Laowa 9mm ƒ/2.8:
P.O.V. INSIDE the zero distortion.
First of all, before the description of the lens, I've to ask you to understand this concept: usually, when there is something to review, is important to understand all aspects of the product and of the brand.
So let me introduce LAOWA - Venus Optics:
Laowa is, how can I explain you better if not, "the most innovative Chinese brand as manufacturer of unique lens for photography and videography": not just an alternative of specific lenses already distributed from Major brands (Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fujifilm and so on) which are, more or less, similar with a niceprice... No. The Laowa - Venus Optics guys have in mind incredible, strange, unusual, very useful concept of lenses. I think this is the most important part to understand: Laowa products means a lot of unique specs which could be translated in a single word: CHARACTER. Laowa products have character, have personality, not just the "economic alternative".
Indeed, if you have the occasion to check other products too, you'll see which EACH LAOWA LENS propose a lot of unusual, superb, weird but "differently useful" specs (as 15mm ƒ/4 1:1 macro for full frame, for example). So now let's discover this 9mm ƒ/2.8 Zero Distortion:
Hands on description
The Laowa 9mm is veeeery very tiny!!! I have to admit which, the guys of Venus Optics, dare a lot about the realization of products that combines so many weird but cool characteristics. I remember my previous lens, the Samyang 10mm 2.8 "rectilinear" which was superb for me but, compared to the Laowa is very much bigger than the 9mm and, about specs, is a couple of things very lower than that. Let's start with the measurements:
60x53 mm, weight 215 gr (and it's all metal except the caps), smallest than the Samy 12mm 2.0, it give the possibility to mount filters!!! 49mm!! Wow, if your holder and your filters are well realized and you have a direct step-down ring from 82/77/72/67 (usually wideangle rings dedicated for standard filter kits) to 49, you can use in it without vignetting problems!!!
This little "monster" is dynamite: portable, cool, fast 7 aperture blades 2.8, smooth diaphragm ring set, super precise smooooooth movement of the focus ring, very funny to use and always precise even if you have to set focus of stars (at 9mm are VERY small even with maximum digital enlargment). Is available for FUJI - SONY mirrorless aps-c, micro 4/3 (Olympus, Panasonic, Blackmagic etc) and DJI Inspire II.
The only thing which I don't like it? The hood: nice, tiny, useful just in some extreme case (with sun very high) but not so required. The worst thing is that is made of metal and is very easy to scratch (IMHO).
Zero Distortion: how it really works?
Let's go deeply in the major aspect of this lens: the ZERO DISTORTION.
This lens is incredible and impressive: I've push the horizon to realize dynamic landscapes and result was always FLAT, perfectly flat looking the sea and the sky which meet without strange curves.
This feature helps me not just for the horizon shape but for buildings too and, of course, stars especially about the regular shape of that in the corners.
But this characteristic helps you also to JOIN completely in the scene just looking the photo, because of the reprentation of the perspective: I mean which this wideangle gives you the possibility to feel like inside the picture but you have proper lines and 3D shapes in the scene which you want to snap, then you need to be able to use that for a better result!
About this aspect, some elements (like human figures) are a bit "strange" in representations: too much "tall" or "fat" if positioned not in the center of the image. So: some kind of distortion is still in this lens (it's an extreme wide angle indeed!) but you can warn it just in some specific cases.
As you can see in the charts (next specific sessions), indeed, there is NO representation of curved lines in it!
Another very good aspect of the Laowa 9mm 2.8 is the sharpness: it's shaaaaarp sharp sharp shaaaarp, considering also the resolution of my X-Trans (16mpx). Details are "fat", precise and always pretty good from center to corner with the top of the sharpness at 8 value of diaphragm.
This means which all that lines which are very nice and pleasantly managed, are represented as best between ƒ/7.1 and ƒ/9. By the way all looks very good also if you use the lens at 2.8, with remarkable fall of super sharpness if used for nightscapes and stars: looks good but not super sharp as center of the image.
Well this is the worst part of the Laowa 9mm 2.8: probably a diameter of 55mm would be ok to solve the significant precence of the vignetting in this lens, especially if used with diaphragm wide open. I think which the cause is the very small dimentions of the lens, with a lot of features which transform this tiny toy in a lens good for portability and use but, unfortunately, visible as vignetting. In middle range diaphragm values the phenomenon is significantly less (much more a "fall-off light", not a vignetting) but, if you consider to snap pictures in the night using a camera which is not of last generation cameras, because of the dark areas, will ben not so easy to handle the file and try to recover that parts of the photography (with additional chroma and luma noise... mmmh... yes!): by the way is not a drama, you can handle it.
Significantly less problems if you mount it in a M 4/3 system or if you have a "last generation camera" like Sony A6300/400/500 or Fuji X-T2/20/3/30/100.
Let's see how much is visible from charts: please select one of the images of the grid but, for a general view, I suggest you to check all images as miniature :)
Do you remember times when you have to remove that strange, annoying green-cyan or purple-red fringe from the shape of your elements in the images? Well, it's was just a bad dream, forgot to do this things with the Laowa 9mm: it's the past. If you choose it you'll be free of C/A phenomenon (just a bit in the stars, very much less than other wideangles in the market).
As you can see in this detail corner of the chart snaps, the control of C/A is perfect even with blades wide open and corner enlarged. Well done!
... but: what about the stars? Yeah, you know: stars are always the most "dramatic" photographic subject for this phenomena, so I've decided to show how really works in a 2.8 snap, if you close the diaphragm the phenomenon will be less significant.
This image is completely unprocessed, I've just remove the vignette (not with accuracy): no noise reduction, no color correction and, obviously, chromatic aberration correction
That stars / planets are, more or less, enlarged from 200 to 300%
Flare & Coma
This Laowa 9mm is very good in this aspect too: I had to specify which flares for me are not the evil, just depends on.
This Laowa, in EXTREME backlight, give a nice warm ring of led light (as flare) in all the picture (like some "frame") but just in extreme cases. In 45° / 90° light, the result is: some little coma or "glow" on the picture.. not so dramatic.
Very nice flare - spikes of this lens if you start to close diaphragm deeply, with a beautiful starry flare at ƒ/16 - 22).
Very nice flare - spikes also using this lens for astrofollowed pictures, closing the blades at ƒ/4 or, better, ƒ/5.6
Pictures and conclusions
And sooo, here we are at final conclusions and consideration about the last application which I have made in this trial time Laowa gave me (2 months):
I have to say which this months of tests helps me a lot to understand dynamics and intentions which Laowa put in their products before realize that.
PERSONALITY is first of all the big aspect which every Laowa product give to any customer:
- special unique features
- superb quality about sharpness, chromatic aberrations, distortion
- very good quality control about realization of the product
this things really impress me and all the two months of the experience.
It's a lens which is not just "the cheap alternative" to the original ones, but a true quality 2nd choice!
If I recommend it ? OF COURSE YES, just pay attention to the lens vignetting and that's all: thumbs up for this Laowa 9mm 2.8 zero D!!!!!