Last Updated on 09/21/2022 by Chris Gampat
While many 1:2 lenses are labeled macro, photography purists consider only lenses with life-size reproduction capability worthy of the macro title. The Laowa 90mm f2.8 2x Ultra Macro is one of the few lenses to double that, getting in twice as close as the standard macro lens. That’s enough to capture details you can’t see with the naked eye, like pollen clinging to a bug’s feet.
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But, if that 2x capability isn’t enough, the 90mm focal length and f2 merge to make bokeh look easy. Toss in some unique flare and a metal build, and the Laowa 90mm f2.8 2X is the most fun I’ve had with a manual focus lens in quite some time. The kicker? This lens is only $500 and is available in several full-frame mounts, including Canon RF, Nikon Z, Sony FE, and L Mount.
The Big Picture
- 2x Macro? That’s amazing!
- Stunning rainbow flare
- Metal design
- Great bokeh
- Versatile colors
- It’s only $500
- No autofocus
- No stabilization
- Depth of field naturally makes focus peaking harder to use
- No weather-sealing
The Laowa 90mm f2.8 2x Ultra Macro is hands-down the most fun I’ve had with a macro lens. The 2x close-up capability makes it possible to capture detail that a standard 1:1 macro can’t. That mixed with the f2.8 and the 90mm makes bokeh so smooth that backgrounds often become a solid color. The rainbow-colored, streaky flare adds even more ways that this lens can help create photos that stand out in a feed. While it’s a manual focus lens, the metal build makes turning its focus ring luxurious. Add in the $500 price point, and I wish this lens were available in Fujifilm X Mount so I could add it to my own kit.
If there’s a reason not to buy the Laowa 90mm 2x, it’s the lack of weather-sealing. I used the healing brush to clean up some spots from dust on the sensor. The manual focus also makes the lens tougher to use on moving macro subjects, like bugs and butterflies.
I’m giving the Laowa 90mm f2.8 2x Ultra Macro five out of five stars. Only the lack of weather-sealing at the mount keeps me from giving the lens an Editor’s Choice award.
I used the L-Mount version of the Laowa 90mm f2.8 2x Ultra Macro, mounted on the Panasonic S5. The lens is a rental courtesy of Laowa. All the images in this review were shot handheld.
Many lens companies will call a 1:2 lens a macro, though photography purists don’t consider a lens to be macro until 1:1. The Laowa 90mm f2.8 doubles that, producing tiny objects twice their life-size on a print. That’s pretty incredible innovation right there.
But, this lens is also apochromatic. These lens elements help give the in-focus parts of the image a bit more contrast. Apochromatic isn’t entirely new, but it’s rare to find on a $500 lens.
The Laowa 90mm f2.8 2x Ultra Macro is a metal lens with vintage vibes. It looks and feels lovely. The metal build makes it slightly heavy at about 1.3 pounds. And sitting at less than five inches long, it accepts 67mm filters.
This lens has two controls: a thin aperture ring and a wide focus ring. The aperture ring has a nice click while the focus ring turns smooth as butter. It also has a depth of field scale printed at the top.
The lens ships with a hood and a lens cap. Interestingly enough, mine did not ship with an end cap.
Metal lenses are my favorite, and this Laowa is deeply satisfying to shoot with. The metal is so lovely that I like manually focusing as it keeps my hands on the lens. The lens feels like it’s built to last with a metal build.
Laowa doesn’t label this lens as weather-sealed, unfortunately. I had some dust on the camera sensor when using this lens, though it’s hard to say if the dust was from the lack of a seal or end cap when stored. It does use an internal focus design, so there are fewer entry points for dust to get in. I used the healing brush on my RAW files to remove some dust spots on the images.
The Laowa 90mm f2.8 2X Ultra Macro is a manual focus-only lens. I don’t mind the manual focusing here because my own macro work tends to be still subjects. Plus, autofocus doesn’t always work right when shooting up close, particularly with shiny subjects like wedding rings. It’s challenging to use manual focus on butterflies and fast-moving insects.
