Andy Westlake tests an intriguing lens that mixes extreme wideangle macro with shift capability
Laowa LX FX 15mm f/4 Wide Angle 1:1 Macro review: Practical use
It should be clear by now that the Laowa 15mm is no ordinary lens, and this has an impact on almost everything you might do with it. Rather more than most lenses, it also has a distinctly different character depending on whether you’re shooting with a full-frame or APS-C camera.
Everything has to be focused manually, but on a lens this wide that’s no great hardship most of the time. However, if you’re using the optical viewfinder of a DSLR, you do have to make a point of keeping the aperture wide open, otherwise it will quickly go dark and make focusing difficult. Stopping down will also throw off the metering system, generally resulting in overexposure.
Because of this, overall the lens works better with the camera set to live view. In this case the metering will still work with the lens stopped down, so you can shoot conveniently in aperture priority mode. The lens’s fully mechanical operation also means that it can easily be used on mirrorless cameras via a mount adapter.
Used as a wideangle prime, the 15mm f/4 is a fairly straightforward proposition, although its intense barrel distortion makes judging horizontals and verticals difficult and often results in tilted images. The short minimum focus distance certainly allows for really interesting compositions, especially as wideangle close-ups aren’t often seen (conventional macro lenses tend to be telephotos).
By the time you get to 1:1 reproduction, though, the working distance is less than 5mm from the front of the lens. In the real world, this means that you’ll frequently block your own light, or end up touching against part of the subject. I didn’t find the lens especially practical when trying to use it at such extreme magnifications.