The Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D Lens features nearly the widest rectilinear (not a heavily-barrel-distorted fisheye lens) focal length available in a full frame compatible lens (a pair of 11mm options currently hold that record) and while that extreme wide angle of view alone creates a great attraction for this lens, the wide f/2.8 aperture makes this lens exceptional. As of review time, no other full frame lens wider than 14mm has an aperture wider than f/4. The value of this lens continues well beyond these features – how about the near-zero linear distortion hinted at by the "Zero-D" in the name? Currently, no other 12mm lens option has so little distortion. The small size and the quality build of this lens are additional desireables.
If you find those attributes interesting, you may have found your lens – as long as only the most basic lens features are required. Understand that this is a manual focus and manual aperture lens that does not report any information (not even the aperture used) to the camera. In a lens this wide, most can deal with these lacking features.
I often say that one way to have your images stand out and get noticed is to use an extreme lens and the very-fun-to-use 12mm rectilinear lens easily qualifies as such. The Laowa 12's 121.96° diagonal angle of view takes in a simply vast scene.
To see how 12mm fits into the neighboring focal lengths, I'll sandwich a Laowa 12mm sample picture within a comparison example captured with the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens.
Compare the widest focal length currently in your kit with 12mm to see what you are missing. The Laowa frames the scene slightly narrower than the Canon at its 12mm setting.
What is a 12mm lens used for? Some of the most popular 12mm uses include landscape, nightscape, real estate, interior and architecture photography.
This focal length permits even large structures to be photographed from close-enough distances to avoid obstructions including trees, signs, power lines and other buildings. Of course, tilting the camera upward illustrates another common ultra-wide angle lens trait – perspective distortion.
This building does not really get narrower at the top and if photographed from above, the same building would appear to be wider at the top instead of at the bottom. To keep vertical lines parallel in the frame requires keeping the camera level and that leads to another use of an ultra-wide angle focal length. While it is often not practical to find an adequately-elevated position from which to photograph large buildings ideally centered in the frame with a level camera, it is sometimes possible to move back far enough to contain the building in the frame with a ground-level-positioned camera. The image can then be cropped to center the building if desired. Here is an example:
While there is less resolution remaining after cropping, the lines are straight. A tilt-shift lens is the ideal solution to this issue, but ... if one doesn't have such a lens in the kit (or in the pack), the wide angle option can be used.
Because of the perspective this lens provides, real estate photographers will find it especially valuable for making their properties appear large. With distant objects appearing very small relative to the foreground subjects, even small rooms appear spacious when photographed at 12mm.
While telephoto focal lengths are more commonly used for sports, wide angles have their place at these events, enabling the venue to be seen along with the participants.
This lens will make a great option for attaching to a remote camera at sporting events, capturing the start and/or finish of a race, covering the goal, mounted over the basket, etc. It will also capture the big image of the arena and it will work for the overhead shot of the MVP sports figure being mobbed for interviews after a big game.
Wedding photographers will find this lens useful for capturing the venue. Place the bride and groom in the foreground, the wedding party behind them and allow the entire cathedral to fill the rest of the frame for a stunning album cover photo. Note that it may be best to not get too close to human subjects as the perspective distortion is not found attractive by most, but 12mm environmental portraits can look great.
There are of course many other photography subjects to be captured with the 12mm focal length.
Ultra-wide angle lens photography challenges include keeping unwanted subjects out of the frame. You might want to wear scene-complementing shoes when working with this lens as ... it is easy to include them in the frame. Keeping your own shadow from contaminating the scene is a similar challenge. Or, consider wearing a nice hat and embracing the selfie shadow aspect.
Do you ever feel like you are in a photographic rut? The challenge of creating compelling extreme wide angle compositions may pull you out of it. While it is easy to go out and simply shoot images with an ultra-wide focal length, these image will, more often than not, look like ... snapshots. An ultra-wide angle of view pushes the background away, making it much smaller in the frame relative to close foreground subjects and ideal compositions often embrace this attribute. For striking ultra-wide angle imagery, try incorporate an interesting, close foreground subject along with a complementary/supporting midground and background in the scene.
Unless working in a tight space, there is going to be a lot of background in the scene and keeping the entire background attractive becomes challenging in many locations.
