Venus Optics Laowa 15mm f/4.5 Zero-D Shift Lens Review | Real Estate Photography Dream Lens?
This new wide-angle lens is quite possibly THE new champion of architecture and real estate photography! The Venus Optics Laowa 15mm f/4.5 Zero-D Shift is a full-frame, ultra-wide-angle lens that will surely be an attractive offer if you’re in need of such a specialty optic.
At 15mm, this is the widest full-frame lens that is capable of the “shift” function, which allows a lens to photograph at an upward or downward (or left/right) angle, while still keeping parallel lines in the image from “leaning” in or out.
In fact, the Venus 15mm Shift lens is priced at “just” $1,199, which is in stark contrast to the Canon TS-E 17mm f/4 L, at $2,149, and the Nikon PC Nikkor 19mm f/4E ED Tilt-Shift, at $3,396.
Do I have your attention now? In short, (spoiler alert!) this lens is truly impressive; the build quality is robust, and image quality is incredible, especially considering the focal length and price tag.
(Also note, this 15mm Venus/Laowa lens is NOT to be confused with their other 15mm shift-capable lens, by the way, which is only $499, but is only capable of shift when used on APS-C sensor cameras, not full-frame!)
In this review, I’ll talk briefly about how you even use a “Shift” lens, (plus, why it is NOT called a “TILT-Shift” lens, by the way) …and, of course, I’ll get in-depth about every aspect of image quality, plus the other pros and cons, about this lens.
Venus Laowa 15mm f/4.5 Shift Specifications
- FOCAL LENGHT & ANGLE OF VIEW: 15mm 110° (full-frame) angle of view
- LENS MOUNT(S): Nikon F, Canon EF (plus all mirrorless mounts via adapter)
- APERTURE & RANGE: f/4.5-22, fully mechanical (no EXIF transfer)
- STABILIZATION: No
- AUTOFOCUS: No
- MANUAL FOCUS: Fully mechanical, focus & hyperfocal distance marked in feet and meters
- OPTICAL CONSTRUCTION: 17 elements in 11 groups, 2 aspherical, 3 extra-low dispersion, anti-reflective coating
- MECHANICAL CONSTRUCTION: All metal
- MAGNIFICATION & FOCUS DISTANCE: 7.9 in. (20 cm)
- FILTER THREADS & HOOD: Metal bayonet lens cap, no hood, no filters
- SIZE: 3.1 x 4.1″ / 79 (103 mm)
- WEIGHT: 1.3 lb (597 g)
- PRICE: $1,199
(B&H | Amazon | Adorama)
How To Use Lens Shift (How To Use A Tilt-Shift Lens)
Why do you want a lens like this? Because it solves one of the fundamental problems with getting creative angles when photographing any subject that has parallel lines that you want to stay parallel. (See the example below!)
When you are shooting at most normal or even medium-wide focal lengths, parallel lines don’t “lean” too terribly if you frame your shot at a slight upward or downward angle, however, once you get to 17mm, let alone 15mm, even the slightest upward or downward camera angle will quickly cause vertical lines to lean inward or outward. This is also known as the keystone effect.
You can try to correct this effect in Lightroom or other software, of course, by warping the image along one edge until the parallel lines become parallel again. However, the more correction that is required, the more your image will get soft at the stretched edge, plus, the more you will have to cut off the edges of your image.
If you use a shift lens, you can aim your camera level, to keep parallel lines parallel, …and then shift the lens’ optics upward or downward (or left/right) to adjust your actual composition.
Technical Details: The Venus Laowa 15mm f/4.5 Zero-D Shift offers 11mm of upward and downward shift, which is very impressive for a 15mm lens. This means that the lens optics actually creates an image circle that is much wider than 15mm, in order to accommodate not just the centered composition, but the maximum shifted compositions, with corners that are still un-vignetted and decently sharp.
By the way, this also means that you can create flawlessly stitched panoramic images that equal a much wider angle. Personally? I suspect that Laowa is using their expertise in creating excellent un-distorted lenses in the 12mm, 10mm, and even wider focal lengths, and that is how this 15mm lens is so sharp even when using the generous shift capability!
