In this detailed review of the new Laowa 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 for Nikon Z mount, we will take a look at the world’s widest rectilinear full-frame zoom lens and see how it performs on the Nikon Z7 mirrorless camera body. We had a chance to test this lens for a few weeks and we prepared this review specifically for its official release at the end of June of 2019. Although we have not yet seen many third-party lens releases for the Nikon Z mount, it is exciting to see companies like Laowa putting their resources towards bringing out lenses that do not require any adapters to work. The Laowa 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 is the first attempt by Venus Optics to bring out a Z mount lens. Let’s take a look at the lens in more detail.
An Ultra-Wide Zoom Lens
Although we have previously covered the Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D lens and found it to be an extremely wide lens on full-frame cameras, the Laowa 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 beats that lens in maximum field of view by 2mm. While 2mm might not sound like a big deal, it represents a difference of 8° in angle of view, which is significant. In fact, as of the time of this review’s publication, aside from fisheyes, there are only two lenses that offer a similar angle of view and those are the Voigtlander 10mm f/5.6 and the Samyang 10mm f/3.5 and both are primes. This makes the 10-18mm a truly unique lens, which is also why it earned the “world’s widest rectilinear full-frame zoom lens” title when it was originally announced for the Sony FE mount in 2018. And now Venus Optics has modified the lens to work on Nikon’s Z mount, which makes it the widest lens you can attach to a Nikon Z-series camera without an adapter.
“How wide is 10mm?”, you might ask. It is really, really wide. Wide to the point that you might end up photographing unwanted elements without realizing it, if you are not careful. After using the lens at 10mm, I ended up with a few photos of my feet and my tripod legs, which I did not notice at the time of taking pictures. While cloning those out in post-processing wasn’t too painful of a task since I was shooting landscapes with a ton of foreground elements, I definitely made a mental note to myself to pay more attention next time.
Another thing to keep in mind is that at such focal lengths as 10mm-14mm, you will need to find interesting foreground elements, or your photographs will end up with a ton of negative space. See our article on using wide-angle lenses for more information on this subject. As you can see from the sample images in this review, I used the Laowa 10-18mm lens to photograph landscapes with very large elements in the foreground. And in some cases, I moved the camera closer to foreground elements to exaggerate their sizes relative to the background and the sky.
If you have never previously used such a wide lens, it can be both fun and and a challenge to use. I had a lot of fun photographing with the lens, and although it was not a great candidate for photographing grand vistas and overloooks at the wide end, I found myself walking around and looking for interesting foreground shapes and textures to fill the frame. As a result, I ended up using the lens at 10mm a lot more than other focal lengths.
Without a doubt, the Laowa 10-18mm has quite interesting specifications, thanks to its ultra-wide zoom range and rectilinear design. The lens has a rather complex optical formula comprising of 14 elements in 10 groups, 2 of which are Aspherical and 1 is Extra-low Dispersion. The front element is coated with Laowa’s “Frog Eye Coating”, which works similarly to fluorine coating that we see on other modern lenses. To make the lens particularly attractive for including bright sources of light to create appealing sun stars, the lens has a 5-blade diaphragm (more on this later). A particularly interesting feature is the ability to use rear-mount 37mm filters, although as I reveal below, it is not a particularly useful feature to have for mounting thick polarizing filters.
Build Quality and Ergonomics
Similar to other Laowa lenses, the 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 is a very solidly built lens with an all-metal construction. The lens is fully manual – both in terms of focusing and in terms of its (lack of) communication with Nikon Z cameras. That’s right, while it does mount without any issues on Nikon Z cameras, there are no communication pins on the rear of the lens. This means that such information as lens focal length and aperture do not get communicated to the camera and even if you set lens aperture and focal length in the camera menu through “Non-CPU lens data”, it won’t make a difference.
