If you're a fan of extreme lenses, the Venus Optics Laowa 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 lens is one that should definitely be on your radar. With its insane focal length, it's a fascinating lens to shoot with — both a lot of fun and a challenge. Check out our review of this interesting lens.
I've owned the Voigtlander 10mm f/5.6 lens for about a year now. I've always had a fascination with unique lenses and the fun and challenges that come with shooting them. The problem with such a wide lens is that the opportunities where you could really shoot with such a focal length are often few and far between. That's why I found the Laowa 10-18mm so appealing on paper: it offers the fun of 10mm along with a far more practical focal length range that makes the lens much more usable in more situations.
- Focal length range: 10-18mm
- Aperture range: (f/4.5-f/5.6)-f/22
- Maximum magnification: 0.25x
- Minimum focus distance: 5.91"
- 14 elements in 10 groups
- 5 diaphragm blades
- Dimensions: 3.6" by 2.76"
- Weight: 1.1 lbs (496 g)
- 37mm rear filter
Build Quality, Design, and Ergonomics
The Laowa is remarkably small, but both hefty and sturdy. It fits easily in the palm of your hand at only 3.6" long, but its metal construction feels quite solid and gives it a weight of 1.1 lbs (496 g). The lens has the normal focal distance markings along with a built-in hood. The focal ring moves very smoothly and is well damped to allow precise movement, as is the focal length ring. The aperture ring can also be declicked if desired, a great feature for video shooters. While the lens is not fully weather sealed, it was able to handle a misty rain just fine.
It should be noted the lens is manual focus only, but in practice, that's really not a big deal. Given the minimum apertures and focal length, the working depth of field is normally plenty to get the shot, plus you have the focus aids of the Sony system.
A rather innovative design element is the filter holder. Because of the front element, one would normally need a large and expensive external system. However, the Laowa comes with screw-in 37mm filter behind the rear element. This allows you to easily use ND filters much more cheaply as well. The one downside of the lens design is that it doesn't transmit EXIF data, which can be a bit of a pain if you like to organize your shots by focal length or if you're trying to do things like automatic distortion correction.
Bokeh, Flare, Aberrations, and Distortion
Given the lens' aperture and focal lengths, don't expect any extreme bokeh from it. That being said, out of focus elements are rendered quite pleasantly without being distracting. Flare resistance is pretty average. Particularly at the wide end, you'll often see ghosting, which can be difficult to deal with simply because at such a wide focal length, there's so much in the frame that it can be difficult to remove the offending source.
Aberrations are quite well controlled; chromatic aberration is visible, more so at the wide end, but it's not particularly prominent and easily removed with the sliders in Lightroom. Distortion is visible at both ends, coming as mustache distortion at the 10mm end and pincushion distortion at the 18mm end, with an area of essentially zero distortion around the middle of the focal length range. The pincushion distortion is pretty mild and not particularly noticeable. The mustache distortion is a bit more prominent, though certainly correctable and not enough to bother me in most shots.
Vignetting tends to be typical of an ultrawide lens, namely, it's fairly strong at the wide end, but does improve near the long end. I tend not to mind a bit of vignetting and will generally add a bit in post-production if it's not already there, but it is something to be aware of. Stopping down doesn't do much to improve it.
With a minimum focus distance of 5.91" that translates to 0.25x maximum magnification, you can get some fairly unique perspectives when combined with the crazy focal lengths, offering rather unique compositional opportunities and adding to the sheer fun of using such a lens.
Center sharpness is quite good across the zoom range (and better at the wide end). Stopping down improves it, as expected. Corner sharpness is acceptable (particularly considering the size, cost, and focal range of the lens), though stopping down generally doesn't improve it much. That being said, I never found myself in a situation where I felt a lack of sharpness was detracting from the image. Overall sharpness was definitely comparable to the Voigtlander prime, quite an accomplishment for such a compact zoom lens with such an extreme focal length range.
Color and Contrast
Contrast out of the Laowa is good. It's not super high, as you might see out of something like a Zeiss prime, but it's plenty to work with in post to achieve the look you want, even when shooting in difficult situations that normally cause loss of contrast. Colors are good too, though the lens exhibits a slight green color cast in the corners at the wide end. This can be corrected fairly easily in Photoshop, and it's only really noticeable if you have brighter areas in the corners, but it is something to be aware of. Otherwise, colors are quite good.
With the five-blade diaphragm, you get 10-point sun stars, which I personally think are a good, natural look (18-point sun stars and the like tend to be a bit distracting, in my opinion). Another intangible is simply the wide focal length. It's hard to describe what it's like to shoot at 10mm on a full frame camera in words: walking with your eye to the viewfinder can be disorienting, and it's actually quite easy to accidentally get your feet in a shot. And of course, those aren't knocks against the lens; they're more to illustrate just how extreme the experience is, and for that alone, I think it's worth it. It's an absolute blast shooting from such a unique perspective, and it can give you some images you simply couldn't get otherwise. Shooting at 10mm is a real challenge, but I also think it's quite fun and rewarding.
The other thing to note is simply the value. The lens is about $100 cheaper than the Voigtlander 10mm f/5.6 and comes with a zoom range, wider maximum aperture at the wide end, and generally comparable image quality. I had a lot of fun with my Voigtlander when I first got it, but it's often not in my bag simply because the situations where you can really use such an extreme focal length are rare. On the other hand, 10-18mm is quite useful, and given the compact size of the lens, it essentially lives in my messenger bag along with my two other go-to lenses.
What I Liked
- Compact size
- Solid construction
- Close minimum focus distance
- Rear filter thread
- Center sharpness is good
- Contrast and color are good
- Good control of aberrations
What I Didn't Like
- No EXIF data
- Sharpness in corners
- Color cast in corners
I've enjoyed shooting with the Laowa 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 lens quite a bit; it's a unique lens that's quite affordable considering its qualifications. If you'd like to purchase one of your own, you can do so here.