Fstoppers Reviews the Laowa 4mm Fisheye for Sony APS-C

Fstoppers Reviews the Laowa 4mm Fisheye for Sony APS-C

Fisheye lenses are always nice to have in your bag. Though they may not always be applicable, especially for professional work, having a nice fisheye lens adds a certain spice to your photos. 

Today, we take a look at this new fisheye lens from Venus Optics Laowa, a circular 4mm lens with 210° angle of view. I don't think anyone has gone wider than that, and honestly, I don't think anyone should. 

Build and Design

Laowa 4mm mounted on a Sony a6500

The lens itself is about three inches long from the tip of the rounded front element all the way to the mounting threads. This may be as minimalist as lens designs can go, really because the lens has just enough space for the necessary labels: one line for the barrel with the lens labels, another line on the focus ring that goes from 0.2 m straight to infinity, and the last line for aperture values on the aperture ring. The lens cap is a metal cap (or maybe better called a top hat) that engulfs about two-thirds of the lens. Overall, three inches of a lens shouldn't be much of a hassle to squeeze into your camera bag, especially considering the fun photos it can contribute. While this lens comes in a very small and light body, it's made up of all metal and glass. No plastic whatsoever. Even the moving parts like the focus and aperture rings are metal, which gives the impression that this tiny lens is quite durable. 

Output and Angle of View

If it hasn't occurred to you yet, this lens has 210 degrees of vision; that's 30 degrees backwards. Imagine raising your arms to the sides and trying to reach back even farther. That's how wide the angle of view actually is. That means that it's bound to capture on the outermost portion of the photo anything that is in front of the glass. That includes most commonly the grip of your camera and ultimately, your fingers. But don't worry, those details are going to be too minute to be bothersome anyway. This is the consequence of going that wide. 

My fingers and part of the camera at 3 o'clock

That said, the resulting images are actually quite sharp. At f/5.6, about 85% of the entire image is sharp, 10% moderately sharp, and the outer 5% blurred out. That 5% is actually beneficial to blur out distracting elements in front of the camera anyway. 

You can see some decline in sharpness starting at the lower fifth of this frame, which corresponds to about 10% of the entire frame.

Ease of Use

A fisheye lens like this is really quite easy to use. As the markings on the focus ring suggest, either you focus on something close (around 0.2 meters) or you focus on everything else (focus to infinity). That means that missing focus really should not be a problem. 

Aperture control on the outermost ring and the focus ring with a tab on the bottom

The resulting image will be a circular image right smack in the middle of the frame. Switching your aspect ratio to 1:1 basically crops most of the negative space out and cuts off almost at the circumference of the image. 

Shot with the Laowa 4mm on a Sony A6500

What I Liked 

  • Easy to use
  • Small and portable
  • Extreme angle of view 
  • All-metal build

What I Didn't Like

  • Frame includes camera grip and photographer's fingers
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3 Comments

I have the problem of fingers getting in the frame with the 190 degree Meike 6.5mm F2 too. The smaller grips on the A5x00 models are better. The inexpensive Meike is sharp wide-open.

It looks like the image circle is much smaller with lens. How much unused sensor height is there?

Tony Tumminello's picture

I've wanted to play with one of these for my E-M1 Mark II, but I know that the grip (and subsequently my fingers) would be in every single shot. Also from what I've read, you don't get a "true" circular fisheye on M43 as it crops the top and bottom of the image due to the smaller sensor size.

Robert Montgomery's picture

I would think that its a lens design error. 4:3 is what we call use to call an ideal format ratio. It is in the same ratio line as 35mm FF, and 645MF and 6X9MF and both 4X5 & 8X10 LF size. So the mathimatical error falls to the lens and not the sensor size in this example. Crop sizes are a different story .