Laowa 12mm f/2.8

Full-Frame Non-Distorting Ultra-Ultrawide

Sample Images   Intro   Format   Compatibility

Specifications   Performance   Compared

Usage   Recommendations

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Venus Laowa 12mm f/2.8

Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8 (21.7 oz./615g, about $949) bigger. It comes in mounts for Canon, for Nikon, for Sony mirrorless, for Sony DSLR and for Pentax. I 'd get it at Adorama or at B&H.

This ad-free website's biggest source of support is when you use those or any of these links to my personally-approved sources when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Laowa does not seal its boxes in any way, so never buy at retail or any other source not on my personally approved list since you'll have no way of knowing if you're missing accessories, getting a defective, damaged, returned, store demo or used lens. Buy only from the approved sources I use myself for the best prices, service, return policies and selection. Thanks for helping me help you! Ken.

 

May 2017    Nikon   Canon   Sony   Fuji   LEICA   Minolta   Zeiss   Laowa   All Reviews

How to Use Ultrawide Lenses

Why fixed lenses take better pictures

Canon 11-24mm

Laowa 12mm f/2.8

Nikon 13mm f/5.6

Canon 14mm f/2.8L

Canon 14mm f/2.8L II

Nikon 14mm f/2.8 AF-D

Niikon 14-24mm f/2.8 G

Nikon 15mm f/5.6

Nikon 15mm f/3.5 AI-s

Canon 16-35mm f/4 L IS

Nikon 16-35mm f/4 VR

 

Sample Images

Top   Sample Images   Intro   Format

Compatibility   Specifications

Performance   Compared

Usage   Recommendations

As shot on my Canon 5DSR. Except for the first image, all have had their sides cropped-off to fit the 4:3 aspect ratio optimized for the real estate multiple listing service for which these were shot.

Click any for the full-resolution uncropped images:

Nellie Gail's Finest Home: Poker Flats Place

Nellie Gail's Finest Home: Poker Flats Place

Nellie Gail's Finest Home: Poker Flats Place

Nellie Gail's Finest Home: Poker Flats Place

Nellie Gail's Finest Home: Poker Flats Place

Nellie Gail's Finest Home: Poker Flats Place

Nellie Gail's Finest Home: Poker Flats Place

Nellie Gail's Finest Home: Poker Flats Place

Nellie Gail's Finest Home: Poker Flats Place

Nellie Gail's Finest Home: Poker Flats Place

Nellie Gail's Finest Home: Poker Flats Place

These are all from a real estate listing I shot in Nellie Gail Ranch, Orange County, California.

 

Introduction

Top   Sample Images   Intro   Format

Compatibility   Specifications

Performance   Compared

Usage   Recommendations

Adorama Pays Top Dollar for Used Gear

B&H Photo - Video - Pro Audio

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I buy only from these approved sources. I can't vouch for ads below.

Venus Optics' Laowa 12mm f/2.8 has great optics, and it's wider than anything available from Sony, Nikon or Pentax.

Its ultra-ultrawide view is idea for making homes look huge.

Four unexpected befits of this lens are:

1.) It's so wide; 122,º in a small and inexpensive package. Nikon's 13mm f/5.6 is huge and unavailable, Nikon's 14-24mm is nowhere near as wide, and Canon's 11-24mm weighs twice as much and costs three times as much as this little 12mm lens.

2.) It's sharp! This 12mm lens' optics are top notch.

3.) Low distortion. All the other modern ultra-ultrawides have significant distortion I need to correct in Photoshop to keep architectural lines really straight, while with this lens I usually can use the images as-shot. Canon's 11-24mm is today's top real estate and general purpose ultra-ultrawide lens, but it has strong distortion that needs to be corrected for critical use. Ditto for Nikon's 14mm f/2.8 and 14-24mm lenses: they all need distortion correction you can skip with this 12mm lens. Nikon's 13mm f/5.6 has less distortion — if you can find one.

4.) It's super-fast, f/2.8. Canon's 11-24mm f/4 is a stop slower and Nikon's 13mm f/5.6 is two stops slower. It's nice to be able to see what I'm doing through my viewfinder with this lens.

