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
|a lost person by dalgo|
from - Fond Memories - (in BW Only)
|Diver's Watch-2757 by vbuhay|
|Cerulean Sukhoi by cjf2|
|Cheetah in the wild by cmgpereira|
The EOS 90D is Canon's newest DSLR camera, sporting a new 32.5MP sensor and 4K video without a crop. As Chris and Jordan discovered during their testing, there's a lot to like.
A new gallery from the Canon EOS 90D, shot by Chris and Jordan while filming this week's episode of DPReview TV. As usual, it comes complete with reflected images in puddles.
The Axibo slider can detect and keep focused on faces and most objects thanks to an integrated 6 + 1 AI core CPU
Fujifilm has announced that it is developing a 50mm F1.0 lens for its X-series, instead of the promised 33mm F1.0, as part of its X Summit event in Tokyo.
Fujifilm has revealed extensive detail about its forthcoming X-Pro3 model in a development announcement at its Fujifilm X Summit in Tokyo, Japan.
Ricoh has stated that it's developing a new flagship APS-C DSLR that it'll preview later this month and expects to bring to market in 2020.
Apple says the iPhone XR isn't going anywhere – even now that the iPhone 11 is on sale. The two devices are priced $100 apart – so what does that extra cash get you?
Something about these seems a little familiar, but we can't quite put our finger on it.
ON1 Photo RAW 2020 is now available as a public beta, bringing with it new and improved features across the board, including more AI-powered tools, improved performance and multiple integrations for a more streamlined workflow.
Huawei has announced the details of its new flagship smartphone, the Mate 30 Pro.
Sebastiaan de With, co-founder of the iOS camera app Halide, has used his app's technical readout feature to obtain very detailed camera specifications for the iPhone 11 Pro.
Our guide to the best cameras over $2000 has been updated to include overviews of some of the latest contenders.
Apple joked about the new 120 fps recording mode on its latest smartphone with 'slofies,' a made-up word that combines slo-mo and selfies, but it turns out it might've not been quite as tongue-in-cheek as we initially thought.
The C1 and C1 Plus aspire to bring studio-style lights to the world of smartphone photography for $299 and 499, respectively.
In a press release on its website, Photokina has confirmed that Leica, Nikon and Olympus have canceled their reservations for Photokina 2020.
Readers were quick to point out that Robert Frank wasn't the only iconic artist the photography community lost recently. Peter Lindbergh, Charlie Cole and Fred Herzog have also passed away.
Back in the film days Canon had 'eye-controlled' focus that let you set an AF point just by looking at it, and a recent patent suggests Canon is still interested in this technology. Chris and Jordan consider what a modern eye-controlled AF system might mean to photographers.
CyberLink has revealed the latest updates to its suite of creative production apps, including PhotoDirector 11, PowerDirector 18 and more.
Aputure's impending LED light has 600W raw output in a size not much larger than your standard cinema light.
Apple's iPhone 11 camera updates will inevitably be seen as attempts to catch up to Android. But, taken together, we think they stack up to meaningful upgrades that might make an already very capable camera one of the most compelling options on the market.
Monogram, a company formerly known as Palette Gear, has a new crowdfunded campaign up for its next-generation modular control panel, the Creative Console.
Rumors have been heating up regarding Canon's potential IBIS system and this new patent application gives us the best look yet at what Canon is up to.
The new filters use artificial intelligence to automatize and simplify a range of portrait retouching tasks.
The Laowa 100mm F2.8 2X Ultra Macro APO is unusual among macro optics for offering a maximum reproduction ratio of 2:1. Check out our gallery to see how it performs.
A group of friends traversed around California in an attempt to recreate the stock wallpapers Apple has included with macOS.
With iOS 13 the iPhones XS and XR as well as the latest iPad Pro models will be capable of simultaneously recording video streams from multiple cameras.
The paid firmware update doubles the range for remote cameras/flash units and brings a number of additional features.
The two ‘MicroPrime’ lenses add additional options to SLR Magic's current MFT cine lens lineup, which includes the 12mm T2.8 and 18mm T2.8.
It's not every day that we get to shoot with a system like the medium-format IQ4. We took it into the studio for some portraiture as well as a more casual spin around the block because, well, why not?