Laowa 15mm f4.5 Zero-D Shift review - Verdict
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Verdict


The Laowa 15mm f4.5 Zero-D Shift from Venus Optics is the widest shift lens available for full-frame cameras. The front-end of the lens can be shifted 11mm in any direction which makes it a valuable tool to avoid perspective distortions when shooting architecture or interiors. The lens is manual focus only, aperture has to be operated manually too, and no EXIF data are transmitted to the camera. This may not be a big issue though when used on a modern mirrorless camera with focus-peaking, magnified live-view, and a bright viewfinder.

At 1400 EUR / 1200 USD / 1250 GBP the Laowa 15mm f4.5 Zero-D Shift is not exactly cheap so the crucial question is, how’s it perform? Well, if you consider only the center and the extreme corners the lens looks quite sharp even when shifted to the max. And it shows little colour aberrations or coma, and is pretty resilient against flare and glare – which is especially important for ultra-wide angle lenses. It also has low distortions and manageable vignetting in the neutral position, produces nice 10-pointed sun-stars (in the blue-ringed version), and has very little focus breathing.

But the lens has one major drawback: Its resolution suffers visibly between 3mm and 13mm image height which covers most of the APS-C/DX image-circle and is a very important area for judging the overall sharpness of an image especially in architecture, interior, or landscape photography. To achieve a satisfactory sharpness the Laowa 15mm f4.5 Zero-D Shift needs to be stopped down to f8.0 or even f11. This is quite disappointing especially considering the price. And there are other, smaller issues: Bokeh is almost non-existent with a strange pentagonal form in night-shots when stopped down, and the lens has no weather sealing.

Let’s put this into perspective and have a closer look at how the Laowa compares to some ultra-wide angle zoom lenses. This may look like an apples to oranges comparison as none of the zoom lenses offer the ability to shift. But if you do perspective correction in post-processing you can in many cases achieve comparable results:

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Above: Laowa 15mm f4.5 Zero-D Shift at f11, shifted up 11mm; click image for 4k version

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Above: Nikon Z 14-30mm f4.0 S at f11, camera tilted 16 degrees up, perspective correction in post-processing; click image for 4k version

In the images above both lenses were shot from the same position – except for the nodal point of the Z Nikkor being probably 10cm forward as the Laowa was mounted in its lens support. The Laowa was shifted up by 11mm while the Z Nikkor was used at 14mm focal length with the camera tilted 16 degrees up to capture a comparable frame at the top and then corrected in post-processing. The resulting images are comparable. Technically you loose a bit of resolution as the “tilted” image is resized and cropped in post-processing. But you’ll hardly notice that even when looking at 100% magnification (see following crops). This is an important point to keep in mind when considering a shift lens.

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Above: Nikon Z 14-30mm f4.0 S at f11, camera tilted 16 degrees up; 100% crop from original (left), after perspective correction in post-processing (right)


All three ultra-wide zooms in the following comparisons have the advantage of autofocus, electronic aperture actuation, and full EXIF data. They also are extensively weather sealed and naturally as zoom lenses are more flexible in framing images – and thus much more versatile in daily use. So I won’t mention this again below.

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Above: Laowa 15mm f4.5 Zero-D Shift (left), Nikon Z 14-30mm f4.0 S (right)


Compared to Nikon Z 14-30mm f4.0 S

At 14mm focal length the Nikon Z 14-30mm f4.0 S has a 4 degrees wider angle of view than the unshifted Laowa which makes it capable of producing comparable images (after post-processing) to the shifted Laowa in many cases. The Z Nikkor is lighter and shorter (especially in its retracted state) than the Laowa and has a customizable control ring which can be assigned to set e. g. aperture, exposure compensation, or manual focus. The Z Nikkor can use standard 82mm filters which is rare among full-frame lenses of 14mm focal length (or shorter). Its optical performance at f4.0 is better than the Laowa (even stopped down to f11) in almost any aspect accept perhaps for its sharpness in the FF/FX-corner. And with prices of the Z Nikkor and the Laowa being comparable I personally would rather get the Nikon Z 14-30mm f4.0 S over the Laowa 15mm f4.5 Zero-D Shift. Just remember to shoot it at 14mm when you’re battling perspective distortions – and fix the converging lines in post-processing.

For more details see my Nikon Z 14-30mm f4 S review where it came recommended.


Compared to Sony FE 12-24mm f4.0 G

At 12mm focal length Sony’s FE 12-24mm f4G has a 12 degrees wider angle of view than the unshifted Laowa which covers over half of the shift-range of the Laowa even without resorting to post-processing. With post-processing and 6-12 degrees tilt of the camera the Sony can produce all images a shifted Laowa can capture. The Sony is lighter and shorter than the Laowa and easily out-resolves it at 14mm focal length. Like the Laowa though the Sony cannot use standard front-filters or gel filters. The Sony is a bit more expensive – especially in the US. But don’t forget the general advantages over the Laowa I mentioned above.

For more details see my Sony FE 12-24mm f4G review where it came recommended.


Compared to Sigma 14-24mm f2.8 DG DN Art

The Sigma 14-24mm f2.8 DG DN Art is available in the Sony E and Leica L mounts. But let’s hope that Sigma soon is able to offer this lens with Nikon Z-mount and Canon RF-mount too because its optical performance is almost flawless. At the wide end (and with some post-processing) it can capture comparable images to the shifted Laowa in many cases. The Sigma is of similar size and weight as the Laowa and also cannot use standard front-filters. But there’s a gel filters holder at the rear of the lens. The Sigma is currently priced similar to the Laowa but offers a 1.3 stops brighter focal ratio in addition to the other benefits mentioned above.

For more details see my Sigma 14-24mm f2.8 DG DN Art review where it came Highly Recommended.

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Laowa 15mm f4.5 Zero-D Shift final verdict

Laowa’s 15mm f4.5 Zero-D Shift is a unique lens: It is the widest lens available for full-frame (and GFX medium format) cameras with an 11mm shift range (8mm on GFX) and a full 360 degrees rotation. Be aware though that it has no autofocus, no automatic aperture operation, no EXIF data, and no weather sealing. And it is quite soft in the APS-C image-circle except for the center. To achieve satisfactory sharpness across the full frame the lens needs to be stopped down to f8.0 or even f11. Under this caveat the 15mm f4.5 Zero-D Shift still earns a recommendation for those who prefer to shift optically rather than correct distortions in post. But if you are happy to correct distortion in software, do compare the Laowa 15mm with similarly-priced ultra-wide zooms which are more versatile in daily use.

Good points:

  • Widest shift lens available for full-frame and GFX medium format cameras.
  • Great 11mm shift range and full 360 degrees rotation.
  • Only little longitudinal colour aberrations.
  • Pretty resilient in adverse contra-light situations.
  • Nice sun-stars.
  • Low distortions and manageable vignetting in the neutral position.
  • Special lens-holder available for shift-and pano-shooting.

Bad points:

  • Needs stopping down to reduce softness in the APS-C/DX image circle.
  • No autofocus, no EXIF data, no lens profile.
  • Manual operation of aperture with too soft click-stops.
  • No weather sealing.
  • Relatively high price.
Check prices on the Laowa 15mm f4.5 Zero-D Shift at Amazon, B&H, Adorama or WEX UK. Alternatively get yourself a copy of my In Camera book or treat me to a coffee! Thanks!
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