF primes being launched every month. The market is saturated with those, and the price point between the lenses aren’t too different. But nobody except Laowa is making such a strange or crazy lens, and it’s utterly fantastic of them to cater for the macro photographers who want a different angle.

The lens isn’t optically perfect yet, as I mentioned before, but it’s useable, and hopefully it will be improved. Better yet, perhaps one day the sudden popularity of these strange lenses will convince Sigma or Samyang, or even Nikon or Canon to make one – and then we’ll really see some more innovation in the field.

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