It seems every two years we see an interesting ultra wide angle FE lens by Laowa. First the Laowa 15mm 2.0 Zero-D FE at Photokina in 2016 and now 2 years later the Laowa 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 C-Dreamer FE at Photokina 2018.
The Voigtländer 10mm 5.6 E held the crown for being the widest rectilinear lens, now we have a zoom lens starting at 10mm but going all the way up to 18mm by Laowa. Is the image quality good enough to get this over the Voigtlander?
Last Update: 100mm filter holder added, handling section updated, more samples added, conclusion updated (03/27/19)
You can find most of the shots in this review in full resolution here.
- Sample Images
- What the optical designer Mr. Li says about his lens
- Specifications / Version History
- Focal length overview
- Handling / Build Quality
- Use with filters
- Vignetting and colorcast
- Coma correction
- Flare resistance
- Chromatic aberrations
- Sample images
- Further Reading
What the optical designer Mr. Li says about his lens
“The range of usage of a 10mm lens is limited, yet there are people who want to have this focal length available, me included. Therefore I decided to design a zoom lens starting at 10mm, that is more convenient to use than a 10mm prime lens. I made use of the narrow flange focal distance of mirrorless cameras to design a 10-18mm zoom lens as compact as possible. We got asked a lot about more defined sunstars, so this was another design goal for this lens. With the 37mm rear filter and a 100mm front filter holder we also want to give the photographers the opportunity to use this lens for an expanded range of applications.”
Specifications / Version History
I am reviewing a pre-production model here which has the following specifications:
- Diameter: 70mm
- Field of view: 102° to 130° (diagonally)
- Length: 81mm
- Weight: 499g
- Filter Diameter: 37mm (rear)
- Number of Aperture Blades: 5 (straight)
- Elements/Groups: 14/10
- Close Focusing Distance: 0.15m
- Maximum Magnification: ~1:5.5
- Mount: E-mount
The Laowa FE 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 C-Dreamer pre-production model was kindly provided free of charge by Venus Optics / Laowa for reviewing purpose for a few weeks.
Focal length overview
The overview corresponds to the actual shots taken at the different focal length markings.
Handling / Build Quality
So far all the Laowa lenses I reviewed had very nice build quality and this holds true for this zoom lens as well. Most parts of the outer casing seem to be made from metal and the lens feels very dense and solid. Markings are engraved and filled with paint.
The lens is also surprisingly small and only slightly bigger than the Zeiss Loxia 21mm 2.8:
The focus ring has (for my taste) pretty much perfect resistance; a little more than the Zeiss Loxia lenses, maybe a tad less than the Zeiss ZM or Voigtlander lenses. The throw of the focusing ring is about ~100° from the minimum focus distance (0.15m) to 1.0m and only ~5° from 1.0m to infinity. because it is such a wide and slow lens this hasn’t really been an issue.
Another good news (especially for those among you into filming): while I cannot tell you whether this is a true parfocal design, it handles as one – even at minimum focus distance – so you can adjust the focal length without loosing focus on your subject.
Infinity is slightly before the infinity symbol on my sample.
The aperture ring has equidistant one-stop click-stops and it takes about 35° from f/4.5 to f/22.
This lens incorporates a small lever for de-clicking the aperture ring. It is very close to the aperture ring and it might be possible to turn it by accident.
Unlike the Zeiss Loxia or the the Voigtlander E-mount lenses the Laowa does not feature electronic contacts to communicate with the camera, so there is no Exif data transmitted. Compared to primes this is more of an issue to me on a zoom lens, as it makes using correction profiles for vignetting or distortion quite a bit harder.
As it is a variable aperture zoom you won’t always know the exact aperture value you are at. On the aperture ring next to the 4.5 there is a 5.6 in brackets, meaning at 10mm your maximum aperture is f/4.5 but at 18mm only f/5.6. Personally, this doesn’t bother me, but if you are using an external calculator when having an ND filter attached it should definetly be considered.
Use with filters
This lens features a 37mm rear filter thread. The lens comes with a clear filter which is part of the optical formula so you should not remove it, only replace it with another filter if desired. This only really makes sense for ND filters. Despite the obvious disadvantages I tried using it with a slim polarizer but even the slim one was too thick, so I wasn’t able to mount the lens on camera anymore.
The optimal thickness for the rear filter is 1.1 mm, but it will also work with filters up to 1.5 mm.
100mm Filter Holder
In collaboration with H&Y Laowa also offers a 100mm square filter holder for this 10-18mm lens. Let me say upfront I am quite amazed they managed to come up with a 100mm holder without vignetting for a lens this wide (for the Voigtlander 10mm 5.6 HWH E I needed 150mm wide filters).
But they decided to partner up with H&Y with their magnetic filter holders and this may or may not have been a good idea, let me explain why.
