Review: Laowa 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 FE C-Dreamer

Introduction

laowa 10-18mm zoom c-dreamer 4.5-5.6 ultra wide 42mp a7 a7rII a7rIII review sharpness
Laowa FE 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 C-Dreamer on Sony A7rII

It seems every two years we see an interesting ultra wide angle FE lens by Laowa. First the Laowa 15mm 2.0 Zero-D FE at Photokina in 2016 and now 2 years later the Laowa 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 C-Dreamer FE at Photokina 2018.
The Voigtländer 10mm 5.6 E held the crown for being the widest rectilinear lens, now we have a zoom lens starting at 10mm but going all the way up to 18mm by Laowa. Is the image quality good enough to get this over the Voigtlander?
Last Update: review finalized, more samples added, lens flare section updated, conclusion updated (11/07/18)

Sample Images

laowa 10-18mm zoom c-dreamer 4.5-5.6 ultra wide 42mp a7 a7rII a7rIII review sharpness
Sony A7rII | Laowa FE 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 | 10mm | f/5.6
laowa 10-18mm zoom c-dreamer 4.5-5.6 ultra wide 42mp a7 a7rII a7rIII review sharpness
Sony A7rII | Laowa FE 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 | 18mm | f/11
laowa 10-18mm zoom c-dreamer 4.5-5.6 ultra wide 42mp a7 a7rII a7rIII review sharpness
Sony A7rII | Laowa FE 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 | 10mm | f/11
laowa 10-18mm zoom c-dreamer 4.5-5.6 ultra wide 42mp a7 a7rII a7rIII review sharpness
Sony A7rII | Laowa FE 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 | 10mm | f/8.0
laowa 10-18mm zoom c-dreamer 4.5-5.6 ultra wide 42mp a7 a7rII a7rIII review sharpness
Sony A7rII | Laowa FE 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 | 10mm | f/5.6

You can find most of the shots in this review in full resolution here.

What the optical designer Mr. Li says about his lens

“The range of usage of a 10mm lens is limited, yet there are people who want to have this focal length available, me included. Therefore I decided to design a zoom lens starting at 10mm, that is more convenient to use than a 10mm prime lens. I made use of the narrow flange focal distance of mirrorless cameras to design a 10-18mm zoom lens as compact as possible. We got asked a lot about more defined sunstars, so this was another design goal for this lens. With the 37mm rear filter and a 100mm front filter holder we also want to give the photographers the opportunity to use this lens for an expanded range of applications.”

Specifications / Version History

I am reviewing a pre-production model here which has the following specifications:

  • Diameter: 70mm
  • Field of view: 102° to 130° (diagonally)
  • Length: 81mm
  • Weight: 499g
  • Filter Diameter: 37mm (rear)
  • Number of Aperture Blades: 5 (straight)
  • Elements/Groups: 14/10
  • Close Focusing Distance: 0.15m
  • Maximum Magnification: ~1:5.5
  • Mount: E-mount

The lens is now available for pre order at the manfucaturer’s homepage and B&H (affiliate links) and the price is $849.

Disclosure

The Laowa FE 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 C-Dreamer pre-production model was kindly provided free of charge by Venus Optics / Laowa for reviewing purpose for a few weeks.

Focal length overview

The overview corresponds to the actual shots taken at the different focal length markings.

Handling / Build Quality

laowa 10-18mm zoom c-dreamer 4.5-5.6 ultra wide 42mp a7 a7rII a7rIII review sharpness
Laowa FE 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 C-Dreamer

So far all the Laowa lenses I reviewed had very nice build quality and this holds true for this zoom lens as well. Most parts of the outer casing seem to be made from metal and the lens feels very dense and solid. Markings are engraved and filled with paint.

The focus ring has (for my taste) pretty much perfect resistance; a little more than the Zeiss Loxia lenses, maybe a tad less than the Zeiss ZM or Voigtlander lenses. The throw of the focusing ring is about ~100° from the minimum focus distance (0.15m) to 1.0m and only ~5° from 1.0m to infinity. because it is such a wide and slow lens this hasn’t really been an issue.
Another good news (especially for those among you into filming): while I cannot tell you whether this is a true parfocal design, it handles as one – even at minimum focus distance – so you can adjust the focal length without loosing focus on your subject.
Infinity is slightly before the infinity symbol on my sample.
The aperture ring has one-stop click-stops and it takes about 35° from f/4.5 to f/22.

