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Laowa RF 15mm F2 Zero-D

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Laowa RF 15mm F2 Zero-D review

Wide angle manual focus lens for RF mount


We’ve tested a number of Laowa lenses in the past and they’ve always been solidly built and performed well optically. The Laowa 15mm f/2 D-Dreamer is a fully manual lens for the Canon RF mount – the first RF only lens Keith has looked at on the EOS RP since getting it in early 2019.

How does the lens perform on a mirrorless camera, and how does it being fully manual work on such a camera.

Laowa-15mm

The Laowa 15mm f/2.0 is available in Canon RF, Nikon Z and Sony FE fittings at Venus Lens

The Laowa 15mm F2.0

The lens is a fully manual wide angle lens, with a Canon RF lens mount. I’m testing it on a Canon EOS RP (see also my EOS RP review, which also has more about manual lens use).

By ‘fully manual’ I mean that it has no electronics in it whatsoever, so to the camera, it is shooting ‘without’ a lens attached. You need to manually set focus and then set the aperture to what you need.

There is as such no feedback in the viewfinder, but with the RP, I’ve selected focus peaking to give me a reliable indication of focus. As a result it’s actually easier using a lens like this on the EOS RP than any of my Canon DSLRs. I’ll come back to usage issues later, but as someone happy to use manual focus lenses it was not a problem at all.

The lens

The lens comes in a nice solid box, and includes a soft plastic bag for the lens. [Click to enlarge any photo]

Laowa-15mm

The lens comes with a metal lens hood and lens caps.

lens-cap-and-hood

Here’s the lens on my EOS RP.

15mm-on-RP

Note the lack of electrical connections – this is fully manual (so no lens EXIF data either).

RF-mount

The switch allows switching between click stops for aperture (at full stop positions) or a smooth operation, more suited to video.

The lens may seem a little long for a 15mm lens, but when you look at the size of an EF-RF adapter (on the 8-15) it handles quite well.

lens-size-with-adapter

The aperture has only 5 blades which can show through in OOF (out of focus) areas at other than wide open (f/2)

5-blade-aperture

Two shots at f/2 and f/5.6 show the difference in background blur.

coffee-cup-f2

Note the circular OOF lights.

At f/5.6 the five blade aperture is visible.

close-flower

Zooming in makes it a bit clearer.

c flowers-out-of-focus

Note: both pictures above shot with the camera in APS-C crop mode (~24mm equiv.) I’ll come back to this in a bit.

The aperture is not always so obvious – see these two examples at f/2.8 and f/5.6

sunchaser-f2.8sunchaser-f5.6

The lens focuses impressively close to the front element.

The 15cm focus distance is from subject to focal plane – not the front of the lens.

close-focus-DOF

A spider, just outside of my front window (f/5.6)

spider f/5.6

I’ll come back to more examples of using the lens, but first the specifications…

Lens specifications

Figures from Venus Lens

Name 15mm f/2 FE Zero-D
Focal Length 15mm
Max. Aperture f/2
Angle of View 110°
Format Compatibility Full Frame
Lens Structure 12 elements in 9 groups
(2pcs of Aspherical Elements + 3pcs of Extra-low Dispersion Elements)
Aperture Blades 7 (Sony FE), 5 (Nikon Z / Canon RF)
Min. Focusing Distance 15cm
Max. Magnification 1:4
Filter Thread 72mm
Dimensions 77.2 x 82 mm
Weight 500g
Mounts Sony FE, Nikon Z, Canon RF
MTF charts (at f/2 and f/2.8)

mtf at f/2mtf at f/2.8

Unless you need the full f/2, the lens is noticeably sharper at f/2.8 away from the centre, that said you’re likely to be using f/2 for that extra bit of OOF softness. See some of the examples for more details.

Lens design

The design is a complex one, making use of the short back focus distance of the mirrorless mounts to give a more symmetrical design than you’ll see in designs for EF mount.

Using the laowa 15mm f/2

The lens is advertised as having low distortion, and in general I’d agree.

Take this view of a very empty Skegness beach on a winter afternoon. It’s shot at f/5.6 and if you look towards the edges, there is some visible chromatic aberration.

beach

OK, it’s not a lot – let’s zoom in to 100% (the EOS RP is a 26MP full frame camera) and look at the RAW file, as seen using Adobe ACR  for CS6.

The colour fringing is visible.

uncorrected

It’s also easy to correct with the auto fix mode.

autocorrect

This is without any specific lens correction profile, so should work even better when I get round to buying some newer software…

The tiniest bit of barrel distortion was visible in a few images, but at a level so low that it just didn’t show in any ‘real world’ photos – low enough that I’d not bother looking for it in normal use.

Star photos

At f/2, the lens is of definite interest for taking photos of stars and the Milky Way.

