Laowa 9mm F2.8 Review, with a Fuji X emphasis

Started 5 months ago | User reviews thread
ForumParentFirstPrevious
Flat view
georgehudetz Veteran Member • Posts: 3,887
Laowa 9mm F2.8 Review, with a Fuji X emphasis
2

I've had my Laowa 9mm "Zero D" F2.8 lens for a few weeks now, and have been able to bring it out to several different photo shoots with my X-T2.  Below are my impressions.

Size and Build Quality

Nothing but good things to say here. Very small and compact, with a quality feel to it. The aperture ring in particular has a nice, fluid feel to it. However, each click is a full stop. At first this seemed a bit disappointing, however, in use it makes it easy to keep track of where are you are while shooting, since there is no feedback in the viewfinder. And, you can stop between clicks if you have the need. The focus ring has a true scale, and it appears to me that the infinity setting is actually infinity.

Overall, comparing to something like the Rok 12, the Laowa does feel like a step up in quality & construction.

Vignetting

As most of us know by now, this is the big downfall of the Laowa 9. It's bad. It's relatively easy to correct in post (I use Elliptic on Crop in C1), but this lens isn't going to find much favor with the straight-out-of-camera JPEG crowd, unless it's shot stopped down and/or the shooter just decides to embrace the vignetting. For raw shooters, it can be corrected, but it's a bit of pain since the amount needed depends on the aperture. I think I'm going to learn about lens profile creation in C1.

Bokeh

It's a bit odd to talk about bokeh for an UW lens, but the combination of a relatively fast max aperture & a very close minimum focusing distance makes for some interesting possibilities - kind of like the Fuji 16. While I don't consider myself a bokeh connoisseur, I have to say that the Laowa 9 has impressed me. OOF areas are very smooth & creamy. See my shots below for examples.

Flare & Sunstars

I've seen two behaviors with the Laowa 9 with regard to flare while the sun is in the frame. One shot - from my backyard and the sun filtered through some branches - I get some significant flare. It's not entirely unattractive, but it's there. Now, with another shot, when the sun is simply fully in the frame (or even just outside the frame) I don't see any flare and contrast still seems OK. Shots below:

Nice sunstar and some "artistic" flare

No flare

Compared to the 10-24

This is of great interest to me, as I primarily see this lens as a compliment to the 10-24, which I carry all the time. I've posted two images for your inspection; please not that the trends I note have been proven to be true across multiple images.

Width

The Laowa is certainly usefully wider than the 10-24. I was a little nervous about this when I ordered the lens - I would have preferred an 8mm - but side-by-side shots show a usefully wider scene. If you turn off distortion correction for the 10-24 (which is possible in Capture One) you do gain some width back - it about splits the difference between the two lenses. But I normally leave distortion correction on, so I will find the 9 as a useful compliment to the 10-24, at least from a width perspective.

Color Tempurature

The Laowa does seem to have a different color signature from the 10-24, and most other Fuji lenses for that matter. The Laowa is a warmer lens, which is easy to see in the two images below. Both are straight out of C1, with nothing but vignetting corrected & matched for exposure. Now, most of this is down to white balance, but so far I've seen as a consistent trend - the Laowa produces a warmer image by default. And, I'd say the WB created by Fuji lenses is closer to the truth, although I'd need to shoot a color checker chart to be sure of that. But so far, I've needed to cool off my Laowa images a bit to make them look right to me. Something else for the JPEG crowd to consider.

Chromatic Abberations

It does look like the 10-24 produces more CA than the Laowa. Of course, you have to turn off the automatic correction in your raw processor to see that. But, on the flip side, you have to remember to turn on CA corrections when shooting with the Laowa. Once you do, the image looks just fine.

Sharpness

As you can see in the image below, my 10-24 is sharper than my Laowa. Things just seem to pop a little more (look at the lamp posts). I've seen this in other images as well. I'm a little disappointed in this, but the difference isn't huge. If the Laowa lets me get the composition I'm after, I'll use it. Note that it's easier to see the sharpness differences in these images if you view them at 100% on something like a 27" QHD monitor. On a 4k or retina display, they look about the same. So really, it's only an issue if you want to print large. But UW images need to be viewed large to be fully appreciated, in my experience.

10-24

Laowa 9

Conclusion

Pros:

  • Widest lens with a native Fuji X mount (for now) and widest prime (for the foreseeable future)
  • Small, light, excellent build quality
  • Great bokeh & close up focusing capability
  • Sharp enough

Cons:

  • Massive vignetting, especially wide-open
  • Undesirable color cast - at least, relative to Fuji glass. Of course this is personal and some people will be fine with it, or even prefer it.
  • Not quite as sharp as we've come to expect from Fuji glass (at least for my copy)
  • Requires a fair bit of work in post (vignetting, CAs, color cast)

To be fair, that last one is as much a function of the lens being a manual, non-Fuji lens as much as anything - with perhaps the exception of the color cast. I'm hopeful that C1's LCC profile system can help overcome this.

I'm giving it 4 stars overall.

Now, I'll also comment a bit on what I specifically want. I find the Laowa 9mm to be in a bit of an odd spot in the Fuji ecosystem. On the one hand, It's too slow (IMO) to be an astro lens, so I can't replace the Rok 12 with it. If it were an F2 lens (with good coma control) I would sell the Rok. But as it is, I can't do that so it's one more lens in my bag. On the other hand, it's 9mm and not 8, so it won't scratch my itch with regard to the forthcoming Fuji 8-16. So, had it been a 8mm F2.8, or 9mm F2.0, it would have a more solid place in my bag. But, if I ever do get the 8-16, the Laowa will probably be sold & I'll continue to use the Rok for astro.  So for me personally, it's a 3 star lens, because the parameters the lens designers chose just doesn't fit into my needs as well as I'd like.

Others will view this differently - for somebody who wants to use primes, it would be a great choice.

Sample images below at 4k resolution. They can be viewed at full resolution here:

https://georgehudetzphotography.smugmug.com/Laowa-9mm-Review-Images/

Vista House on the Columbia River Gorge

Vista House Ceiling

Rowena Crest overlooking the Columbia River

No vignetting correction here.  Wide open.

Portland Cars & Coffee

 georgehudetz's gear list:georgehudetz's gear list
Fujifilm X-T1 Fujifilm X-T2 Fujifilm XF 18mm F2 R Fujifilm XF 60mm F2.4 R Macro Fujifilm XF 14mm F2.8 R +8 more
Venus Laowa 9mm F2.8 Zero-D
Wideangle prime lens • Canon EF-M, Fujifilm X, Sony E
Announced: Mar 22, 2018
georgehudetz's score
4.0
Average community score
4.3
Venus Laowa 9mm F2.8
If you believe there are incorrect tags, please send us this post using our feedback form.
ForumParentFirstPrevious
Flat view
ForumParentFirstPrevious
Keyboard shortcuts:
FForum PPrevious NNext WNext unread UUpvote SSubscribe RReply QQuote BBookmark MMy threads
Color scheme? Blue / Yellow