The fascinating Laowa macro probe lens

I’m not sure how I learned about it. One day it showed up on my computer screen, and I jumped. Today it arrived on my front porch.

It’s strange and curious and fascinating and some might say useless. I have other thoughts: I think it might be an terrific addition to my camera bag (though my bag won’t fit this lens).

When I first tried to get one, they were back-ordered, and they are expensive. In the weeks since I learned of its existence I have tried to learn everything I can about the lens. How big is it? How does it work? What’s the point of the long probe? Do I need waterproof? How much does it weigh?

This is my annotated illustration of the Laowa Probe lens. Though I have tried to measure and record the dimensions of the lens as accurately as possible, I may not have everything perfect. Please let me know if you find any errors in measurements.

I don’t yet know the answers to all of those questions, but I can answer many of them. I spent the afternoon and evening today measuring and illustrating the lens. This might help others who are considering this lens for video or still photography. If, for example, you want to use a follow-focus motor or adapter on this lens, you can use my illustration to get the necessary drive gears. If you want to submerge the lens in liquid, you now know exactly how deep you can go.

If you want to power the built-in LED lights in the tip of the lens, you will need a USB power supply. I had one on my desk, and I’m charging it now to use in the morning to power the LED lights. I think this will be very interesting. A USB cable with the correct plug comes with the lens.

I have read everything that I can find online, and watched many videos about the lens (start at B&H Photo). I scoured the Laowa web site and watched their videos. I made screen shots and attempted to get accurate measurements of the lens, but was unable to get it exactly right (I also wrote to Venus asking for the technical specs, but they did not respond).

So in the morning I will take the lens out into the wild of my community, attached to my new Canon EOS R camera, and I will make as many photos as I can to show you more about what this curious thing can do.

My initial impression is that it is a very well-built lens. It’s sturdy and it feels good at the controls. Aperture and focus are smooth and effective. The lens looks nice, and it fits the camera perfectly. I had to make a few changes in the menus on the EOS R in order to get the camera to take photos with “no lens attached” to the camera. This lens has no electrical contacts, so the camera does not see it there. To the camera, this looks like a body cap.

The model I have has two 48-tooth gears on the focus and aperture rings. This is the Cinema version of the lens, which costs more than the still photo version without the gears.

I’ll report on my work with this clever device as I can. Stop by in the near future to read about my adventure.

About Brian Lawler

Brian Lawler is an Emeritus Professor of Graphic Communication at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and was a Guest Professor at Hochschule München from September, 2021 to September, 2022. He writes about graphic arts processes and technologies for various industry publications, and on his blog, The Blognosticator.
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