However, the biggest challenge is simply this lens’s natural depth of field. The closer the camera is to the subject, the narrower depth of field. A 90mm focal length and an f2.8 aperture will also create a narrow margin for focus. Mix all three of those together, and the depth of field is so small, that focus peaking often won’t work. The good news is there’s so much bokeh that there’s not much need to shoot at f2.8 unless lighting is limited.
Ease of Use
I have a love-hate relationship with manual focus lenses. I love the character they usually create, but I typically feel limited on what I can shoot because I can’t move fast enough without using zone focusing. With this lens, however, I fell more on the love side of the love-hate relationship.
Yes, it’s manual focus, and I missed some butterfly shots because I wasn’t fast enough (and the butterfly wouldn’t actually stop for more than half a second). But, focusing this close requires patience and breath holding anyways, so focusing manually doesn’t add much extra time.
Beginners, however, could be easily frustrated since the narrow depth of field makes focus peaking harder to use.
Grab a spoon because these images are delicious. Laowa has “Dreamer” printed right on this lens and that’s the best way to describe these photos. The 2x Ultra Macro capability can make even tiny alyssums look large. Creamy bokeh mixed with the apochromatic elements helps subjects really stand out. Sharpness is solid enough that you can see the pollen clinging to a bee’s knees. When it comes to macro, these images are the bee’s knees.
A 2x macro plus an f2.8 plus a 90mm is a recipe for bokeh soup. In many cases, green foliage looks as if it were shot against a solid-colored studio backdrop. Points of light are rendered into circular bokeh without hard edges. Bokeh balls occasionally take on a soapy look with stronger light sources. But, even on the corners, the shape remains mostly round.
Colors from this lens were really diverse. Underexposed, colors are rich with deep greens and overall warmth. Overexposed, you get softer more pastel hues. I like the deep greens and warmth this lens captured when shot with the S5. Reds don’t render quite as well and needed to be corrected in post for more accuracy.
If the 2x macro and soft bokeh isn’t enough character, look at the flare coming from this lens. Shooting towards the sun at golden hour produced some pretty cool rainbow flare. I could also get a bit of the streaky flare that looks like sun rays. Adjust the lens angle just a bit, and it’s fairly easy to control how much of that rainbow flare is in the images.
The edges didn’t have any noticeable vignetting or barrel distortion. I also didn’t have issues with obvious chromatic aberration.
Getting this lens perfectly in focus at f2 at 2x macro is tough to do. But, when perfectly focused, subjects are impressively sharp. The corners have a bit of softness to them. If you want super sharp corners, f8 will be your friend while the 2x macro and 90mm still means there’s a lot of bokeh left.
Extra Image Samples
From day one, The Phoblographer has been huge on transparency with our audience. Nothing from this review is sponsored. Further, lots of folks will post reviews and show lots of editing in the photos. The problem then becomes that anyone and everyone can do the same thing. They’re not showing what the lens can do. So we have a section in our Extra Image Samples area to show edited and unedited photos. From this, you can make a decision for yourself.
Who Should Buy It?
The Laowa 90mm f2.8 2x is ideal for photographers who want exceptional close-ups. Where 1:1 and 1:2 is the norm, this lens has a level of close-up abilities that’s difficult to match. The creamy bokeh and dreamy rainbow flare are also an ideal fit for photographers craving character on a modern camera body.
Photographers who prefer a more sterile feel or need that autofocus will want to look elsewhere. It’s also not the best choice for shooting in dusty environments or taking out in the rain.
Laowa 90mm f2.8 2x Tech Specs
LensRentals lists the following specifications for the Laowa 90mm f2.8 2x Ultra Macro:
- Autofocus: Manual Focus Only
- Brand: Venus Optics
- Compatibility: Full Frame
- Focal Length: 90.0-90.0
- Hood Included: Yes
- Image Stabilization: No
- Item Type: Lens
- Lens Type: Telephoto
- Max Aperture: 2.8
- Minimum Aperture: 22.0
- Mount: L Mount