From another planet: Venus LAOWA 15mm F4 Wide Angle Macro quick review
325 / $499, www.venuslens.net
Chinese company Venus Optics (Anhui ChangGeng Optical Technology Company Ltd.) is a new lens and camera accessory manufacturer started by a group of macro photography enthusiasts who design and create their own macro photography lenses. They began with the Venus 60mm 2:1 macro (which enables twice life-size reproduction), and have followed this up with the LAOWA 15mm 1:1 wide macro of this review. In addition to these lenses, they also offer a twin head macro flash unit, which we think looks quite a bit like an alien on top of a camera.
Features and specifications
The LAOWA 15mm lens is one of the widest full-frame lenses to offer a full 1:1 magnification ratio (meaning that the object in focus is projected at actual-size onto the film or sensor). Admittedly, this magnification only occurs when the object is 0.2 inches (4.7mm) from the rather large front element of this lens, but that's the trade off between a wide angle of view and the desire for 'true' macro abilities.
In addition to the headline feature, this entirely manual lens (manual focus; manual aperture; no communication to the camera body) also includes a shift mechanism to physically move the optics up or down along the lens mount. This shift provides perspective correction for converging lines, as well as a way to create seamless panoramas (though the shift direction is fixed to the frame's vertical axis).
|Angle of view||110° (135 frame) / 85° (APS-C)|
|Shift distances||+ / - 6mm|
|Min. focus (1:1)||4.7mm|
|Dimensions||83.8 x 64.7mm / 3.3 x 2.5in|
|Weight||410g / 14.5oz|
Nikon F / Canon EF / Pentax K /
|1:1 macro at F11. The flare comes from the combination of back-lighting and inability to use the hood at such close working distances.|
The LAOWA 15mm is an entirely manual lens, but still easy enough to adjust and work with. This was aided somewhat by testing a K-mount lens on a Pentax APS-C camera body and a Sony a7 II (w/ Novoflex adapter), both of which provide image stabilization (from a manually entered focal length), stop-down metering, and focus confirmation/peaking, despite the low-tech, 'slab of brass' lens mount.
When ordering this lens in Micro Four Thirds, Sony E, or Fuji X mount, the folks at Venus bundle an appropriate adapter with either a Nikon F or Canon EF mount lens. (For single-system Sony shooters, there is the option of a native FE mount, without adapter.) However, as our friends at Lensrentals point out, testing a wide-angle lens with an adapter (regardless of manufacturer) can introduce issues, so much of the more technical analysis in this article is based on experience of using this lens on a native Pentax (APS-C) body.
The absence of autofocus is not much of a detriment when using this lens for wide-angle macro photography, since adjusting the subject distance while looking at the LCD or viewfinder is typically a much faster way to focus at these minute working distances. Stop-down metering and looking through a dim viewfinder or noisy LCD at smaller apertures (due to the lack of automatic aperture control), on the other hand, is a bit harder to adapt to.
The focus throw is somewhat short for a macro lens, requiring only a bit more than 90 degrees of rotation to go from the closest focal distance (and 1:1 macro) to infinity. Further, the helical is biased toward the macro and close-focus end, so there is only a tiny amount of travel between 2 meters and infinity. This took some getting used to, and initially resulted in enough mis-focused shots to warrant bracketing.
The biggest ergonomic difficulty was getting used to using an aperture ring positioned in front of the focus ring. Adding to the confusion is the fact that both rings are 'clickless' and identically sized. Of course, the lack of hard stops on the aperture ring, along with the wide angle and availability in many different lens mounts, combine to make this an interesting option for video work, but that's beyond the scope of this article.
The image quality of this unique lens is excellent at closer focus distances, and shows the commitment of the macro photographers at Venus Optics for getting very close and very wide. There is a high degree of sharpness in the center of the frame, even at wider apertures, and the inevitable distortion and falloff along the edges doesn't interfere at closer focus distances. Being very well corrected for aberrations is another plus as a macro lens.
However, this lens is differentiated by its 1:1 macro focusing, which, unfortunately, comes with some inconveniences. To keep the price of the lens reasonable, the LAOWA relies on manual focus and a manual aperture without linkage (resulting in the dim viewfinder when stopped down, as mentioned above), while the wide angle optical design means a minuscule 4.7mm working distance (for true 1:1) coupled with a rather large front filter ring and hood.
The petal-shaped hood prevents many subjects from reaching the tiny minimum focus distance for 1:1 macros, and furthermore blocks out light that becomes necessary for macros with acceptable depth-of-focus (narrow aperture). After a few experiments with macro flash rigs, resulting in images that looked like 'flash party photos' due to the lack of beam spread across the very wide angle of view, natural light (and a tripod for static subjects) was the order of the day. Thomas Shahan, of course, could probably overcome this with aplomb.