A 12mm lens is far less exciting from a focal length perspective when placed in front of an APS-C/1.5x or 1.6x FOVCF sensor format camera where it provides a 19.2mm full frame-equivalent angle of view. The APS-C angle of view is less exciting and, because there are many APS-C zoom lenses covering 12mm and even wider focal lengths, the utilized AOV is less unique. But, there remains some merit in creating a full frame-compatible lens kit behind an APS-C body, including a planned future upgrade to a full frame camera.
As of review time, if you want a full frame lens with a focal length wider than 14mm and an aperture wider than f/4, the Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D Lens is your only choice. The f/2.8 aperture in this lens allows twice as much light to reach the camera's imaging sensor than any of the alternatives.
Why does an extreme wide angle lens need a wide aperture? While not everyone needs f/2.8 at 12mm, there are some good reasons to have it.
The first reason is to stop action in low light levels. Think nightscapes. With the earth constantly turning and with the very low light conditions found at night, an f/2.8 aperture permits shutter speeds short enough to avoid star trails while using less-noisy ISO settings (3200 instead of 6400 for example). The action this lens can stop is not limited to just the night sky: people move, flora blows in the wind, etc.
The other reason that f/2.8 is attractive is for the shallower depth of field and the resulting stronger background blur it creates. Of course, a 12mm lens is not going to be the first choice for most who want to completely blur the background away as the background details are rendered small, showing less enlargement of the blurred details. But, if 12mm is the right focal length for the scenario, this lens can create more blur than the current alternatives. Let's look at a set of aperture examples:
Utilizing this lens' minimum focus distance, the images above illustrate the maximum blur this lens can create. While the rest of the about-2" (5cm) blossums on this apple tree remain recognizable as such, they are noticeably more-blurred at f/2.8 than at f/4. The last f/2.8 example, with a distance subject area, provides a most-blurred example.
Also illustrated above is the favored wide angle focal length technique (mentioned above) – move in very close to the subject. Use an extreme wide angle lens to emphasize a foreground subject in relation to minimized, made-small, background details.
As mentioned in the beginning of this review, this is a manual aperture lens and with that feature comes a now-infrequently-seen-on-a-prime-lens second ring – the manual aperture ring. The Laowa 12's aperture ring is relatively small with a high-quality feel to it. It is very smooth with detent stops at each full aperture setting.
With a manual aperture implementation, the diaphragm blades are immediately closed to the established setting vs. remaining open until the exposure is made (more typical with lenses built today). The aperture closes to the precise setting you choose, whether that is a click-stop setting or anything in-between. With the spacing of settings becoming much shorter at the narrow aperture end, it is easier to select an in-between setting at the wider apertures. Even at wide apertures, in-between aperture settings can only be estimated. As one acclimates to the lens, the aperture setting can practically be determined by the rotation distance between the click settings. The camera does not recognize the aperture setting of this lens (it will not show in the viewfinder or EXIF) and, aside from looking at the aperture ring, the only way to know the aperture setting is to learn how to determine it by feel, either by counting clicks from a known setting or by learning the spacing.
Manual aperture lenses provide full-time depth of field preview. While seeing the actual depth of field at the selected aperture can be advantageous, there are a couple of downsides. The first is that the viewfinder is darkened at narrow aperture settings. At f/2.8, the viewfinder is bright, but at f/5.6, there is noticeable darkening and the dimming gets worse as the lens is further stopped down. Another consideration is that, since this is a manual focus lens, the increased depth of field provided by narrow apertures makes precise focusing more difficult. With this and similar lenses, I like to compose (for the brighter viewfinder) and focus (better precision availed by the shallower DOF) with the aperture set to f/2.8. I then adjust the aperture setting as desired prior to photographing.
While the camera's autoexposure system can be used with manual aperture lenses, I found it to be inaccurate at stopped down apertures (overexposing) including flash exposures. Using a manual exposure with a manual aperture lens is my preference, though keep in mind that using manual exposure mode can be challenging if shooting under rapidly changing light levels. Plus or minus exposure compensation can be very successfully used in auto exposure modes if a narrow range of apertures is in use. Of course, the extreme wide angle of view itself can complicate exposures, with one side of the frame potentially in direct sunlight and the other partially backlit.
