Another manual ultra-wide angle lens? Let’s see what makes this one special.
Venus Optics Laowa, a Hong Kong-based manual lens brand with a great reputation for outstanding optics and out-of-the-box lens designs, announced the release of an all-new manual ultra-wide angle lens for DSLR cameras today. The Laowa FF 14mm f/4 Zero-D is available in Canon EF and Nikon F mounts and features quite a unique but convenient combination of capabilities that allows for extended efficiency and application in landscape, architecture, interiors, and nature photography. Don't be confused, however, by the other 14mm that the brand offers that are mainly for mirrorless cameras, as they have different features altogether.
Build and Design
The all-new FF 14mm f/4 Zero-D lens comes in Laowa’s characteristic all-metal lens construction with a semi-matte finish and Laowa’s iconic blue stripe near the distal end. The lens comes in at just 320 grams for the Canon EF mount and 360 grams for the Nikon F mount version. For its angle of view, it is impressively small at just 75mm long and 72.5mm in diameter. This ultra-wide angle lens was conveniently made with compact glass elements that even the relatively bulbous front element still allows for a 67mm filter thread for use with traditional-sized circular or square format filters.
The lens features a singular focus ring on the distal portion of the barrel, which takes up about half of the barrel length. Quite unique from most other Laowa lenses, it does not have a manual aperture ring. Alternatively, aperture is controlled entirely through the dedicated dial on the camera body much like most native Canon and Nikon lenses.
It also features an all-metal mount, a pinch-type front lens cap, and an all-metal removable and reversible lens hood. The internal optical design consists of 5 aperture blades, 13 elements in 8 separate groups with 2 ED, and 2 aspherical glass elements.
Center sharpness was no question in testing this lens. Much like most of the ultra-wide angle lenses that Venus Optics Laowa offers, the new FF 14mm f/4 performs impressively. Subjectively, it seems to offer around the same sharpness and image quality as the brand’s reputable 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D.
During my testing, I found that sharpness was pretty much consistent in the center throughout the aperture range. However, the performance in the corners definitely varies with wider apertures. I found the lens’ sharpest corner-to-corner performance at f/14 to f/16 with a gradual decrease in corner sharpness beyond the range. At f/11, we see the center sharpness to be pretty well maintained; however, drastic differences can be seen around the edges.
Distortion, Vignette, and Minimum Focusing Distance
One of the most compelling points about this lens is perhaps the zero-distortion rating amid the lens design. It is quite surprising to see a lens with such a wide focal length and zero distortion to be this small and without an obstructing large front element. Testing the lens on real-life grids around the area where I shoot, it performed precisely as the brand claimed it to. There was no visible distortion at normal distances while a minimal yet negligible barrel distortion emerges when focusing near the minimum distance as the focus breathes. However, focus breathing over such a deep focus range is pretty much a given. Vignetting was also never an issue when shooting focused at normal distances throughout the aperture range while a minor vignette appears when focused very closely. There was also little to no chromatic aberration visible even on minute backlit details.
The other impressive feature of this lens is of course the fact that it can focus at just 14.5 centimeters, offering pseudo-macro capabilities. The maximum magnification achieved with closest focusing distance is 0.3x, but considering the angle of view, that offers an ultimately unique perspective.
The features of the Laowa FF 14mm f/4 Zero-D create some significantly unique and efficient applications. This lens would be a convincing choice for landscape photography considering the optical performance, the compact and lightweight build, and the possibility of using standard-sized circular filters and 100mm standard square filter holders. In previous years, we would see that most lenses wider than 15mm, specifically those made for DSLR cameras, would bear a bulky round front element that hindered them from mounting filters. Given the choices in the market, this one would be a feasible option. With the attractive 10-point light bursts and anti-glare glass elements, shooting cityscapes would result in cleaner and sharper images even when shooting wide urban vistas with bright, glaring lights. Though still feasible, night photography, specifically shooting for the night sky, would not be advantageous due to the f/4 maximum aperture.
Due to the very close focusing distance, this lens should add more options to a landscape photographer’s workflow. With an extended focusing range, multi-layered focus stacking can be done to achieve an extremely detailed landscape image with a dominant foreground element. Though I admit I wasn't able to test it out in this context, it is safe to say that it can be achieved with this lens. The smooth and tactile focus ring should allow for comfortable focus adjustments without inducing too much movement into the camera.
For the same reason, this lens should also do quite well in shooting architecture and detail-heavy interiors. With the image quality that it offers, the absence of a vignette, and the absence of distortion, there should be fewer hindrances in producing a well-maintained perspective image. With the glass design successfully avoiding flare from strong light sources, shooting with the Laowa FF 14mm f/4 Zero-D should help evade problems in shooting interior details.
Other applications in nature photography would definitely be producing uniquely wide perspectives of small objects while also showing a glimpse of their surroundings.
On a side note, it’s also good to know that there are still third-party lens manufacturers making unique options for DSLR shooters. With the growing popularity of mirrorless, most brands have reduced developing lenses for the older format. The Laowa FF 14mm f/4 Zero-D is a winner.
What I Liked
- Great image quality
- Zero distortion
- Close focusing distance
- Standard filter thread
- Fairly priced at $499
What Can Be Improved
- No manual aperture control