Laowa 100mm F2.8 CA-Dreamer macro lens Review

Laowa 100mm F2.8 CA-Dreamer the good, the not so good and the fluffy

This review will cover my experiences from buying the lens all the way to using it for my day to day photography.

Disclaimer – I bought this lens with my own cash, this review reflects my own findings , like them or not, they where not influenced by any outside parties

Laowa has always produced some interesting lenses , the 100mm F2.8 is no exception to that rule, providing a fun two times magnification, it can not just get you close to your subject but it can get you supper close, falling more in line with super macro and not your conventional macro lenses, where more conventional macro lenses cover up to one to one times magnification only. Macro lenses that provide a magnification of two times and at the same time allows you to focus to infinity, that’s a versatile tool that cannot be ignored, yes it lacks auto focus, but then again most times at macro distances auto focus has trouble properly grabbing focus, which makes manual a normal occurrence when it comes to proper macro photography.

I have taken the liberty of braking down the review below in different segments to make it easy to jump between the different bits.

all the info down below

Getting the lens

One of the more difficult things for any South African photographer is finding a proper supplier of lenses such as the Laowa lenses, they are not something that most photographers here even know off let alone search for, my options where ether import it myself from Amazon.com or to try buy it from Laowa themselves , though we also have another option a local company called Landscape Gear(https://landscapegear.co.za)they sell some interesting bits of kit though the one thing they also sell is a wide range of Laowa lenses, more specifically they sell the macro lenses.

At a total cost of R9 999 South African Rand , more or less 660 USD, great price for the lens, picked it up as soon as they had one available for the Nikon Z mount.

The process of buying was simple and straight forward, I worked with Rudolph, after order was placed it was delivered the next day, I mean hell what more do you want right.

Unboxing and build quality

there is something to be said about the experience of opening a well packed lens, no lose clunky bits falling around , no random un needed paper sitting all over the place, simply put t arrives packed to last.

The build quality on the lens also reflects this cold metal from the front to the back , at the front sporting a solid blue ring followed by the focusing ring, turns as smooth as butter , good amount of throw to get from max focus to minimum focus, extremely easy to make pin point adjustments as you shoot, while focusing the inner lens moves forward and backwards, the movement is nice and elegant no stiff random bits to slow down the movement, the included UV filter already mounted to the front of the lens helps keep dust out and you should keep it mounted at all times, this is due to the design of the lens where it would be easy for dust and other bits to get into the front of the lens should you remove that filter.

following the focus ring is a aperture ring positive clicks as you move it from one to the next, once clicked into position small bumps or movement from my hand did not change the aperture by accident , always a good sign when the aperture ring stays where you put it. At the back of the lens you will find a solid metal mounting ring , no weather sealing at the back though mount is secured with 4 metal screws and firmly clips into the camera mount.

from a build point of view the lens is assembled like a small brick shit house, build to withstand bumps, built to last a lifetime, exited to say Laowa lenses always have a solid feel to them.

Specs

The lens is a 100mm design sporting a bright F2.8 all the way down to F22 at the minimum end, specs are as follow

Focal Length 100mm
Max. Aperture f/2.8
Angle of View 24.4°
Format Compatibility Full Frame
Lens Structure 12 elements in 10 groups
Aperture Blades 9 (Canon), 7 (Nikon), 13 (Sony, Canon R, Nikon Z)
Min. Focusing Distance 24.7cm (2X)
Max. Magnification 02:01
Filter Thread 67mm
Dimensions Φ72mm×125mm (Canon EF & Nikon F)
Φ72mm×155mm (Canon R, Nikon Z & Sony FE)
Weight 638g (Canon EF & Nikon F)
650g (Canon R, Nikon Z & Sony FE)
Mounts Canon EF & RF / Nikon F & Z / Sony FE

Now specs are all fine and dandy but where things get interesting is with the MFT charts, sharp in the center of the frame moving outwards gradually increasing far corner sharpness as well, though that being said the lens is crisp when shooting and nailing focus perfectly , at macro distances thats where you will get the most sharpness from this lens at 1 to 1 as well 2 to 1 it maintains a solid and outstanding sharpness across the board

at infinity focus is where the lens sharpness takes a larger dip into the corners as it does also focus to infinity some might use it as a portrait lens though be warned focus is deceiving and might take a bit of getting use to at those distances, at portrait distances also try to keep in mind that you should try to avoid placing your subject of center as this will move them into the less then perfect sharpness zone, it does clean up at around F5.6 though so that’s always a good sign

Real world Studio use

Now studio use was my primary goal when looking at a lens like this one, it allows the maximum amount of macro that I would need for product shots as well at F2.8 some creative portraits could also be an option.