So yes, when you need the widest of the wide, especially for real estate and architecture where you're on a tripod to ensure careful leveling, this Chinese lens can be better than the name brand lenses. How about that?

This lens has great optics, but the gotcha is that this lens has zero electronic interface or automation. It's a dumb lens; on my Canon I shoot completely manually on a tripod. This is not a lens to shoot quickly handheld; for most uses, Nikon and Canon's lenses offer automation and complete electronic communication so you can just point and shoot with automatic exposure and focus.

 

Venus Laowa 12mm f/2.8

Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8. bigger.

 

Format

Top   Sample Images   Intro   Format

Compatibility   Specifications

Performance   Compared

Usage   Recommendations

This is a full frame (FX) lens, and I'll be reviewing it on full frame.

It works on APS-C cameras, but you're wasting most of this lens' performance. It sees only a 100º angle of view on APS-C, same as an 18mm lens on full-frame. Use the Canon 10-18mm or the Nikon 10-24mm for better performance for less money on APS-C cameras. This is a full-frame lens and should be used on full-frame.

 

Compatibility

Top   Sample Images   Intro   Format

Compatibility   Specifications

Performance   Compared

Usage   Recommendations

 

It comes in mounts for Canon, for Nikon, for Sony mirrorless, for Sony DSLR and for Pentax.

It is manual-focus only.

 

On Canon

I've tested the Canon version here.

It is primitive: there is absolutely no communication between lens and camera.

Even the diaphragm is completely manual; you have to open and close it for each shot by hand.

There is no focus confirmation in the finder. Focus on the ground glass, or use Live View.

Automatic exposure works, but only in Av mode and isn't always consistent.

Because the camera has no idea what lens is mounted, the EXIF data has no information about focal length or aperture.

 

On Nikon

The Nikon version should perform the same as an AI-converted lens. See Nikon Lens Compatibility for more (treat this as an AI-converted lens), but on FX cameras this means that so long as you enter the lens data manually in the Non-CPU Lens Data menu of your camera (usually at MENU > Wrench > Non-CPU Lens Data), you should get excelent Matrix Metering, aperture-preferred automatic exposure and EXIF data.

Nikon has no way to enter 12mm in its Non-CPU Lens Data. Use 13mm and f/2.8 instead and all should be well.

 

On Other Cameras

It will work differently on different cameras.

It probably won't interface with any of your camera's electronics; expect to have to set exposure manually.

No worries, order from Adorama or from B&H and if you hate it, you can send it back for a full cash refund.

 

Specifications

Top   Sample Images   Intro   Format

Compatibility   Specifications

Performance   Compared

Usage   Recommendations

 

Name

Venus Optics (China) calls this the Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D.

 

Optics

Venus Laowa 12mm f/2.8

Internal optical construction.

16 elements in 10 groups.

2 aspherical elements.

3 extra low dispersion elements.

Multicoated; front smudge-resistant coating.

Rear focus.

 

Diaphragm

Venus Laowa 12mm f/2.8

Venus Optics Laowa 12mm at f/5.6. bigger.

 

13 blades, Canon mount. (Laowa specifies 7).

Completely manual operation; open to focus and stop down by hand to shoot, Canon mount.

Stops down to f/22 with full-stop clicks.

 

Angle of View, Full Frame

122º diagonal.

 

Autofocus

NONE.

 

Infinty Focus Stop

Yes.

 

Close Focus

0.6 feet (0.18 meters).

 

Maximum Reproduction Ratio

1:5 (0.2 ×).

 

Image Stabilizer

None.

 

Filters

None.

You'll have to tape gels to the rear or futz with an external front filter adapter. There rarely work well with lenses this wide because the lens will see to the sides and see reflections off the back of the filter.

 

Hood

Bayonet metal hood included; I've shown the lens with it attached here.

It can reverse if you like.

 

Case

None.

 

Size

3.27" maximum diameter with hood as shown × 2.95" extension from flange.

83 mm maximum diameter with hood as shown × 75 mm extension from flange.

 

Weight

21.700 oz. (615.1g), actual measured weight, Canon mount with hood as shown.

Venus Optics specifies 21.5 oz. (609g).

 

Announced

2016.

 

Price, USA

$949, May 2017.

