Ultralight 14mm for DSLR users!
Laowa 14mm f4 Zero-D review
Published on 16 Jul 2021
For all DSLR users out there, just if you thought most of the lens brands have forgotten you guys and only focus on mirrorless market. Laowa just released the DSLR mount for their 14mm f4 Zero-D. I was very excited to have my hand on a copy of this Laowa 14mm f4 to do some real field test. I’ll be pairing the lens with my Nikon D850 for those tests.
I’ll be going to share with you on my opinion of this lens. Whether this might be a lens for you to consider to add into your arsenal if you are into shooting with ultra wide angle lens.
*Under the courtesy of Laowa which they sent over a copy for me to try it out.
Having to own several copies of ultra wide angle and tested different lens brand as well, I was amazed how light this lens was. The lens only weighs at 320g, this could be the lightest Full-Frame wide angle at 14mm in the market that I know of. Most of the DSLR ultra-wide angle weighs a tons, a Nikon 16-35mm F4 weighs 680, Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 weighs 1000g and Samyang 14mm f2.8 weighs at 530g. Of course those might not be the best apple to apple comparison but I guess you do get my point on how light this Laowa lens is.
When I took it out from its box, the lens was so small on my hand. This lens could easily fit into my pocket. The size and weight of this lens does reminds me of the Samyang 8mm fisheye(APSC version), small and compact. I’m quite a fan of traveling light when it come to my own leisure shooting where I just want to be free and easy without carrying a lot of heavy gears with me.
The next innovention which Laowa incorporated into this lens was the filter thread. In the past, those 14mm wide angle have very bulky round front glass which do not allow filter thread to be installed. You would have to purchase an additional filter holders and square filter like 100*100mm or even 150*150mm in order to use Neutral Density filter. Those stuffs takes up a lot of space in the camera bag and square filter don’t come cheap either.
Now gone were the days with bulky filter holder and square filter since Nikon release their first ever 14-30mm F4 with filter thread on their Z mount. I’m glad Laowa was also moving on the same direction to have filter thread for their new wide angle lens now. These days everyone just want to travel light.
One interesting thing was that the lens came with lens hood installed on it. Initially I thought it’s a built-in lens hood, then I actually found out it can be removed. When getting on with filter, it is best to remove the hood to access to the filter thread.
Adjustable focus scale
This was one interesting feature that I have ever heard of. Laowa offered an adjustable focus scale where you can calibrate the infinity point to the exact infinity logo. Out of all the wide angle lens I tried before, the infinity point was never on the exact logo and the actual infinity point was always slightly before the logo.
Laowa included an adjustable handwheel which I had circle it out in a white box. Just by turning it anti-clockwise, it will unlock the handwheel. That’s where you will find the infinity point in camera and mark the point on the lens. After which you will adjust and align the scale then tighten back the handwheel.
This was always the best part I like about the modern lens – their tack sharp performance even on high resolution sensor. I owned the Laowa 12mm f2.8 and I was pretty happy with that lens sharpness comparing to some other lens I owned. So I was quite excited to see how well this lens can perform as well.
This is a manual lens with aperture blade where you can adjust your F-stop by rotating the aperture ring. I will be going through lens sharpness across the different aperture setting so you do a comparison on your own.
*All the images can be view in full screen by clicking on it.
Sharpness at F4
Sharpness at F5.6
Sharpness at F8
Sharpness at F11
Sharpness at F16
Sharpness at F22
I was pretty happy with the sharpness performance, sharpness in the center of the frame was pretty good to start off with across all the aperture, even at F4 the lens perform reasonably well. At corner frame, F4 and F5.6 were slightly weaker in performance. The corner sharpness started to get better when I stopped down to F8 and F11. At F16 and F22, corner sharpness performance start to drop again due to lens distraction. My finding was for the best performance of this lens will be to stop down F8 and F11.
Starburst is one of the unique characteristic of every lens when you stop down its aperture. This is one of the distinctive effect when shooting against sun or street/lamp lights, it turned strong light source into a stars looking effect.
The starburst effect start to visible when the lens stop down from F8 onwards. The strong distinctive effect of the starburst is really hard to miss it for anyone if you are shooting in the city area where there’s a lot of street lights and strong light source. In my personal preference, although I love starburst effect but this could be too much for my liking where the starburst effect kind of took away the focus from my main subject which were the buildings.
