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Venus Laowa 24mm f/14 Replay 2x Probe Macro Review

John Riley reviews the unique Laowa 24mm f/14 Replay 2x Probe Macro lens, with built-in macro LEDs.

|  Venus LAOWA 24mm f/14 Replay 2x Macro Lens in Interchangeable Lenses
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Laowa 24mm F14 2x Macro Probe On Canon 5dSR

Laowa lenses are from another smaller lens manufacturer who has been pushing back the boundaries and releasing new, exciting designs that take the potential of photography in new directions. Fresh from its successful Kickstarter project we have the Laowa 24mm f/14 2x Macro probe, a strange beast indeed. The idea of having an ultra-wide depth of field with a macro capable of 2x life-size is a compelling one, so let's see how it works out in practice, using the full frame 50MP Canon EOS 5DS R.

Venus Laowa 24mm

Laowa 24mm f/14 Probe Macro Handling and Features

Laowa 24mm F14 2x Macro Probe Front Element View

The probe extends some 40.5cm from the camera body, the first 21cm being waterproof. The waterproof section is just 20mm in diameter, so the probe can be easily inserted into inaccessible areas, machinery, tubes and pipes, whilst the camera is a comfortable distance away. The minimum working distance from the tip is also 20mm, so we can get very close. Lighting could well be a problem, but this is solved here with the provision of a built-in LED ring light that is usefully bright. This is powered externally via a micro-USB connection on the barrel, a cable and some sort of USB or portable power source. The small pocketable power packs used for charging mobile phones work perfectly for the purpose.

In terms of handling, the convenience of the probe design cannot be stressed too much. The subject can be approached at ultra-close distances whilst the camera body and tripod support can be a very comfortable working distance away.

The barrel becomes broader beyond the micro-USB connection and is no longer waterproof. There is a smooth and clickless aperture ring, clearly marked from f/14 to f/40. Closer to the camera body we find a manual focusing ring calibrated in metres and magnification ratios. This is a manual focus lens only, with an internal focus mechanism. Closer still to the camera body, the lens widens further up to the metal mount. This bayonets cleanly and precisely, indicating an excellent quality of manufacture.

Laowa 24mm F14 2x Macro Probe With Power Supply On Canon 5dSR

The optical formula is a massive 27 elements in 19 groups, including 1 HR (High Refractive Index) and 2 ED (Extra Low Dispersion) elements. It is relatively unsuitable for use at infinity, being designed with macro photography firmly in mind. That it's not to say that it cannot be used at longer distances, but quality will suffer.

The lens weighs in at a modest 474g. It is available in Canon EF, Nikon F, Pentax K, Sony FE and Arri PL mounts. There are cine versions marked in T stops in Canon EF and Arri PL mounts.

Handling is quite tricky and we are definitely not in the arena of action photography. Focusing using the viewfinder of a DSLR is really impossible as the f/14 aperture makes the image far too dark to see. Live View works very well, but at macro distances, the focusing is so critical that a tripod and very careful focusing are needed for optimal results. Even on a tripod, under magnification, the tremor of actually touching the camera can be easily seen and a 10-second self-timer is needed to allow that to settle.

Laowa 24mm F14 2x Macro Probe Close Up Controls And Mini USB Connector
Laowa 24mm F14 2x Macro Probe Close Up Controls, And Mini USB Connector

The lens can be used with available light, but it really comes into its own with the built-in LED ring light. This is incredible and allows, for example, the lens to be inserted into pipes and tubes to explore the depths, as well as underwater to find wildlife in areas that previously would have been very difficult to shoot. Obviously, external light sources such as flash could be used, but that would not be possible where the probe is being used in hard to see areas.

The more the lens is used, the more applications spring to mind where inaccessible areas can now be photographed with ease. However, although there are creative possibilities, many of the applications may be of a more scientific and commercial nature, where the lens cost will be justified with specific needs in mind. It is not a lens for casual snapshots.

There is also the potential for video shooting, with the ultra-close viewpoint and long working distance making new effects possible and a scale previously very difficult to achieve.

Laowa 24mm F14 2x Macro Probe Rear Element View

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pink Plus
18 6.7k 8 United Kingdom
30 Aug 2018 11:57AM
What about the Canon MPE-65 Macro lens?
1-5x magnification
30 Aug 2018 12:10PM
The Canon lens does offer a higher degree of magnification, the difference being that the Laowa has the wand design that enables access into areas that would otherwise be impossible. That is the unique advantage of the Laowa lens. If pure magnification is needed, then there are macro lenses that offer that.

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