With a manual aperture lens, the camera's Tv mode will work the same as full manual mode. You can change the shutter speed, but the aperture ring will also have to be manually turned to affect the final exposure.
Good image quality is a primary attribute desired from a lens and in regards to image quality, most would rate image sharpness, a combination of resolution and contrast, at the top of the wish list. Starting in the center of the Lawoa 12's frame, I don't think there is anyone that is going to be disappointed with the sharpness this lens delivers. Even with an ultra-high resolution Canon EOS 5Ds R behind it, the center of the frame image quality is razor sharp at f/2.8 and it holds that rating until diffraction kicks in at a much narrower aperture. The site's Image Quality Comparison Tool shows this attribute very nicely and here are a couple of real world center of the frame examples.
The following images were captured with a 50 megapixel EOS 5Ds R in RAW format and processed in DPP using the Standard Picture Style with sharpness set to "1" and cropped to 100% resolution.
The exposure durations for the images above and next-below sample crops were equalized, meaning the relative brightness of the aperture settings is reflected in the results. Specifically, the f/2.8 results show slightly darker than the f/4 and narrower results. The Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D Lens is delivering impressively-sharp results here.
Normal is for corner sharpness to lag behind center of the frame sharpness and while that is again the case with this lens, corners do not fall completely apart even at f/2.8. At f/2.8, the mid frame and corners are a somewhat soft and, as usual, they improve as the aperture is narrowed. By f/5.6 and especially at f/8, the corners are looking very nice.
Following are 3 sets of examples, showing results from extreme frame corners processed the same as the previous examples. The first set shows the top-left corner, the second set shows the bottom-left and top-right results are shown last.
Because vignetting is quite strong at f/2.8, an additional image was captured at this aperture with a +1 EV exposure dialed in. The brighter image is considerably easier to evaluate.
The images above do not tell the complete story. For the previous corner images, the lens was focused in the corner to ensure the sharpest image quality possible. However, the corners are sharpest at a slightly closer focus distance than the rest of the image circle. The following examples from the top-left corner better show what to expect in the field with the lens focused to/near infinity.
When used for landscape and architecture photography, the f/8 and f/11 apertures are typically used and at these apertures, this lens is performing quite well even in the extreme corners.
Note that we tested two copies of this lens and the results were nearly identical with the exception of one being slightly soft in, only, the far-upper-right corner. Unfortunately, that is the corner that we show in the image quality tool and it should be considered an exception.
If the lens has an ultra-wide angle focal length and a wide aperture, strong vignetting can be expected at that wide open aperture setting and that is what we find here. The amount of shading at f/2.8 is about 4.5 stops in the corners and that amount is quite noticeable. Even those using APS-C format cameras will see about 1.5 stops of shading in the corners at f/2.8.
Vignetting can be corrected during post processing with increased noise in the brightened areas being the penalty. Vignetting can also be simply embraced, using the effect to draw the viewer's eye toward the center of the frame. Alternatively, a narrower aperture can be used.
By f/4, corner shading is reduced to about 3 stops (and essentially out of the view of the APS-C image circle) and by f/5.6, only about 1.5 stops remain in full frame corners. A barely-noticeable just-over-1-stop remains at f/8 and about-1-stop remains through f/16.
Shown above is a 100% crop from the top left corner of a 5Ds R frame. There should only be black and white colors showing in this image, but obvious is that some color fringing is present along lines of high contrast running tangentially (meridionally, right angles to radii). Different colors of the spectrum being magnified differently with the mid and especially the periphery of the image circle showing the color misalignment usually indicates Lateral (or transverse) CA. This is not an unusual attribute of a wide angle lens and the amount showing here is modest. Fortunately, lateral CA is easily software corrected by radially shifting the colors to coincide.
A relatively common lens aberration is axial (longitudinal, bokeh) CA, which causes non-coinciding focal planes of the various wavelengths of light, or more simply, different colors of light are focused to different depths. Spherical aberration along with spherochromatism, or a change in the amount of spherical aberration with respect to color (looks quite similar to axial chromatic aberration, but is hazier) are additional common lens aberrations to look for. Axial CA remains at least somewhat persistent when stopping down with the color misalignment effect increasing with defocusing while the spherical aberration color halo shows little size change as the lens is defocused and stopping down one to two stops generally removes this aberration.
