It's nicknamed the 'Bokeh Dreamer', but is this Laowa lens worth purchasing for portraiture? Michael Topham puts this unique lens to the test
Laowa 105mm f/2 (T3.2) STF – Build and handling
The lens is presented in a smart box, and you instantly appreciate how solid and well made it is when you pick it up for the first time. The lens barrel is manufactured from metal to give it a robust and durable feel in the hand, and it’s good to see all the aperture and focal-length markings engraved into the metal as opposed to being printed on top. As to be expected from a manual-focus lens, there is no electronic communication with the camera, and as such the anodized metal mount at the rear doesn’t have any metal contacts to translate aperture information to the camera’s EXIF data. If you’d like to keep a record of what settings you use for each shot, you’ll need to put pen to paper.
The accuracy of focusing relies a lot on how good your eyes are at judging what’s in and out of focus. If you’re not in a hurry and have time to carefully compose your shot, you’ll want to engage your camera’s live view mode and magnify the point of focus on-screen before fine-tuning the focus using the large manual-focus ring. This is very finely grooved, just like the ring that’s located behind it to control the 14-blade aperture. The manual-focus ring offers a pleasing and consistently fluid motion across its range, operating between its 0.9m minimum focus distance and infinity with a 270° turn. This long rotation is very effective for precise focusing adjustments, and as a lens to operate from behind the camera it reminded me of using a Samyang lens.
As mentioned, the 14-blade aperture ring is de-clicked and operates across its T3.2-T8 range effortlessly. It notches into place at its widest setting and it has a different feel to the eight-bladed aperture ring behind. In use, I found this helped identify which aperture ring was which and prevented me having to pull my eye away from the viewfinder to check.
Overall, I found it hard to pick fault with the build quality or the way the lens handles when attached to a full-frame DSLR. The only slight disappointment is the supplied lens hood, which is made from plastic and doesn’t share the same resilient, robust build quality as the lens itself. It didn’t lock particularly well on our review sample when it was attached, either. It looks and feels like an afterthought on what is otherwise a well-made and solid lens.