Unfortunately I live in middle of the UK’s 10th biggest city, so apart from this view of a sunset coloured by volcanic dust, deep sky astrophotography is a tricky thing…

volcanic-sky

This photo of stars was taken in Northumberland on recent visit, but still shows a bit of thin cloud and nearby lighting. It’s also a cropped image (24mm equiv).

Despite the failings it shows promise.

laowa15-2

However, I have a way of approximating starlight using a green laser pointer that give a good indication oh how point light sources will appear. The test setup is described in more detail in another article if you’re curious (laser star simulation).

star-test-setup

Here are 100% crops of the centre and corner of images at different apertures. These give a feel for how bright stars would be rendered rather than every one.

f/2

centre-f2corner-f2

f/2.8

centre-f2_8corner-f2_8

f/4

centre-f4

f/5.6

corner-f5_6

Lens flare

The lens handles bright lights quite well, but keeping the sun out of the shot is always going to help…

flare

The next two shots (both f/8) show more reasonable situations where the flare is none too severe.

c sun-flare-2c sun-flare-f8

The 10 sided ‘Sun spikes’ from the 5 bladed aperture look quite reasonable in this hand held photo of the Land Registry building in Leicester early one evening (f/5.6).

pex - land registry

Taking photos with the 15mm

The lens is really easy to use once you remember that it’s fully manual. Even setting the aperture before shooting isn’t the hassle that it could be on a DSLR, since the viewfinder has no problem showing you a correctly exposed image at f/11. Try that on a DSLR and the view will be very dark.

The wide field of view definitely requires greater care in composition, but offers rich rewards if you want to experiment. (see also my review of the Laowa 12mm f/2.8 for really wide angle).

Pointing the camera upwards causes strong convergence of verticals or ‘leaning’ such as this view of the big wheel in Leicester.

Leicester wheel

This isn’t always a problem, but I know that most of my architectural photography client will only want a limited number like this.

vjp1

It’s less of a problem if obviously looking up.

roof lights

Keeping the camera relatively level reduces the effect a lot.

vjp2

Of course if you want true verticals, the camera needs to be level.

vjp-3

You can always crop to a square.

seafood

The wide angle view can give good viewing lines in a shot, and you have an excellent depth of field.

boxing

On a bright day, your own shadow is much more of a problem with wide lenses…

food v

or this photo of Karen and myself walking into town…

park

The 15mm is starting to get wide for photographing people – note the distortions of the lamp shapes towards the corner. That looks less than flattering for faces.

people-f5-6

Doh!, or how I forgot about the crop

At some point during testing, when I was using the RP with just the 15mm fitted, I accidentally set the EOS RP to a crop mode. where it reduced the picture to a x1.6 crop (Canon APS-C). I’ve no idea how and strangely enough I didn’t notice for nearly a week. It could be that the EVF view on the RP when cropped looks just the same or that I was mostly shooting work with my EOS 5Ds, but I managed not to notice the reduction from 15mm to 24mm equivalent. I shoot 24mm a lot on my DSLR, but I still don’t know how I set the crop or didn’t notice. The good thing is that it taught me I can still make big mistakes, and secondly that I did it on my own time ;-)  I’ve since heard that I’m not the first to fall for this error, which pleases me in some respects, but makes me realise that I must remember to treat EVF and DSLR viewfinders as different.

Here’s the difference…

croppeduncropped

Two minor issues

Take care to make sure that the lens cap is correctly in place. It moved when in my camera bag after perhaps not being properly clicked into place, and the result is this. Fixable, but annoying…

hot-dogs

One good reason to check photos after taking them – I’d simply not noticed it in the viewfinder.  Just a few minute later, with the hood fitted correctly.

bar

Secondly, if this was my lens, I’d glue two thin rubber strips along the edge of the lens cap pinch clips. I found the smooth plastic far too easily slipped from my grip, making it more difficult to fit the lens cap and resulting in my dropping it a few times.

lens-cap

Conclusions

A very nice lens to use, with excellent optical performance. Most of the time I completely forgot that it was manual operation, indeed this is likely to be many people’s sticking point with the lens. Personally I think it helps your photography to shoot manually every so often, but I realise some don’t want to put in the work ;-)

Distortion is very low, with sharp performance across the frame, especially if you stop down a bit.

I’d prefer a rounder aperture than the current 5 blade version, and electronic stopdown would help, as much by providing EXIF aperture data which can help with lens corrections. Were these important – no, not to me, but they might be for some.

–ooOoo–

The Laowa 15mm f/2.0 is available in Canon RF, Nikon Z and Sony FE fittings at Venus Lens

Yes everyone should visit Skegness in the winter at least once…

lucky-strike

f/5.6 (slightly cropped)

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