In the real world, lens defects do not exist in isolation with spherical aberration and spherochromatism generally found, at least to some degree, along with axial CA. These combine to create a less sharp, hazy-appearing image quality at the widest apertures. In regards to these aberrations, the Laowa 12 performs very well.
In the example above, indications of the presence of these aberrations would show as fringing colors in out of focus areas with specular highlights in the foreground showing a different fringing color than the same in the background. That the silver bracelets remain silver in both the foreground and background examples shows that these defects are not significantly affecting the image quality here.
With an extreme angle of view, it is not hard to get bright lights in the frame and bright lights in the frame can result in flaring. If photographing outdoors, the sun may be that bright light and if the sun is in the corner of the frame, this lens is going to show some flare effects. However, these effects are relatively mild. The effects of flare change as the aperture is varied and the strongest flaring is usually seen at the narrowest apertures, but even at f/16, this lens holds up well with the sun in the corner of the frame.
An extremely wide angle lens with the widest aperture in its class raises the question: Is the Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D Lens a good astrophotography lens? And, the first question that most astrophotographers want answered is: How much coma does this lens show in the corners? Coma is generally recognized by sharp contrast towards the center of an image and long, soft contrast transition toward the image periphery. The pin-point stars in the night sky are the subject that makes this aberration, along with some others, most easily recognizable to me.
The above 100% resolution crop was taken from the top left corner of a 5Ds R frame. The aperture used was f/2.8 and the lens was focused near the center of the frame. While the corner stars are not pin-point sharp/round and some wings have sprouted from them, I have not used any wide angle lenses that produce perfectly pin-point sharp/round stars in their corners and the results from this lens are among the best amongst its peers. For sure is that a 12mm lens delivers small-sized stars.
Printed on the front of this lens (and on the box) is "D-Dreamer", with the "D" referring to "Distortion". Venus Optics is rolling out a series of lenses that photographers have been dreaming of and the negligible linear distortion in an extreme wide angle lens is the dream-come-true being referred to in this model.
Venus Optics was sure enough about the low linear distortion of this lens to boldly include "Zero-D" right in the lens name in addition to the "D-Dreamer" designation. Not delivering on the promise would certainly open them up to criticism, but ... they delivered. In addition to the standard distortion test results available for this lens and the image shown above, several other sample images included in this review show off this attribute.
While linear distortion can be corrected, that correction is a destructive process and linear distortion also makes it difficult to precisely frame an image in the first place. A lens with no (or no recognizable) distortion is the ideal option and this lens does indeed represent the ideal option from a distortion standpoint. Your architect clients will love the results from this lens straight out of the camera. Those photographing in JPG format or recording video will also greatly appreciate this image quality aspect.
The Laowa 12 has a 7-blade aperture, the sides of which are reflected in out of focus specular highlights as illustrated below.
Also shown is this example is the decent smoothness of the inside of these highlights. A 12mm angle of view creates a unique peripherally-stretched look at the wider aperture, as illustrated in the aperture comparison early in this review.
Having an odd number of aperture blades means twice as many points on the star effects produced by point light sources at a narrow aperture. Stop down to f/16 and let the sun peak from behind an obstruction to see this effect.
While many lens manufacturers currently use a coating on their lenses to avoid and facilitate removal dust, fingerprint, water drops, etc., none have given it a name as fun as "Frog Eye Coating" as claimed by the Laowa 12.
Overall, the Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D Lens is a strong performer from an overall image quality perspective. Opportunities for improvement include corner sharpness at wider apertures and f/2.8 vignetting, but wide open center-of-the-frame sharpness, low distortion and low spherical/axial CA are quite impressive qualities of this lens.
As already noted, this is a manual focusing lens – autofocus is not available. Omitting autofocus greatly simplifies a lens from design and construction (and testing) standpoints, but it of course limits the lens' usefulness for certain applications. Most will find wider angle MF-only lenses much easier to use for focal length-appropriate purposes than similar telephoto options as the generally-deep DOF provides more room for error.
Do not expect your camera's focus confirmation lights to be accurate enough to count on for adequate manual focus purposes. Fully zoomed Live View manual focusing or the equivalent (such as using a tethered laptop) is the ideal way to focus this lens.
