Venus Optics Laowa 15mm F/2 FE Zero-D
March 15, 2018
When the Laowa 15mm f/2 debuted toward the tail-end of 2017, Venus Optics hailed it as the world’s widest rectilinear f/2 native lens for Sony E-mount cameras. Since then, no other model (that we can find) has risen to the task of being second.
We paired up with N.J. photographer and director David Patiño to see if Venus had carved out a coveted spot in the Sony universe.
This is a manual focus lens with an aperture that can be de-clicked for smooth exposure transitions during videomaking.
The Laowa 15mm f/2 FE Zero-D features an optical design that minimizes distortion. Unlike many wide-angle lenses, the 15mm has a flat front surface and accepts 72mm screw-on filters.
You’ll be able to focus on objects as close as 15cm from the front of the lens with a maximum magnification of 1:4.
There are seven aperture blades that stop down to f/22.
Despite being situated in the budget end of the lens aisle, the Laowa 15mm doesn’t feel shoddily built at all. Patiño tells us its metal construction is robust, yet still relatively lightweight at 1.1 pounds—which is right in the sweet spot for other budget-minded competitors from Tokina and Rokinon.
The focus ring doesn’t have a very long distance to travel between .15 meters and infinity, but it turns smoothly enough. The aperture ring is smaller and as you turn it, your thumb may brush up against the click/de-click button but you’re unlikely to accidentally nudge it out of the desired position.
Image Quality & Performance
The Laowa 15mm f/2 arrived just in time for Patiño, who needed to shoot interiors and exteriors of his new studio for his website. Shooting on an a7R II, he found that the lens did an excellent job resolving the details for the camera’s 42-megapixel sensor. He shot most of the interiors between f/8 and f/11. You’ll get some modest vignetting at f/2 but nothing overwhelming.
Shooting wide open, you’ll get nice circular bokeh.
Despite the lens’s focal length, there’s remarkably little visible distortion at the edges of the frame. We’re not bold enough to say there’s “zero” as the lens promises, but to our eyes it’s extremely close to nonexistent. Certainly far less than comparable wide-angle models we’ve shot. There was also no visible chromatic aberration and purple fringing, even when shooting foliage backed by the sun.
The Laowa 15mm lacks electronic contacts so it won’t transmit f-stop information into your file’s metadata. Without those contacts, you’re also unable to take advantage of Sony’s focus magnification feature so manual focusing can be a bit tricky if you’re used to relying on it. On the plus side, you can still access focus peaking.
Sony doesn’t make its own 15mm prime lens, but Rokinon makes a 14mm f/2.8 Sony lens with autofocusing for about $300 less than the Laowa. There’s also the slightly less expensive Tokina FiRIN, a manual focusing 20mm f/2 model. Unlike the Laowa, the FiRIN does have electronic contacts for focusing aides and transmitting lens data to your image file. We haven’t gotten our hands on the FiRIN but it’s a very close match and is worth trying in tandem with the Laowa.
“On balance, I was totally happy with it,” Patiño says of his time with the lens. It’s a good value, well built, and the ability to declick the aperture makes it a valuable option for Sony shooters bouncing between stills and video.
Venus Optics Laowa 15mm f/2 FE Zero-D
PROS: De-clicked aperture; good image quality; no visible wide-angle distortion; smooth focus turns; well built; excellent value.
CONS: No AF; unable to use focus magnification; no f-stop data transmitted to image files.
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