 

Performance

Top   Sample Images   Intro   Format

Compatibility   Specifications

Performance   Compared

Usage   Recommendations

 

Overall   Autofocus   Manual Focus   Breathing

Bokeh   Distortion   Ergonomics   Exposure

Falloff   Filters   Lateral Color Fringes    Macro

Mechanics   Sharpness   Sunstars

 

Overall

Performance          top

The Laowa 12mm f/2.8 has great optics in a tough mount, but it has little to no modern electronic or automation ability. It's a glass lens in a metal mount and that's it.

 

Autofocus

Performance          top

None.

 

Manual Focus

performance          top

Manual focus is traditional: turn the ring.

On Canon it has no way to work with the in-finder AF confirmation dots. Use Live View for the most precise focus, or just set the distance on the focus ring.

 

Focus Breathing

Performance          top

Focus breathing is the image changing size as focused in and out. It's important to cinematographers because it looks funny if the image changes size as focus gets pulled back and forth between actors. If the lens does this, the image "breathes" by growing and contracting slightly as the dialog goes back and forth.

The image from this 12mm lens grows as focussed more closely.

 

Bokeh

Performance          top

Bokeh, the feel or quality of out-of-focus areas as opposed to how far out of focus they are, is only fair, but this doesn't matter as there is almost never anything out of focus with a 12mm lens.

Here's a shot at (gasp) headshot distance at f/2.8:

Venus Laowa 12mm f/2.8

Davis 6250 weather station, May 2017. bigger or camera-original © file to explore on your computer (mobile devices rarely display full resolutions images properly).

 

Distortion

Performance          top

Distortion is the lowest I've ever seen with any modern lens this wide. It has minor to moderate barrel distortion, far less than the strong barrel distortion of the other lenses I've mentioned.

If you need to correct it, use a factor of +2.0 in Photoshop's lens distortion filter and it corrects completely.

 

Ergonomics

Performance          top

Venus Laowa 12mm f/2.8

Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8. bigger.

Focus is fully damped. It's smooth but stiff turning the focus ring. It's unlikely to get knocked accidentally.

The biggest ergonomic potential problem is the complete lack of electronics or communication with your camera. It will be slow to reset exposure, the diaphragm and focus for each shot manually.

 

Exposure

Performance          top

You will need to use manual exposure. It is unlikely that it will couple well to your camera's meter since, depending on which brand of camera you use, it probably lacks any meter or electronic coupling.

 

Falloff

Performance          top

Falloff on full-frame is moderate at f/2.8, mostly gone at f/4 and completely gone by f/5.6.

 

Filters, use with

performance          top

There are no front filter threads and no rear slot for gels.

You may be able to use an external front adapter to use very large filters, but be careful to shield it from light so that the lens doesn't see reflections off the rear surface of the filter on the sides. Remember that in the corners this lens is looking more to the side than it is to the front!

Don't use polarizers on ultrawide lenses; the sky's natural polarization will appear as a dark band in the sky.

 

Lateral Color Fringes

Performance          top

I see some minor yellow-green/violet fringes in the far corners of full-frame if I'm deliberately shooting black fences against the sky on my 50MP Canon 5DSR, but none in real shooting.

This is excellent.

 

Macro

Performance          top

It focuses to within inches of the front element.

You won't use this for traditional macro photography, but you can use it for very crazy exaggerated perspective effects.

 

Mechanical Quality

Performance          top

Venus Laowa 12mm f/2.8

Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8. bigger.

This is an all metal lens with engraved markings. It feels exactly like a Japanese off-brand lens from the 1970s. In this respect it feels better than anything else from the Orient today: no plastic.

With no electronics, no rubber and no plastic, this lens should easily perform well for 50 years or more.

 

Hood

Black anodized aluminium.

 

Front Bumper

None.

 

Filter Threads

None.

 

Hood Bayonet Mount

Black anodized aluminium.

 

Front Barrel

Black anodized aluminium.

 

Focus Ring

Black anodized aluminium.

 

Mid Barrel

Black anodized aluminium.

 

Aperture Ring

Black anodized aluminium.

 

Rear Barrel

Black anodized aluminium.

 

Identity

Printed on ring around front element.

 

Internals

Seem like all metal!

