Saturday, May 21, 2016

Laowa 15mm Wide Angle Macro Lens

blog_MG_1812 copy
Wallace's Flying Frog (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus)

Laowa 15mm F4 1:1 wide angle macro lens is the first 1:1 wide angle macro lens in the market, and it is still the only wide angle lens in the market that can achieve native life size magnification. A big thank you to Venus Optics for shipping me this lovely lens.  I received my Laowa 15mm from Venus Optics back in June, 2015, and have been using it whenever I could!

Just like the Venus 60mm 2:1 macro lens, the Laowa 15mm is a fully manual lens with no automatic diaphragm. An automatic diaphragm keeps the lens wide open for focusing and stop it down to the set aperture only when you fully press the shutter release.

This is not a review of the Laowa 15mm, but more like a sharing of information as well as images taken with this lens. For more information on the Laowa 15mm as well as testimonials/reviews, check out this page.

If you are interested in the Laowa 15mm, you can get one here.

For Venus 60mm F2, you can get it here.

For Macro Twin Flash KX800, get it here.

Working Distance

Laowa 15mm working distances
Laowa 15mm - working distances at different magnifications

Here are the working distances at various magnifications:

1:1 - approximately 4.7 mm from front of lens to subject
1:2 - approximately 19 mm from front of lens to subject
1:3 - approximately 36 mm from front of lens to subject
1:4 - approximately 49 mm from front of lens to subject

As you can see from the data above, to fill the frame, even on an APS-C, you will have to be really close to the subject!


I experimented with 3 different methods of focusing.

a) Viewfinder, with aperture dialed down to the desired value

As soon as the aperture is dialed down, the viewfinder becomes really dim. Strong focusing light is required. It was tough even on the Venus 60mm, and worse on a wide angle lens like the Laowa 15mm. I have missed too many shots because I didn't nail the focusing! (more info here - look for "Handling").

b) Live view, with aperture dialed down to the desired value.

With live view, and either 5x or 10X zoom, focusing is easier and much more accurate, provided I can keep my hands steady. Not difficult if I am on my knees with my hands/elbows supported. Not easy if I am standing, with nothing to lean on!

c) Viewfinder, focus with aperture wide open!

I can't believe why I didn't try this any sooner. With the aperture wide open, the viewfinder is bright, day or night, as long as I have the focusing light on. (more info here - look for "Handling"). Once I am done with focusing and framing, I will then dial down the aperture all the way to F32, and back up (reverse) a little - without looking or taking my eyes off the viewfinder! The aperture value could be anything from F11 to F22 (?) depending on how "calibrated" my turning is! I have to do all these without affecting the focusing (moving) too much!

Sample images:

Some of my first few images taken with the Laowa 15mm. I had never used a wide angle macro lens prior to that, so be kind! :P

First few images:
Venus 15mm sample shot_MG_1234

Venus 15mm sample shot_MG_1159
Lantern bug / lanternfly nymph (Zanna terminalis)

Devadatta argyoides IMG_6815 copy
Damselfly (Devadatta argyoide)

Venus 15mm sample shot F11_MG_1680

Platerodrilus hoiseni_MG_5992 copy
Trilobite beetle (Platerodrilus sp.)

Mushrooms IMG_6894 copy

Macracantha arcuata IMG_6877 copy
Long-horned Orb Weaver (Macracantha arcuata)

Venus 15mm sample shot_MG_1848
Long-armed Scarab (Cheirotonus peracanus)

Venus 15mm sample shot_MG_1852
Long-armed Scarab (Cheirotonus peracanus)

Laowa 15mm sample shot_MG_1509
Stag beetle (Odontolabis femoralis)

Heteropteryx dilatata_MG_6487 copy
Young female Jungle Nymph (Heteropteryx dilatata)

In the beginning, I used the Laowa 15mm only during the day, either with fill flash, or no flash at all. However, due to the extremely small working distance, finding a willing model during the day was really tough. I actually stopped using the Laowa 15mm because of difficulty in finding a model that would pose for me during the day!

After a few months, I began experimenting with the Laowa 15mm for night macro/herping. A great decision, I must say.

Most images are taken at 1/200, ISO200, F11 to 22(?).

River Toad (Phrynoidis aspera) Study 

It was a great decision to try the Laowa 15mm at night. Most my my regular subjects are far less sensitive at night. There is no way I could photograph a Great Anglehead Lizard (Gonocephalus grandis) with the Laowa 15mm during the day! I have also learned a lot more about this lens than I did the first 6 months.

