Venus Optics, a Chinese lens manufacturer established in 2013, has released several interesting manual focus lenses, but perhaps none as intriguing as the Laowa 15mm F2 FE Zero-D. This lens, for Sony Full Frame E-mount cameras, strikes a unique balance with its small size, wide field of view (110 degrees) and fast aperture. Even more impressive is its promise of almost zero distortion. Venus Optics claims that it is 'the world's fastest 15mm rectilinear lens for full-frame.'

See our Laowa 15mm F2 FE Zero-D gallery

At $850 MSRP, it's also priced competitively. So how does it hold up in the field? Read on.

Handling

The build quality of this lens is very good. At 500 g (17.6 oz) it's not too heavy but has some heft to balance out the weight of the camera (I shot mostly with a Sony a7R II). The body and lens mount are all made of metal, as is the accessory lens hood. In hand, it has a reassuringly dense and sturdy feel to it.

'It has a reassuringly dense and sturdy feel to it.'

The focus ring is slightly stiffer than I'd expected, but still rotates smoothly. Perhaps with a little use, it will loosen up. A focus scale is helpful for hyperfocal focusing, but for absolute accuracy you'll want to use the camera's focus magnifier. I programed a button on our a7R II to this function. The focus rings turns slightly past infinity but on our copy, infinity lined up pretty closely with the center of the infinity symbol on the lens.

The Venus 15mm F2 is a nice complimentary size and weight to the a7r II.

The Venus 15mm F2 has a 72mm filter thread, which is a nice feature, especially for videographers who might want to attach a neutral density filter. Speaking of video, the lens has a toggle switch to turn on/off the click stops on the aperture ring.

Only full stop apertures are marked on the ring and there are no click stops for third stops. However, you can still set the aperture in between the full stops. One major drawback of this lens is the lack of electronic contacts, meaning no EXIF data is communicated to the camera. Whereas some manual focus lenses will automatically bring up focus assist when the ring is turned, this 15mm will not.

Image quality

Distortion is very well-controlled.

As the name would suggest, distortion on this lens is VERY well controlled, though not quite 'zero' as there is a tiny bit of barrel distortion. Still, this is an excellent choice for architectural or interior photography. It also focuses quite close: 15cm (6 in).

Even when shooting wide open, this lens is impressively sharp dead center. And by F4-5.6 it's sharp throughout the whole field of view. In general, I found it to offer the best results between F4-8 ; as we'd expect, diffraction becomes an issue at F11 and beyond.

The 7-blade aperture results in sun stars like the one above.

Flare is well controlled and while lateral chromatic aberration is present in some of the sample photos, it's easily correctable. The Venus 15mm uses a 7-blade aperture resulting in sun stars that look pretty good – see the example above.

If you're planning to use this lens predominantly for landscape work, it's worth noting there is moderate vignetting throughout the aperture range. You can see an example of this in our aperture progression at the end of the sample gallery.

As well as stills work, this is an excellent lens for videographers, thanks again to its almost non-existent barrel distortion and the versatility of its fast maximum aperture of F2.

Takeaway

The Venus Laowa 15mm F2 FE Zero-D is a great lens for a variety of applications, if you don't mind manual focus and the lack of electronic communication with your camera. Sharp, fast, light and wide, it is capable of outstanding results, especially once stopped down a little.

What I like:

  • Distortion is very well controlled
  • Fast, wide and reasonably small
  • Good build quality
  • Sharp, even wide open
  • 15cm (6 in) minimum focus distance
  • 72mm filter thread

What I don't:

  • No electronic communication so no EXIF info
  • Vignettes moderately throughout aperture range