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Laowa 15mm f/4 1:1 Macro Lens Review

Laowa 15mm f/4 1:1 Macro Lens Review - John Riley reviews this unique ultra wide-angle 15mm lens with 1:1 Macro reproduction and shift feature.

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Venus Laowa 15mm f/4 1:1 Macro in Interchangeable Lenses

Handling and Features
Performance
Verdict
Specification

Laowa 15mm F4 Front Diagonal ViewLaowa, previously known as Venus Lens, have a repertoire of interesting manual focus lenses. This new 15mm f/4 optic is ultra-wide angle, covers a full 35mm frame, is a macro lens and in addition, has 6mm shift. An amazing proposition, so let's see if the performance matches the promise.

Laowa 15mm f/4 1:1 Wide Macro Handling and Features

Laowa 15mm F4

The lens is well finished, with a largely metal exterior that suggests durability. It is manual focus, achieved by turning a reasonably wide ribbed ring at the rear of the lens. The action is just right, firm but light enough to turn easily. The ring at the front of the lens is for the aperture, running from f/4 all the way through to f/32, with no click stops. The action is light enough to enable fingertip operation, which actually makes focusing and stopping down very slick. By watching the shutter speed change as we stop down, it is possible to judge the aperture set after focusing at open aperture, with a fair degree of accuracy. For example, if the exposure is 1/100s at f/4 we know that by turning the ring until the speed is say, 1/25s we have stopped down to about f/8. This assumes we are using aperture priority, but the smooth aperture ring makes this approach highly effective in the absence of click stops. It avoids having to take the camera away from the eye to check the aperture set.

The 15mm covers the full 35mm frame and is available for DSLRs from Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony. The review lens was provided in Nikon fit and tested on a Nikon D810. The angle of view on 35mm frame cameras is just over 110 degrees, reducing to around 85 degrees if used on a crop frame camera.

Construction is 12 elements in 9 groups, three elements being of a high refractive index (HRI) glass and one low dispersion. The diaphragm has 14 blades, which results in an almost perfectly circular aperture. The lens takes 77mm filters.

Laowa 15mm F4 With Hood On D810

The macro facility is unusual in such as wide lens, making this a unique proposition for macro shots with a very different perspective. Focusing is very close, just 4.7mm from the front element achieving life-size (1:1) magnification. At this distance, the lens hood has to be abandoned as it would shield the subject from any light.

The lens hood is a bayonet fit and is quite fiddly to fit. Certainly, once fitted it is secure, but it does take some very careful lining up to seat it correctly.

The shift facility shifts the lens 6mm upwards or downwards and could be very useful for shooting buildings and correcting the tendency for them to fall over backwards when shooting upwards. The mechanism for this is a lever that is also quite fiddly to use, although after a while the knack of getting it right becomes second nature. The lever is very sharp on the fingers, so perhaps a plastic tip would be a good idea. The actual movement is a simple slide, with a click stop at the centre, neutral, position. The shift is said to work best on APS-C. It can be used on 35mm frame, but there is likely to be vignetting.

 

Laowa 15mm F4 Rear Diagonal View

Laowa 15mm f/4 1:1 Wide Macro Performance

There's no doubt that this is a unique and versatile lens that offers creative possibilities. Having a macro lens that moves in so close will change the usual perspective of our close-ups. The shift offers some degree of correction for converging verticals. The ultra-wide angle also offers its own drama, providing that we remember to get in close and take advantage of its view of the world.

The resolution tests reveal a lens with a high degree of central sharpness, already very good at open aperture and excellent from f/5.6 to f/16, dropping to very good levels at f/22 and still being good at f/32. The edges lag seriously behind, and are fairly poor throughout the aperture range, peaking at f/16 to good levels. Of course, although it would be nice to have a more uniform performance, the results at infinity or at macro distances may still be acceptable, which was found to be the case.


 

 
Laowa 15mm Macro Lens MTF APS FF
MTF

How to read our charts

The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges. 