This lens incorporates a small lever for de-clicking the aperture ring. It is very close to the aperture ring and it might be possible to turn it by accident.

Unlike the Zeiss Loxia or the the Voigtlander E-mount lenses the Laowa does not feature electronic contacts to communicate with the camera, so there is no Exif data transmitted. Compared to primes this is more of an issue to me on a zoom lens, as it makes using correction profiles for vignetting or distortion quite a bit harder.

laowa 10-18mm zoom c-dreamer 4.5-5.6 ultra wide 42mp a7 a7rII a7rIII review sharpness
Focus, zoom and aperture rings

As it is a variable aperture zoom you won’t always know the exact aperture value you are at. On the aperture ring next to the 4.5 there is a 5.6 in brackets, meaning at 10mm your maximum aperture is f/4.5 but at 18mm only f/5.6. Personally, this doesn’t bother me, but if you are using an external calculator when having an ND filter attached it should definetly be considered.

Use with filters

laowa 10-18mm zoom c-dreamer 4.5-5.6 ultra wide 42mp a7 a7rII a7rIII review sharpness
37mm rear filter

This lens features a 37mm rear filter thread. The lens comes with a clear filter which is part of the optical formula so you should not remove it, only replace it with another filter if desired. This only really makes sense for ND filters. Despite the obvious disadvantages I tried using it with a slim polarizer but even the slim one was too thick, so I wasn’t able to mount the lens on camera anymore.
To my knowledge Laowa is also working on a 100mm square (front) filter holder.
The optimal thickness for the rear filter is 1.1 mm, but it will also work with filters up to 1.5 mm.

Vignetting and colorcast

 10mm18mm
f/4.53.20-
f/5.62.901.60
f/8.02.601.50
f/112.601.40
f/162.601.40

With small ultra wide angle lenses in the past we have already seen that vignetting figures are pretty high and won’t improve that much on stopping down, this is also the case here.
Vignetting is strongest at the wide end but it is quite comparable to the Voigtlander 10mm 5.6, at 18mm it in fact shows less vignetting than the Zeiss Batis 18mm 2.8.

Also similar to the Voigtlander UWA primes and the other wide Laowa primes (12mm 2.8 and 15mm 2.0) this lens showed some green color cast in the corners which is more of an issue on the wide end.

The visibility depends highly on the subject and is more pronounced with very bright backgrounds. This is a real world shot where it is quite obvious:

laowa 10-18mm zoom c-dreamer 4.5-5.6 ultra wide 42mp a7 a7rII a7rIII review sharpness
Sony A7rII | Laowa FE 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 | 10mm | f/11

Sharpness

infinity

laowa 10-18mm zoom c-dreamer 4.5-5.6 ultra wide 42mp a7 a7rII a7rIII review sharpness

laowa 10-18mm zoom c-dreamer 4.5-5.6 ultra wide 42mp a7 a7rII a7rIII review sharpness

laowa 10-18mm zoom c-dreamer 4.5-5.6 ultra wide 42mp a7 a7rII a7rIII review sharpness

It is clear from the crops above this lens won’t be breaking any resolution records and considering the small size and the ambitious focal length range I also didn’t expect it to. The lens also shows some field curvature, in the shots above I focused for the midframe which gave pretty good across frame results but not best center results.
Stopped down the zoom might actually have more resolution at 10mm than the Voigtlander 10mm 5.6 E, but I am pretty sure the 12mm 5.6 E will surpass it at 12mm, the Laowa 15mm 2.0 clearly surpasses it at 15mm (I checked) and the Zeiss Batis 18mm 2.8 will clearly surpass it at 18mm.
The centering quality of my sample is quite okay, especially for a zoom lens. All the corners look pretty similar at the focal lengths I checked (10, 15 and 18mm).

close focus

10mm @ 0.15m

14mm @ 0.15m

18mm @ 0.15m


100% crops from center (unless stated otherwise), A7rII

With the minimum focus distance of just 0.15 m you can get really close to your subject (so close that you are shading the subject with your lens). In the center the performance is always really good at all focal lengths, even at the maximum aperture. When placing your subject close to the borders the resolution never reaches levels as good, not even on stopping down considerably.
Placing your subject in the midframe close to the thirds of the frame gives decent results at most focal lengths though.