Shooting products using the lens is fun, bit different to get use to how the aperture and focus works properly though once you get the hang of it then things start to feel better, on full frame though getting supper close still needs a bit of focus stacking and this is somewhere where this lens might struggle a bit , focus breathing is something that this lens loves to do at times, to combat this moving the camera and not the focus seems to have worked the best, the all metal design also is great in studio when I might bump things against it, shooting flat lays as well was supper easy and at F8 the lens along with my Nikon Z7 gives me some dam fine and sharp results, not only me but my clients should be more then happy with what I am able to achieve using this lens. Here is a sample of me playing around with some beans, notice that my focus is a tiny bit off even though I was at F8 focus always is a bit harder on macro distances , or maybe it was due to shooting handheld. Ether way in studio it has become my most favorite bit of kit to get the job done, it will surely deliver heaps back on the investment made.

Real world use day to day

One of the things I enjoy the most in my free time is hunting little critters and insects, a macro lens there for has to be something I not only enjoy using but is something that I can use without struggling, meaning the macro lens I pack into my bag for my day trips needs to handle well and deliver on quality out in the field , the Laowa lens delivers on both ends, due to the nice solid build I can bump branches, stones and even walk with it at my side without needing to “bady” the lens as it can take a beating, apart from the build quality handling it out and about has proven to be rather fun.

Hand held it balances perfectly on my Nikon Z7, its not extremely heavy to boot so prolonged trips where rather easy.

Focusing was where I struggled a bit, with insects darting away and not giving me pro per time to achieve critical focus it was a bit of a pain , the focus assist mode on my camera kept reading incorrectly, meaning even if my focus peaking showed the subject to be in focus it would still be out by a tiny bit, from the looks of it the peaking was front peaking a bit, once I adjusted the way I shoot though I had more keepers, bit odd though will calibrate my camera a bit at some point to see if I can fix that.

Grabbing focus on little critters is hard at 2 times magnification and on full frame to boot , can be done by properly pre focusing the lens.

all in all though what a joy to use outside, no complaints at all apart from the annoying focus peaking.

Pros and Cons

Its hard to summarize the good and bad of this lens though lets give it a try

Cons

With the lens being full manual build and controls means that it does not record proper EXIF data, nor does it allow the user to use other modes such as aperture priority, or even shutter priority, some users might find that to be something they cannot live without, the manual focus could ahve done with an additional 20 degrees throw on the barrel to help pinpoint focus even better, with the current throw it supper macro 2 times magnification even the smallest nudge can shift focus a large amount, having a larger throw would improve this.

Pros 

sturdy as hell build quality, it feels expensive in hand, its a dam joy to use nothing more fun then being able to focus as close at 2 times or as far as the eye can see, lens is stupidly sharp, when you nail focus, this is something that is extremely important for proper macro lenses, they need to be stupid sharp and nothing less, having sharpness far out performs anything else, this lens not only delivers sharpness but it brings the entire dam sharpness boat along for the ride, chromatic aberration controlled dam fine to boot.

Wrapping up

as some one that enjoys a good bit of kit and tech this lens sparks joy not only for the fun it is to use it but for the dam good build quality and at a price point that will have your wife never asking about it, those are things that work for me, can I recommend this lens ? hell yes

recommended if you are looking to do macro at a 2 to 1 scale , or if you are already a macro photographer looking for a proper upgrade

not recommended for those who love auto focus

for everyone else, life is to short to waist money on subpar products and lenses, rather spend the decent price this lens costs and enjoy the absolute joy and quality your photos will have, just remember as with everything else, practice practice then practice some more, the world of macro is interesting and fun, but she can be a hard one to properly navigate, there for it is highly recommended to arm yourself with the proper tools for the job, and this lens well she is that type of tool .

any questions or comments or simply want to play with the raw files ? get in touch down below