Both Nikon and Canon’s new mirrorless mounts don’t have huge libraries of existing lens designs available for legacy mounts. While adapters help, a native option can offer a number of advantages. Venus Optics, noted for their unique lens designs, has just launched a new wide-angle with native mount support for a wide variety of mirrorless cameras. Is it worth checking out?
The Venus Optics 14mm f/4 RL Zero-D is a full frame 14mm lens available in Nikon Z (the version reviewed here), Canon RF, Sony FE, Leica M, and Leica L mounts. Other than the mount itself, there’s no difference between the versions. The lens has 13 elements in 9 groups, making for a typical level of optical complexity for a wide angle prime. The lens is quite compact and weighs in at just 228 grams, despite an all-metal construction with an integrated lens hood.
The lens, like many of Venus Optic’s offerings, is manual focus and aperture only, without communication to the camera body. This isn’t a huge consideration, as mirrorless cameras offer a good manual focus experience, and wide angles are more forgiving owing to their broader depth of field.
The aperture adjustment has clicks, while the manual focus ring has a small finger tab similar to that of Leica lenses. There’s depth of field scale with markings for the major aperture values, but the marked distances are too widely spaced for this to be of much use.
The lens can take front filters, with a remarkably small front filter thread of 52mm. As few other lenses for Z, RF, or FE mount bodies will take this small of a filter, expect to rely on step-up rings or square format filters if you plan to include this lens as part of your kit. The front element isn’t particularly bulbous, particularly for a wide angle lens, and combined with the hood, feels reasonably well protected, mitigating the need for a UV or clear filter.
Overall, the lens feels very solid, with the metal construction and damped manual focus ring contributing to a higher level of quality than would be expected at the price point of $549 ($649 for Leica versions). The paint and markings are all crisp, and even the packaging felt premium.
Venus has labeled the lens as part of their Zero-D line, claiming zero distortion as one of its most important features. Combined with its wide field of view, I’d consider this to make it an excellent candidate for architectural photography. Venus Optics produces a number of other wide angle lenses, including a 9mm and 11mm, which can almost be too wide for many applications, leading to a distorted sense of scale. While 14mm is still extremely wide, I can see more practical applications for it than other ultra-wide options.
To test, I compared the lens against Nikon’s Z 14-30mm f/4, as well as Venus Optic’s 15mm f/4 on a Z7. Testing was performed on a tripod, with an exposure delay.
When shooting, manually choosing an aperture and manually focusing aren’t major issues, thanks to the flexibility of the mirrorless platform. Composing and focusing via live view is quite easy, although having to focus “stopped down” to smaller apertures can be more challenging at night, as noise obscures fine focus adjustments. For the typical usage of a wide angle lens, this slower pace of shooting isn’t a dealbreaker, but may be a factor for faster-moving subjects.
Mounting and unmounting the lens feels similar to first-party lenses. The rotating focus and aperture rings constitute a large part of the body; however, making grasping the lens a more delicate procedure. Without any switches on the body, a removable lens hood, or gimmicks like an OLED screen, the lens is very simple from a handling and operation standpoint.
My past experience with Venus Optics lenses, including the 15mm f/2, has shown me that they have a certain “look.” This style is typified by a bit of softness wide open, sharpening somewhat while stopping down. They aren’t particularly clinical, with a bit of vignetting, but overall, they deliver a reasonable level of performance, particularly for their cost and feature set. Almost point for point, the 14mm matches these expectations.
Wide open at f/4, the lens performs acceptably. There’s some notable softness around the highlights that can give point sources a gauzy look, coupled with a bit of CA fringing. The center of the frame is reasonably sharp, while the edges are weaker in comparison, particularly compared to other wide angle lenses, like the 14-30mm. Vignetting is minor and easily correctable, though at the time of testing, there wasn’t a dedicated lens profile available.
Stopped down, the lens sharpens up somewhat, but introduces extremely prominent starbursts around point sources. Caused by the 5-bladed aperture, these 10-pointed starbursts can take up a huge portion of the frame. This is a very particular look and appears much more prominently than in my sample of the 15mm f/2. This is definitely a consideration for architectural and landscape uses;while it might look interesting for sunset shots, it would rule out this lens for a more conservative architectural shot.
Like many wide angle lenses, flare can be problematic. Between the protruding front element and fixed hood, I was getting some degree of flare in most shots. Despite a clean front element, flare was poorly controlled, with both noticeable spots and a loss of contrast across the affected area. For comparison, the 14-30mm without a hood controlled flare significantly better, typically with a single, less noticeable spot.
In comparison, the 14-30mm significantly outperformed this lens, in both optical quality and features offered. That’s to be expectedm however, with the 14-30mm costing hundreds of dollars more.
What I found interesting was the comparison to my existing Venus 15mm; this lens offers a similar field of view, but adds 1:1 macro and tilt-shift capabilities. It has some more distortion, but can correct well with Venus’s provided lens profile. In sharpness tests, it was roughly equivalent in performance. While it’s only available in legacy SLR mounts like F, EF, and FE, it offers a broader range of functionality at a similar price, assuming you already have an adapter.
Overall, this lens is a decent value. If you’re looking to get to 14mm in a mirrorless body, this is one of the cheapest options, especially if you don’t have or don’t want to adapt another lens. When it comes to performance, it performs in line with expectations given the price bracket. As this doesn’t occupy one of the more unique niches in Venus’s lineup, like the 9mm ultra-ultra-wide or a probe macro lens, it runs into issues when compared with more mainstream lenses; a flaw like flare seems more reasonable in a one-of-a kind lens than in a more commonplace focal length prime. I think the best pairing for this lens would be one of the more value-oriented mirrorless bodies, like the EOS RP, where it could deliver a very inexpensive, but very wide field of view, in combination with a more forgiving level of resolution.
What I Liked
- Lens size and weight is very convenient for walking around, matches well to mirrorless bodies
- Inexpensive for a wide angle
- Reasonable performance when stopped down
- Available in native mount options, without an adapter required
What Could Be Improved
- Sharpness wide open is middling
- Starbursting is very prominent, and could be a polarizing feature or downside depending on intended use
- Doesn’t pass aperture information to the camera
- Flare resistance could definitely be improved