Laowa 15mm f/4.5 Shift Lens Versus Canon TS-E 17mm f/4.0L: Which Is the Best Wide Angle Shift Lens?

For many architectural photographers, the widest viable lens has been the Canon 17mm tilt-shift for some time. In some sense, this lens is pretty much a requirement, because there are plenty of occasions where a 24mm lens just isn't wide enough. The problem is that this lens isn't exactly cheap, but fortunately, we now have a new alternative. 

Venus Optics recently released its latest lens, the Laowa 15mm f/4.5 Zero-D Shift lens. This is now the widest shift lens on the market that is actually viable for architecture. As the name would suggest, this is a zero distortion lens, similar to the Laowa 12mm f/2.8, which is important when you're photographing buildings. Due to the fact that this lens is clearly aimed towards architectural photographers, I wanted to see how it compares to the Canon TS-E 17mm f/4.0L lens. 

In our latest video, we take both lenses out and test them in several conditions to see which lens is the better choice. With a price point of $1,199, the Laowa is a very attractive option, especially when you consider the price of the Canon lens. 

Check out the full video linked above to see if the Laowa is the better choice or if it's worth spending more for the Canon. 

Usman Dawood's picture

Usman Dawood is a professional architectural photographer based in the UK.

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I’m surprised there’s no mention of the Laowa 12mm zero D used in combination with the Magic Shift converter which yields an 18mm effective lens with shift capability. Especially since the combination is priced similarly to the Laowa 15mm shift lens by itself, but with the combination having the added benefit of yielding essentially two lenses: a 12mm/2.8 plus an 18mm/4 with shift capability. If and when I migrate to Sony that’ll be my first purchase.

We already compared that to the 17mm in another video, link below :).

you did not mention that the Laowa (must) have a manual aperture. An automatic aperture like the 17mm TS/E has is very helpful in many situations (for me). Otherwise you have to focus stopped down or always have to open and close the aperture.

I briefly mentioned it when discussing the build and design of it.

Curious what situations you’re using the 17T/S-E where you find the extra speed of electronic aperture useful?

I don’t have one but for my uses it’d be living on a tripod for carefully arranged shots. And without autofocus it’s going to be tough for any sort of run and gun, and if you needed to run and gun a manual focus lens I’d assume you’d be using stopped down hyperfocal anyways. Edit: I guess stopped down hyperfocal shooting on a manual focus lens on an SLR would suck due to a dark viewfinder, so there’s that. But of course peolle used to do just that before electronic cameras.

Not that I can imagine run and gun with that large protruding front element anyways.

I used the 17mm TS/E since 2013, in the beginning even on the Leica M9 range finder with some tricks to stop it down.

Later with the Sony A7R I used it with a smart adapter, that can control the electronic aperture. So I was able to use focus peaking with open aperture for best focusing.

I shoot very often hand held using the levels in the finder and even did a lot of hand held shots for panorama stitching, even inside churches like this one

I used the tilt a few times for shots in the wood from near the ground but for architecture it is more or less useless. I just stop down for the needed DOF.

I would like to use a shift lens on my Leica M 246 Monochrom and therefore a manual aperture would be better.
I like the coming 14mm Zero-D very much and consider to buy the Leica M mount version and use it on the Sony as well. And I can use filters on it, that I need for B&W photography!

The question for me is now, if these advantages in combination with 1mm wider lens are the better solution than a shift lens? :-)

SLR? I sold my last camera Nikon D3 with a mirror many years ago, mirrorless is so much more flexible. My only last camera with a mirror is my Hasselblad :-))

I just asked Laowa for a dealer in Germany, who has the 14mm with Leica mount on stock
and ordered it a few minutes ago :-)))

Video is busted.

Busted? Sorry I don't understand what you mean, could you explain please?

Wouldn't play. But then I found that all the vids on this site were not streaming.
Works now.
Now I get to enjoy your usual informative content.

You're too kind, thank you :).

Terrific video Usman, thank you.  
I'm curious if you've shot indoors with the Laowa 15mm Shift and if you've noticed issues with coma.  I have found this to be the fatal flaw with the Laowa 12mm + MSC combo.  Shooting indoors with potlights above created an elongated flare from the specular highlight that was unnatural, downright ugly, and time-consuming to remove.

That limitation pushed me to buy a used 17mm TSE this fall.  While I feel vindicated by your conclusion with this comparison I'm disappointed the 15mm Shift is slightly hindered by some of the same problems as previous Laowa lenses.

Hi Usman. Thanks for the review. I wanted to read some reviews whilst comparing to the 17mm before purchasing this lens. I am a Nikon user, so the 17mm has to work through an adaptor. The flare and lens coating is an important issue. Its something that would really bug me to the point of paying double to rectify. I wonder if they will have a mk2 with the coatings? I very frequently use my hands to shield the lens from the sun including putting a finger(s) in the image to cover it. I recently bought a tilt and shift adaptor, however as the lenses are not built for a bigger mount, I can only get 5mm shift which makes it pretty useless. It works better on the old manual focus prime lenses, but still that is better for tilt focus effects than shifting.

I'm not certain Venus Optics will be producing a Mark II version of this lens with coatings anytime in the next 5 years. I think Canon may produce something for their RF mount cameras though.