Going extrawide – The Laowa 9mm f/2.8 review

Now this is something I’ve been looking forward to sharing with you all for a little while now. For the past 2 months I have been using a lens from the Chinese lens manufacturer Venus Optics. They have a line of lenses called “Laowa” – And the lenses are from reputation quite good. I was asked if I wanted to try out their upcoming 9mm f/2.8 lens with native Fujifilm X-Mount. So with limited, but not zero, expectations I set out to test this lens!

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X-H1 – Laowa 9mm f/11 ISO200
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X-Pro2 – Laowa 9mm f/11 ISO200 60sec

Build and Design

The first thing you notice with the lens when you lift it the box, is how absolutely tiny it is. It’s quite lovely to have a maximum f/2.8 aperture and still have a lens that is smaller than e.g. the Fujinon 35mm f/2.
The second thing you’ll notice is the absolute stelar build quality. The lens is made from metal. It has a detachable metal lens hood and it has clicked aperture stops. All something that you rarely see in other Chinese manufactured lenses. From the get-go this lens really gives a great impression.

 

The front has a standard 49mm filterthread, so you can use standard screw-in ND filters for long exposures, or just use a step up ring for using your Lee/Nisi or equivalent square filter systems.

The lens feels right at home on the smaller Fujifilm cameras, although I also used it quite heavily on the new Fujifilm X-H1 camera since it has in-body-image-stabilisation. I don’t really like the blue ring that Laowa use on the entire lens line, but that is highly subjective. Some of you might love that look.

The lens features something that I have personally never come across before. A “Frog Eye Coating”! – It is actually a hydrophobic coating applied to the front element, so water simply will not collect and stick to the front element. So never again will you have to worry about that perfect f/22 landscape being ruined by water droplets from the light drizzle that helps set the mood in the sky. This coating is awesome. Period.

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X-H1 – Laowa 9mm – f/2.8 – 30sec – ISO1600

Image Quality

It has been an absolutely abysmal late winter so far in Denmark. By that I mean we’ve had rain, rain, grey skies, rain, rain, grey skies and then some more rain all through January and most of February. But the past week has finally seen some real frosty cold weather! So finally I got to do some astro photography as well as some sunny landscape(ish) photography. I was seriously beginning to loose my mind in the need of sunlight!

But weather aside, I tested this lens in all types of scenarios like I usually do with this kind of stuff. And let me tell you this right now: I LOVE THIS LENS!!

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X-H1 – Laowa 9mm – f/5.6 – 1/500s

The Laowa 9mm f/2.8 is a rectilinear lens, unlike most ultrawides that has a curved build up also called “fisheye” lenses. This makes this lens fantastic for architectural shots, since you’ll those nice straight lines right to the corners! This is just like Fujifilms own xf10-24mm f/4 zoom, which I really love, and use quite a lot. The Fujinon has a downside in that it only opens up to f/4, so for astro and or late night photography, it isn’t all that well suited. But with the Laowa f/2.8 maximum aperture night time wide angle photography is easy-peasy!

 

The IQ is good! – It is really sharp in the 3/4 central part of the frame, but it looses a little bit of sharpness towards the edges, there’s also a fair bit of vignetting when shot at f/2.8. I would say about 1/2 a stop of light loss at the very far edges. It doesn’t really matter to me, but to some of you this might present an issue.
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This lens produces some gorgeous sun stars when stopped down to f/22, and the abberations at those small aperture openings are really well handled. This also eliminates all the vignetting. For landscapes being able to get that huge DOF from the f/22 and still get decent resolution and sharpness is great. In this regard the Laowa actually outperform the Fujinon XF10-24mm f/4.
There is a minimal amount of flare, and the coating and included lenshood definitely reduces it to a bare minimum.

The images that come from this lens has vibrant colours and some great contrast, so post processing the files from this lens doesn’t require much work. For black and white photography I really loved the subtle natural vignetting, and I tended to add my own just to further accentuate the look.

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X-H1 – Laowa 9mm – f/22 – ISO200
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X-H1 – Laowa 9mm f/5.6

The lens is sharp at infinity as well as close up – And speaking of close up, the minimum focusing distance is a mere 12 cm. Couple that with the f/2.8 aperture, and you can actually do images of things and get an out-of-focus-background. For close-up portraits, you better warn your model about the risk of him/her wanting reductive nasal-surgery though! 😀

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Looks great on the Fujifilm rangefinder cameras – Here on my custom X-Pro1 “Silver Surfer”

On the streets this lens is pure fun, fun, fun! – You set your aperture to 5.6 and set it to 1m – and you get everything from 0.5m to infinity in focus. So you just aim, compose and fire at will! – Just remember to get really close to your subject for them to fill the frame.  When you do decide to put some effort into composition and put away the gonzo-type-streetphotography the Laowa 9mm f/2.8 can create some brilliant urban architectural/fine art street photography images. You get a lot of play in terms of leading lines, and the results can be staggering!

 

Conclusion

I LOVE THIS LENS! – It’s as simple as that. It’s such and amazing performer, especially when you take the small size into account. It has great built quality and it just ticks all the right boxes for me. And at a suggested retail price of USD $499 I wouldn’t hesitate a second to recommend everyone who like wideangle photography on the Fujifilm X-series system to buy one! Easily one of the most usable lenses I’ve ever mounted on my X-series system (And I have mounted A LOT over the years!)

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X-H1 – Laowa 9mm – f/2.8 – 1/8sec

Samples

As per usual, my sample images are processed to my liking. If you want SOOC jpeg samples you need to check other sites. I processed these in either Capture One 11 or Adobe Lightroom. (I always use lightroom as an exporting library so EXIF data won’t show you which is which)