The addition of a shifting lens mount is a great bonus for a wide angle lens like the LAOWA 15mm, however the optical characteristics of the lens tend to make this function most useful on APS-C or smaller format sensors. In images shot with a full frame body (the Sony a7 II w/ Novoflex adapter), the vignetting and distortion at the edge of the image circle eclipsed the value of shifting the lens (although it is unknown how much of this is due to it being an adapted lens).
One troublesome aspect of the lens shift is that it lacks the gearing and markings for fine control of the shift found on most other perspective control lenses. Press the shift release button and almost immediately the lens slides up (or down) to the maximum shift amount. There is a detent in the middle to reset the lens to an unshifted position, but getting a small or precise amount of shift requires patience and a steady hand.
15mm wide angle
|Toronto skyline, as seen from the islands offshore. On the full-frame Sony, the 15mm shows significant degradation at the edges, as evident in the lights on the right side.|
When using this lens as a 'normal' ultra-wide angle, the results are something of a mixed bag. At close focus distances, the center is quite sharp (where most macro subjects tend to be) at all apertures, while at infinity the corner details appear smeared until the lens is stopped down significantly. Some night shots on the full-frame Sony, and attempts at astrophotography with the Pentax O-GPS Astrotracer, both show significant degradation of the lights at the edges. These examples are perhaps not quite as comprehensive as LensRentals' OLAF system, but still illustrative. Check out the full resolution images in the gallery below.
Many macro lenses are designed to have a 'flat field' for the in-focus region. The LAOWA 15mm is not one of those lenses. Similar to other wide angle lenses, the field of focus curves radically, yet does not flatten out as focus is shifted toward infinity. Add in some edge distortion, and the resultant lack of corner sharpness at infinity is perhaps the biggest issue with the image quality from this lens on full-frame cameras. It requires some acceptance of the 'dual nature' of the lens (macro and ultra-wide) to work within this limit. Oddly enough, shifting the lens provides some relief for at least two of the corners, due to the curved field being off-center.
One area where the LAOWA 15mm is quite competitive is in the control of chromatic aberrations. While there definitely is some lateral CA, particularly visible at high contrast edges in the corners, it is fairly well controlled when stopped down, and quite consistent. A few clicks in most modern Raw processing software removes these distractions very easily. In addition, longitudinal CA (color fringing in the out of focus areas) is almost non-existent, which is excellent for a macro lens, even though many other wide angle lenses tend to be similarly devoid of this aberration.
(Note: none of the images in this article, or the samples, have had software lens corrections applied; whether for distortion, vignetting, chromatic aberrations, or fringing.)
|Close focus at F4||Close focus at F16|
It's a bit unusual to discuss the bokeh of an ultra-wide lens: considering the typical design for this kind of lens provides such wide depth-of-field, there is frequently little out of focus anyhow. However, the close focus and macro abilities of the LAOWA 15mm give quite a lot of room for shifting the focal plane, so bokeh is not only visible, it can be an integral part of the image.
With a 16-bladed aperture, the blur discs produced by this lens appear round at all stops, with a slight 'onion-ring' artifact when examined closely. More importantly, the falloff in the blur is smooth and gradual, as one would expect from a macro lens. This combines to make the exaggerated field curvature less bothersome at closer focal distances and wider apertures, and becomes another one of the strengths of this lens.
The Venus LAOWA 15mm F4 Macro is an unusual lens, both in its pedigree (or lack thereof) and its unique features. With a relatively reasonable price and availability in many different lens mounts, there is now an ultra-wide option for anyone who likes to get really close to their subjects. The lack of autofocus and auto-aperture prevents this from being a 'snapshot' lens, and may make it frustrating to use on camera systems that do not support low-tech lenses very well.
There are some compromises in the optical design of this multipurpose lens, including wide field distortion, and some edge softness at infinity. However, wide-angle macro enthusiasts will definitely enjoy this lens, while anyone with patience and a desire to explore the options it provides will similarly find the Venus LAOWA 15mm to be a fun and rewarding addition to their system.
Things we like:
- Very close focus (1:1 macro)
- Sharp in the center, even wide open
- Well built and smooth focusing
- Shift option is useful for APS-C
- Nice bokeh for a wide angle
Things we don't like:
- Extremely short macro working distance
- No mechanical aperture linkage (K and F mounts)
- Significant distortion on full-frame
- Edges smeared at infinity with wider apertures
Venus LAOWA 15mm F4 Wide Angle Macro samples
|Perfect symmetry by Bassaidai|
|Bending road by Starsta|
from Found letters "S" in capital or lower case
|Autumn by Eduard Metela|
from blowing leaves
|Pelican by rajeev22675|
from 100mm or greater..
