The Sony E-mount is blessed by a large number of third-party manufacturers. One such is Laowa, which specializes in macro and wide angle lenses.
Today we take a look at a lens with unique properties, the Laowa FE 10-18mm F4.5-F5.6 C-Dreamer Ultra Wide Zoom. This fully manual lens, sporting an all-metal construction, is compatible with full frame. This makes it unusual: it is rare to see a full frame rectilinear lens reaching 10mm, even more so a zoom! Despite its moderately slow aperture, the lens offers many unique possibilities for dramatic perspective.
In this in-depth review, we will take a look at all the technical and artistic parameters which help to define a lens. Read on to find out everything there is to know about the Laowa 10-18mm F4.5-F5.6!
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|Lens Name||Laowa FE 10-18mm F4.5-F5.6 C-Dreamer|
|Optical formula||14 elements in 10 groups|
|Image circle||Full frame|
|Field of view diagonal||FF: 130 – 102°|
APS-C: 109 – 76°
|Aperture range||F4.5/F22 – F5.6/F22|
|Aperture blades||5, straight|
|Minimum focus distance||150mm|
|Filter thread diameter||37mm (Rear filter thread)|
|Lens cap||Metal, push-on|
|Lens hood||Built-in petal-shaped|
|Diameter x Length (collapsed)||70 x 90.9 mm (2.6 x 3.6 in)|
|Weight||496 g (17.5 oz)|
|Price (US MSRP)||$849|
Construction and Handling
In this section, we take a look at the physical characteristics of the Laowa 10-18mm.
The front of the lens bears the lens’s name and serial number. The bulbous front glass element takes up a large portion of the total front surface.
The lens does not allow the use of screw-on filters at the front (a filter can be placed near the mount, see below). We have had some success using a Revoring from H&Y. This useful tool uses a clamp with an adjustable diameter, we have been able to have it grip on the edges of the lens hood. Square filters can also be used, and are often the preferred solution for ultra wide angle lenses.
The big lens cap is made of metal and pushes on the lens hood. On our test sample, two pieces of fabric inside have crumpled near the bottom. The cap still holds well.
The lens body, made entirely of metal, is elegant and surprisingly compact. Given the ultra wide capabilities and the zoom range, it’s hard to believe that this small form factor allows all possibilities. The slow aperture is part of the explanation, of course. Nonetheless, what Laowa achieved here is impressive. The lens is particularly well matched to the diminutive A7C.
The bottom of the body, near the camera mount, has a subtle taper. Right above is the aperture ring. The ring has clear clicks at each full aperture value, but no intermediate positions. It is easy to move, with low friction, but the clicks are clear enough that accidental movements are unlikely.
There is a nice ribbed finish on both sides of the aperture markings. This ribbing is repeated elsewhere on the lens.
To the left is a silver toggle which lets the user de-click the aperture ring for smoother operation if required. It is thin and slim, and won’t be moved accidentally.
Next is the zoom ring, which markings for each even values. The zoom ring is almost as narrow as the aperture ring, something uncommon as normally, the zoom is the most prominent feature of a lens. It is still quite easy to find by touch.
Above is the wide focus ring. This ring is, of course, mechanical. Its throw is just over 90°, with the near-total range devoted to distances closer than 1 meter. It is nicely dampened and is a pleasure to use, much more pleasant than a focus-by-wire focus ring. There are white markings in meters, and red markings in feet. Everything on the lens is engraved and should be durable.
The lens gets a bit wider towards the front, where the typical Laowa blue ring is located. The permanently attached lens hood is the last element.
The lens does not extend when focusing. The front glass element does move a bit, but does not change the total length.
The Laowa 10-18mm uses 5 straight aperture blades.
The lens mount is metal.
It features a reversed thread to allow the mounting of 37mm filters. The lens ships with a UV filter, and it appears that the lens designers factored that filter into their design to achieve infinity focus. It will of course not be realistic to mount a polarizer, but a ND filter could be placed there.
The hood is permanently attached. It is petal-shaped and quite thin. The interior is ribbed. Part of the usefulness of that lens hood is probably to offer some protection for the convex front element.
Mounted On Camera
The Laowa 10-18mm is a natural fit for the Sony A7C.
Side by side
Here is the Laowa 10-18mm next to its 15mm sibling from Laowa and the Sony FE 28-60mm retractable lens. The small size of the 10-18mm is apparent.
Focusing with the Laowa 10-18mm is fully manual. Operation is smooth and pleasant, with nice feedback and no backlash.
