Maybe I’m not man enough for this lens

This morning, as I was futzing about in the lab, I decided to give my Laowa 25mm f2.8 Ultra Macro 2.5-5.0x another shot. This is an amazing lens — look at the magnification on that thing — but I’ve been struggling to find a place for it in my workflow. It’s not an easy lens to use! Short working distance, narrow depth of field, requiring a lot of light, and having no aperture control in the camera…I haven’t got the hang of it at all. I initially thought maybe this would be a good lens to use in the lab, because it is so finicky, but has the potential for a lot of close-in detail, but no, in comparisons I did this morning, using my Wild dissecting scope with a camera tube gave me more mag, and was orders of magnitude easier to use. The Canon remote control software is dead easy: put a spider under the scope, you’ve got centimeters of working distance, and you can just click a button to capture images.

I could not imagine handing a student the Laowa and telling them to document the morphology of some spiderlings or embryos. I could show them the Canon software and scope and they’d be happily churning out data in minutes.

So it’s not a lab lens, for sure. Maybe a good field lens for tiny subjects? It would be a bit like carrying a microscope into the field, without the bulk and awkwardness. A bright sunny day, some little beast on a blade of grass, and a little patience and this thing might come into its own. All I need is a sunny summer day, which are a bit scarce right now, and I’ll take it out for some field tests.

For now, this is the best, which is far from any good, that I could capture this morning.

Maybe once we get a warm day with lots of sun, I’ll just stretch out in the grass in the backyard and play voyeur with any passing arthropods.


  1. nausetimages says

    Not really an ideal setup for this type of shot. You have too little depth of field with that lens, especially because of the short focal length and requisite distance to subject. The easiest solution is focus stacking, but that’s not going to work if the subject moves at all. Focus stacking would allow complete focus from front to back, but will require the ability to adjust focus in minute amounts.

    What aperture is the lens set for?
    Which camera body? I forgot what you said you’re using.
    What processing software are you using?

  2. nausetimages says

    The trouble you were having with the ring light:
    Yup, the produce very flat light, and as you note that’s often unflattering. My motto was “shadows are our friends.” Ok, not pithy but it was applicable. Try putting some black tape (electrician’s is nice and dense) over sections of the ring light. That way you can “unbalance” the lighting and create a little bit of shadow.

    The other thing to try is a Lightbox. Again, it’s fairly flat light, but the same tricks will apply. Nice inexpensive light boxes are easy to find on Amazon.

  3. clsi says

    If this lens is anything like the Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5X zoom (and I suspect it is), I wouldn’t count on getting anything useful with sunlight, no matter how sunny the day. If the sun is bright enough, you’re likely to wind up at the much-too-harsh end of the lighting spectrum. I use a macro twin-light (link below) with a home-made diffuser to get soft, directional light on macro subjects, but if you don’t want to shell out for that, the tape-on-the-ring-light solution nausetimages proposes sounds very promising.

    Incidentally, you probably wouldn’t want a smaller aperture (higher f-stop) on this lens (again assuming it works like the Canon MP-E). When I’m shooting at 5X magnification, I’ll start to see diffraction if I close down the aperture at all, so I almost always shoot wide open (f2.8). If I need more depth of field, I stack, or I’m out of luck.

  4. birgerjohansson says

    I still think the image was good, we can see the details of the forward body clearly which beats 100% of my attempts at less extreme close ups (admittedly I do not have the skill to try high-performance optics).
    I prefer lichen, as they have the good habit of not being ambulatory.
    -Anyway, are there many spider species that have so subtle differences that you need higher magnification than this to identify them?

  5. says

    Yes, I have the lens wide open, and have been impressed with how good it is at collecting light, relatively speaking. I did try stopping down the aperture…not good. I got a lot of fringing and haloes around, for instance, the fine hairs.

    I’ve eyeballed the twin lights, but right now they’re out of my budget. Maybe someday… Currently I use a flash with a diffuser. I do have a couple of slave flashes, I might improvise a bracket to hold them in place, like a poor man’s twin light.

  6. says

    There are huge amounts of subtle species differences! I can’t distinguish P. tabulata from P. tepidariorum without dissecting them, for instance, and all of my field guides kind of give up on identifying tetragnathids below the genus level.

  7. spinynorman8 says

    You can see the metadata associated with each photo. The mag of the lens is not the most import thing…if you have a 24k MP camera or better you don’t need to be that close (which, as you see, reduces the depth of field, requiring more focus plane increments to encompass a given field).

  8. spinynorman8 says

    Of course my comments apply to non-living, or very very still, subjects that will not move…

  9. says

    Wow, this gave me flashbacks to the 90s. I hope the lens gives you good results, PZ, because that was how people used to justify using Windows 95 despite it being less stable and harder to make work than a Mac, or Linux in the late 90s. (“You know it must be good because it wastes your time!”)

  10. nausetimages says

    which flash units and remotes do you have? Putting them on simple table stands will work. You can get plastic feet, or small tripods. Lightstands are great but any table holding the subject might get in the way.

    The twin light setup does roughly the same thing as masking the ring light.
    And shooting wide open is always going to cause a problem. Wide open is usually the aperture setting that will create softest image as well as the shallowest depth of field. Traditionally one wants to back off the subject rather than get right on top of it, hence the 100mm macro lenses. And yes, a rig that moves the camera instead of you focusing the lens is very helpful.

  11. says

    PZ – I understand your frustration that you are not happy with results you get sometimes. I have had some tremendous results with macros using Pentax Optio point and shoot cameras. Can’t believe it sometimes.
    Here are some examples and if you look click on the images as they get bigger not once but twice and then you can really see.

    A few spiders here -

    Some from a macro thing people were doing. Not all are super great but you can get an idea how well this Optio W60 can perform.

    What I’m saying and please don’t be insulted but from what I’ve seen this camera of mine does better than what I see you post much of the time.

    I don’t use it anymore and it’s yours to try if you’d like. I have too many cameras around I’m not using. Hollar at me and I’ll send it to you. I’d love to see an experiment like that. In Mexico returning 4/30. It’s gonna be a trip I tell you. Live in a place Grand Junction, Co where it’s 70% trumpers and boberts. It’s tough sometimes.