Although the Laowa 25mm f/2.8 is an unusual lens, you’ll find a few others like it in the dusty corners of photography stores if you look closely enough. Here’s a brief comparison of your options if you want an extreme macro lens:
1. Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5× vs Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5×
Certainly the most famous competitor for the Laowa is Canon’s MP-E 65mm f/2.8 macro lens, which goes from 1× magnification at a minimum to 5× magnification at the most. Here are the biggest differences between them:
|Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5×||Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5×|
|Native Lens Mounts||Nikon F, Nikon Z, Canon EF, Canon RF, Sony FE, Pentax K, L Mount||Canon EF|
|Focal Length||25 mm||65 mm|
|Working Distance at 2.5×||45 mm||58 mm|
|Working Distance at 5×||40 mm||41 mm|
|Minimum Dimensions (length × diameter)||82 × 65 mm (3.22 × 2.56 inches)||98 × 81 mm (3.86 × 3.19 inches)|
|Lens Length at 5×||137 mm (5.39 inches)||228 mm (9.00 inches)|
|Weight||400 g (14.1 oz)||710 g (25.0 oz)|
|Price||$400 (Check price)||$1050 (Check price)|
The Canon’s biggest benefit is that it has electronic contacts, allowing for a brighter image through the viewfinder and therefore easier focusing. The Canon also has the option for a less magnified 1× focus setting, while the Laowa is stuck in the range from 2.5-5× instead. And, lastly, the Canon has a slightly better working distance throughout the focusing range.
The Laowa’s benefits are the substantially smaller size and weight, as well as a much lower price. Also, of course, the Laowa can work with many other lens mounts natively. The Canon lens may sound better to you, but if you shoot Nikon, that’s not much help!
If I were a Canon shooter, I’d still strongly consider the Laowa, but it all comes down to your own requirements. If you’re willing to pay an extra $650 for electronic contacts and the 1-2.5× focusing range, the Canon is the way to go.
2. Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5× vs Mitakon Zhongyi 85mm f/2.8 1-5×
For non-Canon shooters, there aren’t a lot of options for high magnification lenses, but there’s still another contender worth mentioning: the Mitakon Zhongyi 85mm f/2.8. Like the Canon MP-E 65mm, the Mitakon macro lens goes from 1-5× rather than 2.5-5×, which is a nice advantage. But how does it compare to the Laowa?
|Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5×||Mitakon Zhongyi 85mm f/2.8 1-5×|
|Native Lens Mounts||Nikon F, Nikon Z, Canon EF, Canon RF, Sony FE, Pentax K, L Mount||Nikon F, Canon EF, Pentax K, Sony A, Sony E, MFT, Fuji X, EOS-M|
|Focal Length||25 mm||85 mm|
|Working Distance at 2.5×||45 mm||149 mm|
|Working Distance at 5×||40 mm||100 mm|
|Minimum Dimensions (length × diameter)||82 × 65 mm (3.22 × 2.56 inches)||122 × 67 mm (4.80 × 2.64 inches)|
|Weight||400 g (14.1 oz)||750 g (26.5 oz)|
|Price||$400 (Check price)||$430-500 depending on mount (Check price)|
As you can see, the Mitakon actually compares pretty favorably, if you don’t mind getting a lens that weighs almost twice as much.
However, if you look at the reviews of the Mitakon 85mm f/2.8, you’ll notice that it gets really terrible feedback at B&H and elsewhere. It seems that the initial version of this lens had a design flaw which caused severe sharpness issues throughout the focusing range. There’s a good writeup about the issue on PetaPixel, but supposedly Mitakon fixed the problem and is now selling sharp Zhongyi 85mm f/2.8 lenses.
I have not tested this, and I would encourage you to buy the Mitakon from a reseller like B&H that has a good return policy just in case you get one of the older, soft versions. If you do get a good copy, though, the Mitakon has a lot of good points, particularly the large working distance. The Laowa still wins out in price and weight, though.
(I should mention that there’s another Mitakon macro lens you may want to consider – a 20mm f/2 – but it only works at 4× and 4.5× magnifications, which makes it a much more limited option. But if those are the only magnifications you care about, it’s a very small and cheap lens with reasonably good reviews, as you can see here.)
3. Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5× vs DIY Options
Historically, non-Canon users who wanted greater than 1× magnification would use DIY methods to overcome the lack of a dedicated lens. In other words, you can get extreme magnifications by adapting a non-macro lens (or an ordinary macro lens) with extension tubes, reversed lenses, teleconverters, and/or close-up filters.
One benefit of these DIY methods is price. You can get a set of extension tubes for about $80 with electronic contacts, or literally $10 without. They’ll work with your existing lenses, and the wider your lens’s focal length, the more magnification you’ll get. Extension tubes also have no glass elements or moving parts, so they’re relatively foolproof in improving your magnification without overcomplicating your setup.
Beyond extension tubes, it’s also common to use an old 24mm or 35mm prime lens with a reversal ring to mount the lens backwards on your camera, or on another one of your lenses. You can even combine these reversed lenses with extension tubes to get even more flexibility in your magnification.
The downside is that these DIY options really do leave you on your own. You may be able to find some knowledgeable photographers or old forum posts that can help, but it’s largely up to you to find a good setup. If you end up with extremely high chromatic aberration, or your multi-extension-tube combo isn’t structurally stable, you may need to rework your setup from square one.
It’s definitely simpler to go for a dedicated lens like the Laowa or Mitakon, but there’s also some fun in trying to cobble together a working setup born of your own ingenuity (or the ingenuity of someone on the Dpreview forum from 2007). If you’re trying to save money, or you need some special feature that the DIY method offers, that would make it even more appealing.
Neither route is better, though; it’s up to you. Personally, I’m a bit boring and prefer dedicated lenses like the Laowa rather than trying to build my own setup. But you can get good images either way.
Summary and Where to Purchase
Given everything I’ve covered so far, how does the Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5× Ultra Macro lens stack up? Here are the main pros and cons:
- Highly unique lens that opens up macro photography possibilities well beyond most macro lenses
- Good optical quality: pleasant bokeh, minimal chromatic aberrations, and sharp optics (at least when diffraction isn’t excessive)
- Small and compact, with a well-built metal construction
- Solid working distance of 40 millimeters at 5× magnification
- 25mm focal length and small front lens diameter make it easy to locate your subject when composing
- Relatively inexpensive at $400
- Natively fits Nikon F, Nikon Z, Canon EF, Canon RF, Sony FE, Pentax K, and L mount – an unusually high number of mounts for such a specialty lens
- Lack of electronic contacts means a dark viewfinder and inaccurate EXIF data. You also need to calculate the effective apertures manually.
- Odd mechanical vignetting around the entire frame, particularly visible at widest aperture settings. It’s not extremely strong, but it’s still noticeable in real-world images occasionally.
- Small working distance of 45 millimeters at 2.5× magnification
- All the usual difficulties of extreme magnification: Minimal depth of field, high diffraction, magnified motion blur, lack of light, difficulty composing and focusing. These aren’t the Laowa’s fault, but they still make it hard to get sharp photos.
As you can see, the Laowa 25mm f/2.8 is not a perfect lens, but the fact that it exists at all is pretty fantastic. Canon has had a 65mm 1-5× magnification macro lens for a while, but other brands like Nikon and Pentax have had far fewer options to choose from. Even if you do shoot Canon, the MP-E 65mm f/2.8 is $1050, while the Laowa is just $400. The Laowa does have a few more limitations – especially the lack of electronic contacts – but it’s still a very good lens for this type of photography.
Because of the Laowa 25mm Ultra Macro’s uniqueness, it’s going to be a no-brainer for certain photographers regardless of the cons. Personally, as a Nikon shooter, I’m very glad that third-party manufacturers are filling in the gaps in Nikon’s native lens lineup like this. My hope is that Laowa or some other manufacturer can release a similar lens with electronic contacts and no mechanical vignetting issue, at which point the lens would be almost perfect.
You can buy the Venus Optics Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5× Ultra Macro lens from our trusted partner B&H:
If you need this lens for a more unusual mount like Nikon Z or the L mount, you can buy it directly from the Venus Optics website:
The next page of this review has a few more sample images during my time with the Laowa.
Venus Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5× Ultra Macro Lens
- Optical Performance
- Build Quality
- Size and Weight
Photography Life Overall Rating
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