The 2019 edition of the Reef Photo and Video Anilao Underwater Photo and Video Workshop wrapped up last week. This was the 6th annual Reef workshop in beautiful Anilao, Philippines. Each year we’ve been treated to some of the best diving in the world, with an astonishing assortment of underwater creatures for subjects. Our host was the idyllic Aiyanar Beach and Dive Resort. Chris Parsons filed daily reports from Anilao about the Workshop.
Laowa 24mm f/14 2X Macro Probe lens in Canon EF mount. Today I borrowed the Laowa 24mm probe lens from Lee and Phil. This very unique “probe” lens that allows for up to 2x magnification while retaining a relatively wide 85º field of view (in air). Whereas a normal macro lens (like the Canon 100mm macro) provides a lot of magnification, it compresses the view; this lens is a “bug-eye” lens, meaning that the background is still wide (wider than the normal human perspective) even though it provides a lot of magnification for subjects close to the lens. You can think of it as the “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” lens. It can act as both a wide angle and a macro lens, depending on how close the shot is to the subject.
The Laowa 24 seems pretty sharp (in my limited testing) at the center of the frame. On a full frame camera, it is less sharp as the edges. For video that crops the sensor or on an APS-C sensor, this will be less noticeable. On some of my shots, I saw a huge amount of unwanted distortion and lack of sharpness at the edges and corners. This happen most when there is something closer to the lens than the focal point. But I was able to find a lot of shot setups where this was avoided, so it did not turn me off on the lens. While I don’t think this lens replaces either a wide angle or a macro lens, it can certainly add a unique perspective to your toolset. Lee produced a video that really shows off the potential of this lens for video work.
On the Canon SLR, this is both a manual focus and a manual aperture lens, which means that the camera cannot control either. There seems to be no electronics in the lens at all (aside from the LED ring light); no metadata for the lens is displayed by Lightroom. In our test setup, there was no way to even change the aperture, so I chose to pre-set it at f/18 or f/22. Shooting still images, this makes it tough because the image through the viewfinder is quite dark. So a focus light is definitely required to be able to focus.
The lens has a little LED ring light, which would help with this a lot. We didn’t have a chance to set that up in my housing in my short time with it, so I jury rigged a focus light to use. It was still pretty challenging to get focus right, so if I was to use this lens in the future, I’d definitely want to get the ring light working. Note that when shooting video, this is much less of an issue as you are going to be using a constant light (as opposed to a flash) and would want to use a nice large monitor with focus tools like peaking, focus assist or a 1:1 zoom.
I definitely had a lot of fun trying to shooting the Laowa 24 despite the focus challenge, and I got a few shots that I really like from it. My understanding is that Nauticam is also working on a relay/probe type lens, and I am looking forward to trying that as well.
Today’s highlights: Skeleton shrimp, butterfly nudibranch, a feisty porcelain crab, cuttlefish, a long snake blenny, a short beak mantis and a tiny orange frogfish.