FujiFilm X-T1 & Venus Laowa 60mm f/2.8 Ultra Macro Rig
All the necessary parts arrived this morning so it was time to see if my paper plans would actually work in practise.. Fortunately, just for once, they did and I couldn’t be happier with the final result. Even pure lady luck seems to have been on my side as the final position of the flash diffuser was exactly where I’d hoped it would be once mounted on the little ball head. Measuring that prior to actually trying it was nigh on impossible so it was really a case of “pay and pray”!
OK, so working from the bottom up I’ll list each part and my reasoning for it. First off is the tripod, which is my trusty little Gitzo G1098 Basalt. This tripod is small, very light and has served me well over the years. It’s only failing for this purpose is it’s inability to sit flush with the ground. The legs will splay but you’re still going to be at the height of the centre pole, which is 35cms (just over a foot). With the ball head and slider etc.. you’re up to 53cms. That said, if I need to be down low and I can always use a bean bag, so no biggy. The ball head is a Really Right Stuff BH-30 which is small and light but rock solid and very easy to use in the field. The Velbon SuperMag Slider is attached to the ball head using an RRS B2-40-LR-1 lever quick release clamp.
The SuperMag is a decent and well priced piece of kit that allows you to easy micro-adjust your distance to the object. Because the Venus 60mm lens is not particularly long physically I use the slider in the reverse position, which with the relatively light and compact X-T1, seems to work well. On the end of the slider I have an RRS B2-LLR-II lever clamp. This allows me to quickly mount or dismount the camera from the slider and the slider from the ball head on the fly. A RRS BXT1-L L-bracket allows the X-T1, even with the flash bars in place, to be mounted to the quick release plate of the slider. The ring flash is a Meike FC-110 which I bought here for £23 shipped (about $30). I’m not actually planning to use it as a ring flash as I’m not keen on the harsh light these tend to put out. Instead, it will be used as a continuous light source, in the way you might use a video light, to facilitate easier focusing at apertures around f11. The Venus Laowa 60mm Ultra Macro lens is manual everything, including aperture setting, so when focusing on and between f11 and f22, the viewfinder is quite dark, making the job all that more difficult. With the FC-110’s control box mounted on the flash bar I can simply switch on the continuous light whilst focusing and then switch it off before taking the shot. This saves me having to brighten the subject using the aperture ring and should also be more effective and easier than using a torch. That’s my theory, at least.. In order to fit the control box onto the flash bar you will need to drill a 6mm hole about mid-way between the camera and the flash bar upright. Once done, use one of these hot shoe mounts to attach the box. The double L flash bar is a fairly cheap and cheerful affair purchased here for £9.95 shipped. These are just painted aluminium L bars with sliding cut outs and rubber lining along one side of each, so you can’t go too far wrong. What I would recommend is changing out the locking knob/screws. The ones that come with the bar are too small and it’s impossible to sufficiently tighten them with your hands. You can do it with a monkey-wrench but who wants to faff around with one of those every time you want to adjust something? Instead, replace them with these much large and sturdier ones and everything will work how you want it to without the need for tools.
The flash cable you’ll need is a Pixel Compact FC-311S TTL for Canon. It’s about 45cm curled and 1.8m when expanded. The Canon contacts are in the same place as FujiFilm’s, hence it works perfectly and at £15 it won’t break the bank, either. The ball head I’m using for the flash is the one that came with my little SLIK Mini-Pro III tripod. I have a very similar one on order but it’s yet to arrive. To connect the ball head, flash cable and flash I’ve used a very simple metal hot shoe clamp that costs all of £2.28 shipped! The flash itself is a Yongnuo YN-560 IV Speedlite, which came highly recommended and was a fairly reasonable £49.50. The diffuser is a £2.35 Phot-R Universal Studio Softbox, which for the money is decent quality!
The strap is from FootPrint Straps and is made of quality bridle leather by Clive, a very pleasant and gifted chap here in England. I use his straps on all my cameras and they’ve all been superb. Below you can see the ring flash in continuous light mode.
One thing that should be noted about the lens: by design, the front element moves back and forth internally during focusing. The front part of the barrel therefore functions as a hood or lens shade, so no separate hood ships with it. The result of this design, however, is that dust, dirt and other little aliens can easily get inside the lens mechanism, which could cause problems down the line. Laowa, the Chinese manufacturer, has openly recognised this and in an attempt to guard against the problem, each lens is shipped with a 62mm clear filter. When my lens arrived from the sole UK distributor, however, no filter was present so I called Tony to ask about it’s whereabouts. Tony told me that his company had taken the decision to trash all the filters that came with the lenses as they were optically so poor quality that they would degrade image quality. He said they were in the process of trying to source better filters from China which he hoped would be ready to ship in a couple of weeks. When I ordered my lens, however, there was no information on their website outlining this and I wasn’t told so on the phone when enquiring about the lens prior to purchase. That’s a bit naughty and unfortunately results in further expense for the buyer. Whilst Tony has promised to send me a filter once available, I need something on there now, so I’ve had to splash out a further £40 on a B&W MRC 007 Nano Clear XS-PRO. OK, I could have found a cheaper one but frankly I’m not about to put a cheap piece of glass in front of what I hope will be a very sharp lens, so as a result the £299 from the distributor suddenly jumped to £339 plus £6 shipping for a total of £345.. and there’s more.. According to UK Digital, the “FujiFilm X (with adapter)” option on Laowa’s website simply results in you receiving a lens with a standard adapter for FX. OK, so what’s the problem, I hear you mumble? Well, you don’t get an option as to which original static mount plus adapter you’ll receive. That means the original mount on your lens could be Canon, Nikon, Pentax or Sony. Presumably the choice is made simply by how much stock of each mount Laowa have but I’d personally like to be able to choose the static mount myself. Firstly, a Nikon or Canon mount is probably going to be much easier to sell at a later date than a Sony mount. Secondly, I also use Nikon lenses with my X-T1 and many other photographers may run more than one system. In other words, if someone is running a Fuji X system plus a Nikon system, receiving a Canon lens plus an FX adapter wouldn’t make a great deal of sense. Either way, if you don’t currently have an adapter for your FX camera you’re going to have to get one. UK Digital quoted £29 for one, which would effectively have taken the price of my lens to £384 or $536 USD. Compare that to $299 shipped when ordering direct from Laowa and suddenly you’re paying $237 for the privilege of not waiting 10 days to receive your lens. TBH, at nearly $24 a day I’d probably have chosen to wait. With regards the poor optical quality of the filters, well, I have no idea if that’s entirely true or not since I wasn’t provided one. I’ve not heard anyone else complain about them, though, so who knows? Regardless, my ultra macro rig is now complete and ready to go. All I need to do now is learn how to shoot it!
Test shots of the Venus Laowa 60mm Ultra Macro are now under way. This is quite a challenge for me as my sight is slowly fading and I can’t find my ruddy reading glasses! Dear Lord uphold my sanity! Either way, the first test shot is posted here.
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.