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Venus Laowa 15mm f/2 FE Zero-D Review

Venus Laowa 15mm f/2 FE Zero-D Review - John Riley reviews this manual focus 15mm f/2 ultra-wide-angle lens for Sony FE mount cameras.

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Laowa 15mm f/2.0 in Interchangeable Lenses

Handling and Features
Performance
Verdict
Specification
Laowa 15mm F2 Front Oblique View

Laowa continues to release new, exciting lens designs, this time offering an ultra-wide 15mm lens for Sony full frame mirrorless cameras, but with the added bonus of a staggeringly fast f/2 aperture. Combined with close focusing down to one quarter life size, new possibilities are opened up for creative ultra-wide photography. We take a close look at how the lens performs in practice, using the Sony Alpha 7 camera body.

Laowa 15mm f/2 ZERO-D FE Handling and Features

Laowa 15mm F2 Without Hood On Sony A7

The front element is relatively small, certainly compared with the traditional 15mm f/3.5 lenses for manual focus SLRs, first introduced in the early 1970s. This means that standard 72mm filters can be used, although slim ones would seem a suitable precaution against vignetting. Laowa use a special “Frog Eye Coating” to repel dirt, grease and water from the front glass of the lens. Surrounding the filter thread is a bayonet fitting for the provided petal shaped lenshood. The lenshood is well made and slips easily and smoothly into the bayonet, but unfortunately has no click stop to hold it in place. This means it can rotate out of position and cause vignetting and needs to be watched. The alternative would be to use a small piece of tape to hold it in place, but we should not need to do this on any new lens.

Immediately behind the hood bayonet is a red dot that locates the Entrance Pupil position. This is the point around which the lens should be rotated to make wide panoramas. Next up is the wide manual focus ring, and indeed the lens is manual focus only. With such a large amount of depth of field finding a focus position unaided is quite difficult, so employing the various electronic aids available is necessary. On the Alpha 7 used for this review this works very very well, making focusing very easy indeed. The ring itself is well ribbed and affords a good grip. It is also quite smooth in operation, not perhaps in the top league but certainly very usable. Focusing is down to 15cm, giving a useful magnification of 1:4 or 0.25x. A very clear depth of field scale is also provided, a welcome feature with a lens where the hyperfocal distance can be well employed to maximise the areas in focus.

Laowa 15mm F2 With Hood On Sony A7

The aperture ring has click stops at full values, plus a switch so these can be decoupled, giving a smooth silent operation for video work. Finally, the metal mount is solidly made and the lens couples to the body accurately. There is a small amount of rotational movement after the lens is locked home, but this does not alter the focusing distance so has no bearing on the final image quality. Overall, the 500g optic has the feel of being a solidly made lens, not up to the finish of the more expensive marques, but reliably functional. The 5 year guarantee helps to reassure that the lens will continue to operate well for many years.

Optical construction comprises 12 elements in 9 groups, including 3 ED (Extra Low Dispersion) and 2 Aspherical components. The diaphragm consists of 7 blades.

15mm lenses are very wide and they do need some care in use, but as time has gone by our eyes have become much more used to the extremes of focal length. The boundaries of what is seen as normal have broadened, just as the cost of some more exotic lenses has become more affordable. This 15mm has many potential advantages, the low distortion, close focusing and very bright aperture opening up many possibilities. It then all hinges on how it performs.

Laowa 15mm F2 Rear Oblique View

Laowa 15mm f/2 ZERO-D FE Performance

Looking at central sharpness results are simply excellent from f/2 right the way through to f/16. Even f/22, where diffraction would be expected to bite, is very good. This is a fantastic result and bodes well for sharpness at longer, more usual distances than a flat test chart.

Edge sharpness is also excellent from f/2 to f/16, remaining very good at f/22. The actual figures are very close to the values for central sharpness, showing an amazing evenness across the frame.

Venus Laowa 15mm f/2.0 MTF Charts

How to read our MTF 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 and is described in detail above. The taller the column, the better the lens performance.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Sony Alpha 7 using Imatest.


