David Thorpe: A Look At The Laola [Laowa] 7.5mm f/2 Ultra Wide Lens – COMMENTARY

“It’s wide, it’s fast and it’s tiny! Laowa’s 7.5mm f/2 is a very credible addition to the ever expanding armoury of Micro Four Thirds lenses. Is it a credible buy instead of a native Micro Four Thirds wide-zoom? It’s cheaper, that’s for sure. But does the IQ match up?…”

The Venus Optics Laowa 7.5mm f/2.0 super wideangle prime lens for Micro Four Thirds cameras, equivalent to 15mm in the 35mm sensor format, great for architecture, cityscapes, close-ups, interiors, landscapes and ultra-wide scene-setting establishing shots.

Commentary

This morning I had to jump into action to shoot a small series of architectural interior photographs to send off to a potential buyer of our house and soon-to-be subdivided property in one of the most prestigious suburbs in Sydney’s upper north shore.

Our plan has always been to sell our house only if the subdivision takes far too long to complete, subject as such things are to the vagaries of bureaucracies and the availability or lack of it of consultants and tradesmen, as a last resort.

With almost every cent of our savings spoken for and the final cost of the last stage of the subdivision process of unknown cost depending on when a tradesman can be persuaded to arrive to take on the final stage and what he finds when he starts digging, we have had to suspend all new photography and video production hardware and software purchases and it really grates.

I have been wanting some wider focal lengths than 12mm (in Micro Four Thirds) or 16mm (in APS-C) both of which are equivalent to 24mm in the 35mm format, for quite some time, for architectural photography and moviemaking as well as scene-setting shots in photoessays and movies.

The optimum super wide-angle lens solutions for each or just one of those two mirrorless sensor formats that I use are neither clear nor obvious.

Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm f/2.9 Pro wide-angle zoom lens with STC adapter for 105mm diameter circular screw-on filters.

Choose a zoom lens and compromise on optical distortion and vignetting?

Compromise again on a variable instead of fixed maximum aperture zoom lens knowing that I find variable maximum apertures irritating when shooting video though acceptable enough when shooting stills?

And what do you do about superwide zoom lenses and some superwide prime lenses with convex front elements that make attaching protective, UV or ND filters really expensive, bulky or next-to-impossible?

One possible stop-gap solution might be an affordable, small flat-fronted manual prime like the Laowa 7.5mm f/2.0 rectilinear superwide lens.

There is nothing so annoying as shooting a figure walking through a cityscape and the lens is turning all the parallel straight lines into curves, morphing from straight to bent and back as you follow your subject.

Laowa 7.5mm f/2.0 superwide prime lens for Micro Four Thirds cameras.

The Laowa 7.5mm f/2.0, equivalent to 15mm in 35mm sensor terms, is wider than my preferred go-to superwide focal length of 10.5mm in M43, 14mm in APS-C or 21mm in 35mm format, and the Laowa has a very small filter diameter of 46mm, necessitating finding an alternative to my preferred range of top-quality knurled brass step-up rings made by Breakthrough Photography.

The smallest knurled brass step-up ring that Breakthrough makes is 49mm, but at least the company does make a 46mm X4 UV protection filter.

My second-choice brand in knurled brass step-up rings, Sensei Pro, does not appear to make a 46mm diameter step-up ring either so I am limited to my third-choice, the non-knurled but thankfully non-binding brass Heliopan, made in Germany.

It will be a two-ring solution, consisting of the Heliopan 46-77mm Step-Up Ring screwed into a 77-82mm Heliopan, 77-82mm Sensei Pro or 77-82mm Breakthrough Photography step-up ring.

Of all the brands of aluminium and brass step-up rings I have tried, those made by Breakthrough Photography have proven to be the best and are unique in their top quality machining and easy-handling traction frame.

The lengths we sometimes must go to in order to safely attach affordable screw-on neutral density filters!

Will the Laowa’s small size permit fitting focussing fingers in behind all three parts of such an ND filter solution?

Is its optical correction enough to avoid the dreaded straight-to-bent-and-back morphing parallels?

Or do I need to consider other superwide M43 lenses such as the narrower and slower SLR Magic 8mm f/4.0 prime or Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro superwide-to-wide zoom, both of which present other ND filter-attaching problems?

Why aren’t these things straightforward and easy to solve?

Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro standard zoom lens is a terrific lens but needs to be supplemented with wider or longer primes or zooms for non-standard shots or subjects.

I managed to produce an acceptable set of interior photographs with my  Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro zoom set at 12mm, my least favourite focal length for architectural and interiors photography, but at least it got the job done.

When it comes time to produce a complete set of images of this house and land once the final work is done and the council approvals – fingers crossed – come through, then I will have to do it with a much wider lens to get the feel of really being there in the interior or in the landscape rather than peering at it from a slight distance.

I would rather spend more money on Micro Four Thirds lenses and accessories right now than on APS-C gear as I need to have a well-rounded video and stills kit based on Panasonic’s Lumix Super 16/M43 cameras rather than Fujifilm’s Super 35/APS-C cameras.

Panasonic has really hit the moviemaking mark whereas Fujifilm is still playing catch-up from well behind in the video stakes and seems to have lost interest in producing more moviemaking-ready manual clutch focus primes and zooms.

Fujifilm’s X-Pro2 and X100F digital rangefinder cameras are unique in their feature sets and affordability compared to Leica’s wonderful but incredibly expensive digital rangefinders. I love making fly-on-the-wall documentary photographs with rangefinder cameras and have done so since my early days in analog photography.

Fujifilm’s strength is in stills photography with my preferred camera series being the professional digital rangefinder X-Pron (n standing for a number) and the compact digital rangefinder X100n, both of which allow me to create photographs with image design and timing that continue to elude me in EVF-based cameras like Panasonic’s.

If Fujifilm comes out with a top-quality, non-compromised EVF in the X-Pro2’s successor than I may well add one for use with prime lenses longer than 35mm and wider than 18mm, as well as all zoom lenses, making for a classic two-camera, longer plus wider prime lens kit for immersive documentary photography.

Meanwhile Panasonic goes from strength to strength with its EVF-based, DSLR-style video stills hybrids cameras, though I do have a very special fondness for its Lumix GXn rangefinder-style series with its unique tilting EVF that allows me to photograph in the style of my beloved, long-lost Rolleiflex twin lens reflex cameras.

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  • Breakthrough Photography 46mm X4 Brass UV FilterB&H
  • Fujifilm XF 10-24mm f/4 R OIS LensB&H
  • Fujifilm XF 14mm f/2.8 R Ultra Wide-Angle LensB&H
  • Heliopan 46-77mm Step-Up Ring (#149)B&H
  • Heliopan 77-82mm Step-Up Ring (#130)B&H
  • Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO LensB&H
  • Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO LensB&H
  • Sensei PRO 77-82mm Brass Step-Up RingB&H
  • SLR Magic 8mm f/4 LensB&H
  • Venus Optics Laowa 7.5mm f/2 MFT Lens for Micro Four ThirdsB&H
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