We did encounter an unexpected issue when focusing. With the lens mounted, the camera automatically switches to MF, with focus peaking if activated. When using peaking, the camera tends to represent a large range as being in focus, and the highlighted surfaces cover a significant part of the frame. This hides some features which can influence composition, a minimal impact. The biggest impact, which CAN be dramatic, is that the camera appears to overestimate the depth of field. This can result in images reported as in focus by the camera, but in fact blurred to some extent. This will be of particular import when focusing at closer distances. For subjects farther away than 1 meter, hyperfocal will take care of focus accuracy.
General Image Quality
Before diving into the technical aspects of this review, let’s have a look at the more subjective elements which can make or break an image.
Field of View
Field of view is THE most remarkable feature of this lens. At 18mm, it is already wider than what many users will be familiar with. This offers a horizontal field of view of approximately 90° (for comparison, a typical 28mm lens offers a horizontal field of view of 65.5°). Moving to 10mm, it reaches a whopping 122° of horizontal field of view. As seen on the pictures below, it means that the careless photographer will often include a foot or a tripod leg in the frame.
Such a field of view offers unrivaled creative possibilities. It does present some challenges: 10mm isn’t just “a bit wider”. Composition must be tackled with care, as the ability to include a lot in the frame is both a blessing and a curse.
This is why the lens’ ability to zoom is extremely useful. 18mm remains wide, but much less dramatic. Any value in-between can help with composition, making the lens much more versatile, and much less constraining, than a typical ultra wide angle prime.
The lens’ well-controlled distortion is a definite advantage also. Ultra wide lenses are generally used for landscapes and cityscapes. These characteristics are well aligned with the intended use case.
The Laowa 10-18mm offers close focusing capabilities. This can prove useful and makes the lens even more versatile. Note that out-of-focus edges take a particular texture; this lens is not particularly designed for subject isolation.
Color and Contrast
Colours are generally accurate, nicely saturated.
Contrast is less subdued than what is usual, delivering a film-like result. Transitions are harsher than with some other lenses, without going over the top.
This lends itself particularly well to black and white conversion.
With 5 straight aperture blades, the Laowa 10-18mm is able to produce superb starbursts.
Those starbursts are one of the highlights of this lens, and are advertised as such. Even wide open, starbursts are present, well shaped and defined, with tapering lines. Closing down even slightly improves the results further. Users who enjoy beautiful starbursts will certainly be pleased by the results.
Sharpness, or a lens’s ability to resolve small details, is far from the only important characteristic of a lens, but it is probably the one which many users look at first. Soft images distract the viewer and the sharpest point in an image draws the eye of the viewer.
There are several ways to measure resolution. Some are quantitative, such as the number of lines per millimeter that can be resolved, while others are comparative, such as using a standardized scene to pit lenses against one another. We will use the latter, and supplement it with real-life samples.
To evaluate sharpness, we use a standard test chart that can be used to compare lenses to one another. We place the camera and lenses at a distance of 100x the focal length, so that the chart occupies the same area on all test images. This results in distances of 1 and 1.8m in the present case. The chart is positioned successively in the center, on the edge and corner off the frame, testing all apertures each time. Focus is repeated for each position to avoid field curvature contributions.
This test will not show how good a lens can be. Quite the contrary, it is a stress test to illustrate the limits of a lens’s capabilities.
Resolution is of course sensor-relevant. For this test we use the A7C camera’s 24 MP sensor.
Test results at 10mm
The following images illustrate the results at all apertures at 10mm.
Center sharpness is already surprisingly good wide open at 10mm. In fact, between F4.5 and F11, there is practically no difference and the results are excellent. The meets, and probably exceeds, expectations. F16 shows decreased resolution, and F22 is still worse.
Edges are good enough, but never comparable to the center. Best results are achieved at F8 but, again, F4.5 through F11 are usable. The unusual distortion figure (see the section below) deforms the shape of our test chart.
Corners are no more than adequate. Again, it appears that distortion is part of the cause. At F16 and F22, the images are particularly soft.
Test results at 18mm
The following images illustrate the results at all apertures at 18mm.
18mm is much less challenging than 10mm for the optical design, and it shows.
Here, the center is even better than at 10mm, and still best at F11 and below. F16 remains usable, F22 much less so.
Edges are close, in resolution, to the center. At F11 they are hard to tell apart but even at F5.6 and F8, the edges are very good, and do not suffer from the distortion effects present at 10mm.
Here, the corners are comparable with the edges, and this is quite an achievement. Without breaking new grounds regarding sharpness, the whole frame can be used with confidence at 18mm.
Sharpness results with the Laowa 10-18mm show the expertise of the company’s designers, who were able to deliver excellent center sharpness at all focal lengths, and very good results on the whole frame at 18mm. Our tests also show that designing at 10mm is challenging, especially when keeping distortion under control. The only weak point are the corners at 10mm. These results are, frankly, better than expected.
