Today we’ll be taking a look at Venus Optics Laowa’s new 65mm f/2.8 2x macro lens for X-mount cameras. As the name suggests, this is a medium telephoto macro lens capable of 2:1 macro reproductions.
When Laowa asked me to take a look at this for you guys, I immediately responded that I have absolutely no confidence when it comes to macro photography. The response was, “That’s why we’re asking you. We want you to give a different perspective on the lens.” With that, I accepted their offer and here we are. Please don’t be expecting any gorgeous close-ups of rare bugs or worlds inside water droplets. I wouldn’t even know where to start!
One more note is that, due to the current pandemic, Fujifilm Korea were unable to lend me a copy of their XF 60mm f/2.5 for comparison purposes. Once the situation eases, I will try to get a copy of the lens and make some notes here for you.
Let’s start with the construction of the lens. As Laowa are known for, this is an all metal-and-glass construction that feels great in the hand. The lens feels surprisingly light in the hand considering how long it is and what it’s made from. As we work our way from the body to the end of the lens, we find an aperture ring clicked to full stops, a depth of field scale and reproduction ratios etched into the lens barrel, and Laowa’s trademark blue ring at the front. The metal hood clicks into place firmly and protects the front element well.
While we’re on the subject of how the lens feels, I’d actually go so far as to say this is the first time I’ve felt a lens that really fits the Fujifilm X series cameras from a third-party manufacturer. In fact, I actually like the feel more than most of Fujifilm’s native lenses. Where Fujifilm’s metals are slippery to the touch, Laowa’s have a decent grip to them. This makes the lens a joy to hold and work with.
The feeling of using a proper manual focus ring and not a focus-by-wire system is great as well. For a lot of macro work, precise focus beyond what an autofocus system can provide is required and this lens will not leave you disappointed. The ring is smooth well dampened. It offers a full 270-degree throw from minimum focus to infinity, making it easy to get precise focus.
While I can’t comment too much on the feeling of working with this as a macro lens for extreme macro photography (I’m simply not qualified), I can share a few examples and speak to its optical quality. At f/2.8, the lens is suitably sharp if you can nail the focus. It gets a lot easier to see this lens’ qualities from f/4 onwards, though. It’s absolutely razor-sharp through f/8, and as we’d expect on an APS-C sensor, diffraction kicks in at f/11. While the lens can be stopped all the way down to f/22, I’d recommend keeping at around f/8 for the best detail and then potentially using focus stacking if you need more depth of field.
For those of you curious to get a good look at the optical qualities of this lens, I have put together a small collection of raw files you can download and peak around for yourselves. You can download those here. The side-by-side below is a sample of the lens at f/2.8 (left) and f/8 (right) with sharpening increased to 100 points and structure increased to 5 points in Capture One.
As I mentioned above, Laowa sent me this lens to give our readers a perspective outside of pure macro use. I’ve taken it with me on day-to-day photography for about a month now and made a variety of images with it and have a few overall thoughts I’d like to share.
How confident you are with your manual focus skills (and in this case, how quickly you can turn this focus ring) is going to determine how useful this lens is in your case. For me, It’s been a lot of fun for slow-paced portraiture, some documentary images, and as a general walkaround telephoto. Because of the design and intention of the lens, there is significant “focus breathing” at close focusing distances but this is a non-issue at regular focus distances. This means you can frame up your shot and not worry that the composition will change as you focus.
At longer distances, it can be difficult to find good focus wide open. The Fujifilm screens are not quite up to the quality required for this (update: the X-T4’s Resolution Boost mode helps significantly when punching in). I’ve found that my X-T3 makes focusing a lot easier than my X-E2, for example. But I would still like the ability to punch in tighter on a higher resolution preview for critical work. Close up, this isn’t really an issue as you have plenty of detail to work with and much greater movements of the focus ring are required to change the focus.
The focal length lends itself well to flattering portraiture, so if you’re looking for an extremely sharp portrait lens that will force you to slow down, this is certainly a good option. Thanks to its nine aperture blades, bokeh is smooth and non-distracting, even when stopped down. The falloff between in-and-out-of-focus is pleasing, as well. All in all, I look forward to a little normalcy in this world so I can get out and make some more portraits with this lens!
One thing to remember with all lenses that have a manual aperture is that focus is nearly impossible to acquire accurately when the lens is stopped down. One example of when this made things more difficult than they needed to be was photographing cherry blossoms in the wind for the image below. In order to focus accurately, you’ll need to open the lens up to f/2.8, focus, then stop down to your desired aperture. Once you get used to this, it can be done quickly, but it is a step that can be avoided in a couple of ways. Hopefully, now that Fujifilm has opened its mount details to third-party manufacturers, we’ll see apertures using Fujifilm’s integrated system. However, in the meantime, I’d love to see a clutch on these lenses like a lot of old M42 lenses that allows the aperture to be opened and closed with a single movement.
Laowa have produced another fantastic lens for Fujifilm X. The only couple of things I could complain about are the implementation of the aperture ring and perhaps the quality of the hood compared to the rest of the lens construction. Aside from that, however, this is an optically excellent lens that is easy to use and offers another perspective for us as Fujifilm X users. If you have any questions about the lens, feel free to leave them below. You can check out their own samples and purchase a copy here.