 

Moisture Seal at Mount

No.

 

Mount

Dull chromed metal.

 

Markings

Mostly engraved and filled with paint.

 

Serial Number

None found.

 

Date Code

None found.

 

Noises When Shaken

Nearly silent; nothing but a slight tick from a few diaphragm blades.

 

Made in

China.

 

Sharpness

Performance          top

This is a sharp lens; the only limitation to sharpness is your skill as a photographer.

If you're shooting a 50MP Canon 5DSR wide-open at f/2.8 and then looking in the last few millimeters of the corners it is a little softer, but stopped down and for every legitimate use it's ultra-sharp.

This is confirmed by the MTF chart: it's ultra sharp unless you go looking for trouble in the corners wide-open, which are still plenty sharp:

Laowa 12mm MTF

Venus' MTF chart at 10 cyc/mm and 30 cyc/mm.

 

Sunstars

Performance          top

With the 13 blades of my Canon version, I can't see any sunstars on brilliant points of light.

 

Compared

Top   Sample Images   Intro   Format

Compatibility   Specifications

Performance   Compared

Usage   Recommendations

 

Nikon's 14mm f/2.8 and Canon's 14mm f/2.8 lenses aren't as wide. They are far more practical for hand-held use because they autofocus and have automatic exposure control and automatic diaphragms, but if you need ultra-ultrawide for a competitive advantage, these older lenses aren't as wide. They are more practical, but less wide.

Nikon's 13mm f/5.6 has even less distortion, but even if you can buy, borrow or rent one it's worth more than $30,000 (used) today, so I'm no longer comfortable shooting the Nikon 13mm in the field in case I drop it. The Nikon 13mm has ascended to LEICA Heaven as a classic whose value is driven by its collectors' value.

Canon's 11-24mm is a fantastic lens. It's sharper and wider and far more practical with full electronic communication and control, but also much bigger and heavier and more likely to need touch ups in Photoshop to correct its distortion. If you shoot for a living full time, of course the Canon 11-24mm is a better lens for three times the price.

Nikon's 14-24mm isn't as wide and it's bigger and heavier and has more distortion and it's twice the price, but it is sharper wide open and very practical with full electronic communication and automation.

 

Usage

Top   Sample Images   Intro   Format

Compatibility   Specifications

Performance   Compared

Usage   Recommendations

This lens is not good for hand-holding. It lives to be shot on a tripod for exacting work.

On Canon, this is a completely mechanical lens that has zero communication with Canon's EOS Electro-Optical System. You focus by scale or with Live View, and set exposure manually.

Focus at f/2.8, and then stop down manually for each exposure. You have to open and close the diaphragm manually, something most lenses since the 1960s have done automatically.

Even slight lack of level will lead to large apparent tilts in the image with ultra-ultrawide lenses. I always use the  Bogen Manfrotto 3275 410 Geared Head for precise alignment. In-camera levels probably aren't precise enough; I just look at the edges of my finder.

 

Recommendations

Top   Sample Images   Intro   Format

Compatibility   Specifications

Performance   Compared

Usage   Recommendations

This is a great lens for ultra-ultrawide shots on a tripod. It's less good for hand-held use due to its lack of automation and every ultra-ultrawide's need for precise leveling — if you want to keep things squared-up as I show above.

It's well made and should last a lifetime. There's no rubber or plastic to get gooey or fall off, and no electronics to become incompatible with future cameras.

It comes in mounts for Canon, for Nikon, for Sony mirrorless, for Sony DSLR and for Pentax. I 'd get it at Adorama or at B&H .

This ad-free website's biggest source of support is when you use those or any of these links to approved sources when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Laowa does not seal its boxes in any way, so never buy at retail or any other source not on my personally approved list since you'll have no way of knowing if you're missing accessories, getting a defective, damaged, returned, store demo or used lens. I use the stores I do because they ship from secure remote warehouses where no one gets to touch your new camera before you do. Buy only from the approved sources I use myself for the best prices, service, return policies and selection.

Thanks for helping me help you!

Ken, Mrs. Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.

 

© Ken Rockwell. All rights reserved. Tous droits réservés. Alle Rechte vorbehalten.

 

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11 May 2017