CA (Chromatic Aberration) also fares very well. Centrally, values are closely controlled and even at the edges fringing barely exceeds the 1 pixel point. In reality, this is almost invisible in the field and as always if more correction should be needed then software can be used to do so.

Venus Laowa 15mm f/2.0 Chromatic Aberration Charts

How to read our CA charts

Chromatic aberration (CA) 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 Sony Alpha 7 using Imatest.

 

The ZERO-D designation of the lens suggests zero distortion, but the test result shows -0.93% of barrelling. To be fair, this is a very good result for a 15mm lens and most lenses this wide, especially zooms, are far worse than this one. Software can correct any residual distortion if required, but probably will not be needed most of the time.

Flare does not seem to be a problem and is not easy to induce at all. This is probably a good thing as the loose lens hood is something that tempts us not to bother with it.

Bokeh is hardly the raison d'etre of the ultra wide lens, but given the f/2 aperture it does have a place for consideration. Happily, the bokeh is smooth and pleasant, something that may well be appreciated when shooting close.


Venus Laowa 15mm f/2.0 Sample Photos

 

Venus Laowa 15mm f/2.0 Aperture range

 

Value For Money

The Laowa D-Dreamer 15mm f/2 ZERO-D FE lens is guaranteed for 5 years and is priced at £899. There is nothing else quite like it, so that unique f/2 aperture carries the day. There are some alternatives, that come close, such as:

Voigtlander 15mm f/4.5 Super Wide Heliar VM / E-Mount, £649
Sigma 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art, £1679
Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 T* Distagon, £1800
Zeiss Milvus 15mm f/2.8, £2159
Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone, £568, Firefly, £428

For Sony FE mount there is little choice, but put in perspective with what users of other systems might have to pay then the new Laowa lens looks rather better value than most. For more options have a look at the Top 15 Best Sony E / FE Mount Lenses, or look at the Top 28 Wide-angle Landscape Lenses.

 

Laowa 15mm f/2 ZERO-D FE Verdict

A solid manual focus lens, perhaps without the refinement in operation of the top marques, the Laowa 15mm f/2 brings to the table close focusing, quality of results and a unique f/2 aperture. There is huge potential in all of that, plus a price tag that, whilst not insubstantial, bears up well when compared to other available lenses. And that sharpness is exceptional, so Highly Recommended.

Laowa 15mm f/2 ZERO-D FE Pros

  • Fantastic, even sharpness
  • Low CA
  • Low distortion
  • No flare
  • Excellent handling

Laowa 15mm f/2 ZERO-D FE Cons

  • Loose lenshood
  • Slight play in mounting on A7

Features4/5
Handling4.5/5
Performance5/5
Value4.5/5
Overall Verdict

Venus Laowa 15mm f/2.0 Specifications

ManufacturerVenus
General
Lens Mounts
  • Sony E Mount
  • Sony FE Mount
Lens
Focal Length15mm
Angle of View110
Max Aperturef/2
Min Aperturef/22
Filter Size72mm
StabilisedNo
35mm equivalentNo Data
Internal focusingNo Data
Maximum magnification0.25x
Focusing
Min Focus15cm
Construction
Blades9
Elements12
Groups9
Box Contents
Box ContentsNo Data
Dimensions
Weight500g
Height62mm

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Comments


Niknut Plus
8 1.9k 76 United Kingdom
1 Jan 2018 4:28PM
Ooooo !!....impressive lack of distortion, & sharp with it !!.....wish I could justify the expense !!.GrinGrin

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ElSid 10 8 United Kingdom
19 Jan 2018 4:18PM
Sharp? Are you looking at the same test pictures as me? The test shots don't look at all impressive exhibiting softness, fringing and some nasty smearing at the corners. The canal shot appears to have nothing sharp at all.

Not impressed at all...
19 Jan 2018 6:29PM
To get a proper idea of sharpness you need to download the image and apply your usual sharpening technique to it. All these are unsharpened to enable that. Once put through the usual processing they are sharp, notwithstanding of course a very misty day when the images had to be shot.

Hope that helps!

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