What Is Tilt-Shift?
You might be wondering why most of the other lenses with “shift” in their name are actually labeled as tilt-shift lenses. What does this mean?
Shift is the up-down or side-to-side translation of the lens’s optics. This is used to change the composition of an image, without changing the direction or angle the camera is pointed at.
Tilt, on the other hand, is when you actually change the angle of the lens’s optics, which doesn’t change the framing of the image, but it actually skews the plane of focus itself. Instead of the plane of focus being parallel to the plane of the image sensor, it can be at an angle.
For more information, google “Scheimpflug” if you’re truly nerdy and want to learn how to master the use of a classic, traditional tilt-shift lens!
Venus Laowa 15mm f/4.5 Shift Review | Who Should Buy It?
Unlike most of the lenses I review here at SLR Lounge, the list of “who is this lens made for?” is a pretty short one, because this is definitely a specialty optic. If you just want a 15mm ultra-wide, full-frame lens, there are a number of alternatives that are just as good, and some are just half the price or less! (Laowa’s own 15mm f/2 is a well-known great option for mirrorless users who are looking for a fast-aperture lens, and Laowa’s newer 14mm f/4 is a great “tiny” ultra-wide lens option, for those who are looking for something truly affordable and portable. There are also numerous DSLR-compatible optics from Venus Optics, too.
I’ll get into alternatives more later, but for now, let’s talk about why you would want this $1,200 lens, out of all the innumerable other ~14-15mm full-frame ultra-wide lenses out there!
Real Estate Photography
Whether you photograph interiors or exteriors, real estate photography of any kind is almost always going to require that you capture images where vertical lines stay vertical. That is what you get with a shift-capable lens, and simply put, the Venus/Laowa 15mm is the widest lens around to have such a function. For interiors, in particular, this lens is likely to be a holy grail for real estate photographers.
It may be more practical to have a 14-24mm or 12-24mm ultra-wide zoom instead, for some types/styles of real estate work, however, the availability of shifting at 15mm can be just as valuable.
A slightly different genre than real estate photography, but also including it, I consider architectural photography to encompass virtually everything that involves pictures of man-made buildings or structures. Maybe you love photographing cool-looking buildings, or bridges, train trestles, anything! A shift lens will be incredibly useful.
If you’re thinking of buying an ultra-wide lens, and you are at all into any type of architectural work, then add this lens to your list along with all the traditional 16-35mm, 14-24mm, or 12-24mm options. You won’t regret at least taking this Laowa 15mm for a spin!
Street & Cityscape Photography
Even if you don’t do paid work photographing real estate or other types of architecture, the Venus Optics Laowa 15mm f/4.5 is still a FUN lens to have for things like cityscapes, or even casual street photography.
Is it pretty impractical to focus manually, let alone to bother with the shift function of a lens, though. So, if cityscape photography is only one small part of your work, then you might opt for a more traditional ultra-wide zoom before this lens.
Personally? One of the things I absolutely love about cityscapes is the starbursts that you get from lamp posts and other such spectral light sources, and Laowa offers some of the best sunstars/starbursts around. So, I’d honestly consider this lens just as seriously as any of the respectable ultra-wide zooms out there since I do shoot a fair amount of cityscapes!
Once you leave the city and urban subjects behind and head outdoors, you may rapidly lose interest in having shift capability at your disposal. Simply put, if there aren’t any parallel lines to worry about in your scene, then a shift capability becomes significantly less useful! (You can still use shift to emphasize or de-emphasize a near or far subject in your scene, of course, but the effect is a lot more subtle.)
Having said that, there is one caveat. If you do a lot of photography in the woods/woodland areas, and a lot of the trees are straight-as-an-arrow pines or other similar types of trees, then yes, you might very well find it extremely useful to have a shift-capable lens!