To be able to use your existing filter with this systems you need to equip them with a 150x100mm or 100x100mm frame. Bought separately these frames are 35$ so if you already have set of filters this might be an expensive experience. These frames have glue on the inside so you also cannot easily remove and reattach them.
As this lens is only a review sample (and the holder ships with a 150x100mm frame whereas I needed a 100x100mm frame) I just stuck my polarizer in there which worked good enough. But you cannot do this with strong ND filters as there will be light leaks.
Generally I like the idea of the magnetic holders, but mixing it with “normal” holders is pretty much a no go as the filters won’t be compatible with both holders at the same time. So either you get the magnetic frames for all your filters and replace your holder for your other lenses with a magnetic one as well or you need to buy the filters you want to use with this lens a second time. I don’t like either of these options.
Now to the holder itself. As you can see in the first picture of this paragraph it consists of 3 elements:
– square filter holder
– front ring
– rear retention ring
My biggest gripe with this holder: you have to remove the lens from the camera to attach it as you can see from the picture above. That front ring is a loose part so it is pretty fiddly to do it in the field without dropping something.
The next problem: when you have tightened the retention ring at the back (which you should, as otherwise you will see parts of the holder in the corners of the frame at 10mm) you cannot rotate the holder anymore. To be able to rotate it you need 2 hands again: one to grab the square filter holder, the other to unscrew the retention ring from it.
You may have guessed it by now: when using this holder in the field for a week I didn’t exactly manage to fall in love with it. The handling simply leaves quite a bit to be desired.
If you are the kind of photographer who sets it up once and leaves the camera with lens untouched for quite some time this probably won’t bother you.
But if you are like me, active, changing position and lenses often, it probably will.
Which really is a pity as it is actually pretty great to be able to use 100mm filters on such a wide lens.
Vignetting and colorcast
With small ultra wide angle lenses in the past we have already seen that vignetting figures are pretty high and won’t improve that much on stopping down, this is also the case here.
Vignetting is strongest at the wide end but it is quite comparable to the Voigtlander 10mm 5.6, at 18mm it in fact shows less vignetting than the Zeiss Batis 18mm 2.8.
The visibility depends highly on the subject and is more pronounced with very bright backgrounds. This is a real world shot where it is quite obvious:
It is clear from the crops above this lens won’t be breaking any resolution records and considering the small size and the ambitious focal length range I also didn’t expect it to. The lens also shows some field curvature, in the shots above I focused for the midframe which gave pretty good across frame results but not best center results.
Stopped down the zoom might actually have more resolution at 10mm than the Voigtlander 10mm 5.6 E, but I am pretty sure the 12mm 5.6 E will surpass it at 12mm, the Laowa 15mm 2.0 clearly surpasses it at 15mm (I checked) and the Zeiss Batis 18mm 2.8 will clearly surpass it at 18mm.
The centering quality of my sample is quite okay, especially for a zoom lens. All the corners look pretty similar at the focal lengths I checked (10, 15 and 18mm).
10mm @ 0.15m
14mm @ 0.15m
18mm @ 0.15m
100% crops from center (unless stated otherwise), A7rII
With the minimum focus distance of just 0.15 m you can get really close to your subject (so close that you are shading the subject with your lens). In the center the performance is always really good at all focal lengths, even at the maximum aperture. When placing your subject close to the borders the resolution never reaches levels as good, not even on stopping down considerably.
Placing your subject in the midframe close to the thirds of the frame gives decent results at most focal lengths though.
At around 14-15mm the lens is pretty much distortion free, but at 10mm we have noticeably wavy barrel distortion and at 18mm wavy pincushion distortion. Considering the fact this lens does not come with electronic contacts this is very unfortunate as applying correction profiles is a tedious task.
I created distortion correction profiles for 10mm, 12mm, 14mm, 16mm and 18mm (the focal lengths marked on the zoom ring) for infinity, you can find them here.
(In Lightroom go to “Edit” -> “Preferences” -> “Presets” -> “Show Lightroom Develop Presets” then go to “LensProfiles” create a subfolder named “1.0” and place the presets from my zip file in that folder, restart Lightroom and they will show up under “Sony” and work for Raw files only)
100% crops from center, A7rII
One of my complaints regarding former Laowa lenses were the not so well defined, rather fuzzy sunstars (see my review of the 2/15 or 2.8/12). This is the first Laowa lens where nice sunstar rendering was a design criteria and the lens uses 5 straight aperture blades (instead of 7) that yield well defined 10-stroke sunstars.
This is a highly subjective topic so you might want to have a look at this article and decide for yourself, what you prefer.
There is one thing to notice though: at 10mm you will see sunstars already at the maximum aperture of f/4.5. At the 18mm end at the maximum aperture of f/5.6 the opening is perfectly round and therefore you won’t get sunstars unless stopping down.
100% crops from extreme corner, A7rII
Because this is a rather slow lens it is not exactly meant to be used for landscape astrophotography. Still it is worth checking out the coma correction for city shots.