Of primary importance in a MF-only lens is the quality of the manual focus ring and the Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D Lens' MF ring gets a very high grade for this feature. This focus ring is very smooth, is very nicely damped, has no play and has a very long 180° of rotation, making very precise focusing easy. With the rear element group moving inward/outward with focusing, this lens does not externally change size during focusing.
Even though this lens has an ultra-wide angle focal length with significant depth of field at even relatively short focus distances, there are a significant number of focus distance marks etched the focus ring (in both ft and m). Depth of field marks covering a wide range of apertures (f/2.8, f/5.6, f/8 and f/11) are also etched into the lens. The MFD (Minimum Focus Distance) and most-infinite (slighty past infinity focus usually) focusing distances are hard stops, which means that focus setting marks are repeatable. Distant subjects (such as stars) are typically sharp just shy of the hard stop at infinity due to the adjustment provided for the actual infinity focus position to change with extreme temperatures.
Subjects change size modestly over the focus range, but the focus ring must be turned significantly for a sizable change to be realized. While this attribute is not unusual, photographers intending to use focus stacking techniques involving focus distance adjustment, videographers pulling focus and anyone very-critically framing a scene should be aware.
The Laowa 12's 7.1" (180mm) MFD (Minimum Focus Distance) is extremely short. Leaving only a couple of inches of working distance, you wouldn't want the lens to focus much closer. Still, hindered by the extreme wide angle focal length, this lens musters up only a 0.20x MM (Maximum Magnification) spec, a mid-level value in the entire scope of lenses. That said, you are going to love the strong perspective that lens can deliver.
In the chart below, the lenses offering the 12mm focal length are provided first, followed by a set of longer wide angle lenses.
|Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM Fisheye Lens||5.9"||(150mm)||0.39x|
|Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM Lens||9.4"||(240mm)||0.17x|
|Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens||11.0"||(280mm)||0.16x|
|Sigma 12-24mm f/4 DG HSM Art Lens||9.4"||(240mm)||0.20x|
|Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D Lens||7.1"||(180mm)||0.20x|
|Canon EF 14mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens||7.9"||(200mm)||0.15x|
|Nikon 14mm f/2.8D AF Lens||7.9"||(201mm)||0.15x|
|Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G AF-S Lens||11.0"||(280mm)||0.15x|
|Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Milvus Lens||9.8"||(250mm)||0.11x|
|Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens||11.0"||(280mm)||0.20x|
|Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens||11.0"||(280mm)||0.25x|
|Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM Lens||11.0"||(280mm)||0.23x|
|Nikon 16-35mm f/4G AF-S VR Lens||11.4"||(290mm)||0.25x|
The apple blossom images shared in the aperture discussion illustrate this lens' MFD.
With a 12mm extension tube mounted behind the Laowa 12, the MFD (maximum focus distance in this case) is just slightly shorter than the length of the inner lens hood. In other words, this combination is unusable. Vello makes an even shorter 7mm manual extension tube that could possibly be usable, but ... the extremely short working distance is going to require creative lighting on a mostly-shaded subect.
Do you like the feel and solidness of an all-metal lens? Then you are going to like the Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D Lens.
There is just enough lens barrel showing between the pair of slightly raised rings to permit grasping the lens for installation or removal. The lens flares outward sharply just beyond the focus ring, making that ring easy to quickly find.
We already discussed the pair of rings on this lens and, offering just the basics, there are very few features left to discuss including no switches or other buttons. An advantage of fewer features is, with fewer potential points of failure, increased reliability.
Hinted to by the lack of a rear gasket seal is that this lens is not weather sealed.
A unique feature of this lens is made available by a simple little dot of red paint. Planning on capturing extreme wide angle panoramas using this lens? The location of the entrance pupil (nodal point) is conveniently marked for that purpose. Align this dot with the camera's center of rotation for successful pano stitching.
Note that the red nodal point dot is not located on lens center and that the large red dot on the hood does not rotate as far as the smaller nodal point dot. The hood does not click into locked position, so ... this bears mentioning. The hood must be fully rotated to avoid mechanical vignetting, but do not force it past the lens' center line.
