Laowa (Venus) 15mm F4 1:1 Wide Macro
New lens with wide-angle macro and perspective control
By K David in Third-Party Announcements on Jun 26, 2015
Last September we saw a unique new lens from Venus Optics: the 60mm F2.8 macro lens with 2:1 magnification. At the time, Venus announced they were working on a wide-angle macro lens. That later lens has arrived as the Laowa 15mm F4 1:1 Wide-angle Perspective-control Lens. This lens allows 1:1 macro magnification while preserving the look of a wide-angle image, and is another first for any 35mm lens maker.e
Venus Optics, the English-speaker-friendly name for Anhui Chang Geng Optical Technology Company Limited, announced the widest-ever 1:1 macro lens last week. The new lens, a 15mm F4 wide-angle, perspective-control 1:1 macro, will be available in the major mounts (Canon/Nikon/Sony/Pentax) as early as July. We've obtained a number of sample images in larger resolution than you're likely to find anywhere else.
Pricing and Availability
This lens will be distributed through eBay and Venus Optics' web shop for U.S. $479 to $499, depending on mount.
Specifications and Technical Performance
The lens boasts a fourteen-blade iris, a minimum aperture of f/32, six millimeters of shift up and down, a 110-degree field of view on full-frame camera and 85-degree field of view on an APS-C camera, and the ability to also focus at infinity. The makers note that, on full-frame cameras, when using the perspective control function, the lens will vignette. We found two sample images that appear to exhibit this.
Note the vignetting in the upper right corners. The effect is somewhat easier to see on this next photo.
The 15mm F4 WA PC 1:1 has a lot of potential, but also has a few possible warts. We'll look first at some technical specifications and then sample images. The lens has 12 elements in nine groups. These include one low-dispersion element and three extra refractive index elements.
Venus released a modulation transfer function (MTF) chart, too. That MTF chart shows a strong center sharpness and contrast with a rapid decline outside of the APS-C image area.
An APS-C sensor would end at around the 15 column. The MTF data indicates that the lens retains significant contrast throughout an APS-C image area (when perspective control is not used). The MTF chart also shows that sharpness declines rapidly as the image moves away from the center. We also note that the MTF line pairs have areas of both close proximity and large gaps, indicating that the lens is corrected (heavily in some places) for astigmatism and aberration. Also, the 15mm appears to be largely field-wave-free because the MTF lines do not wave up and down heavily.
One thing to note about this MTF chart and this lens is that if you use the perspective control you will be altering the lens's performance and pulling the image toward the right side of the chart. That could have some nice effects if used properly, but will impair image quality outside of the focal plane.
One potential issue with this lens is that, at 1:1 magnification, the subject will be less than a half a centimeter from the front lens element. Aside from making circular polarizing filter use difficult, this makes lighting the subject without flare nearly impossible. However, it appears that Venus Optics has a solution for that.
Here they demonstrate their kraken-like flash unit with their 60mm f/2.8 2:1 macro lens. The unit has two different types of lights, a directional LED and two strobe units.
The table below presents a number of sample photos. For each photo, you can click on the image to see a larger version. Some photos with very large files can be accessed in greater resolution via a text link below the image.
Venus Optics 15mm F4 Wide-angle Perspective-control 1:1 Macro Lens Sample Images
The Venus and Pentax Users
The sample images show that the lens has a good deal of corner softness with contrast loss, as demonstrated in the MTF chart. Unfortunately, the largest available image, the tarantula, was mis-focused. The image does show that the lens' center has good sharpness, but by no means does it perform on par with Pentax and Sigma macro lenses.
That said, the Venus Optics 15mm F4 WA PC 1:1 lens does fill an interesting and previously vacant niche: wide-angle macro work. None of the sample images appear to be full 1:1 reproductions, but instead appear to be close-focus images. When, at some point, an image confirmed to be a 1:1 reproduction is released, it will be interesting to see the results at this lens' far-end magnification.
However, that may not really be the point. Lenses typically perform best within a window that does not stretch to the far end of their capabilities. If this lens allows closer, sharper focus than any other perspective-control wide-angle lens on the market, that may be enough to give it a unique market position
As with their 60mm F2.8, Venus Optics released sample video for the 15mm F4 WA PC 1:1. The video is interesting and this lens has the potential to enable some very unique videography.