Distortion

Unlike the 15mm 2.0 and the 12mm 2.8 this zoom lens is not part of Laowa’s “Zero-D(istortion)” line and indeed it shows more distortion than these two prime lenses.

At around 14-15mm the lens is pretty much distortion free, but at 10mm we have noticeably wavy barrel distortion and at 18mm wavy pincushion distortion. Considering the fact this lens does not come with electronic contacts this is very unfortunate as applying correction profiles is a tedious task.
I created distortion correction profiles for 10mm, 12mm, 14mm, 16mm and 18mm (the focal lengths marked on the zoom ring) for infinity, you can find them here.
(In Lightroom go to “Edit” -> “Preferences” -> “Presets” -> “Show Lightroom Develop Presets” then go to “LensProfiles” create a subfolder named “1.0” and place the presets from my zip file in that folder, restart Lightroom and they will show up under “Sony” and work for Raw files only)

Sunstars

10mm

14mm

18mm


100% crops from center, A7rII

One of my complaints regarding former Laowa lenses were the not so well defined, rather fuzzy sunstars (see my review of the 2/15 or 2.8/12). This is the first Laowa lens where nice sunstar rendering was a design criteria and the lens uses 5 straight aperture blades (instead of 7) that yield well defined 10-stroke sunstars.
This is a highly subjective topic so you might want to have a look at this article and decide for yourself, what you prefer.
There is one thing to notice though: at 10mm you will see sunstars already at the maximum aperture of f/4.5. At the 18mm end at the maximum aperture of f/5.6 the opening is perfectly round and therefore you won’t get sunstars unless stopping down.

laowa 10-18mm zoom c-dreamer 4.5-5.6 ultra wide 42mp a7 a7rII a7rIII review sharpness
Sony A7rII | Laowa FE 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 | 10mm | f/11

Coma correction

10mm

14mm

18mm


100% crops from extreme corner, A7rII

Because this is a rather slow lens it is not exactly meant to be used for landscape astrophotography. Still it is worth checking out the coma correction for city shots.
As corner resolution isn’t exactly great I did not expect to see a great performance here either and the crops confirm this. Only at the long end when stopping down two stops this aberration mostly goes away.

Flare resistance

laowa 10-18mm zoom c-dreamer 4.5-5.6 ultra wide 42mp a7 a7rII a7rIII review flare lensflare resistance gegenlicht contralit backlit backlight
Sony A7rII | Laowa FE 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 | 10mm | f/8.0

The lens is not free of lens flares, it shows worse performance compared to most modern primes with comparable focal lenghts. Compared to other ultra wide angles zooms it has to be said none I know of shows really good performance, but it is hard to judge without a direct comparison.

laowa 10-18mm zoom c-dreamer 4.5-5.6 ultra wide 42mp a7 a7rII a7rIII review flare lensflare resistance gegenlicht contralit backlit backlight
Sony A7rII | Laowa FE 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 | 10mm | f/4.5

After using the lens for quite some time I can say the behaviour described below is quite typical for this lens. At 10mm you will often encounter this combination of red pentagon and crescent around strong point light sources. If you change to a longer focal length it will often not be inside the frame anymore, so I would rate flare performance slightly better at the long end.
Of course recomposing sometimes helps, but then sometimes it doesn’t. You should also pay attention to keep the front element clear of dust or other dirt, as this will easily lead to additional artifacts.

Chromatic aberrations

lateral


Sony A7rII | Laowa FE 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 | 10mm | f/11 | CA 100% crop before/after extreme corner

The lateral CA are strongest at the wide end, they can still be corrected pretty easily in post with one click.

longitudinal

As this is a very wide and rather slow lens longitudinal CA (loCA) are nothing to worry about.

