Those looking for a lens to help with architectural photography don’t have too many choices. Canon and Nikon provide tilt-and-shift lenses for the F and EF mount systems but it’s fair to say these are quite costly – as specialist products usually are. Samyang makes a 24mm that comes in a wide range of mounts, but beyond that options are limited to the adapters various independent brands, such as Fotodiox, offer.
This new lens from Laowa is currently the widest shift lens for full frame users. Where this lens also differs from those others available is that it only shifts – there is no tilt option. All other lenses in this segment offer tilt as well as shift, but Laowa says it hasn’t offered tilt in this 15mm model as it is designed for architectural photographers and they don’t need or use tilt features.
As expected from Laowa, the lens is well made, solid and offers smooth mechanical movements. The barrel is all-metal and the lens comes with a metal twist-lock lens cap to protect the extremely bulbous front element. The 15mm focal length delivers an angle of view of 110° and the 17 elements-in-11-groups design produces curvilinear distortion corrected well enough for Laowa to include this in its Zero-D range of wide angles.
An image circle with a diameter of 65mm allows full frame users 22mm of shift in total – 11mm either side of the neutral position. And the shifting section of the lens can be rotated about 360° with click stops every 15°. The shift is achieved by unscrewing the locking pin and then turning the shift ring that sits between the camera and the aperture ring. Rotating this ring by 45° is enough to take the lens from the neutral position to the extreme of its shift at 11mm from Normal, and 45° the other way takes the barrel in the opposite direction.
As expected from Laowa, the lens is well made, solid and offers smooth mechanical movements
The mechanism for shifting the lens is smooth and, once unlocked, very easy to turn but with enough resistance to make it comfortable to control. A scale on the side of the barrel where the two sections meet makes it simple to measure the movement and then to repeat the same degree of movement in future shots. Conveniently, the lens clicks into place at the neutral position so you’ll know it has come home without looking at the scale.
The aperture ring clicks only at the full stop positions but allows users settings anywhere in between them, and the iris has only five blades – the same as the Laowa 9mm. At F4.5 the iris is round as the blades are fully retracted, but looks very pentagonal as the aperture is closed down. Considering this lens’ traditionally large and distant subjects, maybe the out-of-focus rendering isn’t as important as it might be in longer focal lengths.
Obviously the main target for this lens is photographers wanting to avoid converging verticals in their architectural work, but it is also very good for exaggerating convergence as shifting the front of the lens down allows for angling the camera up more – a range of effects can be achieved.
Twisting the lens to the 90° position and using the shift to move the lens from side to side is an easy way to create a panoramic image that will stitch easily, and using the shift diagonally allows four images to be taken that can be stitched to make a high resolution super-wide view. With the camera upright side-to-side shifts again allow high resolution stitches to be made with a squarer format.
I found the full 22mm side-to-side shift allowed me to create an image 13314 x 5499 with the Panasonic Lumix DC-S1R – that would allow a 44″ print at 300ppi. Single pictures from this camera are 8368 pixels on the longest dimension so the shift allowed me to add approximately 1.6x to the width of the frame. You don’t get double the width as there is a lot of overlap with such a wide lens. But overlap is good as it makes it easy to remove the aberrations at the edges of the frame – though vignetting is the only real issue.
As you’ll see from the samples the lens is pretty good, and retains decent resolution and sharpness through all but the most extreme movements. At the edges of the imaging circle you should expect a loss of clarity and some slight smearing in the corners, but if you keep away from the +/-11mm settings and don’t push it beyond 8 or 9mm you’ll have good performance right across the frame.
I was a little surprised and disappointed at first to find this lens doesn’t offer tilt, but in use I have come to appreciate why that movement hasn’t been included
All the pictures in this gallery were shot at F8 and F11, but F5.6 also gives good performance. There’s a slight drop of sharpness at F16 and a more noticeable decline at F22, as diffraction takes over. Vignetting is well-controlled and only comes into play at the more extreme settings and, as the Zero-D marking indicates, there is little curvilinear distortion.
I have to say that I was a little surprised and disappointed at first to find this lens doesn’t offer tilt, but in use I have come to appreciate why that movement hasn’t been included. While it would be fun to be able to tilt the lens there isn’t the same depth-of-field advantage in such a wide angle lens as you’d get in a regular focal length – depth-of-field is extensive at all apertures – and it likely won’t be used for product photography.
Tilt would offer a few fun tricks, but its absence isn’t likely to put off the target market of those shooting the interiors and exteriors of buildings. In use I found the 15mm focal length too wide for many of the applications I was expecting to use this lens for, but was able to make the most of its charms shooting interiors rather than exteriors – though it did allow me to shoot tall buildings when there wasn’t much room to move backwards.
This is a very interesting, if somewhat specialist, lens that should find a place in the kit bags of those looking for its width, its lack of distortion and its ability to take an altered perspective while maintaining a parallel relationship between the imaging sensor and the subject.
The lens will ship from late November in mounts for Nikon F and Canon EF, and costs $1199. Other mounts will follow next year. For more information see the Venus Optics website.
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