Personally? Once again, I’d consider this 15mm shift lens almost as equally as I would any ultra-wide zoom, if I did a lot of landscape photography in woods and forests. (Then again, the “leaning effect” can have an aesthetic appeal to it, too, when you are standing in a forest gazing upward into the trees.)
Venus Laowa 15mm f/4.5 Shift Review | Pros & Cons
In terms of pros and cons, things are pretty straightforward with this lens. Simply put, it’s a great performer but is indeed a specialty item. If you want what it offers, you won’t find a better value, or any lens at all that offers 11mm of shift at 15mm for a full-frame sensor. That’s the bottom line here.
I think I can sum up how impressive the image quality is with this lens by saying, if it were a Canon, Nikon, or Sony optic, it would cost two or three times as much even if the image quality were exactly the same. That’s how good this lens is. Let’s dive into the details.
The sharpness is quite impressive on 24 and even 45-megapixel cameras. It’s not perfect, of course, even when you get to the extreme corners of a shifted image. (See below) However, it is still truly impressive.
To be totally honest, I forgot to test the bokeh of this lens! If you buy this lens and are worried about the bokeh, you are probably not spending your money correctly. I was more excited about how good the sunstars looked, and how few flare dots there were, than what the bokeh would be like. (All three of these aspects of image quality are closely related to how the aperture iris is designed.)
Having said that, if you’re doing close-up photography and want an ultra-wide lens to do with, literally all of the other Venus Laowa lenses might interest you. There are numerous 14mm and 15mm options that have better macro capabilities, which well mention below.
Colors & Contrast
Colors and contrast are gorgeous, indeed. Most notably, when you capture single exposures with extreme dynamic range in the scene, you don’t get weird blooming effects when performing extreme highlight and shadow recovery in post-production. For real estate photographers, Nailing a shot in a single exposure might save them tons of time. Or, for those who use HDR techniques more frequently, you can enjoy clean, clear tonal transitions in high-contrast areas.
Vignetting & Distortion
Sunstars & Flare
Sunstars aren’t the first thing you think about when picking a lens, but they are almost always very important to anyone who photographs buildings or cityscapes! Thankfully, the Venus Laowa 15mm f/4.5 Shift does not disappoint in this regard! Sunstars are gorgeous by f/8, with sharp, well-defined 8-pointed starbursts.
Flare dots are virtually nonexistent in normal daylight conditions, HOWEVER, in flare “ghost” situations, such as above, like cityscapes where there are very dark shadows and very bright spectral highlights, you will definitely see dots. This is pretty common with all lenses, though.
Color Fringing, Aberration, Coma & Astigmatism
Faint aberrations are present when shooting wide-open at f/4.5 and f/5.6, but they’re negligible unless you’re making absolutely huge prints of your images.
When you’re using a lot of shift, then there are some aberrations in the corners of the images, just as the field curvature or softness that I mentioned earlier. Again, it’s still negligible, considering that you’re getting a 15mm lens with shift capabilities.
Macro & Close-Up Photography
Another confession: I did not do much close-up testing with this lens. Sharpness is excellent when focusing moderately close, and that is good enough for me. If you want an ultra-wide “macro” lens, then you should probably look into the Venus Laowa 15mm f/4 Macro, which achieves a full 1:1 reproduction macro, or the 25mm f/2.8 Ultra-Macro lens that achieves 2.5-5x magnification! Both lenses cost less than half the price of this shift-capable lens, and they are available in both DSLR and mirrorless mounts.
Design & Durability
The Venus Optics lineup is, to the best of my knowledge, almost all-metal construction. It’s one of the things we really like about Laowa lenses compared to other small third-party lens companies that use a lot of plastic, and in some cases generally flimsy construction.
Having said that, making a lens out of metal parts is only half the battle. The other half is, of course, the actual workmanship and quality control of the final product. To be totally honest, in the past I have seen plenty of all-metal lenses that still started “rattling apart” after a year or two of heavy use.
Suffice it to say, this lens feels like it will stand the test of time. Not just the materials, but also the overall construction, feel like they are pretty professional.
