The Laowa 10mm f/4 Cookie lens is one of the new offerings from Venus Optics. With an impressive 109.3-degree field of view, it's currently the widest rectilinear APS-C lens on the market, so how does it perform?
We recently had the opportunity to visit St Kilda, an archipelago 40 miles north of Harris, Scotland. Due to the weather conditions, the trips are canceled quite frequently, but on this day everything was looking fine. I opted to take two lenses for the Fujifilm XT-4, the Fujifilm XF 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR and the new Laowa 10mm f/4 Cookie. Possibly not a wise choice, as I didn't know when we would get this opportunity again, but I did think this would be a good time-limited opportunity to try out the lens. Did I regret it?
Build and Handling
The first thing I have to say is that this lens is small, and I mean small. Attached to the Fuji, it projects out to 25mm, and 30mm with the land cap attached. This is the most compact lens I have ever shot with, and it feels kind of weird, but weird in a good way. As it's a fully manual lens, everything you need is on the lens: aperture, depth of field scale, and of course the focusing ring, just millimeters away from the aperture ring. The filter thread has a diameter of 37mm, so you can see that size is the big draw of this lens; my car and house keys combined take up more space in my pocket than this lens.
A full metal chassis makes the lens seem solid, and although it is not weather-sealed, it still feels as though it could handle different conditions fairly well. Attaching the lens to the camera is the usual easy process, it's detaching it that can be slightly unnerving due to its size, as you have to grip close to the mount. I never once used the focusing ring, just a mere 20mm away, although I do think I could, as the lens is solid.
Center sharpness is great, with minimal dropoff from the center to the edges over the apertures. I found it best at between f/8 to f/11, then once you hit f/14, diffraction begins to show slightly. There is distortion and softness at the edges, but this is to be expected for a 10mm lens, exaggerated, of course, the closer you are to your subject, but this can be used creatively.
The image of the Bronica has been intentionally shot at f/4, minimum focusing distance, and into the sun to establish how the lens dealt with this, and as you can see, it handled it well. Once the sun rose a little more, there was quite a bit of lens flare recorded, and again, this is to be expected.The distortion is minimal for a lens of this focal distance and the image below, apart from the monochrome profile, is uncorrected, which leads me to think that this would be a good choice for both interior and exterior architectural photography as long as you were a reasonable distance from your closest subject in the scene.
This is my main gripe about the lens, as I want to be in control of the vignetting in an image and decide whether I add a subtle one or not add one at all. The vignetting is quite pronounced through the apertures, although it dissipates to an acceptable level around f/9. Correcting this in post is necessary, so perhaps Laowa will release a profile for Lightroom. You can see by the images below the amount of vignetting that occurs.
The image above shows the amount of vignetting in good light, with the first image being the raw file and the second only auto-corrected in Lightroom. The images below show the amount of vignetting in flat light, again with only minimal edits in Lightroom.
Correcting the vignetting wasn't an arduous task: a simple inverted radial filter in Lightroom and a couple of slider tweaks and itwas fixed, but as stated, I want to be in control of the vignetting.
What I Liked
- I do like the compact nature of the lens, but perhaps just a slightly larger barrel would be better. It's a double-edged sword, as the size of the lens is quite charming.
- The sharpness is great for a lens of this size and price.
- The wide field of view.
- The distortion control.
What I Didn't Like
- Heavy vignetting at wider apertures.
- The size of the lens is so neat and compact that your hand gets in the way, so you have to rest your hand underneath the camera to ensure that no fingers are captured in the shot due to the field of view.
- No EXIF data, as there are no electronic connection points.
I did enjoy using the lens, the field of view, and the solid construction. For me, it is a creative and fun lens, sharp with minimal distortion and yet heavy vignetting, and because of this, I think you would have to choose your shots carefully if you weren't going to use the vignetting creatively. The size of the lens is neat and enjoyable to work with, yet can be a bit of a hindrance if you have big hands like myself. I mainly shoot landscapes, so the camera would be mounted on a tripod with my hands out of the way once focused.
Since photographing other subjects and spending more time using the lens, I'm still at odds with my thoughts as I had to think creatively in regards to the vignetting. Did I regret taking it to St Kilda? No, and I did feel that the limited time with the location forced me to focus more on every aspect of what the lens could do rather than the vignetting. It might grow on me the more I use it, especially being so portable and easy to take along. You can buy yours here.