Wide-angle lenses have a lot more to contend with in life than their more standard viewpoints siblings. These types of lenses are specialists in nature and have to counter more edge distortion as standard. The Venus Laowa 15mm f/2 Zero-D is aimed at the typical landscape or architectural photographer who wants something a little different from the norm, while also offering excellent optics.
This lens isn’t exactly budget level though, which means it has to own the same level of characteristics as other pro-level offerings. Also, as this lens comes from a not so obvious lens manufacturer, it has far more to prove than the usual suspects.
The Laowa 15mm f/2 Zero-D provides a 110-degree viewpoint, with fully manual workings and a fast f/2 aperture. The ‘Zero-D’ bit of the name stands for zero-distortion, which is one of the main selling points of this lens. If the lens performs as it says on the tin, then it’s going to be an instant hit with many types of shooters.
The Zero-D lens itself is very well put together, with a middleweight feel of only 500g. The lens isn’t officially weatherproofed, but it does have something called a frog eye coating on the front element to keep away water droplets and dust. It is also fully manual, which may not be a problem for the average landscape photographer, but you will have to be quick off the mark for nailing exposure and focus in scenarios like wide-angle street photography.
The focusing ring takes up a good chunk of the lens body, feeling very smooth to turn, and stays in place once set. The aperture ring is far more narrow in width, which can also be de-clicked which will help out enormously for video use.
The lens is also fully capable on crop sensor cameras providing a 22.5mm viewpoint. The Rectilinear design encompasses 12 optical elements arranged in nine groups, which also includes a trio of extra-low dispersion and a pair of aspherical elements to improve overall image quality and clarity.
The Laowa 15mm is also supplied with a petal-shaped lens hood and although it has a relatively bulbous front element, it’s recessed enough to allow 72mm filters to be used.
The Venus Laowa 15mm f/2 Zero-D In Use
The focusing ring on the Venus Laowa 15mm f/2 Zero-D is accurate enough to get sharp focus every time, with just enough tactile feedback. The very close focusing distance of 15cm gives plenty of range for creative possibilities, especially when the lens is stopped down.
In real-world terms, the center of the frame provides very good resolution from the widest aperture of f/2, all the way up to f/11. When the aperture is fully open, the edges are noticeably soft, which was to be expected with a lens this wide.
The lens produces the best edge-to-edge sharpness at f/8, which is a common sweet spot for many wide-angle lenses. Even when you dive into the world of fisheye lenses, f/8 and the focus set to infinity always seem to be a good starting point.
Wide-angle lenses usually exhibit a good deal of aberrations, as the wider viewing angle accentuates the downsides in any of these types of lenses. Luckily, the Venus Laowa handles chromatic aberration very well, with slight amounts visible only in high contrast areas. Any visible amounts of CA can easily be made invisible in post.
Although the lens claims zero distortion levels, there is a small amount of barrel distortion. However, the levels of distortion are negligible and the lens is very good at keeping lines straight at the edges of the frame. If you’re coming from using longer focal lengths all the time, you’ll wonder what the fuss is all about. But if you’re used to using wide-angle lenses on a regular basis, having the peace of mind that a lens can produce such low levels of distortion saves loads of time in the post-processing phase of work.
The Venus Laowa 15mm f/2 Zero-D also displays low coma levels, which will benefit night-time shooters and if you need the f/2 aperture for low-light conditions, the lens can still produce good sharpness levels in the majority of the frame. Color and contrast don’t go overboard, with the final images coming out with not too oversaturated colors and the contrast only drops a little in very bright light conditions.
How Does It Compare?
If you’re lucky enough to be on the Sony platform, then the FE 20mm f/1.8 G can make a worthy wide-angle solution. The Sony comes in at roughly the same price point as the Laowa 15mm f/2 Zero-D and has a slightly more narrow viewpoint, but it also has a wider aperture and autofocus. The Sony 20mm prime lens benefits from very low distortion levels and is very sharp where it counts.
The Sony is just that bit sharper than the Laowa, but as it doesn’t go as wide-angle, the Venus is a better solution for those who want the widest possible viewpoints with virtually no lens distortion.
|Venus Laowa 15mm f/2 Zero-D||Sony FE 20mm f/1.8 G|
|Close Focusing Distance||15cm||18cm|
The Venus Laowa 15mm f/2 Zero-D is an almost surprisingly good worker in the wide-angle department. The f/2 aperture along with the short focal length means images in low-light conditions can be captured with ease. The close focusing distance gives lots of creative possibilities and the lens provides good sharpness levels throughout the aperture range.
The extremely low distortion levels make the lens feel like a longer focal length lens and will save loads of time in the post-processing phase. The Laowa 15mm also measures up well against the competition, providing good sharpness levels across the board and solid image reproduction at this focal length. It’s a good alternative for video work with its de-clicked aperture.
Considering all the plus points, with very few negatives, the Venus Laowa 15mm f/2 Zero-D is surely a lens to be shortlisted for those who need wide-angle capabilities with very low distortion levels.