FINAL REVIEW: Laowa Venus 60mm f/2.8 Ultra-Macro Lens
Over the last few days we’ve looked quite extensively at this lens. I’ve posted initial thoughts and pics, I’ve incorporated it into a full Ultra Macro Rig, I’ve posted a series of full res test shots and I’ve shown how to make and mount a simple and cheap Macro Capture Jar on the front. To finish off my review of the lens, I’m not going to regurgitate what every over reviewer has already stated several times. Instead, let’s examine what’s really important to anyone considering buying the lens:
- How good is the build quality?
- Is the lens sharp and fit for purpose?
- How is it to actually use for it’s intended purpose?
- Should you buy it?
Firstly, the build quality, in my opinion, is right up there. It reminds me of the Nikon lenses that were produced before the barrels began to be constructed from plastic and rubber. The barrel on the Laowa Venus is all metal and the whole lens feels solid and built to last. I’m surprised that Laowa have not chosen to engrave their logo on it somewhere but that might have something to do with them recently changing names from Venus to Laowa. Either way, that doesn’t change the build quality which is very nice, indeed. If this lens cost £900 instead of £300 it wouldn’t be the build quality that might put me off. The focusing ring is smooth and precise, though some might feel it a little short, so you do have to focus very carefully to not overshoot. It’s something you’ll get used to but it can catch you out in the beginning. The aperture ring is also precise and snappy. The lens comes with front and rear lens caps, both unbranded and a neoprene bag. Due to the internal focusing mechanism, the front part of the barrel acts as a lens hood so a separate one is not required. The lens it’s self is suction packed into a plastic bag when it arrives. It’s hardly luxurious packaging but huge boxes and packaging simply aren’t needed, even if we’ve become accustomed to them from the leading brands. Is the lens fit for purpose? If you need a macro lens that will focus at 2:1 magnification then yes, absolutely. Just look at the full res test shots and judge for yourself. Focusing at 5cms away from a given subject might prove challenging in certain situations but extreme macro photographers will be used to that as many lenses have a similar working distance when at these kind of magnifications. Put a set of extension tubes between this lens and the camera and you’re suddenly looking at a lens capable of 4:1 in a package far less cumbersome than a Canon MPE65, for example. The “weakness” of this lens, if you can call it that, is that it’s manual everything. When working with macro photography that isn’t a problem with regard the focusing as few photographers will use a macro lens in AF mode; in most instances that simply wouldn’t make sense.
Manual aperture control is a whole different ball game, however and some will find that a tad tricky. Again, it’s something you’ll learn to live with and I personally don’t mind it except in one instance: if you’re not shooting in bright light, focusing with the lens set between f11 and f22 can be very challenging and at times, downright impossible. There are two work arounds, however: firstly, you can use a continuous light source like a torch or ring flash whilst focusing, then switch off and take your shot. In this scenario you’ll be using a flash, of course. The other way to deal with the problem is to dial the aperture to f/2.8, focus and then re-dial the aperture ring to your desired setting before taking the shot. OK, a bit fiddly but perfectly doable. Apart from that, using the lens is a pleasure and it’s quickly become a firm favourite of mine and will quite simply be my go to macro lens. Finally, should you buy it? If the above sounds workable to you, then yes, absolutely! This isn’t a lens for someone who’s just purchased their first DSLR, however. Spend your time learning to use your camera in manual mode before considering this lens or you’ll need to budget for a few visits to a psycho-therapist. If you already know your way around a camera, though, are comfortable handling manual everything and have the ambition of entering into the world of macro, this lens should be very near the top of your list. IMO, at £300 it’s one of the few bargains out there and I have a feeling that once Laowa begin to establish themselves in the market place, their prices will slowly begin to creep north.
One thing I would add: the UK Distributor currently does NOT supply this lens with the filter that Laowa send with it if you order from them directly. This lens NEEDS a filter or you’re going to get dust and debris into the mechanism due to the design that you can see in the two images above. Putting a cheap filter in front of glass this sharp would be a crime and would simply result in degraded image quality, which in turn negates the point of this lens. I’d recommend getting a B & W MRC 007 Nano CLEAR XS-PRO. That should have zero effect on image quality and will afford you the protection you need. The filter size for this lens is 62mm.
UK Digital, the Laowa distributor here in the UK, have just emailed me to say that they are sending me out a Nest Slim UV filter this afternoon. They have stated that all Laowa 60mm Ultra Macros will ship with this filter included from now on.