A very intentional lens (Laowa 10-18mm)

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ProfHankD Veteran Member • Posts: 6,591
A very intentional lens (Laowa 10-18mm)

This is just a quick review of the Venus Laowa 10-18mm F4.5-5.6 FE Zoom, which I bought last week and arrived yesterday. Venus Optics has pulled off another minor miracle with this lens; it is not exaggeration at all to say there is no other lens like this.

Let's start out with the relatively mundane physical characteristics. It's quite a small lens for an ultrawide zoom, yet heavier than most thanks to solid metal construction. Operation of the lens is fully manual, with mechanical focus, zoom, and aperture rings -- all three of which operate smoothly, although the zoom makes a slight dry scraping sound between 10mm and 12mm. There is a switch to declick the aperture ring. The lens cap is well made metal, and the lens can (actually must) take a 37mm filter in the rear. The operation of the lens is slightly awkward because the aperture ring is unusually close to the body and all three rings feel similar, but build is clearly worthy of an "A."

I've always tended toward wide lenses -- from 28mm to fisheyes and bird's eyes. Sigma's 10-20mm APS-C lens was why I bought my first DSLR (a Sony A100), and the flexibility to try different perspectives is really enhanced by a zoom in the ultrawide range. However, let's think about this a moment. 10mm on APS-C is like 15mm on FF -- roughly half the focal length of my "normal" 28mm. Heck, my Minolta Rokkor fisheye is 16mm. Anyway, the point is that using a 15mm took a great deal of care. When the Sigma 8-16mm APS-C lens came out, I couldn't resist it either... and now I also have a 12-24mm FF SIgma. Proper use of 12mm on FF isn't just a matter of being very careful in composition; there is a learning curve. I'm good at using 12mm now, but this Laowa goes to 10mm, and it's a seriously big challenge to use it well.

Everything about using this lens is very intentional. First, focus is critical. I know people say that such a wide lens has no bokeh, and that's sort-of right, but that doesn't mean everything is sharp: the penalty for missing focus is images with low sharpness. I've seen some reviews say this lens isn't super sharp, and there is some truth to that in the corners, but peak sharpness requires perfect focus, and that's difficult to achieve without resorting to magnified view. Then there's the hunt for the exact composition desired... carefully checking that everything in the frame is what you want and scouting new cameras positions, angles, and zoom focal lengths to find where everything works. It's super touchy... but very rewarding when it works!

Optically how is it? Really very good -- an "A" performer among ultrawide zoom. It can paint crisp detail anywhere on my A7RII's 42MP sensor if you focus precisely, but it's touchy, especially off axis. It definitely isn't a "zero distortion" lens, but overall image quality is comparable to my Sigmas (a good trick for a wider lens to pull off). I see a fair amount of vignetting, but the brightness falls off smoothly and it looks like natural vignetting from the view angle -- not very annoying. I also rarely see a problematic color shift in the corners, which honestly was something I was worried about. Flare is sometimes annoying, but is overall well managed for an ultrawide; I honestly expected worse thanks to the flat surfaces of the rear-mounted filter. Sunstars are very good, although the aperture shape is apparent even wide open; the aperture is never circular, although it gets closer to that at maximum aperture at 18mm.

Here are a few examples from the lens on my A7RII to help you judge for yourself. These are all OOC JPEGs, with no significant fixes applied.

One of my standard test scenes... definitely NOT the standard perspective

With nothing really close, shots just look stretched and empty

Ah, but it's great at fitting it all in, and a longer focal length couldn't get this perspective

Not much bokeh, but certainly sharp where in focus

This is the kind of shot 10mm and close focus enable -- environmental ultrawide close-ups

Sunstars are really nice with this lens, but flare is (usually) well controlled for an ultrawide

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