There are wide lenses, ultra-wide lenses, and then there’s the Venus Laowa 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 ($849). Its angle of view is grander than any other full-frame zoom, fish-eyes excluded. It’s a manual focus optic, but comes in at a lower price and with a smaller build than its closest autofocusing competitors. It’s worth considering if you’re after the epic look an ultra-wide lens delivers, but you’ll get crisper images and autofocus from the Nikon Z 14-30mm or Sony 12-the 24mm G, though both cost a lot more.
The 10-18mm is rather small when you consider just how much of the world it takes in. It measures 3.6 by 2.8 inches (HD) and weighs 1.1 pound. A petal-style hood is integral to the design, protecting the bulbous front element. The optical design precludes the use of front filters, but you can add neutral density to the rear—it supports 37mm threaded filters.
The lens is sold in two versions. We received it in E-mount, compatible with mirrorless cameras from Sony. It’s also available with a Nikon Z mount. You’ll need to buy the correct version for your system. The optics cover full-frame sensors, but you’ll be able to use it with an APS-C model like the Sony a6400 or Nikon Z 50 if you want to.
The Laowa 10-18mm is a true throwback in terms of build. The exterior is all metal, finished in black, and controls are mechanical. It doesn’t include any sort of electronics, so there’s no EXIF data sent to your camera.
Sony a7R IV, 0.4-second, ISO 100
Some manual focus lenses, like Voigtlander’s ultra-wide prime, the 10mm f/5.6 Hyper Wide Heliar E, tell your camera the set aperture and focal length. It also means that frame magnification won’t kick in automatically when you turn the manual focus ring.
You’ll also need to enter the focal length into a menu to get the best results out of your camera’s in-body image stabilization (IBIS) system—you’ll want to tell it the focal length to get the best results. I set it at 14mm on my Sony a7R IV, the midpoint of the zoom setting, and was generally happy with the effectiveness for longer handheld exposures and video.
Aperture control is manual, with a wide-open f/4.5 setting and clicked stops at f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, and f/22. Videographers can disable the stops, though, simply by moving the silver switch on the left side to its silent position. There’s a little roughness in the action, at least in the copy I received for review, but videographers will still appreciate the continuous, silent aperture control.
The aperture ring is close to the mount, and pretty narrow, but I was able to turn it comfortably with my left hand. The zoom ring is a little bit forward, and also quite narrow. It requires a bit of torque to turn—you are moving the relatively heavy glass elements. It would be a bit more comfortable to turn if it was wider.
Sony a7R IV, 1/13-second, ISO 100
I have no complaints about the manual focus ring. It’s located toward the front, and is about three times as thick as the zoom control. It turns smoothly, but with just enough resistance to make fine adjustments. There are hard stops at the close focus distance and infinity.
Of course, the lens omits autofocus completely—there’s no way it could be as small or affordable as it is otherwise. But considering the angle of view, the relatively narrow aperture, and the high-resolution viewfinders included in compatible cameras, you shouldn’t have any trouble nailing focus on your own.
Sony a7R IV, 1/640-second, ISO 1250
Focus is available as close as 5.9 inches (15cm), a figure measured from the image sensor. It means you won’t be able to focus on subjects nearly touching the front glass, but you can get pretty close, within a couple of inches. At 18mm it captures subjects at a quarter life-size when focused as close as possible.
Sony a7R IV, 1/320-second, ISO 100
There is a little bit of focus breathing visible. The effect, which changes the angle of view as focus is adjusted, doesn’t mean much to photographers, but videographers don’t like it. For most shots with a lens of this angle, you won’t have to worry about focus adjustments. But if you do plan on using it for shots with dramatic changes in the plane of focus, expect to see some breathing.
In addition to rear filter support, Venus offer an accessory to add 100mm wide rectangular glass filters to the front. It attaches magnetically and adds $149 to the cost. Landscape specialists often use rectangular graduated neutral density filters to balance exposure between sky and landscape.
Sony a7R IV, 1/640-second, ISO 200
Dust and splash protection isn’t included. The lens itself doesn’t have any electronics to damage, but there’s no o-ring seal around the mount, so I don’t recommend using it under rainy skies.
Some Optical Issues
I paired the 10-18mm with the 60MP Sony a7R IV and software from Imatest in order to evaluate its optical characteristics.