A really great feature of this lens is its small size and, although it feels substantial for its size, it has a relatively light weight. I frequently want to add an extreme-wide lens to a kit I'll be carrying (such as a 16-35, 24-70 and 70-200 combination), but struggle to fit an additional lens in the case along with all of the other accessories I need. The size and weight of this lens can make the difference between leaving it at home and taking it with you and that of course adds a lot of value.
Again, the lenses that cover 12mm are presented first in the following table with other wide angle options following.
|Model||Weight||Dimensions w/o Hood||Filter||Year|
|Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM Fisheye Lens||19.1 oz||(540g)||3.1 x 3.3"||(78.5 x 83.0mm)||n/a||2010|
|Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM Lens||13.6 oz||(385g)||3.3 x 3.5"||(84.0 x 90.0mm)||77mm||2004|
|Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens||41.6 oz||(1180g)||4.3 x 5.2"||(108.0 x 132.0mm)||n/a||2015|
|Sigma 12-24mm f/4 DG HSM Art Lens||40.6 oz||(1150g)||4.0 x 5.2"||(102.0 x 131.5mm)||n/a||2016|
|Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D Lens||21.5 oz||(645g)||2.9 x 3.3"||(74.8 x 82.8mm)||n/a||2007|
|Canon EF 14mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens||22.8 oz||(645g)||3.1 x 3.7"||(80.0 x 94.0mm)||n/a||2007|
|Nikon 14mm f/2.8D AF Lens||23.7 oz||(670g)||3.4 x 3.4"||(87.0 x 86.5mm)||mm||2000|
|Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G AF-S Lens||34.2 oz||(969g)||3.9 x 5.2"||(98.0 x 131.5mm)||n/a||2007|
|Samyang 14mm f/2.8 IF ED UMC Lens||19.5 oz||(552g)||3.4 x 3.8"||(87.0 x 96.1mm)||mm||2012|
|Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Milvus Lens||33.4 oz||(947g)||4.0 x 3.9"||(102.3 x 100.2mm)||95mm||2016|
|Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens||38.8 oz||(1100g)||3.9 x 5.7"||(98.4 x 145.0mm)||n/a||2014|
|Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens||27.9 oz||(790g)||3.5 x 5.0"||(88.5 x 127.5mm)||82mm||2016|
|Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM Lens||21.7 oz||(615g)||3.3 x 4.4"||(82.6 x 112.8mm)||77mm||2014|
|Nikon 16-35mm f/4G AF-S VR Lens||24.0 oz||(680g)||3.2 x 4.9"||(82.5 x 125.0mm)||77mm||2010|
For many more comparisons, review the complete Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D Lens Specifications using the site's Lens Spec tool.
Want to see how dramatic the size difference is between 12mm-capable lenses? Check this out:
Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:
Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D Lens
Sigma 12-24mm f/4 DG HSM Art Lens
Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens
That image does not account for the Laowa 12's hood being removeable, giving it an optionally even smaller footprint. Here is another comparison, showing the Laowa 12 beside a set of 14mm f/2.8 prime lens options:
These lenses are:
Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D Lens
Nikon 14mm f/2.8D AF Lens
Canon EF 14mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens
Samyang 14mm f/2.8 IF ED UMC Lens
The same lenses are shown below with their hoods in place, though only the Laowa 12's hood is removeable.
Use the site's product image comparison tool to visually compare the Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D Lens to other lenses.
Although the beautiful bulbous front lens element is a necessary part of extreme-wide angle lens design, it prevents the use of standard threaded filters and this lens does not include filter threads.
The optional Laowa 100mm filter holder system (shown above) accepts 100mm square or 95mm circular polarizer filters. Note that while CPL filters are especially highly valued for landscape photography, it must be kept in mind that uneven darkening of a scene, especially one with a blue sky, can be an issue with CPL filter use at 12mm.
The Laowa 12 comes with a small petal-style all-metal hood that provides some light and impact protection to the protruding front lens element. The removeable hood features a ribbed interior.
Take the hood off and a very small built-in hood becomes apparent, providing some permanent protection to the front lens element, such as when the lens is placed front-down on a flat surface without the larger hood in place.
The friction-fit lens cap slides inside the smaller hood and, while this isn't my favorite lens cap design, it seems to work fine, at least with the larger hood in place further protecting it.
