Laowa 20mm f/4 Zero-D Shift review

The Laowa 20mm f/4 Zero-D Shift will literally shift your perspective on photography

Laowa 20mm f/4 Zero-D Shift
(Image: © Future)

Digital Camera World Verdict

Following in the even wider footsteps of the Laowa 15mm f/4.5 Zero-D Shift lens, the Laowa 20mm f/4 Zero-D Shift has a less extreme viewing angle but the same shift facility. Another similarity is that it’s a fully manual lens with no built-in electronics for communication with the host camera, but ‘shift’ photography tends to be a very hands-on affair anyway. The FF S 20mm achieves its goals in fine style and is capable of superb results with relative ease, compared with some tilt-shift lenses, and all at a relatively affordable price.


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    Wide range of mount options

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    Generous shift, easily controllable

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    Full 360-degree rotation


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    No electronics

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    Not weather-sealed

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Ideal for architectural photography and more besides, the Laowa 20mm f/4 Zero-D Shift is a wide-angle lens that gives arguably the more important half of the functionality of full tilt-shift or ‘perspective control’ lenses like the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II and Nikon PC-E 24mm f/3.5D ED. And it does so for about half the price. But what’s the big deal with ‘shift’ anyway?

For the uninitiated, a shift lens delivers an oversized image circle, much larger than the surface area of the host camera’s image sensor. A mechanical mechanism enables you to literally shift the front section of the lens up and down, thus changing the axis of the optical path. A key advantage for architectural photographers is that you can level the camera to avoid tall buildings looking like they’re converging towards the top, then use the shift function to raise your effective shooting elevation, so you can capture the full height of the building without any perspective distortion.

There’s another neat trick you can do with mirrors. By positioning the camera just to the side of a mirror or below it, a shift lens enables you to change your apparent shooting position so that you get a head-on reflection from the mirror, but without the camera appearing in the image. Shift lenses are also great for taking a series of shots for stitching into a panoramic image, as it removes the parallax error you’d get from panning the camera with a regular lens.

What the Laowa doesn’t offer is the ‘tilt’ function of a full tilt-shift lens. This would enable tilting the axis of the focal path relative to the image sensor, giving mighty control over depth of field of field. The omitted tilt function can generally produce anything from a near-limitless depth of field for full front-to-back sharpness in a scene, to a super-thin focus plane, sometimes used to make urban scenes look like model towns.


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Matthew Richards

Matthew Richards is a photographer and journalist who has spent years using and reviewing all manner of photo gear. He is Digital Camera World's principal lens reviewer – and has tested more primes and zooms than most people have had hot dinners! 

His expertise with equipment doesn’t end there, though. He is also an encyclopedia  when it comes to all manner of cameras, camera holsters and bags, flashguns, tripods and heads, printers, papers and inks, and just about anything imaging-related. 

In an earlier life he was a broadcast engineer at the BBC, as well as a former editor of PC Guide.