Venus optics, Laowa 12mm F2.8 zero distortion lens.
This is my wholehearted honest review of this lens, I have not received any gifts or payment for writing this review.
So this lens review has been on my to do list for quite some months now. After seeing the results another photographer produced with this lens I just had to try it.
From the first moment I picked up this lens, I loved it but there was a huge problem with the filter holder (Something for another blog post). Don't worry there is a simple solution.
So when we purchase a relatively unknown brand of a lens we take a fairly large risk firstly that they will produce a consistently good product and we don't get a dud and secondly that the product will work not only as described but also with a slight little sliver of grace.
Nothing worse than a rough scratch focus ring or an aperture control that just pops out of position whenever it feels like it.
So when I finally got my hands on a Venus Optics Laowa 12mm F2.8mm lens. I was more than a bit nervous opening the beautiful box. Would the box simply be the best bit or was this the start of a beautiful relationship?
Now some of you might say who the hell is Venus Optics, I never heard of them before.
Well believe it or not they are a Chinese company, yes a few people are probably smirking after reading they are a Chinese company but I would add that very few people are laughing at DJI now especially after they bought Hasselblad.
I would bet my money on the fact this company are heading in the very same direction.
Laowa seems to specialise in producing incredible off the wall lenses.
What do I mean by off the wall?
Well I mean they produce the sort of products other companies steer completely clear of.
Take this 12mm F2.8 lens, it has 16 glass elements in 10 groups. Yes, a total of 16 glass elements and it feels like it's designed to withstand a nuclear attack.
They not only managed to produce an incredibly sharp lens which to be fair is some achievement but this unit is also practically distortion free. Couple all that up with the exceptional feel of the product and it's a pure winner.
With this lens, they have brought lens production (in a small scale) back to the old days of extremely solid all-metal bodies with incredibly sharp optics thrown in for good measure.
In short, this is the type of lens that if you travelled back in time with one it would feel incredibly at home in the 1980's as regards to the physical feel of it and yet it lives and breathes in the 2020's as regards optical performance.
Now if you want to hear something crazy then listen to this.
This mad little piece of glass at 12mm can take 100mm filters on a full frame camera. Yes, 100mm filters on 12mm lens with very little vignetting apparently. Getting back to that filter holder later on.
As you may have guessed I am more than a little excited about this product and yes it's probably the photography nerd in me running around the room jumping up and down at the thought of using it.
To have a full frame 12mm zero distortion rectilinear lens (not a fisheye lens) at F2.8 and that can take 100mm filters is a bit of a smile tickler for me. Seriously though how utterly crazy is that?
My Nikon 16-35mm F4 lens has severe distortion at 16mm when compared to this lens. Now some of you might say 12mm or 16mm is the same well I can tell you its a whole different ball game shooting at 12mm. It's not just wide it's immense. It feels like not just using a different lens but morphing into a different reality.
Sure there are a lot of products you can get at 16mm and 14mm so why is 12mm so special? I Think in my over eagerness I already answered that.
Because it's sooo incredibly wide it completely changes a scene and alters the depth and feel of a photograph. There are other products available at 12mm most are fisheye lenses and have some serious distortion going on or they only let in half the light that this lens does and still suffer from distortion.
It has only just arrived in the last month but I have to say the build quality is amazing (edit after nearly two months of use, I love it even more).
If you close your eyes and pick up an old all metal Nikon Ais lens from 20 years ago and did a blind feel test the Laowa would win with regards to feel.
Its a really beautiful amalgamation of incredible optics and moulded crafted metal.
Such a novelty for modern-day lens design that the only bit of plastic you feel on this lens is the end caps.
I would argue the point that it feels nicer than the modern day Zeiss and Leica lenses which I was lucky enough to use over the last few months.
The aperture ring is easy to turn with clicks as it slots into its full stop positions, the focus ring is soft and smooth to turn like a fluid video tripod head. It just gives the reassurance that this product is built not only with quality in mind but a good slice of grace and elegance also. Picture a tank doing ballet and this is it.
This lens is a full manual or dumb lens. There are no electronics or focus motors built in. So its aimed at the type of photographer that really knows what they are doing.
This is a nice break away from the auto attached photography of the modern world.
It will undoubtedly kill it's appeal to a lot of people but I believe it was never designed for any type of mass market.
So the big question is where are the pictures and where are the results I hear you say. Well, I actually haven't gotten around to taking any serious shots yet that I can post.
I have tried this lens out well on a few commercial jobs and wow its pin sharp, balances beautifully on the Nikon D850 and feels like pure quality.
I wrote this blog about the lens as I really felt it was worth talking about the design and how it feels in the hand.
Companies like this should not only be applauded but encouraged to go push some more boundaries and to continue to excite and produce little metal masterpieces like this.
It would have been so easy to drop the price and produce this unit in the modern day plastic exterior casing skimp on the optical design but I for one am so happy they didn't. This could be a modern day masterpiece it's really that simple.
Stay tuned for the real world test.
So far I am incredibly impressed and really feel like companies like Nikon and Canon should step up and be pressing more to produce quality like this.
See you out there,