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!
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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! 😀
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!
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!)
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)
I can’t wait to try this lens, primarily for landscape and astro. It appears to have a bit of coma in the extreme corners in the examples you’ve got above – anything significant you noticed there?
This obviously fills a need that the 10-24mm can’t (wider, faster), but how about once we have the Fuji 8-16mm…will this lens still have a place in your bag?
There is a little bit, yes. The astroshot shows it the most. I was however on the very edge of how long I could push the exposure time, so there are trails at the corners as well.
From what I’ve seen with the early 8-16mm prototypes that were on display last year, it looks VERY big! – What I like most about the Laowa 9mm is the amazingly small size. VERY portable!
Great point about the size, Jonas. I’ll definitely check this out.
This excellent review cements your status as my far-and-away favorite reviewer of X-ecosystem products!
nice one! tnx
Thank you man!
If you could only ever have one wide lens – would it be Samyang 12mm or the Laowa?
And as always, thanks alot for the great effort into the reviews and inspirational images 🙂
This one. The Laowa. I’ve never liked a wideangled the way I like this one. It just works so well on so many levels for me!
Nice ! I mean to ask the exact same question :). Love the fact it seems super compact, nice fit for my A5000 when I feel like leaving the stupidly heavy 5D at home :P.
I would love a comparison of a scene: one frame shot with this new lens wide open and the second frame shot with the 10-24, wide open, and the same shutter speed.
Oh, yum, what gorgeous photos! I am not sure if I have lens envy or vision envy… probably both! I could maybe buy the lens (ok, I would need a camera to go with it) but I love your vision too. Thank you!
I have not had (made?) much time for photography lately. Seeing your shots made with this lens is always a great motivation to change something in my life when it comes to trying my hand at this wonderful art form again. Bravo Jonas. That price point is really great as well.
It’s always a pleasure to read your reviews, Jonas. 15 lenses in 10 groups is a lot of glass, I wonder how the RAW files really look like.
Also, off-topic question: what software do you use to post-process your X-Trans RAW files?
Sounds like a super lens, Jonas. Also, some great images. Thanks.
A couple of quick questions: (1) does one require a special mount adapter on a X Pro 2 to accommodate this lens and (2) does the Laowa provide Automatic Focus?
I own the 8mm f2.8 Samyang so perhaps this lens would be redundant. Have you tried the 8mm Samyang and if so how do they compare?
I have the same question too Kristinn….I have the Samyang 8mm….wondering if I should sell it and get the 9mm.
The Samyang 8 mm is a fisheye and offers all the wonders of fisheye distortion. Because it is a fisheye lens it also offers a 180 degree field of view, the Laowa offers “only” 113. If you use the fisheye for astrophotography alone, perhaps you do not need the Laowa 9mm. But if you want an extreme wide-angle for landscape and architecture, you would.
Fantastic images, such a creative mind! Makes me keen on getting my hands on the lens!
Thanks for the great review! Have they told you when it will be available for sale?
Great review, Thanks for sharing your view!
Question – any chance you could do a tutorial for camera product shots? Yours are some of the best I’ve seen, I’d love for my for sale gear ads to have images like this. This lens looks like a winner too – I love UWA, looking forward to testing one myself. Thanks!
Great lens. I had the chance to play with it for a little while at The Photography Show in UK. However the thought the price could be lower. The Samyang 12mm is retailing at around £300 in the UK and this Laowa is £499. Of course the 3mm does makes a bit difference. The Samyang is a f2 though which has its advantage for astro.
Thank you for this detailed (and enthusiastic) review, Jonas. I have been casting an eye on this lens, for what it offers as well as for its size. My wife has the Samyang 10 mm f2.8 (originally designed for DSLRs). Is the Laowa a comparable lens, other than for size?
Thanks so much for this wonderful review. I’m currently using the Rokinon 12mm f2 and this looks like it will really be an asset for my landscape work.
Cheers and thanks
I love when you post–whatever the lens. I do not have to go out to a museum to view Art…it is right here. Best, M
I simply had a delightful evening reading your write up about this lens and viewing your results from it just make it exciting. Truly looks like it would make me get out and see things in different ways. Do you know when it’s due to hit the US?
I may have to really think about this one for my X-E3. Thanks for your motivation today and I love your work and appreciate the efforts you’ve taken to share and inspire. Cheers
And thanks for the review!
Very nice review and AMAZING pictures. So I guess this is the lens to pair with the X H1 for Real Estate photography right? Or would you recommend some other lenses over this Laowa?
Hi Jonas. You mentioned The lee/nisi system, do ypu know if with seven5 system of Lee do u have any vignetting using the 49 rings adaptor and normal filters in it? I m curious cos the 10-24 vignetting from 10mm to
If the 9mm of this chinese brand doesn t vignetting should be amazing to have in the lit for those who use systems like SEVEN5 of lee.thanks
I have the same question
Excited for this lens! I love your photos. How do you process your Fuji Raw Images? You should consider doing some Youtube videos.
As we’ve come to expect, a very useful and beautifully illustrated review. Thank you for the time you take with your posts. And a question: I’m sure you’ve addressed this elsewhere, but could you direct me to your approach to taking the paint of the XPro-1? I’m inspired to do the same to mine and am sure you learned a thing or two while undertaking it that could be useful to this hobbyist.
