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FORUMS Canon Cameras, Lenses & Accessories Canon EF and EF-S Lenses 
Thread started 02 Sep 2015 (Wednesday) 16:16
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Laowa (Venus) 15mm f4 shift lens for non-macro work: you need a good copy

 
pulsar123
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Post edited over 3 years ago by pulsar123. (17 edits in all)
     
Sep 02, 2015 16:16 |  #1

UPDATE [Nov 3 2015]: Laowa sent me a replacement copy of the lens, I did testing similar to the one above, and I can confirm that the new copy of the lens is obviously better: corners are sharper for both non-shifted and shifted cases, now very close to (but still a touch worse) than my Sigma 10-20mm lens.

UPDATE [Sep 30 2015]: I discovered that my copy of the Laowa 15mm lens has a subpar quality (see my second post below), and I am in the process of exchanging the lens for a better copy.

IMAGE: http://www.photozone.de/news/venus15_1.jpg


This is my review of Laowa (Venus) 15mm f4 lens (external link) which I finally received a few days ago. This fully manual UWA lens has a limited shift capability (up to 6mm, only vertically, and only for crop cameras) and 1:1 macro capability (the latter is achieved at 5mm distance from the front element - not entirely practical). This is the first UWA shift lens designed for crop cameras, and my primary interest in this lens was mainly about that. (I am also curious about the 1:1 UWA macro feature, which is also unique, but I will review it elsewhere.)

Judging from the MTF plots I've seen, a couple of published reviews (which admittedly were more focused on the macro feature of the lens), and the fact that this is a prime lens designed for full frame cameras, I had very high expectations for its optical qualities. I hoped that this would be my default UWA lens, to use for architecture, landscapes etc. The 1:1 feature would be just the icing on the cake.

Unfortunately this doesn't seem to be the case. I took this lens (along with my UWA workhorse Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6 - a good lens, but not considered to be the best in its class) for a test drive under realistic landscape shooting conditions - a cityscape seen from a ~100m height. I used all the standard precautions:

- Used Live View to achieve the best focus at the frame's center.
- Used a tripod, 10s delay, mirror lockup, to minimize vibrations.
- Did my best to match the image produced by Laowa (both centered, and with maximum shift of 6mm) with that from Sigma (used at 15mm FL). It couldn't be perfect, as the two lenses have different shapes of radial distortion, but at least I made sure one extreme corner had a good match.

I used my Linux workstation as it is much easier to fully automate the processing. In particular, I used the following command line tools (ask me for details if interested):

- dcraw: RAW image processor.
- tca_correct and fulla (part of Hugin package): automatic chromatic aberration correction.
- convert and montage (part of ImageMagick): automatic cropping, normalizing, and montage of the tiles.
- gimp (image editor): to add labels. BTW, I managed to find the newer gimp version which is finally (after many years of promises) works with full color photos (up to 64 bit per channel). Just google for "gimp 2.9 goat invasion". E.g. here: http://www.partha.com/ (external link) . This is an experimental version, but seems to be working fine (under Linux at least.)

A side comment: both Sigma and Laowa exhibit very little CA, but it was still very useful to get rid of it, for the sake of comparing the corner sharpness. I used my idea described elsewhere (https://photography-on-the.net/forum/showthre​ad.php?p=17618193) to automatically remove CA from shifted photos. It worked great.

Here is the main result (click on the link under the image to view it at 100%, to see the difference in sharpness): extreme corner sharpness for

- Laowa at maximum 6mm shift (left column),
- Laowa with zero shift (center column), and
- Sigma (right column).

The photos were made with my crop camera Canon 50D.

IMAGE: https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5710/21068272956_db8b2f658a_c.jpg
IMAGE LINK: https://farm6.staticfl​ickr.com …68272956_ff4e43​86ee_o.jpg  (external link)

Overall impression: Sigma 10-20mm lens is much sharper in the extreme corner than non-shifted Laowa 15mm lens, especially between wide open and f/11. Sigma's corner is the sharpest around f/8 (though it is totally usable even wide open, at f/5.0), while Laowa's corner sharpness is best around f/11 (but substantially less sharp than Sigma at the same f-number).

When shifted to the max (6mm), the extreme corner sharpness of Laowa gets even worse (the left column). It is barely usable only around f/16.

Even better way to compare the two lenses is to choose the sharpest aperture for each case, and then display them side by side (sharpest apertures were f/16 for Laowa with 6mm shift, f/11 for Laowa with zero shift, and f/8 for Sigma):

IMAGE: https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5707/21128506532_4730c66509_c.jpg
IMAGE LINK: https://farm6.staticfl​ickr.com …28506532_064d02​472d_o.jpg  (external link)

For completeness, I also made the same comparison for the frame center:

IMAGE: https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5831/20907663449_07060cc108_c.jpg
IMAGE LINK: https://farm6.staticfl​ickr.com …07663449_2a0178​0fd2_o.jpg  (external link)

As expected, the difference in central sharpness is much smaller. Both Laowa and Sigma do a good job here, even the 6mm shifted case.

