Smaller, Lighter, Wider | Laowa 7.5mm f/2 MFT

 

This is the first time that Better Photography has reviewed a lens made for aerial photography applications. Shridhar Kunte tests the lens on land to find out how good it is for general shooting.

Laowa, also known as Venus Optics in the imaging industry, is well known for offering special purpose manual lenses for different camera mounts. The Laowa 7.5mm f/2 is the only widest rectilinear lens available for MFT camera systems. There are two versions of this particular lens—One is intended for generic photography, and the other one, which is lighter by 20g, is well suited for use with gimbals and drones. Apart from the weight difference, there is no distinction in the optical formula of the lens. However, to reduce weight, some of its parts have been redesigned and replaced.

Features
When connected with a Micro Four Thirds system, the lens gives a field of view that is equivalent to a 15mm lens on a fullframe sensor. As the MFT sensor offers 2x multiplication factor, this effective focal length allows MFT users to enjoy an impressive 110° ultra-wide angle view, for an expansive range of shooting. The optical formula of the lens consists of two aspherical elements and three extralow dispersion elements. This controls distortion and aberrations, for improved clarity and sharpness. The optical elements are arranged in 9 groups and has a total of 13 elements. A Frog Eye Coating has also been applied to the front element, to guard against water and dust.

This is a full time manual focus lens, with no electronics built-in. The lens has no electronic contact at the mount. So there’s no communication with drones/gimbals, and therefore, there is no electronic control of the aperture or focus. So when you mount the lens on the camera, you need to enable the setting that allows shooting without the lens, from the menu. The aperture is adjusted mechanically (directly on the lens), thereby restricting the use of programs that actively adjusts the aperture. It is best, however, to use the aperture priority setting.

Handling
I used this lens on my Panasonic GX85 camera, whereby the combination was light and was balanced well in my hand. Considering the weight, I was expecting more use of plastic, but the outer shell is made up of metal and the hood is also metallic.

If you are very familiar with manual focus lenses, you will be comfortable in using the lens. As this is a fully mechanical controlled lens, the diaphragm is manually controlled by the aperture ring on the lens barrel. The aperture ring has clearly defined positions and markings. The aperture setting can be changed with one stop increments; Every setting has a click. You can also adjust the value in approximately 1/2 or 1/3 stops. This was easy when setting the aperture value between f/2 and f/4. For f/22 to f/4, it was difficult. The focusing ring is well damped, and has a rotation of about 100° to cover the complete focusing range.

Considering the angle of view the lens covers, it is possible to get some distortion. But by carefully levering the camera helps to avoid distortion. Photograph/Shridhar Kunte

Performance
With such a wide angle of view and manual focusing, I was using only the hyperfocal distance shooting method. On the GX85, I kept the focus peaking on, at all times, for safety. The other best option that I found was to keep the focusing distance at about 0.5m, and play with the aperture values of f/8 or f/11. The rectilinear tag implies that the lens is distortion free, but this was not the case, as there was barrel distortion. However, this can be easily corrected in post processing. While shooting backlit subjects, the chromatic aberrations are visible to some extent, but you can overcome it by slightly changing the shooting angle. Cameras from Olympus and Panasonic apply lens correction to some of the lenses which provide electronic information to the camera. But for this lens, there was no electronics built-in. The RAW converter will show all the shortcomings, without the software correction.

Conclusion
This lens has a very unique focal length and is priced at Rs. 50,300. Unfortunately, in India, there is no or very little competition from Panasonic or Olympus. The closest offering from Panasonic is the 7–14mm f/4 zoom, which is optically slower and priced much higher. Olympus offers an older 9–18mm f/4-5.6 zoom. It is small in size and not as bright as the Laowa. There is no block lens from either Panasonic or Olympus, they are all zooms and none have such luminosity. However, they’re all AF lenses.

The quality of photographs shot with the Laowa shows a great level of detailing and good contrast, without any cast. Once you master the art of hyperfocal focusing, you will not feel the need for AF. The price to performance ratio will satisfy the expectations of any demanding photographer.

This article originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Better Photography.

FINAL RATINGS
Features
Full-time manual focus, depth of field scale
15/20
Performance
Good edge-to-edge sharpness, distortion is
well controlled
28/35
Build Quality
Metal exterior, no weather seals
16/25
Ergonomics
Flat front element, possible to mount filters
12/15
Warranty & Support
One year warranty with only one
service centre
3/5
MRP Rs. 50,300
OVERALL 74%
VALUE FOR MONEY 4/5
Who should buy it? It is especially suitable for
architecture, astro and landscape photography.
Why? The lens is rectilinear which helps to keep the
distortion to a minimum, and with an f/2 aperture, it allows more light to enter the sensor.

 

Tags: Laowa, Laowa 7.5mm, Laowa 7.5mm f/2 MFT