As corner resolution isn’t exactly great I did not expect to see a great performance here either and the crops confirm this. Only at the long end when stopping down two stops this aberration mostly goes away.
The lens is not free of lens flares, it shows worse performance compared to most modern primes with comparable focal lenghts. Compared to other ultra wide angles zooms it has to be said none I know of shows really good performance, but it is hard to judge without a direct comparison.
After using the lens for quite some time I can say the behaviour described below is quite typical for this lens. At 10mm you will often encounter this combination of red pentagon and crescent around strong point light sources. If you change to a longer focal length it will often not be inside the frame anymore, so I would rate flare performance slightly better at the long end.
Of course recomposing sometimes helps, but then sometimes it doesn’t. You should also pay attention to keep the front element clear of dust or other dirt, as this will easily lead to additional artifacts.
Sony A7rII | Laowa FE 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 | 10mm | f/11 | CA 100% crop before/after extreme corner
The lateral CA are strongest at the wide end, they can still be corrected pretty easily in post with one click.
As this is a very wide and rather slow lens longitudinal CA (loCA) are nothing to worry about.
Vogitlander 10mm 5.6 E HWH:
If you want the 10mm field of view this is your only other option right now (Samyang showed a DSLR 10mm f/3.5 XP at Photokina 2018 which is not available yet).
In terms of resolution, vignetting and also sunstars they are quite comparable and the zoom is only slightly bigger and heavier (+120g). In terms of flare resistance the Voigtlander prime fares noticeably better and distortion is lower.
What follow is my personal take on this comparison:
I was using the Voigtlander since release and while it gave me a few cool shots it really is more of a special effects lens (like a fisheye): there are only so many subjects and compositions that work well for a 10mm lens. So in the end – per trip – it only gave me 1 or 2 good shots and apart from that I carried it for nothing. This is why I am inclined to give this 10-18mm zoom a try: being able to zoom up to 18mm might make it a lens that gets more usage. I only have to find out whether the lens flares are an issue in actual shooting or only in staged review shots.
Sony FE 12-24mm 4.0 G:
I haven’t used this lens myself yet, so what follows is a summary of the impressions I got from sample pictures and other review sites that I trust.
I cannot stretch enough how different the field of view of 10mm is compared to 12mm. The Sony lens is also noticeably bigger, so it is not very surprising it is noticeably better in terms of resolution (especially in the corners). Vignetting and distortion are also high on the Sony lens, but easier to correct due to electronic contacts. In terms of flare resistance both do not knock it ouf of the park for me, but without doing side by side comparisons I cannot tell you which one is better.
It really comes down to whether you want the 10mm field of view or not. If not for most the Sony is probably the more convenient choice then.
Laowa 12mm 2.8 Zero-D:
If you don’t just need wide but also fast you should have a look at this lens.
The main selling points of this lens are the compact size and the widest focal length of 10mm. Laowa managed to produce a zoom lens that starts at 10mm – and at 10mm the resolution and vignetting figures look quite comparable to that of the Voigtlander 10mm prime – yet it is only slightly bigger and heavier (+120g) and you can zoom in all the way up to 18mm.
Laowa decided to do some things differently here compared to Sony with their latest UWA zooms: the emphasize is not on resolution but on giving you the widest possible lens in a small package, sunstars and usability with filters. Whether these main points appeal to you or not depends on your personal preferences.
If you are interested in a lens starting at 10mm but want something more flexible than a 10mm prime this lens might be for you.
If on the other hand you think you get a smaller and wider Sony FE 12-24mm f/4.0 G in a smaller package you will be disappointed, the 10-18mm won’t match it in the overlapping focal length range in terms of resolution and contrast.
The lack of exif data is quite a nuisance in a lens where electronic corrections (distortion and color cast) are necessary in many shots. I was using the lens mostly at fixed values of 10, 14 and 18mm to make post production a bit easier.
The biggest disadvantage for me is the flare resistance. With the sun in the frame I encountered ghosting and other artifacts quite regularly. Whether this bothers you depends a lot on what you shoot, but if this is something that bothers you I recommend to stick to the Voigtlander and Zeiss prime lenses.
Update March 2019: I was keeping this review sample longer than usual as I also wanted to try out the 100mm filter holder (which I received with a bit of a delay) so I can now provide you with a bit of a mid term usage conclusion.
With its small size – despite being a 10-18mm zoom – and the ability to use 100mm filters it is a very convenient lens to use.
This is one of these lenses that don’t test too well but are actually lots of fun to use in the field and I really like many of the shots I took with it.
The Canon TS-E 17mm 4.0L is the LP, the Voigtlander 10mm 5.6 E is the MP3 and this Laowa 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 is Spotify, so decide for yourself: do you want maximum image quality or convenience?
You can find most of the shots in this review in full resolution here.
- Guide to Ultra Wide Angle lenses for the A7 Series
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- Review: Voigtlander 4.5/15 E
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