No case is included in the box, but this is a small lens and finding somewhere to stow it should not be challenging. Consider getting a small Lowepro's Lens Case for single lens storage, transport and carry.
Speaking of the box, the Laowa 12 comes in a sharp looking box and especially unique is that it arrives vacuum-sealed.
The Laowa 12 wears a moderately-high price tag. It costs significantly less than the Canon and Sigma AF zooms that cover 12mm and noticeably more than the Irix 11mm f/4 Lens. None of these competitors have the f/2.8 aperture and none is as small as the Laowa. So while it is hard to draw a value conclusion based on other options in the market, I think the price is easily justified based on features and performance.
The Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D Lens is available in Canon EF (reviewed), Nikon F, Pentax K, Sony A and Sony E mounts. While there are potential issues with using third party lenses, that this lens lacks most features including AF and auto aperture means that there is little future compatibility risk. Venus Optics backs the Laowa 12 with a 3-year limited warranty.
A pair of Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Lenses were evaluated for this review. One was retail/online acquired and the other was provided at no cost by Venus Optics.
If you need a wider-than-14mm focal length with a wider-than-f/4 aperture, there are no full frame alternatives to the Laowa 12. This is your lens. If you can get by with an f/4 aperture, there are three rectilinear lens options to discuss.
The first is the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens. This lens is an impressive-performer that joined my kit as soon as it became available. Comparing the Laowa image quality to the Canon at f/4, we see the two performing quite similarly overall, but the Laowa has slightly less LatCA in the corners and the Canon shows a mid-frame sharpness advantage that remains slightly visible even at f/8. The Laowa has nearly one stop less vignetting at f/4, though the two lenses nearly equalize in this regard by f/8.
While the Canon has a near-distortion-free focal length, that focal length is considerably longer than 12mm where the Laowa has a noticeable advantage. The Laowa has a longer focus ring rotation, focuses closer and has a higher MM (.20x vs. .16x) despite the longer focal lengths being available in the Canon. The Laowa is considerably smaller and lighter and is far less expensive. The Canon offers modern conveniences including AF and auto aperture along with a range of focal lengths that includes the noticeably wider 11mm option.
The other zoom lens currently providing 12mm is the Sigma 12-24mm f/4 DG HSM Art Lens. When comparing the Laowa image quality to the Sigma at f/4, we see that the Laowa is noticeably sharper in the corners while the Sigma performs better in the mid-frame area, showing sharper radial-oriented lines. At f/5.6, the Sigma's corners are looking as sharp as the Laowa with less LatCA showing. The Sigma retains the mid-frame sharpness advantage through f/8.
While the Sigma Art lens has a near-distortion-free focal length, that focal length is longer than 12mm where the Laowa has a noticeable advantage. At f/4, the Sigma has slightly less vignetting than the Laowa with equalization basically reached at f/5.6 and by f/11, the Laowa has a modest advantage. The Laowa has a longer focus ring rotation, focuses modestly closer yet having the same MM despite the longer focal lengths being available in the Sigma. The Laowa is considerably smaller, lighter and less expensive. The Sigma offers modern conveniences including AF and auto aperture along with a range of focal lengths.
The third option is the Irix 11mm f/4 Lens (both Blackstone and Firefly versions available). A full review of this Irix lens is on my to-do list, but known is that 11mm is wider than 12mm, that f/4 is not as wide as f/2.8 and that the Irix options are significantly less expensive. The Laowa focuses closer and, combined with the longer focal length, delivers a higher maximum magnification. The Laowa is smaller and lighter.
It is small. It is light. It is extremely wide. It has a high quality construction and an overall impressive image quality. It has a reasonable price. And, who doesn't love a few world records?
The Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D Lens is the current world record holder for the widest full frame rectilinear f/2.8 lens. It has less linear distortion than any other 12mm lens and it is the smallest and lightest full frame rectilinear lens wider than 14mm.
Even if you don't need the Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D Lens as a primary lens for a shoot, its compact size makes it an easy additional lens option to take along, potentially delivering another (likely unique) perspective from the shoot – with no compromise from an image quality perspective. And, having this lens in the kit can nicely increase your potential for capturing attention-garnering photos.
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