Go Wide or Go Macro… or Go Both with Venus Optics Laowa Lenses

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If Venus Optics were an athlete, its motto for the Laowa lens line would not be “Farther, faster, stronger,” but, “Wider, Closer, and Even Wider and Even Closer.” One look at the Venus Optics Laowa lens lineup and you will see that the company is, with a couple of exceptions, carving out the turf in the ultra-wide-angle lens and macro-lens markets.

Photographs ©Todd Vorenkamp

Officially known as Anhui ChangGeng Optics Technology Co., Ltd., Venus Optics was created in 2013 and headquartered in China. With optical designers from famous Japanese and German optical shops, Venus Optics seemed to skip over the phase where new optical companies roll out market-testing inexpensive products and, instead, for its first offering, the company released the world’s first 2x macro lens that had infinity focus capabilities—the Laowa 60mm f/2.8 2X Ultra-Macro Lens. For its second act, another “World’s First”—the Laowa 15mm f/4 Wide-Angle Macro Lens is the widest-angle lens giving true 1:1 magnification. The lens also incorporates a 6° shift for APS-C shooters. What does a company that starts with two totally unique lenses do for an encore? Well, if you want to see a beyond-unique lens, check out our video on the Laowa 24mm f/14 Probe Lens and its 2:1 macro capabilities. Also, the Laowa 4mm f/2.8 Fisheye for Micro Four Thirds has an incredible 210° angle of view—good luck getting your feet out of the photo! Today, the company’s most “mainstream” lens is the 105mm f/2 Smooth Trans Focus Lens that features an apodization element for bokeh control. Aside from that portrait lens, the company is specializing in ultra-wide and macro lenses.

After reading a metric ton of online reviews, I dipped my little toe into the Venus Optics pool with the Laowa 9mm f/2.8 Zero-D Lens for my FUJIFILM X cameras and, for the purposes of this review, we called up the other new offering from Venus, the Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5X Ultra-Macro Lens. It is obvious that Venus Optics has its sights on specializing on macro and extreme wide-angle lenses, so the choice of what to test was fairly obvious.

Both lenses have a high-quality mechanical feel and both were a tactile pleasure to use. Venus Optics does not appear to cut corners with the lens barrels, their markings, or the mechanicals of the lenses. Its newest offerings have a distinctive blue stripe around the barrel. I am guessing this will be their visual branding signature, moving forward.

I have been shooting the Laowa 9mm since April, and instantly enjoyed the uniquely wide perspective and the creativity that can afford. I’ve bench-tested it and also used it to shoot the stars—a true high-performance real-world test of a lens’s performance (even with the constant battle of light pollution and atmospheric interference)—and found the lens optically very, very good. I now bring it with me on commercial architectural shoots, as well as and especially with interiors—the extra-wide field of view is great for the smallest of spaces. The “Zero-D” part of the lens’s full name stands for “zero distortion” and the lens is incredibly distortion free. What little bending you see is easily correctable in post-processing.

Next up in my hands was the Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5X Ultra Macro Lens. I do enjoy macro photography and always feel as though I should do more of it and, with this lens, I definitely will be doing more. The lens has a great feel and is, by far, not the strangest-looking macro lens out there—Venus has that locked up with the aforementioned Probe lens. A control ring on the lens barrel lets you change the magnification of the lens from 2.5x to 5x. At 5x, this lens shares the top spot on the podium with the famous Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro Photo Lens. You can achieve more magnification using different macro photo tools, but 5x is the most you will find on a current mainstream lens straight out of the box.

If you haven’t tried it, macro photography is fun. Even at less-extreme magnifications, it is amazing to explore the planet on a small scale. At 5x, there is even more exploration to be had. I had a blast with the Laowa Ultra Macro and would love to spend more time with it. I can and have achieved these levels of extreme macro with a combination of extension tubes and a bellows, but one of the magical things about this Venus Optics lens is that it is small, relatively lightweight, and ready to go. I’ve never carried my bellows out into the field, but the Laowa 25mm will slide nicely into any camera bag and be ready for extreme macro at any time.

Whether it is extreme wide-angle photography or extreme close-up photography, or a combination of both, the Venus Optics Laowa lens lineup is fairly unique in the world of third-party lens manufacturers, and the company seems to be filling these niches with high-quality lenses that will satisfy everyone, from casual shooters to working professional photographers.

Are you a fan of the Venus Optics Laowa lenses? Do you have questions about them? Let us know in the Comments section, below!

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