This is why you see all images in this review marked with incorrect “0mm f/0” exposure information, as that part of EXIF data is not recorded within images. Lack of lens communication makes it difficult to mass-apply distortion, vignetting and other corrections to similar images in post-processing software, since you have no idea what focal length and aperture the lens was used at. It also impacts the way the camera sometimes meters and exposes in Program, Aperture and Shutter Priority modes, so you will need to watch the LCD / viewfinder and make necessary adjustments. My Nikon Z7 metered just fine in most situations, but I did occasionally override the brightness of the image via the exposure compensation button. It is not a major issue, just something to watch out for.
For such an ultra-wide angle zoom, the lens is surprisingly small and lightweight. Side by side, it is noticeably smaller and lighter by 113 grams than the 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D prime. As expected, the front element is quite round and bulbous, so you cannot attach any filters in the front unless you get a filter holder and filters specifically made for this lens. Venus Optics designed a magnetic filter holder for the lens in order to reduce potential vignetting issues when using filters, so if you want to use an ND or a GND filter, you might want to get the 100mm magnetic filter holder, along with the magnetic frame from the Venus Optics website. Here is a brief video that showcases this filter holder:
If you are wondering about the usefulness of the rear filter holder that can accommodate 37mm filters, then I have some disappointing news for you – it is not as useful and easy to use as it seems. First of all, the lens comes with a clear filter mounted on the back of the lens, which you should not remove, as it is part of the optical formula. Second, if you do want to replace it with another filter, it might not be an easy task (especially if you have large fingers), since the filter sits slightly recessed inside the mount. So putting your fingers on top of the filter to rotate it might be an issue. The filter on my lens sample sat pretty tight and I had to press the edges of the filter firmly to rotate the filter counter-clockwise to start detaching it. Unlike the Sony FE version, it looks like you should be able to mount a polarizing filter (make sure to get a “slim” or “nano” version), but I honestly don’t see myself using one on the lens when shooting in the field. I don’t see how dismounting the lens, rotating the filter then mounting the lens again just to check the effect of the polarizing filter is a viable solution. However, the rear filter is a great idea for reducing shutter speed with an ND filter! I can see myself using such a setup when photographing waterfalls or scenes with moving people.
The Laowa 10-18mm has a total of three rings. The first, and the largest ring closest to the front of the lens is the focus ring. As expected, adjusting focus is smooth and easy – it goes from 150mm (minimum focus distance) to infinity in slightly more than a half turn (100-110° focus throw). My sample has a hard stop slightly beyond the middle of the infinity label, with true infinity being a bit before that. The second ring is the zoom ring that goes from 10mm to 18mm in clock-wise motion. It is also quite smooth with hard stops on both sides. Personally, I am not a big fan of the zoom ring. I wish it was a bit larger and easier to grab – I often ended up rotating the aperture ring by accident. Speaking of which, the aperture ring on the lens is located closest to the lens mount and has a built-in capability to “de-click” for those who want to use the lens for shooting videos. It is a simple lever right above the aperture ring – move it clock-wise and aperture changes smoothly, whereas shifting to “Click” will enable one-stop click stops.
Interestingly, although the lens is a variable aperture lens (f/4.5 at 10mm and f/5.6 at 18mm), you can clearly see the aperture shape change from f/4.5 to f/5.6 when zoomed to 18mm.
Due to the round front element, the lens has a built-in petal-shaped metal hood that only extends a little bit from the front element, mostly from the top and the bottom (anything larger would result in visible vignetting). I like the way Venus Optics designed the front cap – unlike the badly designed front cap of the Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D, this one actually sits tightly and does not easily fall off. Just like the lens, the front cap is solid and made out of metal.
Unlike Nikon’s Z mount lenses, the Laowa 10-18mm does not come with rear rubber gaskets to prevent dust particles from entering the lens and the camera body. The lens does not appear to be weather-sealed (I could not locate any information regarding weather sealing on the lens).
Overall, aside from the focus ring being rather small for my taste, the lens handles just fine in the field.
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