Laowa 20mm F4 Shift Lens Image Gallery
March 28th, 2022
Laowa (Venus Optics) has never been afraid to take on challenging lens designs. It is hard to find a “conventional” lens in their lineup, as every lens has some kind of unique twist to it. Macro at very wide angles or extremely high magnification levels, a design that emphasizes zero distortion in a very wide focal length, a ridiculously wide reticular zoom lens, a smooth trans focus telephoto, and, perhaps strangest of all, a probe lens that looks more like a rifle. None of these are easy lenses to design and engineer, and yet Laowa has built its brand on taking on difficult challenges and largely pulling them off. I admire them for this. One of those challenges they have tackled is the building of shift lenses. It started several years ago when I reviewed their Magic Shift Converter, a unique device which leveraged the space provided in an adapter from a Canon EF or Nikon F mount to a Sony full frame mirrorless mount to incorporate ten degrees of shift into the lens. I actually purchased a Laowa 12mm F2.8 Zero D lens to pair with the MSC for shooting interiors and architecture on Sony, as it allows you to get amazing results with the resulting 17mm F4 Shift lens. They followed that up with a dedicated wide angle shift lens – the Laowa 15mm F4.5 W-Dreamer Shift lens, which I reviewed here. About a year later they are now launching a second dedicated shift lens in the form of the new Laowa 20mm F4 C-Dreamer Shift, which features the ability to shift ten millimeters (1 millimeter less than the 15mm F4.5) in either direction. The Laowa 20mm F4 Shift will be available in even more mounts, including Canon EF/ RF, Nikon Z/F, Sony E, Pentax PK, Fuji GFX, and Leica L mount. I’m doing my review on a Sony E-mount copy, and on Sony there are very few shift options. I suspect that’s true on most other platforms, but obviously the value relative to the competition (if there is any!) is going to vary from platform to platform, so you may need to draw some of your own conclusions depending on your camera system of choice.
Shift lenses are very useful in a number of settings. One significant one is that they allow one to adjust the lens in such a way to offset the inevitable “keystoning” effect that comes when you try to compose images to include the details you want. Things like trees and buildings lean towards the center, and often your resulting image looks little like the scene did when you viewed it. I took this image on a South Carolina plantation and wanted to capture the amazing oak with the Spanish moss hanging from it, but the byproduct of tilting up the camera with the wide angle lens that I happened to have along resulted in a comical amount of lean on the kitchen building on the right side of the frame.
A shift lens like the Laowa 20mm F4 overcomes this by allowing you to physically move (shift) a section of the lens up to 10mm in either direction (with 360° of rotation) to allow you much more control in properly aligning lines. I was documenting part of our construction project on our new church building, and, though I was pointing the camera up in a similar fashion, I used the shift function of the lens to produce straight lines even with the upward tilt of the camera sensor.
Obviously the 20mm focal length is less extreme (94.4°) than the 15mm focal length of the previous lens, as that lens achieved a very wide 110° angle of view. Both lenses have slightly different purposes. 20mm is a more natural focal length for getting wide angle shots but without the extreme sense of empty space/exaggeration that the wider focal length provides, though 15mm will obviously be very useful when trying to frame either tall buildings or interior spaces where a greater sense of space is desirable. Let’s illustrate the point…and give the workaround.
Here’s a look at a bathroom shot that real estate agent might take to use in a listing for a house. Here it is at 20mm from the new Laowa 20S:
I shot the same space with the 15mm Shift lens a year ago:
The 15mm obviously gives a wider perspective with more context of the room. But because I have the ability to shift the lens, I could also have the option of taking multiple shots and combining them in post. This actually gives me 117° of perspective…and arguably the nicest looking result.
Yes, I could do the same thing with the 15mm lens and get an even wider perspective, but some people may prefer the 20mm angle of view, and the shifting ability allows one to still capture very wide images. You could take this a step further, in fact, and also shift up and down at various angles and end up with a shot like this that includes both the width and the height of the room:
I think this really illustrates the options that a shift lens opens up to a photographer, and this is the kind of lens that should be considered indispensable for someone who focuses on architecture and interiors. It’s also worth noting that you get a little brighter maximum aperture here relative to the 15mm lens (F4 vs F4.5) along with the ability to have a lens hood and use traditional screw-in filters, which is nice.
Laowa has priced the 20mm F4 shift at $100 less than the 15mm F4.5. You’ll pay $1099 USD for the lens, which is expensive, but first party shift (or tilt/shift) lenses are typically at least $1000 more. Unless your job is real estate or architectural photography, however, there’s a good chance that a shift lens is going to be a niche item for you. Getting a competent shift lens at half the price is very likely to be appealing to many.
Thanks to Laowa for sending me a loaner of the lens. As always, my review is done without any external bias or pressure. The tests and most of the photos that I share as a part of my review cycle of the 20mm F4 Shift have been done with the Sony Alpha 1 which will serve as my benchmark camera for the foreseeable future (my review here).
Laowa 20S Build and Handling
Photos Taken with the Laowa 20mm F4 Shift Lens
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Keywords: Laowa 20mm, Shift, Laowa 20mm Shift Review, Laowa 20mm F4, Review, Laowa 20mm F4 C-Dreamer, Shift, Magic Shift Converter, 15mm F4.5, Laowa MSC Review, Magic Shift Converter Review, MSC Review, Dustin Abbott, letthelightin, Venus Optics, Sony FE, Demonstration, Review, How To, Sample Images, Video Test, Video Review, Canon EOS R5, EOS, R5, EOS R5, Canon EOS R6, Nikon Z, Nikon F, mirrorless, full frame, Comparison, Handling, Focus, Resolution, High ISO, Image Quality, Sample Images, Photography, Sony Alpha 1, 50MP
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