This world-first zoom-shift Laowa lens could be a dream for architecture photographers

Laowa tilt-shift macro lens in the hand and black background
(Image credit: Laowa)

Venus Optics, the Chinese maker of Laowa lenses, has teased its next lens on Weibo and its latest creation looks set to be another world-first: it's a lens that can shift and zoom. 

A shift lens is a staple in the kit bag of architecture photographers, but they've never had a lens like this before. That's because all shift lenses currently available are primes (fixed focal length), whereas Laowa's upcoming version is a zoom lens.

A shift lens can move sideways or vertically independently of the camera it is attached to, and is primarily used to correct converging verticals. I'll briefly unpack what shift lenses do below, and we have an in-depth tilt-shift lens explainer if you'd like to find out more. 

We don't know anything else about the lens besides what can be learned from the picture above, shared by Venus Optics ahead of the launch: there's a rotating collar at the rear that enables the lens to shift either vertically or horizontally, it's manual focus only, and it has a minimum focus distance of 0.75ft / 0.15m.

There's no way to tell yet what the lens focal length is, which lens mounts it'll be made for, or the sensor format it's designed for. However, that hasn't stopped fans from speculating it'll be a moderate wide-angle zoom for APS-C cameras, including the Sony E-mount. It being an APS-C lens seems like a fair bet given its size.

The official unveil will take place on July 8 7:30pm CST – that's 4:30am PT / 7:30am ET / 12:30pm BST / 9:30pm AEST, when we'll find out more about the lens and how much it costs.

Canon tilt-shift lens with autofocus

A Canon tilt-shift lens with autofocus (Image credit: Unsplash / Tom Pumford)

Shift your perspective

When you point your camera up at a tall building it appears narrower at the top than the bottom. To correct this distortion you need to align your camera's image sensor with the surface being photographed.

The problem with that is unless you have an ultra wide angle lens or move far away, the top of the building will be out of your shot, hence needing to point your camera up in the first place to fit it all in.

A shift lens corrects converging verticals distortion by aligning the image sensor parallel to the surface being photographed – the work is done by moving the lens rather than the camera. The result is the lines at the top and bottom of a building are parallel to each other. 

If you're a fan of photographing buildings how they were meant to be seen, and certainly if it's your paid job, a shift lens is the gear you want. 

Laowa lenses are rarely dull affairs. I've loved using its superb macro lenses down the years, some of which offer larger than real life (1x) magnification, while you must check out the Laowa probe lens that's truly a one-of-a-kind.

We simply don't know yet if the upcoming zoom-shift lens will be another Laowa masterstroke, or just a nice-to-have. Perhaps architecture photographers will discover the lens they always wanted, or learn that a prime lens with shift function is already sufficient enough. Either way, the story will unfold from July 8.

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Timothy Coleman
Cameras editor

Tim is the Cameras editor at TechRadar. He has enjoyed more than 15 years in the photo video industry with most of those in the world of tech journalism. During his time as Deputy Technical Editor with Amateur Photographer, as a freelancer and consequently editor at Tech Radar, Tim has developed a deeply technical knowledge and practical experience with cameras, educating others through news, reviews and features. He’s also worked in video production for Studio 44 with clients including Canon, and volunteers his spare time to consult a non-profit, diverse stories team based in Nairobi. Tim is curious, a keen creative, avid footballer and runner, and moderate flat white drinker who has lived in Kenya and believes we have much to enjoy and learn from each other.