The Laowa 12mm is a manual focus lens with
seven aperture blades. It stops down to f/22
and can focus on objects as close as 18cm
from the front of the lens with a maximum
magnification of .2x. It delivers a 122-degree
wide-angle of view.
The front of the lens is coated with what
Venus dubs “Frog Eye” coatings which,
besides sounding cool, work a bit like fluorine
coatings in that it makes the front lens
element easier to clean.
In addition to the EF mount we tested,
Venus sells the 12mm lens in Nikon, Sony A
and E and Pentax K mounts.
The lens packs two surprises. First, for such a
fast, wide-angle prime, the 12mm is rather light.
At 21 ounces, it’s lighter than Canon’s EF 14mm
f/2.8L II USM lens and Nikon’s AF Nikkor
via a simple screw. Once removed, you’ll
have access to the memory card slot and
battery hatch, but it means that you’ll have to
fumble with a loose piece of metal whenever
you want to change a battery or swap out
a memory card. It also means you can’t
replace memory cards if you’ve screwed a
quick-release plate in (quick release plates
need to be screwed in when the baseplate
is attached). Obviously, most M users are
likely to have the camera dangling off of their
(scarf-clad) neck and not on a tripod, but it’s
still a design element to consider.
Leica spends plenty of time promoting
the concept of a “Leica look” and while
we can’t say we necessarily discern some
metaphysical difference in the M10’s images
from those of other cameras, we’re still
extremely impressed with the image quality
coming from the camera.
We were huge fans of the image
quality of the M10’s predecessor and this
2017 update only ups the ante. We were
particularly impressed with improvements
to the camera’s dynamic range. The M10
does an excellent job with high-contrast
scenes and while 24-megapixels isn’t a
high-water mark (particularly for a camera
with the M10’s steep price tag), most users
should be happy with the detail it resolves.
Color rendition is first rate.
The camera does an excellent job
suppressing image noise through ISO 3200.
Noise pops up in RAW files at ISO 3200 but
you’ll be able to remove it with an undue
loss of detail up to around ISO 12,500.
The M10 is a camera for deliberative
photography. Yes, it’s faster than prior Ms, but
the lack of AF means it’s not really optimized
for speedy image capture. That said, Leica
offers plenty of focusing aids to ensure you can
compose your image swiftly—either through
the viewfinder or even through the camera’s
display. There’s focus peaking to help confirm
focus when shooting in live view mode. You
can also magnify subjects in live view mode
to confirm focus and move the point of
magnification around the frame.
If you’ve never shot a Leica rangefinder
before, focusing through the viewfinder takes a
bit of getting used to. You’ll have a small floating
box in the center of the frame that overlays
your view through the viewfinder. As you rotate
the focus ring on the lens, the box will shift
until what it’s displaying is precisely mapped
onto what you’re seeing in the viewfinder.
It can be a bit tricky to ensure these match
neatly (and you’re in focus) if what you’re
shooting is dark and/or devoid of finer details.
As we’ve noted above, the M10 doesn’t
overflow with bells and whistles, so your
menu experience is pretty streamlined.
We liked that the opening menu can be
customized to present a list of favorite
settings so you can quickly access what you
want. If you need to make further tweaks,
there’s a second, comprehensive menu
accessible in this initial quick menu.
One consequence of the M10’s smaller
body is a tinier battery. Where the prior
Leica M could fire off close to 1,000 frames
before the battery taps out, the Leica M10
manages around 700. Still very respectable.
It will come as a surprise to exactly no one
that the M10 commands a steep premium
over similar rangefinder-style cameras. For
less than half the price of the M10, you could
spring for the Fuji X100F and enjoy 4K video
recording, autofocusing, film simulation
modes and much more. The Fuji has a fixed
lens, a shorter battery life and a smaller
image sensor, but you’ll have plenty of pocket
change left over. If you’re undeterred by the
M10’s price tag, you’ll be delighted by its
performance and image quality.
aBove: The M10 is available in two body styles:
one with black and the other with silver trim.
laowa 12mm F/2.8
For decades, Japanese brands have
ruled the photo industry and while that
hegemony continues to this day, Chinese
brands like DJI and Venus Optics have
begun to make inroads.
For Venus Optics, the plan of attack
on the U.S. market is clear. They’ve been
hitting the market with unconventional
focal lengths where other third-party lens
brands aren’t always competing. Take the
Laowa 12mm f/2.8. Many lens makers
deliver 10mm or 12mm prime lenses with
a fisheye effect, but the Laowa 12mm has
much less optical distortion and little of the
pronounced fish eye curvature of its rivals.
We turned the Laowa 12mm over to N.J.
photographer and director David Patiño
( www.davidpatino.com) to see how this
unusual lens fared on his Canon 5DS.
Pros: Superb build quality; excellent
image quality and dynamic range;
Wi-Fi; weather-sealed design.
cons: Clumsy bottom plate hinders
access to memory card and battery;
pricey for the feature set.