Thanks Jonas! — Have you tried this lens for astrophotography? I wonder about it’s qualities wide open for stars (ie is coma well controlled, etc)
How would you compare this lens versus the 12mm Samyang/Rokinon ?
Great review. I’m very tempted to buy one for close-up action sports photography. I currently use a Samyang 8mm fisheye for that. It gives a sense of energy and dynamism, but also some serious distortion. I was particularly interested in your people shots above – the girl on 5he swing and so on. Would you recommend this over a fisheye?
The lens isn’t bad either.
Took some tine for Laowa to ship, I was early in ordering, the 21st of March, waited to 11th April for shipment – but then DHL (50 USD extra) did a good job so I picked it up Friday the 13th!
Super fine lens, I reckon it is even better than the Samyangs I have to get a correct perspective! Straight!
And – compared to the Samyangs’s the Laowa fits the X-mount, no wiggle at all!
I understand Jonas is smiliing when using this lens!
Glad yours got there – that gives me hope!
Mine shipped on the 9th, final destination here in South Carolina. It went from HK to New York, then to Los Angeles, and now it’s headed somewhere from Los Angeles. Hopefully that somewhere is closer to SC lol. I can’t wait to try it out.
Does anyone of you know how / where to order it in Europe? Apparently they sell it for 629€ here which is quite a lot compared to the US price (499$) tho…
I ordered direct at Venus Optics.
The lens is just a total marvel, should be a part of the Fuji kit 😉
Thanks a lot! I’m sorry but that leads to two more questions I have:
1. Did you have to pay any additional cost when shipping to Europe? (Taxes, import charge) The 50 USD mentioned above where shipping, right?
2. What country did you order from? I’m from Germany, hope that will work. I normally just buy from my local reseller so I don’t know much about buying from other countries.
Thanks a lot for your answer in advance!
By the way, thanks a lot Jonas for this wonderful review. I was so stunned by the lens that I had to ask how to get it before being able to acknowledge how good this review and your blog in general is 🙂
I bought it from venus: https://www.venuslens.net/product/9mm/
VAT and maybe customs charge will of course come.
Thanks for the review Jonas. Now, I am searching the wide angle lens for my XT20 camera. And I will consider this lens for sure.
I hope this lens will be in Indonesian market soon.
I just received mine today from China . I am not going to do an unboxing but I can’t wait
to get it on my XT2 and shoot tomorrow .
Hi, Are these out of camera jpeg? or raw? the color look amazing!!! Was thinking of Fuji or Sony. But if this is OOC from Fuji, hands down on Fuji.
Hi, I love your reviews!
I was looking for a leighweight wideangle lens with a focal length about 10mm,so this lens was really a interesting choise. I like to shoot onley jpg,so Im a little worried that this lens is not corrected like the fujifilm lenses.
Are the jpg files as good as with fujifilm xf 10-24mm f4 ois with fuji film x-t2?
I have gotten my hands on it last Thursday. As for build quality I can confirm everything Jonas has reported. Now I’ll need to play with it…
Having used this lense for a few months now, I would like to thank you once again for your review which significantly contributed to my purchase decision. Wanted to thank you personally at photokina but I had to leave before your Saturday morning session was over. On another occasion, I hope…
Hi Jonas, i had my 9mm laowa yesterday, its shart but the only concer i have is when i put my nisi filter v5 pro holder, laowa is only 49mm ring size so i put on step up ring to make it compatible with Nisi v5pro holder, but it had vignet. a vignet, what fo u think i should do with your response is really appreciated. thank you
Wondering how you would compare this lens to the Rokinon 8 mm if you had a chance to try that one. Thanks for any advice
Amazing Pictures. I am sure LAOWA are going to sell lot of lenses courtesy this blog itself. I would like to know your comments on the vignette which this lens has!
Excellent review, but I have to know, how did you create the Xpro Silver Surfer?
I have been waiting for the 8-16 but may get this instead, especially after learning that the 8-16 will not accept filters. Great review. Thanks.
Thank you very much, in particular for the images. The internet has no shortage of people anxious to talk about stuff, but so few reviews that could just let the images get the point across. I nice variety, and images that specifically showcase the lenses strengths, that’s exactly what I needed to see.
First, thanks for all the work you’ve done to provide information for those of us looking for new toys!
My question regarding the Laowa is about flare. You say flare is minimal – and I’ve read that elsewhere – but almost every image I’ve seen shot by this lens (across multiple reviews and videos) with the sun or bright light in it produces obvious flare in the form of artifacts. I particularly dislike that in my photos, and I’m used to shooting Fuji lenses directly into the sun with nearly no similar effects.
So in the shots you have with flare, was it an artistic choice to keep it? Could you have made it go away with minor adjustments? Also, by minimal to you mean that there’s a) a small amount, b) that it’s not subjectively bad flare, or c) appears in a low percentage of photos or under very particular conditions?
Not that I ever need much encouragement to buy new gear, but I absolutely love this review and the sample images. It has most definitely made me want to get one for myself, now that I much prefer Fuji gear to my EOS stuff. I shoot SooC JPEG and bought a cheap, used X-M1 to shoot with M42 lenses, but the ILC bug has caught me and now I want native X-Mount glass. I’ve missed wide-angle of late, so this particular focal length definitely sparks my creativity.
What is the kind of filtersystem you are using on the Laowa?