Intro

The Laowa 15mm f4.5 Zero-D Shift from Venus Optics is a special ultra-wide angle lens: The front-end of the lens can be shifted off the optical axis in any direction. This makes it the widest shift lens available for full-frame cameras. The major use-case is to shift the lens up to avoid perspective distortions when shooting architecture or interiors. See the following example images to illustrate the effect:

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Above: Laowa 15mm f4.5 Zero-D Shift, unshifted (left), shifted up (right); click image for 4k version

The lens is corrected for an image circle of 65mm diameter which covers full-frame sensors plus allows for 11mm shift. It is available for Canon EF & RF, Nikon F & Z, Pentax K, Sony FE, and Leica L mounts. Plus there is a lens mount adapter for the Canon EF or Nikon F versions converting them to the Fujifilm GF mount. This makes it possible to use the Laowa on the medium format sensor (44 x 33mm) of a Fujifilm GFX camera where the lens can still be shifted 8mm without corners blacking out. The Laowa 15mm f4.5 Zero-D Shift is manual focus and manual aperture only and does not transmit EXIF data to the camera.

The lens costs 1400 EUR / 1200 USD / 1250 GBP. The lens mount adapter for Fujifilm G mount is 120 USD. Venus Optics also offers a 100mm magnetic filter holder (149 USD) and a special tripod collar (149 USD) to go with the lens.

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Facts and features

The angle of view of the Laowa 15mm f4.5 Zero-D Shift on a full-frame sensor is 110 degrees in its unshifted state and 129 degrees when shifted horizontally to the max. I’ll be comparing the Laowa to the Nikon Z 14-30mm f4.0 S (“Z Nikkor” for short). The Z Nikkor might not be a shift lens, but has a 4 degrees wider angle of view at 14mm focal length than the unshifted Laowa. In most cases you could capture the same scene as with the Laowa by tilting the camera with the Z Nikkor up a bit and doing perspective correction in post-processing.

As usual I’ve rated the features with a [+] (or [++]), when it’s better than average or even state of the art, a [0] if it’s standard or just average, and [-] if there’s a disadvantage. Size and weight were measured for the Nikon Z-mount version of the lens – which is roughly similar for all mirrorless mounts. The DSLR versions of the lens are about 30mm shorter and quite a bit lighter.

Size (diameter x length): At 79 x 128mm (3.1 x 5.0in.) the Laowa is of similar size as the Z Nikkor when set to 14mm focal length. [0]

Weight: The all metal barrel brings the weight to 760g (26.8 oz.). The Z Nikkor is only 479g + 18g lens hood. [0]

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Optics: The Laowa is a pretty complex design with 17 elements in 11 groups including two aspherical and three special dispersion elements. The Z Nikkor has 14 elements in 12 groups and offers a fluorine-coating on the front element to repel water, dust, and dirt and make cleaning easier. [+]

Closest focus distance is 0.20m (0.66ft.) with a magnification of 1:4.9 which is quite useful. But it results in a working distance of only 0.06m (2.4in.). The Z Nikkor achieves a similar magnification at double the working distance when zoomed to 30mm focal length. Both lenses do not extend while focusing and the Laowa achieves a magnification of 1:10 at a distance of 0.28m (0.9ft.), the Z Nikkor at 0.41m (at 30mm focal length). [0]

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Image stabilization: The Laowa and the Z Nikkor have no optical stabilization. You only get the built-in sensor-shift stabilization which modern mirrorless camera bodies provide. As the Laowa does not provide EXIF data to the camera you should input the focal length in the camera menu (on a Nikon Z under “Non-CPU lens data”) which makes the camera stabilization work best. [0]

Filter-thread: There’s no filter thread at the front or gel-holder at the back. So you need to use some non-standard mounting system and corresponding filters. Laowa offers an optionally available 100mm magnetic filter holder. The Z Nikkor accepts standard filters with a 82mm thread. [-]

Auto focus: No, the Laowa is manual focus only. The focus ring is 12mm wide with a ribbed metal surface. It turns the way Canon/Sony users are used to which is the reverse of what a Nikon user expects. Operation of the focus ring is very smooth but requires some force. The focus ring has a throw of 100 degrees which is long enough for precise focus. The Z Nikkor has the typical focus-by-wire AF you’ve come to expect from lenses designed for mirrorless cameras with a variable gearing which allows for very precise manual focus when turned slowly. [-]

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Focus breathing: The image become 2% more magnified when pulling focus from infinity to 0.28m (1:10 magnification). This is hardly distracting when shooting videos. The Z Nikkor has even less focus breathing. [+]