The locking knob, and the tab that releases the lens and allows it to shift horizontally instead of vertically, are both very sturdy-feeling. The focus ring, and the ring that controls shift, are both very smooth.
As an all-metal lens with zero electronics, you don’t really need to worry that much about moisture, however, it’s still nice to have decently “sealed” internals in order to avoid fungus or humidity ingress as the years roll by.
Honestly, I would actually have really liked to see Laowa start including electronic contacts in their lenses at some point, and this lens that breaks the $1K mark would have been a nice first lens to do it with. However, that’s a minor complaint. Very few people need to actually remember what aperture they took every photo at.
The focus rings and all other moving parts seem to have very tight tolerances, so, as long as you’re not using this lens in a sandstorm or a torrential downpour, I expect it will “live” a long, successful life.
Manual Focus Performance
Unlike a lot of the latest electronically-controlled lenses these days, the Laowa has a delightfully smooth, fully mechanically focus ring. In addition to offering great precision when focusing using live view on any camera, DSLR or mirrorless, you also get the added benefit of the lens retaining its focus setting if you turn the camera off, and of course, there are physical focus markings on the lens for you to quickly find infinity if you need a good starting point for more hastily done shots.
Among Laowa’s other 14mm and 15mm full-frame ultra-wide lenses, this $1,200 might not seem to be a good value if you don’t need the shift capability. Simply put, there are a half-dozen other lenses that cost half as much, and are just as sharp, just as portable, just as well-made, and if you need it, faster than f/4.5.
However, once you need the shift capability, the Laowa 15mm f/4.5 suddenly becomes one of the best values around! Simply put, the other two ultra-wide options, Canon’s 17mm TSE and Nikon’s 19mm PC, are both significantly more expensive, and less wide.
Thirdly, maybe you’re considering not just an affordable wide-angle prime, but an ultra-wide zoom. These lenses often start at around $1,200, and go up from there, in which case you are going to see a relatively good value in the Venus/Laowa.
It’s really that simple. It will be a no-brainer as to whether or not this lens is a good value to you and the type of photography you shoot.
Venus Laowa 15mm f/4.5 Shift Review | Compared To The Competition
As I mentioned, there are three categories of lenses that you might be considering besides a lens like this. Either you’re shopping for specialty shift or tilt-shift lenses in particular, or you’re shopping for a compact, simple ultra-wide prime, or you’re shopping for a “fancy” ultra-wide zoom.
We’ve already mentioned the two name-brand, ultra-wide, tilt-shift lenses on the market, the Canon 17mm f/4 TS-E and the Nikon 19mm f/4E PC. They’re very expensive, and less wide-angle than this 15mm Shift.
The Rokinon/Samyang 24mm f/3.5 Tilt-Shift ED AS UMC is the other wide-angle prime lens that you might consider, at only $799. Like the other competition, it also offers not just shift capability, but tilt as well. But, 24mm is nowhere near as wide as 15mm, so it truly is in a different category.
Since you probably already know whether or not you need this lens’ shift capability, we’ll simply rattle off the alternative lenses you might consider, if you’ve decided that you don’t need to “shift”. All of these lenses are absolutely excellent:
- Venus Laowa 15mm f/2 Zero-D
- Venus Laowa 14mm f/4 Zero-D
- Venus Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D
- Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 (Any model, the newer the better!)
- Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 (Both the DSLR and mirrorless versions are excellent!)
- Sigma 12-24mm f/4 Art
- Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 (Both the DSLR and mirrorless versions are excellent!)
- Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 (Both DSLR versions are excellent
Honestly, though? None of these lenses really offers what the Venus Laowa 15mm Shift offers. Theoretically, you could use, say, a 12mm lens instead, frame your photos perfectly level, and then just heavily crop the image in order to achieve an upward or downward composition. But, at that point, you’re really throwing away megapixels, and wasting what your lens was made for, too.
Venus Laowa 15mm f/4.5 Shift Review | Conclusion
Check Pricing & Availability
The Venus Optics Laowa 15mm f/4.5 Zero-D Shift lens is available everywhere, usually priced at $1,199.