Vignetting, or the darkening of corners at wider apertures, is both a defect and a feature, as it can be used creatively to put emphasis on subjects closer to the center, create a mood or a vintage look. It can also be corrected automatically by modern cameras so is less of a problem than in the past. That is only true for cameras with electronic contacts, which excludes the Laowa 10-18mm. Images will thus have to be corrected in post-processing. Laowa provides a lens profiles on their website.
The following chart illustrates the vignetting of the lens, both at 10mm and 18mm, for full frame.
There is no avoiding it: vignetting with this lens is strong at 10mm. It will be hard to ignore in most scenes. Even closed down, vignetting never reaches below 2 EV.
At 18mm, results are approximately a half-stop better. Vignetting will still be visible and noticeable if left uncorrected. This is obviously a compromise necessary to keep the lens’s size small.
The images below show the lens’s vignetting at varying apertures. Note that the images below suggest a hint of decentering.
|Full frame 10mm||Full frame 18mm|
Bokeh is a Japanese term describing the quality of the background blur. It does not relate to the depth of field but to the areas in the image that are beyond the range that is expected to be in focus.
Bokeh is highly subjective. In general, a smooth bokeh with blurred shapes and contours is generally perceived as being of a higher quality. A shallow depth of field does not always equate a more pleasing bokeh.
To evaluate the characteristics of the background blur, we took pictures at varying apertures, using a scene with a lot of detail and bright highlights. The following images show the results.
No one should expect al ultra wide angle lens to produce particularly pleasing bokeh. Subject isolation is not the purpose of those lenses. Still, it is important to assess this rendering with any lens.
The texture of the bokeh corresponds to expectations. At wider apertures, it is smooth enough, with no harsh transitions. Of course, as the aperture closes the depth of field becomes huge and subject isolation is difficult.
The highlights are certainly unusual, thanks to the 5 aperture blades. Their shape is that of a pentagon, and they can create a unique texture, as highlighted by the crop below.
The blur is decently textured, and the transitions are adequately gradual, but the distortion created by such a lens means that the eyes try to detect shapes in that blur, leaving an impression of less than stellar results.
Flare and Ghosting
Flare is a decrease in contrast caused by reflections on internal lens elements. Ghosting is the appearance of orb-shaped artifacts in an image containing a light source, caused by the same internal reflections. High-quality coatings reduce the importance of flare and ghosting in an image.
We test flare and ghosting by taking pictures of a bright light source positioned at the center and on an edge of the frame, at varying apertures.
Test results at 10mm
In the center, there are some small ghosts, and a flare halo at wider apertures, but things are kept under control.
With a bright light source in the corner, however, results are completely different! There are several ghosts and a diffuse halo again visible at wider apertures (in the opposed corner) but the main effect is a bright green streak crossing the whole frame. Such an effect will not occur in all situations, and will be dependent on the spectrum and position of the light source, but it is obvious that control of flare isn’t this lens’ strongest aspect.
Test results at 18mm
The same observations than at 10mm apply in the center. There are a few ghosts, and a small halo at wider apertures.
With the light in the corner, results at 18mm improve, relatively speaking, when compared with 10mm. The green streak is gone, and the wide halo disappears. There are still several well-defined ghosts which remain present at all apertures.
The images below show examples with the sun outside of the frame, in less stressful situations.
Chromatic aberration (CA) occurs because different colours do not always have the same focal point. With modern lenses designs, which are better corrected than vintage designs, this is more likely to occur in out-of-focus areas. CA effects are more visible near fast transitions from bright to dark areas.
Most modern cameras have built-in tools to remove CA. Digital manipulations can have an impact on other aspects of an image, thus it is useful to know how a lens performs when those automatic corrections are disabled. In addition, purely manual lenses such as this one do not communicate with the camera, making automatic removal impossible.
Our test sets up the camera at 45° and focuses on the center of the frame, with targets at the center, top and bottom. Images are captured at varying apertures. We used 18mm.
There is no visible CA in the center of the frame. The top section shows a hint some yellow and blueish edges, harder to spot at wider apertures because of the out-of-focus blur. The bottom part shows the same effect, much easier to notice.
These results are passable. Usually, CA manifests itself as red and green edges, it is rare to see the effect highlighted in those colours.
There were some occurrences of purple fringing in our tests with the Laowa 10-18mm, as can be seen in the cropped example below.
The effect is not dramatic but users should be aware of it.
Distortion refers to a lens’s ability to represent straight lines as straight lines… Wide angle lenses frequently generate barrel distortion, while longer focal lengths are more likely to cause pincushion distortion.