Aperture: The Laowa has five aperture blades in the blue-ringed version, the red-ringed version has 14. Aperture is operated manually via an aperture ring with 1 stop clicks from f4.5 to f22 and the lens does not transfer EXIF data about the aperture to the camera. The aperture ring moves smoothly but is only 5mm wide with a partially ribbed surface and the click-stops are a bit soft to register properly. It is wedged between the focus ring and the shift ring with only a few mm space on each side. That increases the risk that operating one of the three rings might inadvertently move an adjacent ring too. The Z Nikkor has an electronically operated aperture and transfers full EXIF data. It also offers a multi function ring which can be assigned to set the aperture. [-]

Shift and rotate: The lens can be shifted along one axis 11mm in both directions. Shifting is accomplished by turning the ring directly in front of the shift scales. There’s a soft click-stop at 0mm and the lens has a small screw to lock the shift position. In its default state the shift goes up or down but you can turn the front-end of the lens around to shift in any other direction – e. g. left/right. The turning mechanism has hard stops every 15 degrees with a locking latch. You can try to use the lens at any angle in-between the 15 degrees stops but as the rotation is not locked it is easy to inadvertently alter the angle while shooting. All the mechanics for the shift and rotate functions leave a solid and smooth impression. And the shift feature together with the short 15mm focal length makes the Laowa the widest shift lens available for full-frame cameras. The Z Nikkor does not offer shift. [++]

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Lens profile: The lens does not come with a lens profile nor does Lightroom or Photoshop provide one. So for correcting vignetting and distortions you have to rely on manual settings in post-processing. The Z Nikkor has an integrated lens profile. [0]

Covers full frame/FX or smaller. Same with the Z Nikkor. [+]

Price: At 1400 EUR (incl. 19% VAT) / 1200 USD / 1250 GBP the Laowa is not exactly cheap. The lens mount adapter for Fujifilm G mount is 120 USD. The Z Nikkor costs 1200 EUR / 1300 USD / 1150 GBP. [0]

The lens comes without a pouch and there’s no lens hood. The front and back lens caps are included with the front cap being made of metal weighing 52g and locking on the bayonet mount – even when the lens is held in the lens support. [0]

Sealing: No, not even a rubber grommet at the lens-mount. So if you’re shooting outdoors you better shield the lens from the elements. The Z Nikkor has a rubber grommet at the lens-mount plus further special weather-sealing throughout the construction. [-]

With a score of 4[-]/7[0]/5[+] the Laowa 15mm f4.5 Zero-D Shift has quite a mix of good and not so good/missing features: It offers the unique combination of ultra-wide coverage with shift capabilities but on the other hand does not offer autofocus, automated aperture, EXIF data, or weather sealing.

Accessories

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Venus Optics offers a special tripod collar (“lens support”) with an Arca swiss style foot for 179 EUR / 149 USD as an extra. It holds the lens at the front end and allows for shifting without moving the optical center of the lens. There is also a mark on the foot for the nodal point of the Laowa 15mm f4.5 Zero-D Shift which is important for creating panorama images by rotating the lens on a tripod.

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A quarter of the bulky bracket is extra slim to allow access to the focus ring. The lens support also has a bubble level on the top to facilitate correct alignment. But make no mistake, this bubble level is much too inaccurate for the job as even a few degrees of misalignment lead to perspective distortions.

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The rear side of the lens support has indentations to secure the lens at various angles.

Venus Optics also offers a 100mm magnetic filter holder (149 USD) which can be mounted on the bayonet socket at the front of the lens:

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The filter holder can be rotated 360 degrees and locked with a screw in any position. Unfortunately I could not lock the screw firm enough without pliers and a lot of force to securely mount the holder on the lens. This hopefully was a singular flaw with my copy of the holder.

Mounting the filter in the holder is easy: It simply snaps into place held by magnetic force. It’s still easy enough to adjust e. g. slide a graduated ND filter to the correct position in the image. Another screw on the side of the holder can be used to lock the filter in place. This screw worked flawlessly.

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Alternatives

There are a lot of ultra-wide lenses on the market but only few of them offer shift functionality. Let’s have a look at those first sorted by focal length. All of the lenses are manual focus only.

  • The Laowa 15mm f4.0 is a wide angle macro lens with ±6mm shift range. But shift can only be used on APS-C/DX sensors, on a full-frame sensor shifting will result in blacked-out corners. The aperture has to be operated manually and no EXIF data are transmitted to the camera. It is an original DSLR design from 2016 available in a wide number of DSLR mounts and also Leica L mount and Sony E mount for mirrorless cameras. The lens is small and light and costs 560 EUR / 500 USD / 500 GBP.
  • Canon’s TS-E 17mm f4.0 L Tilt/Shift lens offers ±12mm of shift and ±6.5 degrees of tilt and can be rotated 90 degrees. It’s a design from 2009, available in EF mount, and costs 2050 EUR / 2150 USD / 2260 GBP. The angle of view is 6 degrees narrower than from the Laowa.
  • The Nikon PC 19mm f4.0E ED is an original DSLR design from 2016 available in F mount. It offers ±12 mm shift and ±7.5 degrees of tilt and can be rotated ±90 degrees. The lens is by far the most expensive of the alternatives listed here at 3300 EUR / 3400 USD / 3200 GBP. The angle of view is 13 degrees narrower than from the Laowa.
  • Samyang has the T-S 24mm f3.5 ED AS UMC, an original DSLR design from 2012 available in a wide number of DSLR mounts as well as Fujifilm X, Sony E, and MFT mount for mirrorless cameras. The lens offers ±12mm of shift and ±8.5 degrees of tilt and can be rotated 90 degrees for tilt/shift and tilt alone. The aperture has to be operated manually and no EXIF data are transmitted to the camera. Prices are 650 EUR / 650 USD / 660 GBP. With its relatively long focal length of 24mm the angle of view is a hefty 26 degrees narrower than from the Laowa. So the Samyang might not fit your purpose.
  • Sony interestingly does not offer a tilt and/or shift lens of their own.

