The Laowa 9mm f/2.8 - small and mighty ultra wide angle lens for APS-C mirrorless
Lets take you back to Spring 2018, when the worlds widest rectilinear (non fish-eye) for APS-C mirrorless cameras was released. At the time of release, this was the only option for an ultra-wide, fast apertured lens for Fuji, Canon’s EOS-M and Sony E mount cameras. Fuji has the 10-24mm f/4, Canon has the 11-22mm f/4 - 5.6 and Sony has a 10-18mm f/4. At the time of writing this, Sony and Canon have not introduced any new wide angles, whereas Fuji has their new 8-16mm f/2.8 which costs a whopping £1799! So, they now have an ultra wide in their arsenal, however, it is huge, very expensive and a zoom. Being a zoom is not the issue, because i am sure that the optics are razor sharp. Even with this new addition, the Laowa still retains its title as the worlds only ultra-wide angle f/2.8 prime for the mirrorless APS-C cameras. This tiny little gem currently sells for £499 and in my eyes is the bargain of the century.
I have been a huge fan of wide angle photography ever since buying my first full frame DSLR, a Canon 1Ds mkii. I started with the old and terrible EF 22-55mm and as time went on, I needed to go wider, so I then went to a 19-35mm, then 17-35mm f2.8, then the Laowa 15mm f/4 macro which was truly amazing for the stuff I photograph. Laowa sent me a 12mm pre-production unit to test and was amazed! I had never experienced such wideness before and whilst I loved the vast amount of space you can fit in with a 12mm, Laowa 15mm f/2 for my Sony A7r3 fits my needs perfectly.
This 9mm f/2.8 is specifically designed for APS-C sized sensors, which means when you mount any lens, the focal length needs to be multiplied by 1.5x (or 1.6 for Canon because they like to be different). So, this 9mm lens shows 113° field of view, the same as a 13.5mm would on a full frame camera, which is VERY WIDE!
Excluding the plastic lens caps, only metal and glass are present in the build of this lens. Just like the other lenses in their line up, it feels solid and well built. The focus ring is approximately finger width, large enough to hold with your index finger and thumb. The aperture ring has well defined clicks, great to let you know what F stop you are at when you don’t want to remove your eye from the viewfinder. For video users this may be an issue as it can’t be de-clicked so it would be great to see a ‘cine’ version of this lens. This is a near perfect lens for me, small, light and a good solid build. The only things I would like to see added, are electronic contacts and weather sealing.
This lens is incredibly sharp, I was not expecting that amount of sharpness, especially for something so small. Wide open it is very sharp in the center, corners are great too, but not as impressive. During my time with the it, I found that by stopping the lens down to f/8 and f/11 provides great sharpness across the frame.
2 aspherical elements and 3 extra-low dispersion elements help to control any chromatic aberrations and help give this lens near zero distortion. There is some green and purple fringing when shooting bright contrast scenery, but to be honest, it is very minimal and super easy to remove in post. I’ve used far more expensive and professional grade lenses, like the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II for example, which emit a load more purple fringing.
The lens features ‘Frog Eye Coating’, which helps to control against flaring. Point it to the sun and you will see some red/orange flare, however, it’s not a huge amount and it will depend on the user, because I actually like a bit of flare in some of my images and this lens has quite nice flare. Sunstars are very nice, not Voigtlander or Sony G Master nice, but still very impressive thanks to its 7 bladed diaphragm.
With a minimum focus distance (MFD) of 12cm and magnification of 1:7.5, the 9mm f/2.8 is not great in this regard. However, this doesn’t mean it is impossible to get up close and create bokeh, you just need a large enough subject. This Raft spider (1cm legspan), shot at MFD shows what it is capable of. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for close up imagery, but like i said, if you subject is large enough you can easily get creative with wide-angle close ups. I would like to try using a close focus filter on this lens one day as I really do love wide angle macro imagery.
This lens is the third iteration of the ‘Zero-D’ lenses produced by Laowa. Zero-D is basically zero distortion. Whilst technically they aren’t completely distortion free, they have done an incredible job of keeping it away. The 12mm f/2.8 and 15mm f/2 are the others who share a Zero-D, both of which have highly impressed with their lack of distortion and this little 9mm is no different. Amazing.
I have been using this on my A7r3 in APS-C mode, which resolves roughly 18mp, plenty enough for travel shots and general wide angle usage. For Sony shooters, I would recommend using this on their dedicated APS-C line of cameras, the A6500, for example. I can see a lot of sharpness with the 18mp I’ve been shooting, so I imagine the 24mp A6500 would be awesome.
I am amazed that the designers have managed to create this tiny f/2.8 super-wide angle lens. I can see this lens will appeal to many landscape shooters, especially ones who travel a lot requiring a lightweight setup.
I would highly recommend this lens to anyone!
At the time of writing this article Laowa announced a bunch of new lenses, including this 9mm which will be available in a ‘cine’ version! Woohoo! These are to be revealed at Photokina 2018. stay tuned for more as I hope to do a write up of some of these beauties!