First Impressions – Laowa 15mm f/2 FE Zero-D lens
Anhui Changgeng Optics Technology Co., Ltd (Venus Optics) was established in 2013 and have their headquarters in China. Quite frankly, up until early this year (2017), we had never even heard of this company nor the name Laowa and not sure how it eluded us :-).
Over the last few years, they have produced the following lenses –
- 15mm f/2 Zero-D (Sony FE, Nikon Z, Canon RF)
- 60mm f/2.8 2X Ultra-Macro ( Canon EF, Sony E, Sony A, Pentax K ) – the world’s first 2:1 macro lens,
- 15mm f/4 Wide Angle Macro ( Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony A, Sony E, Pentax K ) – the world’s widest 1:1 macro lens,
- 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D ( Sony E, Sony A, Nikon AI, Pentax K, Canon EF)
- 7.5mm f/2 Lens for (Micro Four Thirds)
- 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 Wide Angle Zoom (Sony FE )
- 100mm f/2.8 2x Ultra Macro APO (Canon EF, Nikon AI, Sony FE)
- 9mm f/2.8 Zero-D for Micro Four Thirds (Canon M, Sony E, Fuji X )
- 24mm f/14 2X Macro Probe (Canon EF, Sony E, Nikon F)
- 17mm f/4 Ultra-Wide GFX Zero-D (Fujifilm G)
- 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5X Ultra Macro (Canon EF, Nikon F, Pentax K, Sony FE)
- 4mm f/2.8 Fisheye MFT (Micro 4/3)
- 105mm f/2 Smooth Trans Focus (STF) – (Canon EF, Nikon AI, Sony A, Sony FE, Pentax K)
It wasn’t until earlier 2017 when we decided we were in the market for a second wide-angle lens for our Sony a7R and A7II cameras (we now both use the Sony A7Riii). We already have the Sony 16-35mm F4 lens which is a superb piece of glass, however, as we both shoot, if either of us hogs the 16-35 then the there is no alternative for the other person to shoot ultra-wide.
It was at this stage that we came across a few YouTube videos about the launch of the 15mm f/2 FE Zero-D lens at Photokina 2016 and also the always thorough review by Christopher Frost. This lens looked great and really suited our needs as it was specifically made for Sony FE mount cameras (and now the Canon RF and Nikon Z mounts), had a 72mm filter thread which meant that it would take our NiSi 100mm filter system and offer close to zero distortion (which means you don’t have to lose that much resolution when correcting for any distortion – if any).
Fantastic! So, when can we get one? We waited and waited….nothing. It also seemed that there were a lot of people online that thought that this lens was pure fantasy and that it would never be released. Finally a couple of months ago and almost a year after it was announced, it was ready for pre-order and we jumped at it. Another month passed before we finally received our copy. Laowa included, as an added bonus for the first 200 buyers, a 72mm UV filter, 72mm CPL filter and a 72mm ND1000 (10 stops) filter. These were all Slim Fit filters so there would be no vignetting. Nice!.
Here are the lens specs –
Name: 15mm f/2 FE Zero-D
Focal Length: 15mm
Max. Aperture: f/2
Angle of View: 110°
Format Compatibility: Full Frame
Lens Structure: 12 elements in 9 groups (2pcs of Aspherical Elements + 3pcs of Extra-low Dispersion Elements)
Aperture Blades: 9
Min. Focusing Distance: 15cm
Max. Magnification: 1:4
Filter Thread: 72mm
Dimensions: 66 x 82 mm
Mounts: Sony FE, Nikon Z, Canon RF
Above: The Californian Redwood trees in Otway National Park – Sony A7ii and the Laowa 15mm f/2 Zero-D lens at f/11 for 6sec ISO 100
The lens build is fantastic. It has a full metal construction including the lens hood, however, the lens hood annoyingly does not lock into place so you have to be careful to check it every now and then (or not use it at all) otherwise you can be left with vignettes in your images. The lens is fully manual however that is not an issue when being used with the Sony cameras especially in conjunction with Focus Peaking. As there is no electronic chip in the lens you will not receive any EXIF data after import your you photos other than the ISO and Shutter Speed.
The lens has some pretty nifty features which are bound to impress. For those of you that love to shoot panoramas and use a panoramic bracket then the nodal point of the lens is marked with “Entrance Pupil” on the front of the lens. This will save you the time trying to find the correct position. Another cool feature is the switch at the base of the lens that allows you to de-click the aperture ring which will be great for those that want to use the lens for video. The aperture ring only has markings with full-stop increments however if you de-click the aperture ring then you could estimate the 1/3 or 1/2 stop increments if needed.
The metal focus ring turns extremely smoothly. As with many manual lenses, it has a focus guide engraved into the metal in both white (metres) with 0.15m, 0.2m, 0.5m, 1m markings and red (feet) with 0.5ft, 0.7ft, 1ft, 3ft and infinity markings. A guide is also included for the hyperfocal distance, with markings for f/5.6, f/11, and f/22 engraved on the lens barrel. In our testing, we have found that focus to the right edge of the infinity symbol at f/11 will produce very sharp images from foreground to background which makes it ideal when shooting in portrait orientation. Having said that we have found this lens to be extremely sharp at all apertures in the centre of the frame with ideal sharpness from edge to edge occurring from f/5.6 onwards.
The real benefit of this lens other than the sharpness is the filter thread. We’re not sure if there are any lenses currently available that will let you use the 100mm filter system on such a wide-angle lens with an aperture as wide as f/2. As the lens has such a wide aperture you will also be able to focus and compose your shots when using the dark ND filters without having to remove from the front of the camera. The 72mm filter thread also opens up the opportunity of using 72mm screw-on filters which is a huge benefit for those that don’t want to invest in the large, expensive 100mm filter systems. Having said that we would recommend you use the slim filters to prevent vignetting and always avoid stacking screw-on filters.
We really love this lens. It is a joy to use and the results are phenomenal. We will be testing the lens further, especially with close-up subjects at f/2 which can give a different perspective. In due course, we will be posting more about this lens, however, our first impression is that this lens will remain in our bag for a very long time. To purchase the lens you can click these links – Sony FE, Nikon Z, Canon RF.
If you have any questions or comments we would love to hear from you.
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