LAOWA 24mm f/14 Macro Lens: An Underwater "Bug Eye" Perspective
The LAOWA 24mm f/14 2X Macro Probe, aka “Bug Eye”, lens is undoubtedly one of the coolest lenses in the world. It is about as modern as a lens can get – from a crowdfunded origin to a 2:1 macro-wide-angle-hybrid capability. The field of view on this lens is so unique that it can’t be seen with the human eye. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to look through the eye(spot) of a nudibranch, hermit crab, or anemonefish, this lens does exactly that.
Because this lens is so weird, it requires an explanation before going into the specifics. At its core, the Laowa 24mm is a macro lens. Yes, 24mm is a wide focal length, but the long barrel construction and lens elements work some magic to give it macro capabilities. So the Laowa 24mm is a macro lens……with 27 lens elements! Moreover, the Laowa 24mm is a 2:1 macro lens – a true super macro lens rather than the traditional 1:1 macro lens. That means it can reproduce objects at twice life-size. However, the Laowa lens is also a wide-angle lens in many ways as it offers an 84.1 degree field of view. This means that even when you are shooting macro photos, you can still get a nice background in the image, creating a “bug eye” affect. Every macro photographer at some point wishes to get a background behind the tiny nudibranch they're shooting that isn't just sand and substrate. The Laowa lens finally offers a way to get a true sunball (not a double exposure) behind your macro subjects.
Laowa lens underwater video
Laowa 24mm macro probe specifications
- 24 mm focal length (f/14 max aperture)
- 2:1 macro photography - & infinity focus capability
- 27 lens elements (19 groups)
- 7 aperture blades
- 470mm minimum focusing distance
- Manual focus
- Multiple mounts – Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony FE, Pentax K. Cinema mounts: Arri PL/Canon EF
- Wide-angle macro “Bug-Eye” perspective – 84.1 degree field of view
- LED ring light embedded into lens tip
- Maximizes depth of field (f/14 speed lens)
- Compatible with both a 35mm full frame and Super35 image sensor
- Designed for both video and still photography
- Front of lens barrel is waterproof
- 40cm long lens barrel
- Weight: 474 grams (1.04 lb)
As you might imagine, the Laowa 24mm macro lens requires a unique design to accomplish a very unique perspective. The lens is actually called a probe by Laowa, and it is, in fact, a probe. The barrel of the lens is 40cm long and consists of a astounding 27 lens elements in 19 groups! That’s a lot of glass and complexity needed to produce an amazing perspective. The front of the barrel is waterproof which is ideal for top-side aquatic applications but you still need a housing while diving. However, the waterproof barrel comes into play again, because current ports for the lens leave the front end of the lens unprotected due to its length. This is great for getting into tight corners of the reef, but nerve-wracking when it comes to protecting the lens.
The lens was developed to fit on 35mm full frame sensor and Super35 video sensor cameras, but it can work with many cameras and mounts via mount adapters. The standard mounts that work with the lens include the Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony FE, Pentax K, and Arri PL. That’s right – it’s compatible with cinema cameras! There are adapters available for Fuji X and micro four thirds mounts.
One of the coolest features of this lens is the LED ring light at the front of the lens that can be used to illuminate very hard to reach places – a treat for professional macro photographers and videographers.
The lens is relatively light weight for the large barrel size considering that it weighs just over a pound.
Ring light on the front of the lens
The optical capability of this lens is as crazy as the build. Because the lens is a 2:1 macro lens, it has an unusual maximum aperture - f/14. Although it might seem insanely small for a max aperture, it’s necessary. Anything larger would produce too shallow of a depth of field for subjects to be captured in detail. One of the most impressive aspects of this lens is that it can focus to infinity which makes it a much more versatile piece of equipment than we initially presumed.
A “bug eye” perspective at 2:1 macro creates a viewpoint that can’t be seen by the human eye. Imagine being a tiny crab walking by a nudibranch and seeing ever ridge on its rhinophore with the sun shining behind. This lens can do that.
Underwater Photography with the LAOWA 24mm 2X Macro
The implications of this lens for underwater photography are huge. As we’ve mentioned, the bug eye perspective is a unique view that is bound to be coveted by any wide angle or macro photographer. It is different from other macro lenses due to the ample background with close up macro shots. However, overall, we found that at close, supermacro distances to subjects, it didn't appear much different than other macro lenses.
The LAOWA lens is slightly more difficult than a normal macro lens to capture photos given the long barrel, 2:1 capability, and lack of AF. It takes a little more patience and stability due to a normal macro lens because of the awkward shape. In some cases it is actually easier to use because the wide field of view can help maintain subjects in the frame. The lens itself is great for getting into small spaces, but it's also important to consider that these spaces can be difficult to light. You can use the ring light on the lens to help with lighting, but it will not be as strong as an underwater strobe, and it cannot currently be turned off during the dive.
The long barrel and 2:1 macro does result in the loss of a few stops of exposure. We found that we had to compensate by bumping up our ISO slightly and shooting at lower shutter speeds unless we wanted black backgrounds. Black backgrounds are great for macro photography, but then you tend to lose the "wide" view of this macro lens. There is also a litle bit of softness around the edges of the lens due to the fact that it's a flat port.
Manually adjusting this lens takes some getting used to, but modern cameras can really help you work with the focus. We recommend using a mirrorless camera with focus peaking so that you can see how the photo will be composed and the plane of focus on a nice LCD rather than a viewfinder. Check out some of our tips for underwater photography below.