The 16-inch MacBook Pro replaces the previous 15-inch version and can be configured with up to an 8-core Intel i9 processor, maxes out at 64GB of RAM and can be ordered with up to 8TB of internal SSD storage.
With its newly improved Super Resolution Zoom, the Pixel 4 makes a case for itself as a replacement for a compact camera with a 4-6x zoom range. And for the most part it succeeds – compacts still have their advantages, but they're pretty much history for most users.
Last week Panasonic announced a major firmware update for the G9, adding video features once exclusive to the GH5 series. Does Chris love the autofocus? Can Jordan replace his beloved GH5s? Tune in to find out.
We've rounded up a few accessories and gadgets that will help the smartphone photographer in your life open up new creative possibilities and get the most out of their device.
RED maintains its hold on the compression of Raw video after the latest challenge, by Apple this time, fails to get support from the courts.
The two new kits from PolarPro include a mattebox for PolarPro filters, as well as a dedicated landscape filter kit.
Volta might not be conventional or the most aesthetically appealing device, but it’s hard to argue with an extra 8,000mAh battery power on the go.
Our tests using Blackmagic Design's Disk Speed Test program confirmed the 1TB version of the Plugable NVMe SSD can reach sustained write speeds of 1915MB per second and sustained read speeds of 2331MB per second.
The Sigma fp has clearly been designed with filmmakers in mind, and after using one for a few days, we suspect that they'll love it.
Whether you make a living out of taking professional portraits, or are the weekend warrior who knows their way around flashes and reflectors, you'll want a camera with high resolution, exceptional autofocus and a good selection of portrait prime lenses. Click through to see our picks.
Kodak film is making progress, in revenue figures at least, while the rest of the company posts a loss for the last quarter.
The 3rd-gen lineup includes the 24-core 3960X and 32-core 3970x CPUs made with a 7nm 'Zen 2' core architecture, 140/144MB cache and up 88 PCIe 4.0 lanes. AMD says the new CPUs will offer a 47% performance boost in Adobe Premiere.
The two lenses are the first designed specifically for 8K-capable broadcast cameras from Canon, which it claims are becoming more popular in documentary production and sports coverage.
The lens was teased earlier this year and effectively replaces the 75mm F1.8 Heliar Classic lens Voigtlander previously offered.
It's not every day you get to speak to the man who's had a hand in the design of every professional Canon SLR since the T90.
Family moments are precious and sometimes you want to capture that time spent with friends or loved-ones in better quality than your phone can manage. We've selected a group of cameras that are easy to keep with you, and that can adapt to take photos wherever and whenever something memorable happens.
Nikon and Canon have both launched a new APS-C mirrorless camera each, and now that we've had a chance to use both of them, here's how we think they compare against each other.
When her work began to include more and more video, pro photographer Suzi Pratt gradually drifted from her DSLRs to mirrorless hybrid cameras. So what's it like switching back to a DSLR for a vacation?
The confirmation comes from Instagram's CEO Adam Mosseri from an interview earlier this week.
Jordan reviews the Vazen 40mm T2, the first anamorphic lens designed for Micro Four Thirds cameras. In the process, he gives us a great primer on using anamorphic optics for both video and stills.
Wikiview makes it easy to search through the vast archive of Wikimedia Commons images in a fun and unique way.
It appears Adobe is interested in expanding the possibilities of live-streaming with direct integration into its collection of Creative Cloud apps.
Flares are back in fashion according to Zeiss, as it launches collection of seven prime movie lenses with new T*Blue coating for controlled flare but no loss of contrast
According to rumors, the new sensor should provide a resolution between 60 and 64MP.
The Sony a6600 made its debut in late August, and in the months since then we've been testing it out in a wide range of situations. Our initial sample image gallery has been updated with images from our latest testing.
One of Adobe's 'Sneaks' it showcased at Adobe MAX is #ProjectAboutFace, a prototype tool that uses AI to detect when edits have been made to a face with Photoshop's Face-Aware Liquify tool and undo the changes.
The camera features a built-in 2.4-inch touchscreen, 1/1.7" image sensors and multi-frame stacking.
Xiaomi just released the Mi Note 10, but a new patent and code inside a beta software update hint that there could be an 8K-capable Xiaomi phone in the near future.