To give you an idea how small these areas are on photographs, here is the Laowa photo (zero shift) shot at f/11, with CA removed, and the two red squares showing the comparison areas (click to see the full size photo):

IMAGE: https://farm1.staticflickr.com/613/20926182709_2be052355a_c.jpg
IMAGE LINK: https://flic.kr/p/xTba​4B  (external link) Laowa 15mm shot at f/11 (external link) by First Last (external link), on Flickr

Here is the example of how little chromatic aberration these two lenses (Laowa and Sigma) exhibit, in the extreme corner at f/11 (where CA is the strongest); it also shows that automatic CA correction works very well, including Laowa shots with maximum (6mm) shift. (I am using my trick to correct CA in shifted photos.)

IMAGE: https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5624/20925523128_e8a836bdb3.jpg
IMAGE LINK: https://farm6.staticfl​ickr.com …25523128_9a626f​227a_o.jpg  (external link) Chromatic aberration test for Laowa 15mm f4 lens (external link)

At the end, I am not sure whether I should be impressed with my old and trusty Sigma 10-20mm performance, or be very disappointed with the Laowa's corner sharpness. Likely both.

From my tests it does appear that the new Laowa 15mm f4 lens was primarily designed for its unique UWA 1:1 macro feature; and it should be mostly used as such. Its qualities as a general purpose UWA lens were obviously sacrificed for that primary goal.

Other observations:

- The mechanical quality seems to be excellent. It is hefty, all-metal, with no loose movements.
- The aperture blades are beauty: 14 rounded blades produce almost perfectly circular opening at any f-number. Not surprisingly, the published macro shots have very nice bokeh.
- The shift feature is very hard to use, so it was obviously an afterthought, and almost a gimmick. One has to push up the small metal lever pretty hard, and then move the whole lens with your hand (very stiff motion). This is gonna be very hard to use on a tripod.
- The lens cap has a great design, works much better than the Sigma's, or the Canon lenses I have (135L etc).
- The lens shade has small plastic parts, and is pretty hard to put on and remove. It likely won't last.

6D, Tamron 24-70 f2.8 VC, 135L, 70-200 f4L, Laowa 15mm 1:1 macro, 50mm f1.8 STM, Samyang 8mm fisheye, home studio

  
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pulsar123
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Sep 30, 2015 11:39 |  #2

An update: apparently my copy of Laowa 15mm is a bad one. I found a photo made with a much better copy of the lens on flickr. Here is the side by side comparison (my Sigma - good Laowa - my Laowa; all shot at f/11; the flickr photo is properly cropped to match my camera - Canon 50D - sensor size):

IMAGE: https://farm6.staticflickr.com/5654/21190057424_21ee06d6b8_b.jpg
IMAGE LINK: https://flic.kr/p/yhuz​PE  (external link) My Laowa 15mm a bad copy? (external link) by First Last (external link), on Flickr

Good Laowa (center) is even sharper than my Sigma (left), so I'll try to exchange my copy of the lens for a better copy.

6D, Tamron 24-70 f2.8 VC, 135L, 70-200 f4L, Laowa 15mm 1:1 macro, 50mm f1.8 STM, Samyang 8mm fisheye, home studio

  
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Canon_Lover
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Sep 30, 2015 13:35 |  #3

This lens is very interesting. I would like to play with one for macro landscape work. I can only imagine how extreme the focus stacks would be with such a lens.

Keep us updated on your next copy. :)


My 500PX (external link)

  
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pulsar123
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Oct 01, 2015 10:24 |  #4

Canon_Lover wrote in post #17727786 (external link)
This lens is very interesting. I would like to play with one for macro landscape work. I can only imagine how extreme the focus stacks would be with such a lens.

Keep us updated on your next copy. :)

Sure, no problem. The Laowa company is actually very proactive: they approached me after I posted my negative review (here and on dpreview), and suggested that my copy must be a dud, and now promising to exchange it for a good copy for free (will pay the shipping costs both ways).


6D, Tamron 24-70 f2.8 VC, 135L, 70-200 f4L, Laowa 15mm 1:1 macro, 50mm f1.8 STM, Samyang 8mm fisheye, home studio

  
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pulsar123
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Nov 03, 2015 15:23 |  #5

A short update. Laowa sent me a replacement copy of the lens, I did testing similar to the one above, and I can confirm that the new copy of the lens is obviously better: corners are sharper for both non-shifted and shifted cases, now very close to (but still a touch worse) than my Sigma 10-20mm lens.

If anyone interested I can post here the same kinds of comparison images I did with my first copy.


6D, Tamron 24-70 f2.8 VC, 135L, 70-200 f4L, Laowa 15mm 1:1 macro, 50mm f1.8 STM, Samyang 8mm fisheye, home studio

  
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Laowa (Venus) 15mm f4 shift lens for non-macro work: you need a good copy
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