Tips for Underwater Photography
We've dived with the LAOWA 24mm and have come up with some great tips to help you maximize the benefits of using this lens:
1. This is a manual focus lens. Try to prefocus your lens and anticipate where your subject is going to be before you shoot it.
2. The corners of the lens can be a little soft with still photography. Close your aperture (increase your f-stop) for more depth of field. Remember that you'll loose some exposure and may need to increase your ISO or lower your shutter speed.
3. Bumpb up your ISO. This is a dark lens due to the long barrel so it will help you capture fast subjects and maintain depth of field.
4. Use long strobe arms. The long lens barrel can require you to move your strobe quite a bit to be close to the front of the lens.
5. Shoot up and try to get some background structure in your image.
6. Shoot with a full frame camera to take full advantage of the field of view with this lens. The lens was designed for full-frame cameras and if you use it with a cropped sensor you lose the unique field of view.
7. Use a mirrorless camera or external monitor so you can see the focus on your image. If your camera has focus peaking, be sure to use it so that you can see what's in focus.
Underwater Video with the LAOWA 24mm 2X Macro
The Laowa 24 mm macro probe is optimized for video, which is an exciting and rare attribute in a lens. The lens is compatible with two cinema mounts – the Arri PL and the Canon EF mounts.
In fact, we felt that this lens was even better for underwater video than it is for underwater photography. It's smooth, sharp, and produces professional level quality....if you can handle the manual focus and 2:1 macro!
The reason the LAOWA lens is so good for macro video is the field of view. Because it is wider than your traditional macro lens, it is easier to stabilize video and put subjects in the context of the environement. Peraps the most exciting feature of this lens for underwater video is that it can focus to infinity. This means you can take both true wide angle video and true macro video all in one package! We don't recommend this lens as a dedicated wide angle lens, but it can certainly do the job in a pinch.
Because it's such a weird lens the LAOWA 24mm 2x macro probe does have its own challenges. The 2:1 macro (supermacro) footage is extremely crispt but hard to keep stable. Becuase you have to use a manual focus dial, if you try to manually focus while recording, you can see jerky movements from your hand moving the dial. Sometimes its just better to prefocus the lens and pan. Check out our tips below for shooting underwater video....
Tips for Underwater Video
1. Shoot with a Log picture profile or RAW video if your camera is compatible with this profiles. Because the long barrel results in the loss of a few stops of exposure, the best way to retain details from your shadows is to shoot in a Log profile or RAW video, if you can.
2. Shoot full frame video with no crop factor. If you shoot a crop sensor camera or video with a crop factor than you lose the unique wide-angle-macro field of view with this lens.
3. Prefocus your lens to the right focal plane for your subject and keep your lens there. If you move the manual focus around too much, it can be easy to miss the action. Try to pan in and out to get your subjects in focus rather than manually focus your lens.
4. Shoot at 120 fps to slow down your video for better stability in post production.
5. This lens can take amazing wide angle video and amazing macro video. Make use of the full range of this lens. If you see a wide subject, go for it! If you see a macro subject, go for that too! Think about your supermacro opportunities as well.
6. Look for unique subjects in nooks and crannies.
7. Use long arms for video lights in order to position it close to the front of the barrel for proper video lighting.
8. Use a tripod for better stability.
9. Take video at a completely open aperture or a stop or two from open. This is where the lens will be sharpest. Because this is a dark lens, we still recommend keeping the lens relatively open for as much exposure as possible.
10. Bump up your ISO. Again, this is a dark lens.
Underwater Housing Compatibility
Although the lens is compatible with many cameras, with such an awkward design, there are very few manufacturers selling ports that work with the lens. In fact, currently only one manufacture has designed a port system that can be used with the lens – Nauticam.
The Nauticam N120 port adaptor is one of Nauticam’s most interesting ports, for a very interesting lens. The Nauticam port adaptor leaves the original front lens element outside of the port opening since the front of the lens is waterproof. The port adapter can be used with either cinema housing for DSLR housings. The port also has two Focus/Iris control options – the standard and cine-mod versions. The Cine-mod version comes with de-clicked aperture adjustments as well as cinema-styled focus to allow for easy focus. Check out the Nauticam Cinema Gear Set and Nauticam N120 DSLR Gear Set.
Nauticam Cinema Gear Set
Which Lens to Get
As a third party lens, the LAOWA 24mm macro is made with multiple mounts which makes it really versatile and able to fit a much larger number of cameras then normal native lenses. However, each LAOWA lens is made with a dedicated mount, so you need to choose what type of lens you purchase based on the mount of your camera. Here are the LAOWA 24mm macro lens types available now at Bluewater:
- Canon EF (standard) mount for Canon cameras
- Canon EF (cinema) mount for Canon cinema cameras
- Nikon F (standard) mount for Nikon cameras
- Sony FE mount for Sony cameras
- Pentax K mount for Pentax cameras
- Arri PL mount for Arri cinema cameras
You can select your desired lens type on our LAOWA 24mm f/14 macro probe page.
The Laowa 24mm f/14 macro probe is truly one of the world’s coolest lenses. The fact that it is ranked 2nd for all-time most funded lens project on Kickstarter is a testimony to this fact. With a unique macro bug-eye perspective, there’s just so much potential for capturing the smallest moments of life on the reef.
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