The Laowa 10-18mm is an ultra wide lens and, as such, some barrel distortion is to be expected. On the other hand, the company prides itself for its designs with low distortion (often using the “Zero-D” moniker, absent here).
We use a standard test pattern of straight lines and test at 10mm and 18mm.
At 10mm, the lens shows a complex, “whisker” pattern, mostly barrel-shaped but not entirely. Quantifying distortion is thus less accurate but, considering a barrel shape, it measures up at -1.2%. At 18mm, distortion is pincushion and shows up at 1.1%. Those results are hard to believe for such an ultra wide angle lens, especially a zoom.
This is in line with general results with Laowa lenses. The company excels at delivering excellent dostortion control on their lenses, even calling certain models “Zero-D”.
These results are beyond expectations.
Here is a gallery of samples images captured with the Laowa 10-18mm. You can click on individual images for a larger view.
Lenses produced by Laowa are among the most unusual on E-mount, and the 10-18mm is certainly one of the most unique from that company.
As per the manufacturer, this lens is currently the widest zoom available for E-mount. What’s more, it is also much more compact than its competitors. For instance, it is close to being half the size of the Sony 12-24mm, while being wider. This comes, of course, at the cost of a slower maximum aperture. The Laowa is F4.5 ad its wide end, moving to F5.6 at 18mm. This is in the realm of kit lenses, but will not necessarily be a problem for a lens intended for landscapes and architecture. Its compact size makes it a great travel companion, especially coupled with a compact camera such as the A7C.
The build quality is excellent. The lens is made entirely of metal, the engraving is elegant, the coloring matches the orange-red accents on Sony cameras, and the rings operate smoothly and accurately. The de-clicking option of the aperture ring is a nice bonus. The integrated hood is also useful. The zoom ring could have been wider and easier to find, but we do understand why Laowa preferred to make the focus ring widest.
Of course, the lens is fully manual, and some users will not appreciate this. Managing the aperture and exposure isn’t really a problem, as the lens essentially operates in A mode (the camera dynamically measures the required exposure, and the user adjusts aperture on the ring instead of on-camera). The two main drawbacks is that the lens lacks autofocus and that there is no lens information recorded in the EXIF (including aperture). Full automatic exposure also isn’t available. The lack of autofocus will be felt most direly, particularly since, on our test camera at least, focus peaking reports a deep range as being in-focus, which can be misleading and result in poorly focused images. Setting the focus peaking sensitivity to low helps somewhat, but this can bother some users, as other lenses do not respond well in this fashion. Using hyperfocal carefully will help in many cases.
Optical performances are, in general, better than expectations. Sharpness in particular is impressive. Center sharpness is quite good over the whole zoom range. Edges/corners are never that far behind at 18mm, where results are surprisingly uniform. Edges at 10mm are also very good, with corners struggling more.
Distortion is another aspect where the 10-18mm shines. It does better than many lenses with a less ambitious range. This is an area where Laowa’s expertise shows in many of their designs.
Chromatic aberration is well controlled but still present. The effect is present at all apertures but not overly distracting. Instead of the usual green and red edges, CA manifests itself with yellow and blue, something rare. There is some purple fringing in high-contrast scenes, easily corrected and not dramatic.
Starbursts are, by design, a strong suit of this lens. Even wide open, the lens can produce pleasing and beautiful rays. This design choice, helped by the small number of straight aperture blades, enhances night pictures and is perfectly aligned with the intended use.
Bokeh is adequate, neither distracting nor particularly remarquable. Subject isolation isn’t one of the strong suits of ultra wide-angle lenses, particularly with a slow maximum aperture.
Flare and ghosting are a definite weak point. At 10mm, they can be dramatic and cripple an image. Care will need to be applied when composing. Results are better at 18mm, but still not as good as some other lenses.
Vignetting is also a weak point. Easy to correct in post-processing, it is still strong and will manifest at all apertures. The mechanical nature of the lens means the camera cannot compensate for it. Of course, it will be worse at 10mm.
In summary, there is a lot to like about the Laowa 10-18mm. Laowa tuned it towards landscape and architecture, and optimized the design in that sense. This lens offers something unique and does so without too many compromises. It is a worthy choice for users looking for a versatile ultra-wide angle lens.
- Class-leading zoom range
- Impressively compact size
- Good handling with easy to operate controls
- Solid, well-assembled and beautiful metal body
- Excellent center sharpness, very good uniformity at 18mm
- Impressive distortion control
- Superb starbursts
- De-clicking option for the aperture ring
- Corner sharpness at 10mm not as good as the rest
- Strong vignetting
- Flare and ghosting can be dramatic
- Some CA with unusual colour edges
Before You Go
Do you already own this lens? Are you curious about it? If you do, we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.