A very intentional lens (Laowa 10-18mm)

Started 2 months ago | User reviews
ProfHankD
ProfHankD Veteran Member • Posts: 6,626
A very intentional lens (Laowa 10-18mm)
1

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

 ProfHankD's gear list:ProfHankD's gear list
Canon PowerShot SX530 Olympus TG-860 Sony a7R II Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Sony a6500 +30 more
ProfHankD's score
4.5
Average community score
4.5
ProfHankD
OP ProfHankD Veteran Member • Posts: 6,626
On 24MP APS-C (A6500)
1

Here are a few quick shots using the Laowa 10-18mm on a Sony A6500 -- 24MP APS-C. Put simply, it works at least as well as a 24MP APS-C lens as it does as 42MP FF. Of course, it's a lot narrower field of view... but 10mm of APS-C is still like 15mm on FF, so it's still quite wide. Not much sun today, so not sunstars. 

Really excellent environmental close-up

A little surprising, but it easily resolves enough for 24MP APS-C from a close focus

Again, resolution is great in this 10mm f/11 longer focus distance shot from my deck

 ProfHankD's gear list:ProfHankD's gear list
Canon PowerShot SX530 Olympus TG-860 Sony a7R II Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Sony a6500 +30 more
vett93
vett93 Senior Member • Posts: 4,581
Re: A very intentional lens (Laowa 10-18mm)

How do you compare it to Voigtlander 12mm F/5.6 III in E-mount? I have a 16-35mm F/2.8 GM zoom for ultra wide. These two lenses would take it even wider. If I want to get one, which one would you recommend?

-- hide signature --

"Keep calm and take photos"
Photography enthusiast, from 12mm to 500mm

 vett93's gear list:vett93's gear list
Sony a9 Sony a7R III Canon EOS 7D Mark II Sony a6500
ProfHankD
OP ProfHankD Veteran Member • Posts: 6,626
Re: A very intentional lens (Laowa 10-18mm)
1

vett93 wrote:

How do you compare it to Voigtlander 12mm F/5.6 III in E-mount? I have a 16-35mm F/2.8 GM zoom for ultra wide. These two lenses would take it even wider. If I want to get one, which one would you recommend?

Don't have the Voigtlanders... do have Sigmas. 12-24mm is a huge step beyond 16-35mm, and well worth doing. This 10-18mm may be a step too far for you at this point... unless you can get used to thinking of 16mm as near your telephoto limit.

 ProfHankD's gear list:ProfHankD's gear list
Canon PowerShot SX530 Olympus TG-860 Sony a7R II Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Sony a6500 +30 more
jonikon Veteran Member • Posts: 7,294
Re: A very intentional lens (Laowa 10-18mm)

Why are you posting low resolution images while touting the sharpness of this lens? Even if the Laowa 10-18mm was a good lens your low resolution images do not prove your assertion.   In any case all your posted images look quite soft and mushy. My old Sigma 10-20mm was much sharper as is my  Samyang 12mm f2.0, so I will pass on the Laowa 10-18mm based on your posted images. 

-- hide signature --

Jon

PWPhotography Senior Member • Posts: 7,684
Re: A very intentional lens (Laowa 10-18mm)

vett93 wrote:

How do you compare it to Voigtlander 12mm F/5.6 III in E-mount? I have a 16-35mm F/2.8 GM zoom for ultra wide. These two lenses would take it even wider. If I want to get one, which one would you recommend?

I don't have this Laowa 10-18 but have seen some reviews, not bad but also not spectacular. I do own CV 12/5.6 and I am happy on it. Hope its max aperture starts at f4.0 but understand it will be bigger/heavier.

https://mirrorlesscomparison.com/e-mount-lenses/voigtlander-10mm-vs-12mm-vs-15mm/

I carefully read many reviews of the lens before I bought it. It has the best balance between CV 10 and CV 15. Former is a bit too crazy wide and optically noticeably softer while latter is too close to my FE 16-35 GM in FL and heard CV 15 has QC issue at least in early batches. CV 12/5.6 has excellent sunstar that is lacking of in Sony lenses in general. I only need 12mm for occasional UWA landscape, architecture, dome roof or spiral stairs etc. 12-15mm FL range is not useful to me, then my FE 16-35 GM covers for regular UWA scenes, but its sunstar is clearly inferior to CV 12.

I know CV 12 now is discontinued and glad I grabbed it on a very sweet deal in last holiday season ($700 Adorma special promo deal + 10 or 15% extra eBay discount then) so ended only paid around $650 or less.

I have used CV 12/5.6 in several trips - Iceland in January and recent China trip (Yunnan Province that tons of photos still to be processed). I like its sunstar, excellent flare-resistance (better than Loxia 21), contrast and sharpness (even at f5.6 wide open in 2/3 from center area).

Since you already own FE 16-35 GM, personally think it will be redundant with another UWA zoom lens and this CV 12 complements better. Also this lens has full E-contact and EXIF support while Laowa doesn't. I linked above photos from Flickr so they don't show lens name otherwise will if posted from hard drive.

 PWPhotography's gear list:PWPhotography's gear list
Canon EOS-1D Mark III Sony a9 Sony a7R III Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L +15 more
ProfHankD
OP ProfHankD Veteran Member • Posts: 6,626
Re: A very intentional lens (Laowa 10-18mm)

PWPhotography wrote:

vett93 wrote:

How do you compare it to Voigtlander 12mm F/5.6 III in E-mount? I have a 16-35mm F/2.8 GM zoom for ultra wide. These two lenses would take it even wider. If I want to get one, which one would you recommend?

I don't have this Laowa 10-18 but have seen some reviews, not bad but also not spectacular.

Not spectacular, no, but fine on 42MP FF or 24MP APS-C. It is a sharp lens, and very Voigtlanderish in terms of sunstars, etc.

I'll post more photos in a week or so....

Current feeling is the lens has a learning curve, but really does what one would hope it might do. It's just that 10mm is hard to shoot right.

 ProfHankD's gear list:ProfHankD's gear list
Canon PowerShot SX530 Olympus TG-860 Sony a7R II Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Sony a6500 +30 more
ProfHankD
OP ProfHankD Veteran Member • Posts: 6,626
Tweaking perspective using the Laowa 10-18mm

The Laowa 10-18mm doesn't produce perfectly distortion-free images, nor does it provide tilt/shift, but it's surprisingly easy to get good corrected images from it. I've tried doing this sort of thing with fisheye shots before, but it's really hard to visualize how things will look with a fisheye.

In the Louvre there are always huge numbers of people standing it the way of any normal focal-length view. However, it's easy to get what you want in the frame with this Laowa and then fix the perspective later. For example, to get this:

I actually shot this:

And I was a lot closer to the wall than you'd expect from looking at this. In fact, there were at least twenty people standing within 5 feet of that painting -- and that one kid who got super close because he wanted a place to play his game without being nudged by the crowds.

A 28mm view would have had a bunch of people blocking the painting. How do I know? Because I shot that too:

This get-close-and-remap-perspective trick wasn't a use of this Laowa that I had really expected to be leveraging, but it really worked great.

I also found it helped to avoid reflections because I could shoot at any angle, and from glass cases because I could get the lens close enough to have no reflections between the glass and the lens front. For example:

The original blue man group?

 ProfHankD's gear list:ProfHankD's gear list
Canon PowerShot SX530 Olympus TG-860 Sony a7R II Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Sony a6500 +30 more
Keyboard shortcuts:
FForum MMy threads