Now a study on a lovely model: River Toad (Phrynoidis aspera). Check out the sequence and let me know which one you like best.

Phrynoidis aspera_MG_7430 copy

Phrynoidis aspera_MG_7431 copy

Phrynoidis aspera_MG_7434 copy

Phrynoidis aspera_MG_7436 copy

I personally like #3 best, and #2 is close in second place. I call this the "dramatic angle" of wide angle lens!

Newer Images

Thereuopoda sp._MG_7867 copy
House Centipede (Scutigeridae - Thereuopoda sp.) with a juvenile Malayan Horned Frog (Megophrys nasuta) prey.

Mating whip scorpions IMG_8959 copy
A mating pair of whip scorpion/vinegaroons (Thelyphonus sp.?).

Limnonectes khasianus IMG_8975 copy
Corrugated Frog (Limnonectes khasianus)

Macroxiphus sumatranus_MG_7479 copy
Female Conehead Katydid (Macroxiphus sumatranus)

Gonocephalus grandis_MG_7535 copy
Female Great Anglehead Lizard (Gonocephalus grandis). There is no way I could get this close to the during the day!

Gonocephalus grandis IMG_9055 copy
Male Great Anglehead Lizard (Gonocephalus grandis)

Calliophis intestinalis_MG_6107 copy
Striped Coral Snake (Calliophis intestinalis)

Dryocalamus subannulatus IMG_9001 copy
Malayan Bridle Snake (Dryocalamus subannulatus).

Dragon-head Katydid Lesina sp. _MG_9784 copy
Male Dragon Head Katydid (Lesina sp.)

Parablepharis kuhlii kuhlii_MG_0422 copy
Parablepharis kuhlii kuhlii mantis (ID credit: dracus).

Parablepharis kuhlii kuhlii_MG_0425 copy
Parablepharis kuhlii kuhlii mantis (ID credit: dracus).

Tropidolaemus subannulatus_MG_0669 copy
Bornean Keeled Pit Viper (Tropidolaemus subannulatus)

Tropidolaemus subannulatus_MG_0675 copy
Bornean Keeled Pit Viper (Tropidolaemus subannulatus)

Tropidolaemus subannulatus_MG_0700 copy
Bornean Keeled Pit Viper (Tropidolaemus subannulatus)

Xenochrophis trianguligerus_MG_1516 copy
Triangle Keelback (Xenochrophis trianguligerus)

Aphaniotis fusca_MG_1440 copy
Earless Agamid (Aphaniotis fusca)

Cyrtodactylus consobrinus_MG_2068 copy
Peters' Bow-fingered Gecko (Cyrtodactylus consobrinus),

Cyrtodactylus quadrivirgatus_MG_1972 copy
Marbled Bent-toed Gecko (Cyrtodactylus quadrivirgatus)

Bronchocela cristatella_MG_2105 copy
 Green Crested Lizard (Bronchocela cristatella)

Gekko smithii_MG_2088 copy
Smith's Gecko / Large Forest Gecko (Gekko smithii)

Trimeresurus nebularis_MG_2024 copy
Cameron Highlands Pit Viper (Trimeresurus nebularis)

Rhacophorus nigropalmatus_MG_1812 copy
Wallace's Flying Frog (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus)

Rhacophorus nigropalmatus_MG_1819 copy
Wallace's Flying Frog (Rhacophorus nigropalmatus)

Limnonectes blythii_MG_1810 copy
Blyth's River Frog (Limnonectes blythii)

Rhacophorus norhayatii_MG_1849 copy
Norhayati's Flying Frog (Rhacophorus norhayatii)

Boiga jaspiedea_MG_1783 copy
Jasper Cat Snake (Boiga jaspidea)

Aphaniotis fusca_MG_1932 copy
Earless Agamid (Aphaniotis fusca)

Gonocephalus grandis_MG_1877 copy
Male Great Anglehead Lizard (Gonocephalus grandis)

My Two Cents

I am sure the big question on your mind now is: how do I  like this lens? Well, I like this lens a lot. Despite the fact that it has no automatic diaphragm, it is the only wide angle lens that lets you get to 1:1 magnification! No other wide angle lenses come close to this.

