Laowa 24mm “Bug Eye” Macro Probe: The World’s Coolest Lens

A weird lens that can capture an amazing “bug-eye” perspective of the world’s oceans
By Nirupam Nigam

The Laowa 24mm f/14 2X Macro Probe, aka “Bug Eye”, lens might as well be the world’s coolest lens. It reeks of modern innovation – from a crowdfunded origin to a 2:1 macro-wide-angle-hybrid capability. This lens offers a viewpoint so unique it can’t be seen with the human eye and truly brings you down to the perspective of the tiny creatures that inhabit this planet. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to look through the eye(spot) of a nudibranch, hermit crab, or anemonefish, this lens does exactly that. 

 

Because this lens is so weird, it requires a bit of an explanation before we delve into its specifications. At its core, the Laowa 24mm is a macro lens. A macro lens……with 27 lens elements! In fact the Laowa 24mm is a 2:1 macro lens – a true super macro lens rather than the traditional 1:1 macro. That means it can reproduce objects at twice life-size. However, the Laowa lens is also a wide-angle lens in many ways as it offers an 84.1 degree field of view. This means that even when you are shooting macro photos, you can still get a nice background in the image, creating a “bug eye” affect. This unique wide-angle macro perspective is sought after by many underwater photographers, but there are few options available to create it. We can’t wait to see how it truly performs underwater. 

 


 

Bluewater Photo Laowa 24mm f/14 macro probe options:

Laowa 24mm f/14 2x macro probe

Nauticam N120 Port Adaptor for Laowa 24mm f/14 2x macro probe

Nauticam Cinema Gear Set

Nauticam N120 DSLR Gear Set

 


 

 

Laowa 24mm macro lens specifications

24 mm focal length (f/14 max aperture)

2:1 macro photography - & infinity focus capability

27 lens elements (19 groups)

7 aperture blades

470mm minimum focusing distance

Manual focus

Multiple mounts – Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony FE, Pentax K. Cinema mounts: Arri PL/Canon EF

Wide-angle macro “Bug-Eye” perspective – 84.1 degree field of view

LED ring light embedded into lens tip

Maximizes depth of field (f/14 speed lens)

Compatible with both a 35mm full frame and Super35 image sensor

Designed for both video and still photography

Front of lens barrel is waterproof

40cm long lens barrel

Weight: 474 grams (1.04 lb)

 

Build

As you might imagine, the Laowa 24mm macro lens requires a very unique design to accomplish a very unique perspective. Laowa actually describes this lens as being a “probe,” and it very much is. The barrel of the lens is 40cm long and consists of a whopping 27 lens elements in 19 groups! That’s a lot of complex glass to produce an amazing perspective. The front of the barrel is waterproof which is excellent for top-side aquatic applications but you still need a housing while diving. 

The lens was developed to fit with 35mm full frame sensors and Super35 video sensors, but it can be adapted for many cameras and mounts via mount adapters. The standard mounts that work with it include the Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony FE, Pentax K, and Arri PL. That’s right – it’s compatible with cinema cameras! There are adapters available for Fuji X and micro four thirds mounts.

One of the coolest features of this lens is the LED ring light at the front of the lens that can be used to illuminate very hard to reach places – a true gem for professional macro photographers and videographers. 

Ultimately, the lens is relatively light weight for the large barrel considering that it weighs just over a pound. 

Laowa 24mm macro probe

Optics

The optics on this lens are as crazy as the build. Because the lens is a 2:1 macro lens, it has a maximum aperture of f/14. Although this might seem insanely small for a max aperture, it’s quite necessary. Anything larger would create too shallow of a depth of field for anything to be captured in detail. One of the most impressive aspects of this lens is that it can focus to infinity which makes it a much more versatile piece of equipment than we initially presumed. 

A “bug eye” perspective at 2:1 macro creates a viewpoint that can’t be seen by the human eye. Imagine being a tiny crab walking by a nudibranch and seeing ever ridge on its rhinophore. This lens can do that. 

 

Implications for Underwater Photography

The implications of this lens for underwater photography – especially macro is huge. As we’ve mentioned, the bug eye perspective is a unique view that is bound to be coveted by any macro photographer. However, it should more difficult than a normal macro lens to capture photos given that it’s a 2:1 lens. It will likely take even more patience and stability. The long barrel could make using the lens a little more awkward underwater and potentially more fragile. However, it will be great for getting into nooks and crannies.

 

Implications for Underwater Video

 The Laowa 24 mm macro probe is optimized for video, which is an exciting and somewhat rare attribute when it comes to lenses. The lens is compatible with two cinema mounts – the Arri PL and the Canon EF mounts. It is a manual focus lens, so it will also be quite challenging to use underwater, but certainly worth it. 

 

Underwater Housing Compatibility

Although the lens is compatible with many cameras, with such an awkward design, there are very few underwater housings that are compatible. In fact, currently only one manufacture has designed a port system that can be used with the lens – Nauticam. 

 

Nauticam N120 Port Adaptor for Laowa 24mm f/14 2x Macro Probe

The Nauticam N120 port adaptor is one of Nauticam’s most interesting ports for a very interesting lens. The Nauticam port adaptor leaves the original front lens element outside of the port opening since the front of the lens is waterproof. The port adapter can be used with either cinema housing for DSLR housings. The port also has two Focus/Iris control options – the standard and cine-mod versions. The Cine-mod version comes with de-clicked aperture adjustments as well as cinema-styled focus to allow for easy focus. Check out the Nauticam Cinema Gear Set and Nauticam N120 DSLR Gear Set.

 

 

 

Sample Video From Laowa

 

 

Conclusion

The Laowa 24mm f/14 macro probe is truly one of the world’s coolest lenses. The fact that it is ranked the 2nd all-time most funded lens project on Kickstarter attests to this fact. With a unique macro bug-eye perspective, there’s just so much potential for capturing the smallest moments of life on the reef. We can’t wait to get our hands on one and take it diving!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nirupam Nigam is a dedicated underwater photographer and fisheries scientist. While growing up in Los Angeles he fell in love with the ocean and pursued underwater photography in the local Channel Islands. He received degrees in Aquatic and Fisheries Science and General Biology, as well as a minor in Arctic Studies, at the University of Washington. Now he works as a fisheries observer on boats in the Bering Sea and North Pacific. When he is not at sea, he is traveling with his fiancee and taking photos. Check out more of his photography at www.photosfromthesea.com!

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