Chinese lens maker Venus Optics is on a roll with its digital camera lens line-up. It has just announced four lenses at the same time, including this one – the widest super-wideangle zoom yet made for Sony full frame mirrorless cameras including the A7 series cameras and the A9.
Yes, you read that right – full frame. 10-18mm is a focal range normally associated with smaller APS-C sensor cameras, so the fact that this lens covers the full frame sensor area makes it the widest rectilinear zoom lens yet made for any full-frame camera. The only lenses wider than this are fisheye zooms which abandon any attempt to render straight lines as straight. It’s wider than Sony’s own super-wide 12-24mm zoom and wider even than Canon’s legendary 11-24mm zoom. A millimetre or so difference may not sound very much, but at focal lengths as short as these the extra angle of view is significant.
Designed for landscape, travel and architectural photography, the Laowa 10-18mm can focus right down to 15mm, which lets you create surreal juxtapositions of small nearby objects looming large over distant backgrounds.
It’s important to understand two things about Laowa lenses. The first is that they are fully manual lenses with manual focus and manual aperture control. With no electronic linkages to the camera body, they return you to an older style of image-making where you do the focusing and you do the exposure assessment and control.
But they are not optical throwbacks to another age. They use modern optical design techniques and materials to produce high-quality results that rival those from mainstream digital lenses – but at a lower cost and in a smaller package. The Laowa 10-18mm’s optical design includes 15 elements in 10 groups, including two complex and expensive aspherical elements and an exotic extra-low dispersion (refraction) element.
The10-18mm f/4.5-5.6, for example, is just 90mm long and weighs less than 500g. Sony’s own 12-24mm super-wideangle zoom is 117mm long and 565g, but then that is a fully-featured autofocus lens (that also happens to be rather good).
The Laowa does have some interesting features of its own, though, including a click/clickless aperture ring. You can set it to ‘click’ for regular stills photography or disengage the click for videography, where a smooth, stepless iris (aperture) adjustment is more desirable.
Laowa hasn’t announced pricing yet, or even a confirmed launch date for the 10-18mm, saying only that it will arrive in mid-late 2018. The Sony 12-24mm costs £1,700/$1,600, so with any luck the Laowa will undercut it by some margin.
Laowa 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 FE Zoom specifications
Focal Length: 10-18mm
Max. Aperture: f/4.5 (10mm) – f/5.6 (18mm)
Min. Aperture: f/22
Angle of View: 102 degrees (18mm) – 130 degrees (10mm)
Format Compatibility: Full Frame
Lens Structure: 14 elements in 10 groups
Aperture Blades: 7 (TBC)
Min. Focusing Distance: 15cm
Max. Magnification: 0.25x
Filter Thread: Rear filter thread (37mm)
Mounts: Sony FE
Available: Mid/late 2018
More information: Laowa website