Ahead of today’s announcement, I tried the Laowa 24mm T8 2x Pro2be lens alongside a Panasonic S1R full-frame camera. The unusual macro lens is challenging but rewarding to use.
Before diving into my impressions of the lens — or lenses, if you want to be very specific — there is an important caveat to get out of the way. I am not the target user for the Laowa Pro2be lens. I do not shoot video outside of what is required for reviewing a camera.
The probe lens is built for cinematic applications, namely for professional filmmakers. PetaPixel’s resident video expert, Jordan Drake, was tied up with other projects, so I decided to give it a whirl.
This hands-on report is not a full-blown review of the lens. Instead, it is simply my experience using the Laowa 24mm T8 Pro2be lens, getting my feet wet with a fun little video project, and using the lens to take extreme close-up photos. Additional details about the lens, including numerous sample videos shot by the professionals at Laowa, are available in PetaPixel’s news coverage.
Thinking Outside the Box
I have used some unusual lenses over the years, but none quite as “different” as the Laowa 24mm T8 2x Pro2be. When I opened the package, I realized I would need to approach photography differently with the probe lens.
To achieve the 2:1 macro reproduction, or anything anywhere near that magnification, you must get extremely close to the subject given the 24mm focal length. Many typical macro lenses are at least 50mm, although many are longer, including numerous great macro lenses that are longer than 100mm.
At its minimum focus distance of 4mm (0.16 inches), the Laowa 24mm T8 Pro2be is practically touching the subject. However, if the lens is not perfectly parallel to your subject, or if the subject is not itself flat, there is a good chance that you will bump it while shooting. I ran into this issue quite frequently during my time with the lens.
When trying to photograph plants and insects, I spent quite a bit of time waiting for the subject to stop shaking after I had bumped it with the front of the lens. This is not necessarily unusual when shooting with macro lenses that have a shorter focal length, but 24mm is especially short.
Another consideration is composition. 24mm is quite wide, so even when a close subject fills much of the frame, one must carefully consider their background.
At the lens’ fastest aperture of T8, the background is reasonably tricky to blur completely, thanks partly to the focal length. The shorter the focal length and slower the aperture, the less blurry the background will be, all else equal. Of course, this is overcome to some extent by getting up close and personal with a subject.
T8 Aperture is Limiting
Concerning the T8 aperture, it is slow. Despite being 1.75 stops faster than Laowa’s prior Probe and Periprobe lenses, which are T14 lenses, the Pro2be can be pretty challenging to work with because of its aperture. Especially when shooting video, the T8 aperture regularly forced me to shoot with the S1R at uncomfortably high ISO settings. Without powerful continuous lighting, interior shooting is difficult. Cameras with better ISO performance will certainly do better here, making this much less of a concern.
However, even when shooting outside, T8 is relatively slow when not in direct sunlight. Of course, shooting wide open results in a very shallow depth of field when working at macro distances, so stopping down is sometimes necessary. Once I stopped the lens down, the aperture only became more difficult to work around.
An area where even a stills photographer like me can appreciate the Laowa Pro2be lens is concerning build quality. The lens feels excellent to use and is robust. The aperture and focus rings rotate smoothly with enough resistance to allow for effortless precision.
This precision is especially critical when considering the focus ring because the slightest shift in the focus distance can have a dramatic, noticeable effect when doing macro work. Given that it is a manual focus lens, the positive focusing experience is critical.
This section will be brief since this is not a comprehensive review. The primary takeaway is that the lens performs reasonably well.
The in-focus area, as narrow as that may be at times, is quite sharp for video and photographic applications. The lens also does an excellent job of controlling aberrations. While there are some minor chromatic aberrations in exceptionally bright, challenging situations, they are manageable.
What is a bit less manageable is the lens’ propensity for flare and its poor control over vignetting. Consider the example below shot at T8.
While it is possible to remove vignette from video in applications like Premiere Pro, it is more complex than removing from still images in a photo editing app like Lightroom.
Returning to the positives, I enjoy how the Laowa Pro2be lens handles color. The lens does an excellent job of capturing vibrant scenes with good contrast. The resulting images look quite natural.
The bokeh performance is also pleasant. While there is a bit of warping or cats’ eye effect’ with specular highlights away from the center of the frame, that does not bother me much. The transition from out-of-focus to in-focus and back to out-of-focus again is nice overall.
The Laowa 24mm T8 Pro2be 2x Macro lens proved challenging to work with not because of any specific limitations of the lens itself — save for the T8 aperture — but because it is so far outside of my wheelhouse. However, the new experience was also rewarding.
I had fun trying new ways to capture photos and had a good, albeit challenging, time with my video project.
While I cannot evaluate the lens from the perspective of a professional filmmaker, I can confidently say that during my brief time with the Laowa Pro2be lens, it is evident that it is a very powerful tool for creative photo and video applications.
The lens, especially the 35-degree and periscope modules, will enable creators in ways few other lenses can. This is precisely where Laowa lenses tend to excel. While some of their lenses are “typical” in a broad sense, many of their offerings are distinct and unusual, offering users something that they cannot get anywhere else.
The upgraded Pro2be fits that mold perfectly and will help talented filmmakers all over capture video that would be otherwise difficult, or outright impossible, to get.
An Unusual Lens for Niche Purposes
If you feel limited by traditional lenses in ways that the Laowa 24mm T8 Pro2be can overcome, you should absolutely consider picking it pu.
Even though I am not a filmmaker, it is remarkably easy to see the many ways that a lens like the Laowa 24mm T8 2x Pro2be can enable creators to capture distinct and dynamic shots. The lens is undoubtedly niche, but that does not limit its capabilities, even if its unusual design and use case limits its versatility.