I recently had the privilege to try the new Laowa 12mm f2.8. As I am an extreme wide-angle lover this lens intrigued me. In general, it’s great to see so much lens manufacturers bringing extreme wide-angle lenses to the Sony E-mount. It’s not only Laowa that is noticing the popularity of the E-mount wide angles. One year ago there were very few choices available and nowadays we can choose between lenses from Samyang (who are also coming with a new version of one of my favorite wideangle primes: the 14mm f2.8, and are coming with a 20mm 1.8 soon), Voigtlander, Zeiss and and Laowa. As a SONY Global Ambassador of Imaging this makes me a very happy man!
Laowa 12mm f2.8 mounted with an adapter on the Sony A7RII
Onto the lens. The lens is not officially out yet and is currently on Kickstarter. The lens I received for testing had a Nikon mount. The native E-mount version was not available at the time but will be at the time of release. When trying out some different adapters (different Kipon adapters and the metabones adapter) I noticed that the adapters affected the sharpness of the images. When I tried the lens on the D800 it gave me considerably better results, especially in the corners. This lens being not a native Sony E-mount version and a prototype, I’ll not do extensive sharpness tests in this ‘Hands-on’. I purely want to write some first experiences with the lens based on having used it in the field.
For more extensive testing check out the articles by my german friends Bastian Kratze and Dierk Topp:
Dierk Topp on SteveHuff.com
Bastian Kratze on PhilipReeve.com
Specifications taken from the Kickstarter website
When holding the lens it feels very solid and well built. Something interesting to notice immediately is the lens hood. The 12mm Laowa actually has 2 lens hoods. One that is detachable and the other (only a few mm) fixed to protect the curved front glass element. By detaching the bigger lens hood it allows us to attach 100mm filters on the lens. They obviously thought this through as they even have their own filter holder that makes use of 100mm filters. This is a big deal for me as I do not prefer dragging around a 150mm filter system with me. Being able to use 100mm filters with this lens is a huge plus for me and I’m sure it will be for many others. Another interesting thing is that this lens is quite small for an ultra wide-angle f2.8 lens.
Size comparison: Left : Samyang 14mm f2.8 E-mount, Right: Laowa 12mm f2.8 with adapter without bigger lens hood.
Laowa states this lens has ‘close to ZERO distortion.’ It does indeed live up to its promises as this lens has indeed almost no distortion even without any lens profiles applied. I am used to horizons and straight lines being distorted on UWA lenses. Usually this is fixed after adding a lens profile correction in software but it seems like this is almost unnecessary with the Laowa. Impressive.
Laowa was so kind to send me a filter holder (which was also still a prototype) to test the lens with some filters. As stated earlier, it is impressive that they managed to design this lens to make use of 100mm filters. The holder I received was able to take 2 filters and no CPL. I have been told that the final version of the holder will be different and may include the use of more filters including a CPL. The filter holder is rather small (as the lens itself) and should be super easy to bring along. I was obviously curious about the vignetting.
Laowa’s own (prototype) filter holder mounted on the lens.
When trying the filter in the field I was very surprised that there was very few vignetting. Actually, I didn’t notice any difference in vignetting compared to my 16-35 Sony Zeiss lens when putting 100mm filters. Here’s an example of a shot without a filter and a shot with a full ND 10 stop filter. I only adjusted exposure to match the 2. This was shot at an Aperture of f11:
Left: no filter, right: 10 stop full ND filter
And here’s a BTS shot of the lens with filter attached in action:
Processed shot of the Laowa with a 10 stop ND Filter. Exposure time: 2 minutes.
More sample Shots
Wide: while 12mm can be considered very wide (122 degrees), a corrected 12mm Samyang Fisheye shot (180 degrees) is still a lot wider. This would only work for a fisheye when putting the horizon in the middle of the frame of course, or it would be distorted too much. This is a comparison of shot I took with the 12mm Fisheye Samyang last month and the 12mm Laowa last week. Taken from the exact same spot.
I love getting up close to objects like trees because they suddenly look so big
Straight lines: This lens is perfect for architecture and interiors with a lot of lines because of it’s low distortion.
Note: unsharpness of leafs in the top centre are because of the long exposure
Another shot with a 10 stop filter. Exposure time: 1 minute
As this lens is still a prototype and I have been told by Laowa that they are still working on lots of things for the final version (with the comments of me and other testers), I feel that it is unfair and unnecessary to go into too much details about the performance and properties at this point. I just simply used this short article to show you guys some images I took with it and to describe my first experience. I can however say that it looks like this lens is going to be a great prime in the end with the main plus points of it having almost no distortion and it being able to use 100mm filters. I can say I am excited for this piece of glass and I can’t wait to try the final version!
If you’re interested in pre-ordering this lens below its final sales price there is still time on the Kickstarter page to do so.
Feel free to ask me anything in the comments.