I'd like to start this review by just saying a huge thank you to the Laowa team for asking me to review this stunning lens.
Wow....it is a heavy lens! This is an all metal lens, not many lenses these days are anymore, usually to keep weight down. when it comes to looks, it reminds me of the old Distagon Carl Zeiss lens, black shiny metal with the vertical lines on the focus ring. This is a definite plus.
Lenses wider than 14mm (non - fisheye & full frame) are hard to come by, Voitlander make a few, Sigma has their 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 and Canon has their new 11-24mm f/4, but this lens is special, 12mm with little to no distortion AND a maximum aperture of f/2.8!
The lens I have reviewed was a pre-production sample, which means it isn't on te market yet as some things could change. Over the past week I have loved using it, although there a few things I hope they will add.
It is a heavy lens, so you need to bear this in mind if you are after a small and lightweight setup. For me though, shooting this with a gripped D810 is great, the balance is fine and I do not mind the weight.
It has an incredibly long focus throw, not good if you're shooting video of a subject at minimum focus distance then need to focus at infinity quickly. At nearly a full rotation, it takes a while to focus from infinity to minimum.
The aperture ring is lovely and smooth, but unlike Laowa's 15mm, it is a clicked aperture. The 15mm is de-clicked and is much nicer to operate when in video mode. When changing aperture on the 15mm you can see the viewfinder getting darker, but when the 12mm's aperture is closed you still see the image through the viewfinder as if it is wide open, this is better in my opinion because in dark situations you don't need to compose wide open then stop down.
12mm vs 15mm
I was asked by a fellow photographer, which should I get, the 12 or 15? My answer to him was the 12mm. My reasons were, unless you need the 1:1 macro function and the 77mm filter thread, then the 12mm is the better option. The minimum focusing distance is 0.18'' which is not macro, but is very close. It is able to achieve bokeh even with this large field of view. Another reason for the 12mm is that it is wider than the 15mm which is very useful at times. Whilst there may not seem much of a difference between the two focal lengths there is a noticeable difference in the final image.
You can see the differences in the images shown here, I even added a 50mm lens to the comparison, just so you can see how wide they really are.
So the 12mm is wide, very wide, but is it sharp? In a word, yes. Wide open it was sharp in the centre with some softening towards the edges, but that is very normal with most lenses. I have tested sharpness ranging from wide open to f/11. This lens will go down to f/22, but the copy I had seemed to have an issue of not stopping down past f/11. Anyway, below are the images from this test.
Vignetting is not bad wide open, there are plenty of lenses out there which perform far worse, Nikons 20mm f/1.8 for example. Chromatic abberation is well handled also, I was pleasently surprised as the Laowa 15mm has notcible CA.
This lens does suffer quite bad from flare, i'm not sure if there is any coating on the front element, if not then I do hope they consider putting some on to help get rid of this.
Screw on filters are not an option for this lens unfortunately, but that isn't Laowa's fault, blame physics. The front element protrudes preventing any filters to be screwed on. However, there is a way. They have also produced a filter holder designed specifically for use with this 12mm. Laowa stated that it is also a pre-production model and might not be that good, but I think it's great. Fully metal construction like the lens gives it a very sturdy feel, unlike some flimsy plastic ones out there. It does add weight to the front but a good tripod head should be okay with this. It accommodates 100mm square ND filters, I use 100x150mm graduated ND filters by Zomei. I can confirm that this holder with an ND grad creates no added vignetting, extremely good for a lens this wide! There is a great way of attaching the holder, it is just like putting the hood on. This video will show you how it is attached.
Laowa have also announced that they will be making the holder to fit a 105mm CPL filter too. This current prototype only lets you use 2x100mm filters, so the addition of the CPL will be great.
I really, really like this lens. I love wide angle lenses and I own the Laowa 15mm f/4 which is great, but optically this 12mm is better. It is by no means a perfect lens, it has some flaws but then again, there is no perfect lens out there. For me this could have been my perfect wide angle landscape lens if it had weather sealing. I use my gear in some challenging places so having weather sealing gives me confidence it won't let me down. I would recommend this lens to anyone looking for a new angle in their photography. This lens will bring great fun and great images too. If you are deciding between this and the 15mm f/4 then I will say get this unless you really need the macro function of the 15mm. I for one will be selling my 15mm to fund this 12mm when released.
Great image quality
Brilliant filter holder made for it
No weather sealing
Flare is quite bad
Very long focus throw
Here are some images taken purely with the 12mm. Bad weather stopped me heading out for most of the week so I have not managed to get all the desired images, still I do hope you like them! All the images seen below were shot @F/11.
Thank you for reading this review, I hope I have managed to answer your queries, if not, please feel free to send me an email!