Recently I had the opportunity to try out the new Laowa 10-18mm f/4.5 to 5.6 lens for Sony FE cameras like the A7R Mark III. I was very excited to try this impressively dubbed ‘worlds widest rectilinear zoom lens’. I had immediately identified that the 10mm perspective would enable all sorts of creative photography opportunities and so I brought it along on many of my trips. As a Laowa ambassador, I am certainly biased when it comes to using their lenses, however, I am also a professional photographer and image quality is something I generally don’t compromise on. So what did I think?
1. The lens itself is tiny
If you were to imagine a 10-18mm zoom lens your mind would likely conjure up some massive behemoth, similar to the Canon 11-24mm f/4L lens. The reality is that this lens is tiny, in the sense that it is pocketable. How the lens designers at Laowa pulled off this feat beats me, but I’m glad they keep doing what they do.
In the images below you can see the Laowa 10-18mm mounted onto my Sony A7R III camera, with the zoom ring set to 10mm and the focus ring set to the ultra-close distance of 0.15cm. The image on the right is the result of using this setup. Being able to fit in the flower and the tall cliff in the same image shows the incredible versatility this lens has.
2. It has an extremely close focus distance
As previously mentioned, this lens has an incredibly close focus distance of 0.15m or 15cm. This allows you to get very close to a subject, allowing it to fill the frame and creating a very different looking image to the one you may have been able to before. Like with any lens, focusing close does mean that your background will be rendered out of focus; however, focus stacking here can be your saviour. It all depends upon if you are looking to isolate your foreground or show it in its broader context. Either way, the creative possibilities rendered by the close focus distance should leave you moving in close to your subjects, just like I did in the tiny rockpool in the before and after examples below.
3. It’s incredible for photographing flowers in the landscape
One of my favourite uses for this lens was its ability to get up close on a flower while still showing the background elements. This gave a much more meaningful context to where the flower was located and enabled the flower shot to become more of a landscape image. Focus stacking would allow a greater depth of field, or the flower can be isolated by rendering the background out of focus. I often opted to let the back of frame go out of focus as handheld focus stacking at 15cm is nigh on impossible, and tripod placement to this position could be described as difficult at best.
4. You can use filters on either end
The ability to use filters on this lens is staggering for a lens that goes to 10mm on a full frame camera. The rounded front element and integrated lens hood means that there is no front filter thread, however thanks to the provided filter holder kit you are able to use 100mm flat slot-in type filters with this lens. This is quite remarkable given that the Canon 11-24mm lens required dinner plate sized 180mm filters.
Secondly the lens has a rear filter thread which accepts 37mm filters. This is a really simple way of adding an ND filter rather than having to fit a special adaptor. The lens also ships with some 37mm filters for you to try. Note that the 37mm UV filter that is present on the lens is actually part of the optical formula and actually stays on at all times unless you swap it out for an ND.
5. It enables impossible shots to become possible
The ability to costruct images that you had previously not been able to is a liberating feeling. Walking around with this lens and pointing it up towards subjects to see how it fits in the scene is addictive and allows you to take your photography in a new direction.
6. It’s not for pixel peepers
Cramming so much into such a small package does create some compromises, and in the case of this lens, there is no exception. While the centre sharpness of this lens is very good, the corners can be somewhat soft, especially when not stopped down. I often found it hard to tell if the edges were weak due to the depth of field on close focused compositions or the optical constraints.
Along with some vignetting, there is also quite a bit of distortion due to the stretching required to get to 10mm. If you’re a pixel peeper, this will no doubt be off-putting. Overall though I see this as a compromise between producing innovative and highly creative images versus images that may be less interesting but more technically perfect. Which way you choose is up to you, but having perfectly sharp images all the time can also get quite boring.
7. It’s great for photographing caves
With the ability to take the focal length wider opens the possibility of a more immersive cave image. Here the walls of the cave draw the eye into the entrance and the scene outside. There were several caves I made a special trip to photograph with this lens, and my efforts were rewarded each time.
8. It has a great sunstar
The 10 pointed sunstars this lens creates are attractive, and I fully utilised in my time shooting with it. Unfortunately, there is some flaring to control, which is not unexpected. I often used the trick of placing my finger in front of the sun and capturing a frame without the flaring and then blended this frame back in on a frame without my digit in the way. It is tedious and very hard to do if you are not using a tripod, but as always, your efforts will be rewarded.
9. It is enjoyable to use around rockpools and reflections
Another scenario I really enjoyed using this lens was around rockpools. Getting down close and using the low minimum focus distance to its full advantage allows you to fill the foreground with the rockpool, highly accentuating its size and shape. You can still fit in the background as well providing a great context for the rockpool’s location. The same was also true for areas with intense reflections as well.
10. It allows the foreground to be the star
The last heading may be a little ‘punny’ when the following images are taken into account, however the extreme wide angle perspective allows your foregrounds really take centre stage. I think this is fantastic as foregrounds are often seen as an afterthought by many photographers. This lens helped me to literally see the world in a different way and I’m very thankful I had it as part of my kit.
So overall, this lens is an enjoyable and versatile addition to any kit. It’s not always going to see you producing technically perfect images. However, it will help you create unique and immersive images that captivate people, and for that reason, I think it’s a real winner.
Thanks to Laowa Australia for providing the loan sample. You can read more up about the lens over on their website.