Laowa 11mm f/4.5 FF RL PRICE: £769 Chinese lens maker, Venus Optics, is behind the design and manufacturing of Laowa lenses. It set out to produce unique, practical and affordable lenses – and this manual focus ultra-wide certainly fulfils all three criteria
SPECS › Price £769 Leica L, Nikon Z, Sony E. £869 Leica M › In the box Lens, rear and front caps › Format Full-frame › Compatibility Leica L, Leica M, Nikon Z and Sony FE › Construction Two aspherical elements, one ultra-high refraction and three extra-low dispersion elements › Magnification 0.1x › Filter thread 62mm, 100mm square filters can be fitted via the dedicated filter holder 14 elements in 10 groups › Special lens elements › Diaphragm Five blades › Aperture range F/4.5-22 › Autofocus No › Minimum focus 19cm › Weather-sealed No › Lens hood Integrated › Dimensions (dxl) 63.5x58mm › Weight 254g Contact laowalens.co.uk BELOW The huge contrast range of this scene under a bridge meant the Raw file had to have its shadows boosted and the highlights reduced to get a balanced image. With a lens giving such a wide field of view, you have to get used to dealing with high contrast
The lens iris is manual not auto stop- down, so setting a smaller value allows less light through to the sensor. The viewing image is darker at f/11 onwards, so with the depth-of-field and dimmer image it's best to set a wider aperture to focus firstv. That said, with such great depth- of-field, focusing is not really needed unless your subiect is very close. At f/5.6, according to the lens’ depth-of- field scale, if you focus hyperfocally, you obtain sharpness that ranges from infinity down to about 60-70cm, and that’s at f/5.6. At f/8, this drops to 40cm so there's load of depth-of-field. To help focusing, you should use whatever peaking or magnification options your camera offers. On the Z 7, I added the 100% magnification feature set to one of the function buttons. There is a finger tab on the focus ring to help with manual focusing, while the actual focusing action is smooth. The minimum focus of 19cm from infinity is
IF LAOWA IS a new brand to you, I’d recommend you check out the website, especially for its wide-angle and macro lens ranges. You can find some truly unique optics. For example, there’s a 15mm f/4 wide angle that offers 1:1 magnification, a 9mm ultra wide that gives a rectilinear – a non-fisheye – view and a recently announced 15mm f/4.5 perspective control lens. The Laowa 11mm f/4.5 FF RL is a manual focus (as are all current Laowa lenses) rectilinear ultra-wide lens that’s really compact and lightweight. I used my test sample on a Nikon Z 7 and it combined well with that camera. Initially, I noticed that I felt seasick as I looked through the viewfinder, with the camera’s image stabiliser working hard, but this was solved by going to the camera’s non-CPU lens data menu option and changing the settings to 13mm f/4.5 – the closest I could get. In that setting, you get the benefit of the IBIS system without feeling ill.
reached in about a third of a turn of the focus barrel. With such an extreme view, you might be surprised by how small the front element is, as well as the fact that you can fit 62mm screw thread filters on the front. An optional adapter is available that enables the use of a 100mm filter holder on the front, although we didn’t get to try this. Optically, the lens, given its focal length and price, is a very high performer. In all honesty, I found it to be better than I expected – certainly in terms of sharpness and contrast. Central sharpness was good and very acceptable when the lens was wide open. While stopping down did improve resolution, the benefit wasn’t great because it was already so good to start with. The story of the edges and corners was different: they definitely benefitted from stopping down. In this instance, f/11 gave the best performance, so this is the value to use for best overall quality.
This isn’t one of Laowa’s zero- distortion lenses, so while barrel
distortion was evident in my studio test shots – where the camera focal plane was 30cm from the chart – it was not an issue in practice and it's correctable in software. And while the wide view could make the lens prone to flare, I had no issues with the sunsets I shot. Vignetting was evident at f/4.5 and, while stopping down did improve evenness, the darker corners remained at every value. WC
To fill the frame with my custom test chart – which is about 85cm across on the longest dimension – I had to get pretty close. The Nikon Z 7’s focal plane was about 30cm from the chart itself. Two LED lights provided the lighting for the chart, with evenness checked by a hand light meter. The camera’s self-timer was used to release the shutter and a Benro Rhino 34C tripod was also employed.
PROS Field of view, close focusing, compact, great fun to use CONS Modest maximum aperture, vignetting Verdict Ultra-wide lenses are not to everyone’s taste, but if you like getting in close and enjoying some wide-angle distortion, this Laowa 11mm f/4.5 FF RL is amazing and great fun to use. Its portability was a blessing, too. During the test I took the camera with a zoom fitted, but had this lens in a pocket or small sling bag. Best of all, though, I loved the drama of getting in close to the foreground or the feeling of space if I stood back or was in cramped situations. Add in creditable performance and I think this lens rates very highly in terms of value for money.
Issue 84 | Photography News 37
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