Review: Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f2.8 (Canon EF)

In very recent times, lots of companies have started to tout the fact that they can create wide angle lenses with little to no distortion – and the Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f2.8 lens is one of those that puts itself to a claim like that. If you’re from the camp of photographers that highly doubts what the company is capable of because you’re a Canon, Nikon, or Sigma user, then I implore you to consider opening your mind up a bit. The Laowa lenses are very good, very affordable, and capable of doing incredible work in the hands of skilled photographers. With an all metal build to them, manual apertures, manual focus, and fantastic image quality all around, there isn’t much someone can complain about when working with a lens like the Laowa 12mm f2.8.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Incredibly low distortion; though I wouldn’t say it’s totally gone for this brand or some others especially in the corners.
  • Very sharp image quality
  • Smooth focusing
  • Metal body
  • Capable of very close focusing for really nice bokeh

Cons

  • Weird lens hood
  • Weird lens cap
  • You can’t attach any sort of graduated ND filter to it
  • Only full aperture stops

Gear Used

The Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f2.8 was used with the Canon 6D.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the product listing.

Ergonomics

The Laowa 12mm f2.8 is quite a lens when you consider it it ergonomically. There is a very big front element where you can’t mount a filter of any sort.

This is also kind of an unusual lens in that the lens hood itself is rather small. It goes onto the lens and it very low profile.

When you look at the lens itself too, you’ll notice the very typical depth of field and focusing scale.

Behind the focusing ring, what you can spot is an aperture ring. All of these have grooves on them to make turning that much easier.

Build Quality

This lens has no weather sealing of any sort, and the weirdest thing about it is the lens cap. You need to hit it at just the absolute right spot to get it to stay onto the lens.

Otherwise, this lens has an all metal body–which adds to its very good build quality overall.

Ease of Use

This isn’t really a lens designed for the introductory photographer. Instead, it’s designed for the more advanced user that understands how a depth of field scale works and manual focusing works. On top of that, this lens doesn’t have AF/Exposure communication chips built in; so you’ll need to be very careful when focusing.

Focusing

Focusing with this lens is done manually. With a Canon 6D, or any DSLR for that matter, you’re probably better off just using the LCD screen unless you have a matte focusing screen built in which makes manual focusing easier to do overall.

Most of the time, I just set the lens to infinity and let it get everything in focus.

Image Quality

The image quality from the Laowa 12mm f2.8 is certainly unique. The images from a lens like this are very sharp, but they have a much different character from everything else out there on the market. They’re not as saturated as most Sigma wide angles, and they don’t have this sense of being overly sharp like Rokinon and Zeiss optics. Instead, they’re kind of just their own thing. The images don’t look like something Canon renders due to their preference for very warm tones, and it’s not like anything Nikon or Tamron does. Instead, it’s truly unique.

I don’t want to say that they’re stale or sterile, but they’re a bit more modest.

Bokeh

The only way that you’re going to get any sort of bokeh with a 12mm f2.8 lens is if you focus very closely to a subject. Once you do, you’ll see some hazy bokeh. There’s surely better on the market, but if you really need bokeh just know that this isn’t so bad.

Chromatic Aberration

This lens tends to keep distortion down a whole lot overall and better than most in the corners. It also shows no signs of purple fringing or any other oddities from aberrations.

Color Rendition

My favorite way to get pleasing colors starts with either sticking to daylight or tungsten white balances. Then, the colors tend to look more film-like overall. The colors here aren’t muted, but they’re also not super saturated. If anything, I’d even go so far as to say that Canon offers lenses with more saturation than this exhibits.

Sharpness

One of the best things about this lens is just how incredibly sharp it is. At f2.8, it’s superb and when you stop down it only gets better.

Extra Image Samples

Conclusions

Likes

  • Small size
  • Image Quality
  • Build quality

Dislikes

  • Getting the lens cap on is a pain.
  • Wish this lens had thirds of stops.

Venus optics created quite an incredible lens with the Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f2.8. It indeed exhibits low distortion and overall very solid image quality. It also has its own unique color rendition. My only qualms with it are the lens cap and it not having more than full stops of aperture control.

But if you mostly just care about the image quality and getting it at a super affordable price, this lens is absolutely your best bet.

The Laowa 12mm f2.8 costs quite a pretty penny, but it wins five out of five stars.