Gear

Laowa 24mm f/14 Replay 2x Macro: Hands-on First Impressions

 

Venus Optics has been making some pretty interesting and niche lenses ever since the company was founded just a few years ago, and we already have their new 12mm f/2.8 “Zero-D” lens sitting on our desk.

The 12mm ultra-wide angle was announced back in August and released just shortly before Photokina, but Laowa kept a big surprise in their pocket for the biannual expo.

Halfway through the event, pictures emerged on social media of this incredibly strange-looking lens, which is intended to take wide-angle macro images.

We were at the expo as the product was revealed, and quickly headed down to the Laowa stand to check out this bizarre lens, which extends out like a proboscis so that the photography can reach a skittish subject like an insect, without startling the creature.

Specs don’t seem to have been released yet for the lens, but we spent some time with the lens and discussed it with some of the reps there. Apparently while it’s the first commercial lens made with this design, previously some macro photographers have adapted their lenses to function somewhat like this 24mm f/14. Laowa brought their professional expertise to this design, and came out with a decently well-built device.

In practice, the lens was very light and constructed decently well, although it’s worth noting this is a pre-production model. I wouldn’t say that it’s as solid as other Laowa lenses, which use quite a lot of metal in their designs. This is probably to keep the long tip flexible and easy to maneuver, even though it doesn’t look very rugged. Regardless, it’s not a lens you’ll be using excessively – more like something you’d keep in a case and bring out just for a specific shot or two.

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.