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution as LW/PH. The taller the column, the better the lens performance. Simple.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Nikon D810 using Imatest.

 

In contrast, the attention to CA (Chromatic Aberation) is remarkable, yielding such low figures that it will not be a problem at all. CA that rarely exceeds one third of a pixel in width is a very creditable result. Flare resistance is also excellent.


 

 
Laowa 15mm Macro Lens CA
CA
 

How to read our charts

Chromatic aberration is the lens' inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.

Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Nikon D810 using Imatest.

 

There is a lot of barrel distortion, measuring at -4.85%. Unfortunately, on 35mm frame, it results in a very uneven and odd appearance if the shift facility is employed. The hope would be that the lens would be ideal for architecture shots, but the distortion that results is not helpful. For creative use that is another matter altogether and then, there are plenty of opportunities.

As a macro lens, the potential there is also very interesting. Sharpness seems well maintained at macro distances and there are plenty of instances where the central sharpness can be taken advantage of and the less sharp outer regions may not be as significant. Likewise the vignetting, which is quite apparent, especially with shift.

For general use, a 15mm lens is quite wide and needs a bit of practice to make the best of. Getting in close yields the most dramatic images as often more general shots can be disappointing if the background looks too small and distant. That background can also look very pleasant, as the bokeh of the lens is smooth, no doubt a result of the generous 14 diaphragm blades.

The lens is marketed as an FX format, full 35mm frame optic, but when used on APS-C format the edge performance is of course considerably better, much more closely following the central sharpness. There is also very little darkening of the corners on the smaller format, so the shift function can be more fully utilised.


Venus Laowa 15mm f/4 1:1 Macro Sample Photos

Value For Money

The Sigma 15mm f/2.8 EX DG (£474), HD Pentax 15mm f/4 ED AL (£439), Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 T* Distagon (£2149) and Nikon 14mm f/2.8 D AF ED (£1199) are possible alternatives to the Laowa 15mm f/4 (£419). There are also various zoom lenses that cover the focal length. However, none of these are macro lenses and none have the shift facility. This makes the Laowa lens look very good value for money.

Laowa 15mm f/4 1:1 Wide Macro Verdict

This is a very versatile lens with some unique features for the focal length. It has commendably high central sharpness and very low levels of CA. Distortion and vignetting are high and edge sharpness suffers. In the right hands, the Laowa 15mm f/4 should produce some excellent dramatic images, all at a fairly modest price level. Performance is better on APS-C format cameras.

Laowa 15mm f/4 1:1 Wide Macro Pros

High central sharpness
Low CA
1:1 Macro magnification
Shift facility
Smooth focusing
Smooth aperture ring

Laowa 15mm f/4 1:1 Wide Macro Cons

Poor edge sharpness
Vignetting
Barrel distortion
Strange distortion in architectural shots with shift

FEATURES  
HANDLING  
PERFORMANCE  
VALUE FOR MONEY  
VERDICT  

The Laowa 15mm f/4 1:1 lens is a versatile optic offering unique features for an ultra-wide.

 

Venus Laowa 15mm f/4 1:1 Macro Specifications

ManufacturerVenus
General
Lens Mounts
  • Nikon F
  • Canon EF
  • Sony Alpha
  • Pentax K
  • Sony E Mount
  • Sony FE Mount
Lens
Focal Length15mm
Angle of View110
Max Aperturef/4
Min Aperturef/32
Filter Size77mm
StabilisedNo
35mm equivalentNo Data
Internal focusingNo Data
Maximum magnificationNo Data
Focusing
Min FocusNo Data
Construction
Blades14
Elements12
Groups9
Box Contents
Box ContentsNo Data
Dimensions
Weight410g
Height83.8mm

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Comments


16 Dec 2015 11:49AM
Hi there. Pictures of the lens on ebay show lever for shifting having a black cover, so perhaps yours was lost in handling ?

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16 Dec 2015 1:49PM
Thanks James!

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