The working distance is extremely small. No matter how careful you are, the lens/diffuser tends to bump into the bushes/perches on which your subject perch on. This applies to all other wide angle lenses though IMO.

Since my speedlite is almost always mounted onto the hotshoe, being close means that I get better light. If I use similar lighting setup for a full body snake shot, one with a 60mm lens, and the other with the Laowa 15mm,  the image taken with the 15mm will give me much better light for sure. My current lighting setup is more or less similar to this, but bigger.

Dryocalamus subannulatus IMG_9025 copy
Drycalamus subannulatus, Laowa 15mm - short working distance, resulting in soft light

Dryocalamus subannulatus_MG_5319 copy
Dryocalamous subannulatus, 60mm macro lens - longer working distance, light not as soft

I am also very fond of the different perspective in the shots I get from the Laowa 15mm.

Chalcorana labialis_MG_1532 copy
Laowa 15mm

90mm macro lens

Rhacophorus norhayatii_MG_1847 copy
Laowa 15mm, note the bigger, and softer catch light in the eye

Rhacophorus norhayatii_MG_2527 copy
60mm macro lens, note the smaller, relative harsher catch light in the eye

Calliophis intestinalis_MG_6104 copy
Calliophis intestinalis, Laowa 15mm

Calliophis intestinalis IMG_0187 copy
Calliophis intestinalis, 60mm macro lens

_MG_2130 copy
Heterometrus spinifer, Laowa 15mm, note the much softer light.

Heterometrus spinifer_MG_6899 copy
Heterometrus spinifer, 60mm macro lens, harsh light.

With my present lighting setup, however, any magnification higher than 1:3, heavy shadow will occur!

_MG_2048 copy
Hemiphyllodactylus titiwangsaensis, heavy shadow towards the front (close to camera)

Another example (worse!)
_MG_1875 copy
Polypedates leucomystax, more pronounced shadow on the bottom/right side of the frog.

This can be fixed easily by taking the speedlight/diffuser off the camera, but I dislike flash bracket, nor do I have an assistant to hold the speedlite/diffuser for me so I guess I will be sticking to the lower magnifications for the time being.

Other wide angle lenses to consider

A couple of other wide angle lenses that I am also interested in testing out are:

Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM - this EF lens (works on Full Frame bodies too) has a maximum magnification onf 0.39x!

Tokina 10-17mm F/3.5-4.5 DX  can achieve a maximum magnification of 1:2.56 (0.39X). Do note that there are two versions: one with built-in hood, and one without.

Sigma 24mm f/1.8 EX DG can achieve a maximum magnification of  1:2.7 (0.37X). More suitable for Full Frame camera though in my opinion. If you have tried it on APS-C, do share your results!

Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM Lens - for Canon APS-C only. Although it is capable of only up to 0.27X, you can add a 13mm extension tube to it to achieve around 0.86x, but with tube on, the minimum magnification is around 0.5X, i.e you will lose infinity focus. . It is also very affordable at the price of US$149.

Sigma 15mm f/2.8 EX DG Diagonal Fisheye Lens - available in most mounts. Can achieve a maximum magnification of 0.26X.

Tamron 20mm f/2.8 Di III OSD M1:2 Lens for Sony Full Frame/APS-C E-Mount capable of up to 0.5x magnification. E-mount only though, for now, at least.

Tamron 24mm f/2.8 Di III OSD Wide-Angle Prime Lens for Sony Full Frame / APS-C E-Mount - capable of up to 0.5x magnification! E-mount only though, for now, at least.

If you are interested in the Laowa 15mm, you can get one here.

For Venus 60mm F2, you can get it here.

For macro twin flash KX800, get it here.

Useful resources for wide angle macro photography:

My take on wide angle macro - Gil Wizen

How wide-angle macro photography can help you capture close-ups with impact

Getting low and wide - Piotr Naskrecki

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  1. These are stunning images and you certainly make me want to invest in this lens

    1. Thank you, Dino. It is a great lens once you get past the lack of automatic diaphragm.

  2. The max RR of the Zeiss Distagon T F/2.8 Zf2 is 1:2.3 with 6cm working distance.

    1. Thanks for the info, Luca. 0.43x is pretty impressive. I will have to look up this lens on the net later!

    2. It's just another fully manual lens with no automatic diaphragm, and cost at least double that of the Laowa 15mm.

  3. breath taking photos! Amazing work!

  4. Hello, stunning images they are. Can you please tell me the name of the flash you are using?



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