Laowa’s latest version of its flagship 100-ish focal length macro – this time a 2x macro 90mm apochromatic lens – is designed from the ground up to be a mirrorless lens, reducing its scale to provide the most compact lens of its class and sporting sharpness that (if charts are to be believed) would be noticeably better than those offered by the big camera brands.
Using a larger number of special materials elements in its optical design, Loawa claims that the lens reaches apochromatic status, essentially eliminating some major color aberrations. This sort of claim is more common in telescopes than it is in camera lenses.
The MTF chart Laowa provides – a measure of the design’s calculated resolving ability – shows an implied sharpness better than either of Canon’s much-respected 100mm L macro lenses. It not only appears to have better resolution, but also reduced astigmatism. This isn’t but so notable, as Laowa’s macro lenses have been known to exceed the image quality of first party lenses in the past.
Coming in at $500, the Laowa model appears to offer a better image at the significant cost – for some – of lacking autofocus. Many macro shooters rely solely on manual focus, but users of some first party macro lenses use them for run-and-gun shooting of subjects like moving insects, where autofocus can be helpful.
Canon’s recent RF mount refresh of its EF 100mm L macro lens failed to introduce image quality improvements to the center of the frame, but it did improve edge sharpness. It also quickened autofocus over the older-than-a-decade EF design, and increased the magnification from 1x to 1.4x. The Canon refresh also introduced an ambitious new bokeh-control dial that has received generally negative to generous-but-perplexed reviews. That $1,300 lens has been criticized for having some focus shift introduced, a focusing problem that can crop up when shooting stopped down while using autofocus.
This last issue – while not practically an issue for the vast majority of users – remains the primary reason some have held back upgrading, looking with interest at what Laowa and other third parties might introduce.