In March 2018 I reviewed the Laowa C-Dreamer 9mm f/2.8 for the Fujifilm X system. If you havn’t already, then you can read about it HERE. A lot of things have happened since then in Fujifilm land, especially in the GFX department.
The widest lens available natively by Fujifilm is the amazing 23mm f/4 which I wrote about HERE after taking it to Iceland. So when Laowa announced the 17mm f/4 development almost at the same time as releasing the 9mm f/2.8 I was excited. I really love the 9mm, and find it to be a true gem, so my expectations for the 17mm f/4 was quite high.
At photokina in september 2018 I got a chance to try out a working sample at the Laowa booth, thinking that it would come to market quite soon. But it didn’t. We had to wait almost another year for the ultrawide angle lens from Laowa.
But all is forgotten, because today Venus Optics Laowa announced the August 2019 availability of the D-Dreamer 17mm f/4 GF mount lens. About time!
Disclaimer: Before I get started on this, I would like to state that I am in no way associated with Venus Optics. They asked me if I would like to test one of their lenses, and I happily accepted.
Disclaimer 2: All shots taken with- and of the lens are made by me. If you want to repost them somewhere, just ask.
Build and Feel
Whereas the 9mm f/2.8 is very very compact and portable, the 17mm f/4 sadly isn’t. Thats not to say that the lens is way bigger than it has to be for the medium format system, but it sure is quite hefty.
It has quite a long barrel, that end in a trumpet like front shape, revealing an 86mm front filter thread. Again, I need to stress that it is not big compared to the native GF lenses, but then again it’s a manual focus lens.
The lens balances best on the GFX50S or the GFX100, as it seems a bit front heavy on the GFX50R.
I did some product shots in my usual style to showcase how the lens looks.
The Laowa 17mm f/4 features an all metal barrel build, that has a really nice feel to it. It has quite a smooth focusing ring that has a very nice 180 degree turn cycle from close focus to infinity.
I don’t really know if the lens is weather sealed. I did take it into the pouring rain a couple of times, and it held up just fine. There aren’t any electronics inside the lens, so you won’t end up breaking any sensitive autofocus stuff. But I would probably read what they write over at the official venuslens.net site.
The aperture ring on my early copy is clickless. But on the final version I have been told that it will feature clicked step aperture ring. So obviously I can’t report back on the quality of that. The aperture ranges from f/4 to f/32, and the ring is just as nice and dampened as the focus ring.
The focus rang is from infinity all the way to a very close 18cm near focus. This is very fun because is makes it possible to do macro’s kind of shots with this lens, which is quite cool!
The Laowa 17mm f/4 is a rectilinear lens. This makes this lens fantastic for architectural shots, since you’ll get those nice straight lines right to the corners! This is just like Fujifilms own GF23mm f/4. Just like its smaller 9mm counterpart, the 17mm f/4 features “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. Just like on the 9mm f/2.8, this coating is awesome. Period.
There has been a lot of talk about whether this lens is just a Laowa 12mm f/2.8 full frame lens with a built in Magic Format Converter on the back.
I was told by Venus Optics, that this is not the case, so this lens should be made for the GFX.EDIT: I have had further clarification from Venus Optics about this matter. The 17mm f/4 is indeed the same optical formula as the 12mm f/2.8 + MFC. Sorry about the confusion.
As you can probably see from the image above there is a slight corner vignette with the 17mm f/4. Nothing that can’t be corrected, but still it’s there, so you need to be aware of that. The 9mm f/2.8 had a lot more vignette, so this lens is definitely the better optical construction of the two.
Speaking of the 9mm f/2.8, it’s actually quite fun that the 17mm f/4 on the GFX 44x33mm sensor gives you the same FOV as the 9mm f/2.8 does on the APS-C sized X-series sensor. So in that sense they’re quite comparable.
Whereas the 9mm gives me very contrasty and punchy saturated pictures, the 17mm f/4 is much much neutral. I need to give the contrast a good push in postproduction. Something that I’m not quite used to with the GFX system. It’s not to say that it’s bad, it’s just something different that you need to be aware of.
Writing about background blur and bokeh with a wideangle lens like this is a little stupid. Non the less on the GFX sensor size you will actually see bokeh from this lens, especially when shooting at minimum distance at f/4.
The OOF areas look good. Nothing out of the ordinary though. But then again, if you buy this lens for the bokeh….yeah….don’t do that. Buy the GF110mm f/2 instead.
At f/22-f/32 the lens really creates some beautiful sunstars. I really really liked them. In the samples section there are a couple of great examples of this. It’s really one of the nicest features of this lens if you ask me.
The lens is pretty much distortion free all the way to the edges, and lines are nice and straight throughout the frame. However I saw some weird stuff going on at the corners of the frames. The corners seems stretched, but only if you photograph at real close distances. The trees above are good examples of this. The camera is 2 cm above the ground on the first image, and resting on the stem on the second. You can easily see what I mean from those two pictures. I don’t mind this at all, but some of you might.
When you focus further away, for standard landscape or architecture, the problem disappears.
The lens actually proved alright for some nighttime photography. It isn’t as lightsensitive as its full frame and APSC counterparts, but the ISO handling of the GFX means that you can crank the ISO an extra stop without the image getting noisy. So you can keep your shutter speeds low enough to avoid startrailing.
Conclusion and sample images
I still hold the Laowa 9mm f/2.8 very dear. It has very good image quality in a very small package. This is quite important to me, so using the GFX system is always going to be a compromise of size for me to achieve the best possible IQ when I need it. The Venus Optics Laowa 17mm f/4 D-Dreamer lens isn’t compact. It’s a bigger lens, made for a bigger sensor. So far it’s probably one of the widest lenses you can mount in front of a digital medium format camera, so that is definitely a feature in itself.
The image quality is very good, and I really enjoy shooting with it. I still haven’t had the chance to do some street photography with it, or some long exposure ND filter photography, but I will do it when I have the time. SO far I’ve really been enjoying this lens for my GFX system.
You Can find info at the official site here: https://www.venuslens.net/product/laowa-17mm-f-4-gfx-zero-d/
I don’t shoot brickwalls. I’m not a reviewer, I’m a photographer. Thats why I don’t do SOOC comparisons etc. You can probably find those elsewhere.
Samples are from RAW files that I have made adjustments to using Adobe Lightroom CC or Capture One.
This is how I chose to use the Laowa 17mm f/4 for the past month, and it might differ somewhat from what you plan on using it for. I tried to test it in various settings, but as I said, I still need to do some long exposure shots.
Make sure to open the gallery for maximum quality! All metadata are in the gallery/files, and you can download the individual files at 3000px wide end.