This is one of the interesting way to showcase the star effect of the supertree. Using the lens to it’s advantage, it can create some really cool effect of a tree full of stars.
Starburst effect across different aperture
I tested the starburst effect shooting against a strong light source. Aperture at F4, the starburst effect wasn’t visible yet. Once stopping down to F5.6 and onwards, the star effect was very visible throughout the other aperture setting.
Starburst when shooting directly against the sun is always awesome but this also come with a small trade off which is the lens flare! On the right where you see my original shot image, you might not have notice like very minor lens flare at the shadow area.
As I cropped in to show the lens flare which was just beside the person shadow area, I would said it wasn’t too bad! It really depends on how you point your lens towards the sun. In certain angles directly to the sun, it will create a visible lens flare in the image. All these lens flare can be minimize just be tilting the lens angle away from the sun slightly.
Other than this minor lens flare, I did not notice any chromatic aberration in my cityscape images.
Just as marketed – Zero distortion lens. I didn’t notice any serious distortion issue like barrel distortion, pincushion distortion or even mustache distortion. Considering there wasn’t any lens profile apply in-camera or in Lightroom.
The lens performed pretty well for architecture stuffs where lines are involved. This lens would definitely suit the needs for those who like to shoot architecture work.
I was really surprised how close this lens could still focus at a super close up distance. You might not be able to tell from this image alone. So I have attached a behind the scene photo to show how close up the lens was.
There was also some purple fringing when I shooting against a strong backlight during close up shot. Color fringing could be easily fix in post production software like Lightroom. Therefore not so much of an issue.
Interestingly I did not experience any fringing issue when I was shooting landscape or cityscape stuffs.
Another example for the close-up capability
Why a 14mm lens is a good to have?
The Nikon 16-35mm f4 zoom just looks gigantic against the Laowa 14mm F4.
Have you encounter situation where you are using a 16-35mm lens at its widest 16mm and it was still not wide enough to cover your subject. This is one good example how a 14mm lens can change your game in shoot cityscape or landscape where subject is close to you and 16mm is just not enough to cover it fully.
Laowa 14mm F4 Zero-D (DLSR mount)
– Lens construction: 13 elements in 18 groups
– Number of Diaphragm Blades: 5
– Dimensions (Diameter x Length): 72.5×75mm
– Minimum Focusing Distance: 14.5cm
– Filter Size: 67mm
– Weight: 320g
I have been walking around with my Nikon D850 and Laowa 14mm F4, I love the lightweight from this combo. If you are using Full frame like D750/ D780, it would be even lighter than my combo. Overall experience was pretty good, I love the metal built of this lens. It’s ultralight, super wide angle and best of all it takes in 67mm size filter. Most of the wide angle lens are using 72-82mm size filter depends on the brand and focal length. 67mm filter is a good choice as it isn’t as expensive as 72mm-82mm filter. It is also smaller to bring around.
I have to say I’m actually not a big fan for manual focus but this lens was really easy to use. On most of my cityscape shots, I just dial my focal distance to about 5m and things always came out beautifully sharp for buildings. No complaint on that. The sharpness was decent at F4 wide open and the magic starts from F5.6 onwards where corner sharpness start to improve. Sweet spot of this lens is always F8-F11 if you want to get the best out of it.
So is this Laowa 14mm F4 a lens you would consider to add on to your arsenal? I would say ‘Yes’. Throughout my time with it I did not miss the flexibility of my Nikon 16-35mm zoom and definitely not the weight either. Manual focus wasn’t that difficult to use, I didn’t need any peak focusing function to do manual focus. If you are a fan of starburst, this is definitely one lens you can’t miss it.
The lens is priced at USD499 with free shipping at their official website . I honestly find this is quite a decent price point for such a great performer ultra wide angle lens.
More photos from the Laowa 14mm f4. All the photos are taken at F8-F11 aperture.
Author: Andy Chua
Andy is a professional photographer based in Singapore. His portfolio consists of 70% sports, and he has covered both local and overseas international meets. His sports work has also won several photo awards over the years and has been published in different media platforms. In addition to sports, he also covers various genres such as underwater, automotive, products, interior and pets.