Laowa 15mm f/2 Zero-D for Nikon Z Review
I am not one to wax lyrical about cheap glass, hell I remember a time when buying Sigma was seen a s a bit of a no,no. However times have changed and many of the 3rd party OEMs make some cracking glass what are worth every penny and every minute of your attention.
For the new Nikon Z mount there are very limited options for lenses at the time of press and the Laowa arrived on my desk at the same time as the new Nikon Z f/2.8 24-70mm but that review will wait after an extended road trip across Alaska; but this 15mm is a lens focal length I just LOVE to shoot in and this weekend I took it to the New York Airshow to take create some images for a news outlet so before I pack my bags for Alsaka to see how this lens stands up under the stars lets see how it works out for photojournalism.
Nitty gritty; what is the image quality like? Attached to the Nikon Z6 I felt it did a great job, shooting wide open and at around f/5.6 most of the day the images seemed as sharp as say the Tamron 15-30 SP which has been my go-to lens for many years. With a bit of pixel peeping at f/2 you can see it is a tiny bit softer at the edges but not enough to distract at all and the lens distortion is exceptionally handled.
I took some shots inside an RAF Hercules of the bay and cockpit with the crew all in natural light and the little Laowa 15mm f/2 Zero-D performed as you would expect an $800 lens to perform, no disappointment did it’s job with little fuss. Had this lens been say $1200 I would have taken issue with its build quality and lack of AF but I can put up with MF which I shoot in most of the time for this kinda work as I hate to relay on the camera for focal points when I can just use peak focusing to get what I want. If you’re looking for a “toy” to play with until Nikon FINALLY bring us some wide angle pro glass then I can highly recommend it.
If you’re a photojournalist like me I can highly recommend it for sure. If you’re a wedding photographer looking for a cheap option I would maybe avoid this one as it would disappoint, not because of optics but because the build quality will probably let you down over the course of a years abuse. Maybe some other good use cases are for the budget real estate or architecture photographer; this would be a great lens to start with. I’m sure using the Laowa 15mm f/2 Zero-D for nightsky photography is excellent and I’ll give that a try and update this post in the coming weeks, the extra light coming into the f/2 glass will certainly help.
No, unboxing video, but. . .
The box and plastic cover the lens comes in feels cheap, I mean very low rent, as does the “declicking” switch on the lens itself. While I appreciate the option the build quality all over is patchy, the lens hood is a nasty plastic as is the rear and front lens cap to the point where you never really feel 100% that the lens cap is on fully. The lens hood has to be taken off when switching a screw in filter on the 72mm threaded front bezel, a tad annoying but a huge boon to have a screw in filter system for the lens this wide. Props to Laowa for that at least. Not all EXIF data is recorded, the ISO and shutter speed are but the aperture is not.
That aside the rest of the lens feels decent for the money, the focus ring and the aperture ring both turn nicely and provide enough force to feel at ease “riding the ring” when shooting in manual / peak focusing when using this lens for news work.
I liked the size, its super light and short (just over 3 inches long) which means throwing into a bag is a doddle and at only 1.1 lb it won’t break your back as well as your wallet. For me as I have got older I need some light weight kit and from that perspective the Laowa 15mm f/2 Zero-D lens nails it, for CA there is some creeping in at the wider apertures and you can take a look at the images below and see for yourself. I haven’t ended these in anyway other than to give them a light retouch but nothing to fix perspective and CA, that’s all there to see.
In conclusion I really enjoy this lens for $849, I would have enjoyed it more at $700 which is the sweet spot for this lens in my option due to the patchy build quality but optically it’s not so bad for a non-Japanese branded lens.