Sony a7R IV, 1/80-second, ISO 100
At 10mm, the pair delivers resolution that’s just okay at f/4.5, about 2,880 lines averaged across the frame. Detail is actually in our very good range for the a7R IV at the center (4,000 lines), but drops quickly as you move toward the middle of the frame. The edges and corners are blurry, and you’ll notice a greenish color cast at the corners at 10mm.
Resolution ticks up at f/5.6 and f/8, to about 3,300 lines, a figure we consider good. The center is sharper, but resolution doesn’t drop as steeply as you look at subjects in the mid parts of the image. Edges and corners don’t look good at 10mm, regardless of f-stop.
Sony a7R IV, 1/1,600-second, ISO 100
There’s a slight drop in resolution at f/11, and more noticeable ones at f/16 and f/22—typically we’d say you should think about using them to get clearly defined sunstars, but the 10-18mm shows defined points at f/8.
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The lens delivers better resolution numbers at the midpoint of its range, 14mm, but not significantly so. Wide open it shows about 3,000 lines, and steadily improves as you stop down, topping out at 3,650 lines at f/8. Center resolution isn’t any better than at 10mm, but there’s less of a drop in resolution throughout the rest of the image. At 18mm resolution is back in line with what we saw at 10mm.
Sony a7R IV, 1/2-second, ISO 100
There’s some visible distortion, but not to the effect you get with a fisheye lens. Imatest shows a wavy, mustache pattern throughout the zoom range. It’s most visible at 10mm, and lessens as you zoom in. It means you won’t want to use the lens for serious architectural photography, but it won’t matter to most using it simply for the wide angle of view.
There’s also perspective distortion to think about—if your subject is right up to the lens, features will be stretched and exaggerated. This isn’t an issue with the optics, but with technique.
Sony a7R IV, 1/640-second, ISO 160
You’ll also see some dimming of corners, most visible at 10mm. Narrowing the aperture or zooming in a bit lessens the effect, but it never goes away. You can brighten corners using Lightroom, but it may exacerbate the color shift effect.
There’s some flare too. It’s tough to keep the sun out of the frame at 10mm, after all. We noted ghosts and purple flares, in the shape of the lens aperture, when the sun is prominently in frame.
If it’s just hitting the optics from an askew angle you can create more interesting effects, including pentagonal highlights created by the shape of the five-blade aperture. The hood does its job, though, and it’s typically just a matter of adjusting your position by a few inches to get rid of the effect if you don’t want it.
Sony a7R IV, 1/125-second, ISO 100
You’ll also want to keep an eye out for chromatic aberration. I noted loads of false magenta and cyan color defocused tree branches in images captured in the woods. Thankfully it’s easy enough to remove—Lightroom’s single-click chromatic aberration tool erased it from photos.
Get the Biggest Views
The Venus Laowa imprint has delivered a host of unique lenses for a variety of sensor formats. Its 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 takes the crown as the widest rectilinear zoom for any full-frame system, ousting the pricey Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L from its perch. And, because it’s designed for mirrorless systems, it’s a lot smaller and lighter than Canon’s take.
Sony a7R IV, 1/50-second, ISO 100
It’s also a lot less expensive. At $849 it’s a relative bargain when compared with the lenses it most directly competes with from Nikon, the $1,300 Z 14-30mm, and from Sony, the $1,775 12-24mm. You do make some sacrifices—the 10-18mm doesn’t autofocus, nor does it include weather sealing, and its optical quality isn’t on the same level.
But there are shots you’ll get at 10mm that aren’t possible at 12mm, let alone 14mm—it’s an extreme angle of view. The zoom capability and rear filter add some appeal to videographers, and while there’s no autofocus, it’s not hard to set it manually.
I’ll continue to recommend the Nikon Z 14-30mm and Sony FE 12-24mm G to respective system owners. They’re more mainstream, crowd-pleasing choices, and come with fewer caveats aside from price. But if you want a more extreme look, the Laowa 10-18mm delivers it.
Venus Optics Laowa 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 Specs
|Dimensions||3.6 by 2.8 inches|
|Filter Thread||37 mm|
|Mount||Nikon Z, Sony E|
|Focal Length (Wide)||10 mm|
|Focal Length (Telephoto)||18 mm|