Wide angle macro and Laowa 15mm f/4 1:1 macro lens - a user review
As the Chinese proverb said, Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still... imbibing this proverb in their heart and soul, one Chinese company named 'Venus Optics' is slowly making a strong apperance in the imaging industry with their unique products. Starting from lenses to unique flashes, they are manufacturing very unique products, what someone would not think about, even a few years ago. Just imagine a lens which could take not only a picture of a tiny ant but also the huge mountain behind it in a single frame.
Yes you are right! I am talking about the Laowa 15mm 1:1 Macro lens. This is a full frame lens and the widest true macro lens available in the market. I am a proud owner of this lens though it is one of the most difficult lenses that I have ever used. It is a fully manual lens, so there is no electrical connection between your camera and the lens. You cannot use the auto focus with this lens even you cannot use the metering feature in your camera. You have to focus on your subject manually by viewing through viewfinder or in your LCD screen of the camera. This is okay for a subject which stays 3/4 ft far from your cam, but becomes very difficult (literally it is a pain) when your subject is tiny and very close to your camera. This is where your frustration comes, when you see in your computer screen where most of the pictures taken by this lens are out of focus. When I took this picture, in the field I found nothing wrong in it but when I opened it in my pc then I found the eye of the frog is out of focus !!
If you think you can handle this focus issue with lots of practice, then everythings is fine and this lens is made for you unless ... you solve another issue, that is the darkening of your viewfinder. As it is a manual lens, your viewfinder becomes darker with narrowing apperture. It will become very dark to use f/11 or f/16 in moderate light. Your LCD screen now comes as a rescuer in this situation. It is a true macro lens that means it produce 1:1 magnification at minimum focusing distance. But it is almost impossible to achieve it because the minimum focusing distance of this lens is just 4.7mm from the front element. At this point your subject almost touch your front element. Lighting you subject at this point is another issue. The 77mm front element casts a dark shadow on the subject whether you use flash or not. Off camer flash helps in this situation. This picture of a grass hopper is taken with a off camera flash.
Apart from these issues the lens is a gift, let's take a tour of techs and specs of this lens.
Focal length - 15mm
Max. aperture -f4
Angle of view - 1100 for full frame / 850 for crop frame.
aperture baldes - 14
M.F.D. - 4.7mm
Filter thread - 77mm
Weight - 410g
Mounts - Nikon F/Cannon EF/Pentax K/Sony/ Fuji X/ M43
Excellent, it is build like a solid piece of metal. If you find a poacher around when you doing photography in the jungle just throw the lens aiming to the head of that poacher, I am quite sure that unfortunate poacher will end up in hospital bed with a crack on his skull but your lens will not have a scratch on it. Aperture ring of this lens stays to the front element and it feels very smooth. It does not produce 'click' sound when changing aperture, this is a bonus for videographers. The focus ring is smooth and dumped.
Very good. The sharpnes in the middle is exellent. It becomes a little soft (on wide open aperture) going to the corners. In the middle apertures it is very sharp. This picture is taken with my old Nikon D5200 cam, I have cropped this to see how sharp it is, and here is the result.
Well controlled. Though it shows some CA in high contrast zones at wide open aperture, becomes minimum when stopped down.
It shows some barrel distortion in close distance. 12 elements in 9 group with one extra low dispersion and 3 high refractive elements controlled distortion very well for such wide macro lens. A multi layer low reflective coating makes flare or ghosting to it's minimum. This picture is taken aiming at direct sunlight, I don't see noticiable flare here.
This lens has a bonus shift feature. I personally do not use this feature very much but it is very helpful for the photographers who does architecture photography. But when you use this lens shifted CA becomes noticeable and sharpnes reduces drastically.
Let's sum up this, and come to the PROS and CONS of this lens:
1. A true macro lens. THis is the widest macro lens that can give 1:1 magnification.
2. Exellent image quality.
3. Solid build quality.
4. Well managed distortions and aberations.
5. Small and light.
6. Unique shift feature.
7. Affordable price.
1. Manual lens, no control over aperture or metering.
2. Minimum focusing distance is very less.
3. Large front element which blocks light when shooting in close range.
4. Noticeable barrel distortion in close distance.
5. NO dealer or service centre in India.
Here are some sample images,
So, guys if you are enough adventurous in mind,you can just jump for the lens and explore a unique world.
Text and images by - Ripan Biswas
Views expressed here are of the user / author and not of DCP Expeditions
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Laowa 15mm f/4 1:1macro lens is available on sale in DCP Online Store