Hot off of the heels of the 90mm f/2.8 2x Macro APO lens, Venus Optics has released another Laowa macro lens for mirrorless cameras in the 58mm f/2.8 2x Ultra Macro APO, which is arguably more versatile and therefore more appealing to general shooters.
While similar in design and features to the 90mm version, the wider focal length of the manual focus 58mm macro opens up more opportunities for general use like portraits, product, and landscapes with very impressive results, making the $499 asking price feel almost too good to be true (as long as you tend to do your macro work focusing manually).
The 58mm Macro from Laowa follows the same path as its predecessors as it is fully manual without any electronic components. While this may be a big “no” for many modern shooters, a manual lens for macro work is actually still kind of the norm as it provides users a lot more precision.
On older DSLRs, the manual focus may be a big turn-off, but with modern mirrorless cameras and the incredibly detailed viewfinders and displays, setting focus manually in camera is a lot easier to do especially thanks to focus peaking. The Apochromatic design (typically found on much more expensive lenses), is just icing on the cake making colors easier to focus more accurately and consistently, allowing for the images captured to truly stand out.
Design and Build Quality
Like most of the Laowa lenses I’ve tested, the 58mm f/2.8 2x APO Macro lens is very nicely designed with full metal construction. Measuring in with a 74mm diameter (and 67mm filter thread), and a barrel size of 4.6 by 2.9 inches (117mm long) and weighs an impressively light 1.24 pounds (564g) despite the full metal build. The design is sleek and minimalistic like the rest of the Laowa lineup with a “clicking” aperture ring that goes from f/2.8 to f/11 (with a jump to f/22). The focus ring is smooth and “clickless” as you would expect and features no focus drifting whatsoever (from my testing) regardless of the angle the camera is being positioned at for the shot.
The lens caps are pretty standard and snug-fitting, but the lens hood seems to be the one notable weak link of the overall design. The plastic of the lens hood isn’t bad by any means, and is as durable as any other hood on the market, however, it doesn’t sit quite as precisely or snug as the lens caps and every other component of the lens. It just simply doesn’t go on or off easily, and it never feels like it’s lining up properly, or more so, even when it is lined up right, it feels almost as though you’re forcing it on or off every time. This left me feeling like I was going to break it on every use, even though that was never the case. If the lens cap is on, it is almost impossible to put the lens hood on as well.
Focusing has about 200 degrees of travel, giving users a large and precise amount of control when focusing at every distance and f-stop. The ring itself is quite wide and ribbed for an easy grip (even with a focus pulling motor). All the focusing components are contained inside of the lens, keeping the balance rather constrained and centered, and ensuring there’s no potential for dust, dirt, or moisture to get inside of the moving parts of the lens, even though this lens (Like many of the Laowa lenses) does not have weather sealing.
The lack of electronics on this lens does make it feel a little safer when shooting in dirty or inclement weather situations, but I’d still prefer a system that has some proper-rated weather sealing if I’m going to expose my gear to some rough scenarios.
The lens has a minimum focus distance of only 7.29 inches (18.5 centimeters) and the lens hood does eat up some of that. I found myself using the lens mostly without the hood attached to better be able to get up and really close with the items I was trying to shoot, especially when using the 2x magnification level to avoid casting shade with the hood. Something to keep in mind when shooting at the extreme 2x close distance with this macro lens is you will need a lot of light, or at least more than you would expect to get a clean shot: at the 2x magnification, you can expect about two to three stops of light loss.
Using my camera’s focus peaking in conjunction with the manual focus was pretty accurate in my testing, with it only struggling or showing a false positive on subjects that needed a little more contrast to define the edges, or simply needed more light for the system to see properly.
Overall, the design of this lens feels “top shelf” and definitely looks and feels much better than the $499 price attached to it.
Handling and Performance
Getting images that look great feels very easy to do with the 58mm f/2.8 APO 2x Macro lens. There seemed to be minimal chromatic or spherical aberration, next to no fringing regardless of the subject and colors, the bokeh is absolutely dreamlike and gorgeous, and focus was surprisingly easy to achieve at every aperture (as long as there was enough light).
Creating a nice bokeh-based separation is rather easy at nearly every aperture when you shoot at the minimum 2x focusing distance, and the look is actually quite appealing, making it really easy to blur out pretty much any background.
In addition, there was very little (if any at all) visible distortion from corner to corner with this lens. Horizon lines didn’t need to be adjusted (other than my own crooked angle of shooting) and there wasn’t any visible bowing on lines and edges near the corners of the frame. There is a bit of noticeable vignetting along the image but in most cases in my testing, it wasn’t a big deal that needed adjustments, but for the sticklers, messing around with the lens profile adjustments for this I found a good clean zone ranging between +30 to +38 to correct it.
Images are incredibly sharp edge to edge with only a minor drop-off in the extreme corners that are really barely even noticible in “real world” photographs. The fall-off is only truly noticeable when using test images with charts for measuring. As you can see in the large selection of sample images below ranging from f/2.8 to f/22, the performance is outstanding.
It is worth mentioning once again that since this is an entirely manual lens with no electrical components built in, there is no EXIF data transmitted to the camera. While this can be frustrating for those who like to see metadata, it really isn’t that much of a practical issue for general use.
Below are some more images taken with the Venus Optics Laowa 58mm f/2.8 2X Ultra Macro APO lens:
More Than Just A Great Macro Lens
The Venus Optics Laowa 58mm f/2.8 2X Ultra-Macro APO lens continually proved itself to be worth its asking price and more throughout my testing. It performed beyond my expectations and is useful for extremely detailed macro shots as well as for capturing very sharp and detailed landscape and portrait images, with a peak performance ranging from f/2.8 to f/11.
While it is similar in performance to the 90mm f/2.8 lens from Laowa, the wider focal length gives users more image opportunities and general usage for things like portraits and landscapes in the same tiny package. Even with the missing EXIF info due to a lack of electronic connections, no image stabilization, and lack of weather sealing, the $499 lens still makes a strong case for itself on its performance alone.
Overall, this lens has impressed me a lot more than I expected with some of the best image quality I’ve ever seen at a lens of this price tier. There are many macro lenses out there, but very few can deliver the same quality or better results than are achieved in this Laowa lens and I haven’t seen any that can do so for the same $499 price.
Are There Alternatives?
As the adoption for mirrorless systems continues to grow, there is an ever increasing set of alternative options for macro lenses for uses to choose from like the $647 50mm f/2.8 and $1,047 105mm f/2.8 VR Macro lenses from Nikon for the Z-Mount (which adds autofocus to the mix), the $499 Venus Optics 90mm f/2.8 2x Macro, the $1,098 90mm f/2.8 Macro from Sony, and then the $499 85mm f/2 Macro, $399 35mm f/1.8 Macro, $599 24mm f/1.8 Macro, and the $999 100mm f/2.8 L Macro for Canon RF mounts.
Should You Buy It?
If you’re looking for an affordable and versatile macro lens that can provide you with more usability than just an APO fine-detail lens, yes, the Venus Optics Loawa 58mm f/2.8 2x Ultra-Macro APO lens is definitely worth the investment.