Then there is a whole bunch of ultra-wide prime lenses without shift capabilities. The widest of them corrected for full-frame cameras with rectilinear projection is Laowa’s 9mm f5.6 FF RL with a whopping 135 degrees angle of view. It’s available for Nikon Z, Sony E, and Leica L mount and costs 980 EUR / 800 USD / 500 GBP. There are others like Samyang or IRIX which offer lenses with 10mm, 11mm, 12mm focal lengths which cover larger angles of view than the unshifted Laowa 15mm f4.5 Zero-D Shift and could easily produce similar images – after perspective correction in post-processing. None of those lenses has autofocus and many have a manual aperture and don’t produce EXIF data.

Two ultra-wide angle lenses

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Above: Laowa 15mm f4.5 Zero-D Shift (left), Nikon Z 14-30mm f4.0 S (right)

And finally: ultra-wide zoom lenses which go at least 14mm wide. All of those lenses have autofocus, automatically operated apertures and transmit EXIF data – except for the Laowa 10-18mm f4.5-5.6. Below I have listed only those which are not vastly more expensive than the Laowa 15mm f4.5 Zero-D Shift:

  • Nikon’s Z 14-30mm f4.0 S from 2019 covers 114 degrees at the wide end and costs 1200 EUR / 1300 USD / 1150 GBP.
  • Sigma has the 12-24mm f4.0 Art from 2016 covering 122 degrees at the wide end. It’s a bulky lens with a weight of 1.15 kg. Available in Nikon F, Canon EF and Sigma SA mount it also can be used via mount adapters on mirrorless cameras from Nikon, Canon and Sony. It costs 1400 EUR / 1600 USD / 1270 GBP.
  • The Sigma 14-24mm f2.8 DG DN Art is a new mirrorless design from 2020 which covers 114 degrees at the wide end. It’s available for Sony E and Leica L mount and costs 1430 EUR / 1299 USD / 1299 GBP.
  • Sony’s FE 12-24mm f4.0 G from 2017 covers 122 degrees on the wide end and costs 1500 EUR / 1770 USD / 1400 GBP.
  • Laowa has the 10-18mm f4.5-5.6 from 2019 covering 130 degrees on the wide end. It’s available for Sony E, Nikon Z, and Leica L mount and costs 1000 EUR / 850 USD / 900 GBP.

As you can see there are a number of ultra-wide alternatives if you don’t restrict yourself only to lenses with shift capabilities. To give you an impression of the coverage here is the angle of view that the Laowa 15mm f4.5 Zero-D Shift covers (without shifting) compared to the Nikon Z 14-30mm f4.0 S at 14mm:

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Angle of view on full-frame camera: Laowa 15mm f4.5 Zero-D Shift (left), Nikon Z 14-30mm f4.0 S at 14mm (right), click image for larger version

The following panorama is from two shots with the Laowa mounted in the lens support and maximally shifted left and right. Stitching was done with Photo Merge in Lightroom using a cylindrical projection with Auto Crop applied. Shot on a Nikon Z7 this results in a 72MP image.

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Panorama: Laowa 15mm f4.5 Zero-D Shift at f5.6, shifted 11mm left and right; click image for 4k version, here for large original

The next panorama was shot with the Nikon Z 14-30mm f4.0 S at 14mm focal length rotated on the tripod to cover a similar angle of view as the Laowa above. Stitching was done in Lightroom using a perspective projection from three images (left, center, right) as Photo Merge would not produce a correct projection from only two images.

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Panorama: Nikon Z 14-30mm f4.0 S at 14mm f5.6, turned left and right; click image for 4k version, here for large original

The differences between both images are minimal but there’s one thing to note: The Nikon could easily have captured an even wider panorama by turning more to the left and right whereas shifting with the Laowa is maxed out.

Next check out my quality results!

Check prices on the Laowa 15mm f4.5 Zero-D Shift at Amazon, B&H, Adorama or WEX UK. Alternatively get yourself a copy of my In Camera book or treat me to a coffee! Thanks!



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