Anyone who has shot buildings and interiors might wonder what possibilities shooting at 10mm could unlock. This lens definitely triggered my curiosity.
One of the most common obstacles to shooting architecture and interiors stems from the fact that most of the time, what the photographer is shooting is way too big to fit into the frame. Shooting high-rise structures while trying to maintain perspective, or even shooting relatively smaller structures when there are a lot of obstacles present in the location can be really challenging without the proper equipment. Of course, there has always been the option of investing in a tilt-shift lens, but anyone who knows what that is knows that it’s not that easy to acquire such a lens.
Venus Optics (Laowa, since the brand emerged a few years back), has been creating some really out-of-the-box lenses. One of their first lenses out in the market was a full frame 12mm lens with absolutely zero distortion. In more recent years, they’ve developed lenses like the 9mm Zero-D for APS-C mirrorless cameras, the Laowa 24mm Macro Probe, and recently announced a 9mm full-frame lens. When I first heard of this full frame 10-18mm lens, I immediately assumed that it was some sort of a typographical error. Especially when I first saw product photos of the lens, I thought that it was pretty much impossible to have such a wide lens in such a small size. When I confirmed that it was indeed a full frame lens, I’ve always had such a desire to try it out for architecture. This lens is available for Sony E mount and Nikon Z.
Build, Design, and Ergonomics
One of the most impressive points about Laowa lenses, in general, is the fact that most of their lenses have an all-metal build. They are the kind of lenses that you know can, to an extent, survive a few bumps. The Laowa 10-18mm is not an exception to that. It features an all-metal body from the front cap to the mounting thread, weighs about half a kilogram, and is only 9.1 centimeters long and 7 centimeters thick. This alone is impressive, since most photographers are used to humongous lenses that aren’t even as wide as this.
The focus ring was given more width and can be found on the most distal portion, which may not be what most people are used to. The zoom ring is in the middle and is about half the size of the focus ring, and the aperture ring sits near the bottom of the barrel. While this lens has a varying maximum aperture of f/4.5-5.6 as you zoom in, most practical applications of the lens wouldn’t require anything wider anyway. Given that this lens was made generally for outdoor shooting, the practical uses of it would often require an aperture of about f/8 or smaller, so that doesn’t really take anything away from the design quality.
At 10mm with a full frame camera, the lens gives a whopping 130-degree angle of view, which is obviously the biggest selling point. Though not entirely devoid of distortion, it is generally something that can easily be corrected in post-production. The distortion generally breathes as you zoom in from a mustache type to a pincushion type towards the tighter end. At about 15mm, there is a distortion-free point, which can be quite comparable to Laowa’s 15mm f/2.0 prime.
The lens does suffer from significant vignetting at the widest aperture, and this slightly improves as you stop down to f/16. However, the vignette doesn’t disappear at any point. It’s, of course, nothing that proper post-processing can’t fix, so it should not be much of a problem. Chromatic aberration is present, but at a minimum that can be fixed in post.
Overall, sharpness is about an 8.5 out of 10. It does render details quite well but could definitely be improved. Although, of course, given the lens construction and the glass elements in mind, such output is definitely not that bad.
Having this lens solves two of the most common problems of an architectural photographer. First, of course, would be to be able to capture the entirety of a tall structure in the frame while maintaining a vertical perspective. Having the lens at 10mm allows the photographer to capture the entire structure from about 30 to 50 meters or virtually from across the street. For structures beyond 25 stories, a bit of tilt can be feasible and can easily be corrected in post-processing.
Another problem that a lens this wide can solve would, of course, be the difficulties of photographing interiors from relatively tight spaces. In the absence of a tilt-shift lens, shooting interiors can be quite challenging if you want to show the entirety of a room while avoiding too much keystone effect. The minimum focusing distance of 15 centimeters does quite well in shooting in tight spaces, especially if you want to capture something in the foreground and ensure accurate focusing.One thing that I do appreciate is the simple fact that this is a zoom lens. I have personally been using prime lenses when shooting wider than 15mm simply because most available lenses at that range are primes. At focal lengths wider than 15mm, the difference that a millimeter makes is much more significant, and simply moving forward and back to zoom in and out is, of course, not as simple as it seems, especially if you are very meticulous about your composition in such tight spaces. Being able to zoom in optically gives you a significant amount of efficiency in shooting.
The evident mustache-type distortion can also be something used to the photographer’s advantage. Whether shooting interiors or from outside, this distortion can amplify certain diagonal elements to give a complementary visual path towards the structure that you are shooting. Whether diagonal structures in a room or even linear clouds in the background, they can be used to direct your viewers’ eyes towards the structure and reinforce your visual design. However, this should be observed very carefully, and you should avoid placing significant structures in the outer fifths of the frame to avoid any unwanted skewed perspectives that could ruin the perspective accuracy of your photos.
Generally, this lens is quite remarkable, thanks to the unique range that it offers, the well-built feel, and the output that it is able to deliver. Though it may not be the staple lens for architecture photographers, it would be a nice addition to an existing lens line-up. Given all that, for a fair price of $849, it can be quite a worthwhile investment.
What I Liked
- All-metal build
- Image quality
- Angle of view
- Value for money
- Rear-filter compatibility
What Can Be Improved
- Significant vignette
- No embedded metadata