Thursday, 26 October 2017

First Impressions - Laowa 15mm f/2 FE Zero-D lens

Anhui Changgeng Optics Technology Co., Ltd (Venus Optics) was established in 2013 and have their headquarters in China.  Quite frankly, up until early this year (2017), we had never even heard of this company nor the name Laowa and not sure how it eluded us :-). Over the last 4 years, they have produced the following lenses -

It wasn't until earlier this year when we decided we were in the market for a second wide-angle lens for our Sony a7R and  A7II  cameras. We already have the Sony 16-35mm F4  lens which is a superb piece of glass, however, as we both shoot, if either of us hogs the 16-35 then the there is no alternative for the other person to shoot ultra-wide. It was at this stage that we came across a few YouTube videos about the launch of the 15mm f/2 FE Zero-D lens at Photokina 2016 and also the always thorough review by Christopher Frost . This lens looked great and really suited our needs as it was specifically made for Sony E mount cameras, had a 72mm filter thread which meant that it would take our NiSi 100mm filter system and offered close to zero distortion (which means you don't have to lose that much resolution when correcting for any distortion - if any). Fantastic! So, when can we get one? We waited and waited....nothing. It also seemed that there were a lot of people online that thought that this lens was pure fantasy and that it would never be released. Finally a couple of months ago and almost a year after it was announced, it was ready for pre-order and we jumped at it. Another month passed before we finally received our copy. Laowa included, as an added bonus for the first 200 buyers, a 72mm UV filter, 72mm CPL filter and a 72mm ND1000 (10 stops) filter. These were all Slim Fit filters so there would be no vignetting. Nice!  

La Perouse sunset - Shot with the Sony A7ii at f/11 for 3.2sec and the Laowa 15mm f/2 Zero-D lens with a NiSi 6stop ND filter and a 2stop Hard Gradual ND filter. 
This lens is currently the fastest in its class offering a superb optical quality for Full Frame Sony E mount cameras. It features a close-to-zero distortion with a 110° angle of view. The ultra-fast aperture f/2 enables photographers to capture impressive Astro shots very easily, although we have heard that 'Coma' is not great until you stop down to f/4 so that may be a dealbreaker for the dedicated Astro Photographer. The 72mm filter thread allows a quick installation of filters for landscape shooting. The lens is quite compact at only 62mm in length and is lightweight at 500g.

If your interested in all the technical specs for the lens, here they are -

Name15mm f/2 FE Zero-D
Focal Length15mm
Max. Aperturef/2
Angle of View110°
Format CompatibilityFull Frame
Lens Structure12 elements in 9 groups
(2pcs of Aspherical Elements + 3pcs of Extra-low Dispersion Elements)
Aperture Blades9
Min. Focusing Distance15cm
Max. Magnification1:4
Filter Thread72mm
Dimensions66 x 82 mm
Weight500g
MountsSony E

The lens build is fantastic. It has a full metal construction including the lens hood. The lens is fully manual however that is not an issue when being used with the Sony cameras especially in conjunction with Focus Peaking. As there is no electronic chop in the lens you will not receive any EXIF data after import your you photos other than the ISO and Shutter Speed.


The lens has some pretty nifty features which are bound to impress. For those of you that love to shoot panoramas and use a panoramic bracket then the nodal point of the lens is marked with "Entrance Pupil" on the front of the lens. This will save you the time trying to find the correct position. Another cool feature is the switch at the base of the lens that allows you to de-click the aperture ring which will be great for those that want to use the lens for video. The aperture ring only has markings with full stop increments however if you de-click the aperture ring then you could estimate the 1/3 or 1/2 stop increments if needed.

The metal focus ring turns extremely smoothly. As with many manual lenses, it has a focus guide engraved into the metal in both white (metres) with 0.15m, 0.2m, 0.5m, 1m markings and red (feet) with 0.5ft, 0.7ft, 1ft, 3ft and infinity markings.  A guide is also included for the hyperfocal distance, with markings for f/5.6, f/11, and f/22 engraved on the lens barrel. In our testing, we have found that focus to the right edge of the infinity symbol at f/11 will produce very sharp images from foreground to background which makes it ideal when shooting in portrait orientation. Having said that we have found this lens to be extremely sharp at all apertures in the centre of the frame with ideal sharpness from edge to edge occurring from f/5.6 onwards.

The real benefit of this lens other than the sharpness is the filter thread. We're not sure if there are any lenses currently available that will let you use the 100mm filter system on such a wide angle lens with an aperture as wide as f/2. As the lens has such a wide aperture you will also be able to focus and compose your shots when using the dark ND filters without having to remove from the front of the camera. The 72mm filter thread also opens up the opportunity of using 72mm screw-on filters which is a huge benefit for those that don't want to invest in the large, expensive 100mm filter systems. Having said that we would recommend you use the slim filters to prevent vignetting and avoid stacking the filters.


La Perouse - Sony A7r and the Laowa 15mm f/2 Zero-D lens at f/11 for 10sec with a NiSi 6stop ND filter and a 2 stop Hard Gradual ND filter

We really love this lens. It is a joy to use and the results are phenomenal. We will be testing the lens further, especially with close-up subjects at f/2 which can give a diffrent perspective. In due course we will be posting more about the lens however our first impression is that this lens will remain in our bag for a very long time.  

If you have any questions or comments we would love to hear from you.

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