As a architectural and landscape photographer your automatically a super-wide-angle-freak. The widest angle I had so far was 16mm which was nice, but sometimes just not wide enough. On of the few options to go wider was the superb Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L-Lens. But this comes with that huge price-tag. Curios about the via Kickstarter announced Laowa 12mm f/2.8 I startet reading all reviews. Although it were just pre-production lenses that where tested I decided to order one. It took e while until I received a relatively small package from Hong Kong. What is this lens capable of? Find out my review and verdict here.
Packaging and build quality
The Package looks a bit boring to be honest, it's just a white box with some colorful graphics and the name of the lens on it. But how cares, its about the content.
The lens itself is well packed and comes with two (!) lenshoods, front- and back-cap, a small instruction manual and a garanty-certificate. For whom it may concern, there is no bag included. Personally thats fine for me.
The Lens itself is built like a tank. From the Mount - mine is an EF-Mount for Canon, its also available with Mounts for Nikon, Sony FE, Sony A, Pentax K as well as Fuji X and MFT (the later two with an adapter) - to both lens hoods its all metal. The larger lens hood is detachable whilst the smaller one is fixed to the lens. Only the front- and back- cap are plastic, whilst the front cap is a bit thicker due to the bulb front element of the lens.
As normal for a all manual lens - that also means that no EXIF-Datas are transmitted to the Files - there are two rings. A smaller ring for the aperture which ranges from f/2.8 to f/22 and clicks in every full stop in between. It's easy to adjust but also a bit to loose. Better check the aperture after you grab it out of your bag. The much lager focus-ring is easy to adjust and handles very well. It lets you adjust the focus pretty exactly, although the rotating distance from 1.5 meters to infinity is about 3mm. A bit hard, but with a focal-length of 12mm most of the picture will be sharp anyway.
As a bonus is a hyperfocal-distanc-scala printed on the body as well as the nodal-point. Later will help you with panoramas. The focus-scala as well as the aperture-scala are printed on the body of the lens. It has to show how it withstands the daily use and if it will rub off or not.
There is no image-stabilization built in. But with an aperture starting at f/2.8 you don't really need that anyway.
All in all its an awesomely strong built lens, that reflects in the wight of 609 grammes, in which I couldn't find any negatives.
Angle of view
With an focal-length of 12mm and an angle of view of 122° you get a lot in your frame. It's just amazing how much of that wide landscape, of that interior or building fits in the frame which you just a couple of feets away from it.
As its perfect for interiors and architecture its sometimes almost to wide for some landscapes. You have to adjust and get used to this lens as it covers so much ground. It's not easy to find a working composition. But its that step further back from 16mm that you like to have from time to time.
Autofocus, stabilizer and co.
Thats pretty quick done, there is nothing of them at all. Its, as written above, an all manual lens.
The viewfinder is bright and all clear at f/2.8 and gets a bit darker until f/22. But even closed its bright enough to see all you need. Focussing trough the viewfinder is nevertheless tricky. Live-View with magnification makes your life easier.
The minimal focusing distance is about 18 centimeters and a magnification of 0.2x. You can get close to you subject and have a lot more in the frame. That allows you some new perspectives.
One of the most important points for every lens as we all know. Your not going to see some test-charts here, you can find them in other reviews more than enough. This is more of a real-world-review.
To take all concerns away in the beginning: that lens is tack sharp. It profits that it is a prime lens of course, but the sharpness is absolut spot on.
In the center you will get a perfectly sharp image throughout all apertures. But most super-wide-angle-lenses suffer from edge softness. Well, the Laowa 12mm does a great job here, too. At f/2.8 its a slightly soft which betters at f/4 and is disappeared at f/8 and f/11. From there it starts go get a bit softer down to f/22. The lens hotspot is clearly at f/8 and f/11 where you get sharp images throughout the frame.
The lens vignettes pretty strong at f/2.8. But similar to the sharpness it betters when stopped down to f/4 and is gone by f/8. For a lens that wide Laowa has done a great job here.
Adobe Lightroom doesn't know a lens-profil for this lens (by the time of the writing, but that would not chance so fast I think). To get ride of the vignetting you have to pull the accordingly slider to the left and its easy to render it out.
Chromatic aberration and flares
I couldn't find any major chromatic aberrations so far with that lens. Some minor ones appear if you point the lens towards the sun, but Lightroom takes care of that with just a click. Once again a great job done by Laowa here.
Shooting Sunsets or directly against the sun will cause some lens flares. With that focal lenght not really a surprise. But its rather small and controllable. Sometimes you'll get a relatively large, red octagon when shooting sunsets. If you - like myself - see that just in post production you have quite a bit of work to bring that out. But knowing it, you will take care of it whilst framing you shot.
The lens has 7 aperture blades which create a - in my opinion - nice sunstar. Against that, the bokeh is a bit harsh and not so smooth. But I prefer a nice sunstar with that kind of lens rather than a nice bokeh as you will rarely have a shot with a lot of bokeh in it.
With 12mm focal length on a full-frame-camera you usually don't expect any good. But Laowa promotes and even named its lens (Zero-D) after the fact, that it has no distortion. So does it hold its promises?
Long story short: The 16 Elements in 10 Groups, containing two extra-low-dispersion- and two aspherical elements, make an incredible job. The lens produces really close to no distortion which is phenomenal.
I probably have to mention that it does have some slight cushion distortion tough. Nevertheless, its easy to filter that out with Lightroom.
Theres two additions to this lens which make it stand out even more against there competitors.
For 75 US-Dollars extra Laowa sends you a Filterholter for this lens. This filterholter can hold up to two 100x150mm-Filters and one 95mm Polarizer (no Filter included with the Holder). That saves you - when you already have a 100mm-Filtersystem - a lot of money as you don't have to upgrade to a 150mm-System what you usually had to do with a focal length under 14mm.
The filterholder is built, similar to the lens, all-aluminium. It fits perfectly to the lens (you have to detach the lager lens hood). The front element is rotatable by 360 degree to adjust the filters as you need them. Unfortunately the holder can be seen in the frame in certain angles. Most of the time you will be able to eliminate that in Photoshop. Nevertheless is it sensationell to use a 100mm-filter-system with this lens which makes the additional money worth.
Sony-Users have further option, the mighty Magic-Shift-Converter (MSC). It works as a adaptor from the Canon- or Nikon-Mount to the Sony FE-Mount and transforms the Lens into an 17mm Shift-Lens with a 1/- 10mm shift-possibitly. The converter is still in development but will cost you 300 US-Dollars and the delivery will start - as of the writing of this article - in May 2017. It sounds like an amazing option for any Sony-User.
The Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D is an absolutely amazing lens. If you shoot landscape, architecture or nightskies this is your lens. I wouldn't give mine away as its my favorite architecture-lens right now. With a pricetag from USD 949 (USD 979 with adapter for MFT and Fuji-Mount) directly from Laowa, that also includes worldwide free shipping, you won't find any better ultra-wide-angle-lens with a better value.
I would absolutly recommend this lens to everybody who's in wide-angle-photography.
Find some more informations over at the site Laowa-Site.