Alternatives

Vogitlander 10mm 5.6 E HWH:
If you want the 10mm field of view this is your only other option right now (Samyang showed a DSLR 10mm f/3.5 XP at Photokina 2018 which is not available yet).
In terms of resolution, vignetting and also sunstars they are quite comparable and the zoom is only slightly bigger and heavier (+120g). In terms of flare resistance the Voigtlander prime fares noticeably better and distortion is lower.
What follow is my personal take on this comparison:
I was using the Voigtlander since release and while it gave me a few cool shots it really is more of a special effects lens (like a fisheye): there are only so many subjects and compositions that work well for a 10mm lens. So in the end – per trip – it only gave me 1 or 2 good shots and apart from that I carried it for nothing. This is why I am inclined to give this 10-18mm zoom a try: being able to zoom up to 18mm might make it a lens that gets more usage. I only have to find out whether the lens flares are an issue in actual shooting or only in staged review shots.

Sony FE 12-24mm 4.0 G:
I haven’t used this lens myself yet, so what follows is a summary of the impressions I got from sample pictures and other review sites that I trust.
I cannot stretch enough how different the field of view of 10mm is compared to 12mm. The Sony lens is also noticeably bigger, so it is not very surprising it is noticeably better in terms of resolution (especially in the corners). Vignetting and distortion are also high on the Sony lens, but easier to correct due to electronic contacts. In terms of flare resistance both do not knock it ouf of the park for me, but without doing side by side comparisons I cannot tell you which one is better.
It really comes down to whether you want the 10mm field of view or not. If not for most the Sony is probably the more convenient choice then.

Laowa 12mm 2.8 Zero-D:
If you don’t just need wide but also fast you should have a look at this lens.

Voigtlander VM 12mm 5.6 UWH M39:
If you want really wide and/or really compact but you are on a tight budget this is still worth a look and also gave me some nice pictures.

Conclusion

good

  • unique combination of focal length range and size
  • minimum focus distance
  • sunstars
  • build quality
  • size/weight
  • 37mm rear filter thread
average

  • resolution and contrast
  • vignetting
  • correction of lateral CA
  • distortion (compared to most UWA zooms)
  • flare resistance (compared to most UWA zooms)
not good

  • no exif data
  • color cast in the corners
  • coma correction
  • rear filter thread only really useful for ND filters
  • distortion (compared to good UWA primes)
  • flare resistance (compared to good UWA primes)

The main selling points of this lens are the compact size and the widest focal length of 10mm. Laowa managed to produce a zoom lens that starts at 10mm – and at 10mm the resolution and vignetting figures look quite comparable to that of the Voigtlander 10mm prime – yet it is only slightly bigger and heavier (+120g) and you can zoom in all the way up to 18mm.

Laowa decided to do some things differently here compared to Sony with their latest UWA zooms: the emphasize is not on resolution but on giving you the widest possible lens in a small package, sunstars and usability with filters. Whether these main points appeal to you or not depends on your personal preferences.

If you are interested in a lens starting at 10mm but want something more flexible than a 10mm prime this lens might be for you.
If on the other hand you think you get a smaller and wider Sony FE 12-24mm f/4.0 G in a smaller package you will be disappointed, the 10-18mm won’t match it in the overlapping focal length range in terms of resolution and contrast.

The lack of exif data is quite a nuisance in a lens where electronic corrections (distortion and color cast) are necessary in many shots. I was using the lens mostly at fixed values of 10, 14 and 18mm to make post production a bit easier.

The biggest disadvantage for me is the flare resistance. With the sun in the frame I encountered ghosting and other artifacts quite regularly. Whether this bothers you depends a lot on what you shoot, but if this is something that bothers you I recommend to stick to the Voigtlander and Zeiss prime lenses.

The lens is now available for pre order at the manfucaturer’s homepage and B&H (affiliate links) and the price is $849.

Sample images

laowa 10-18mm zoom c-dreamer 4.5-5.6 ultra wide 42mp a7 a7rII a7rIII review sharpness
Sony A7rII | Laowa FE 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 | 18mm | f/8.0
laowa 10-18mm zoom c-dreamer 4.5-5.6 ultra wide 42mp a7 a7rII a7rIII review sharpness
Sony A7rII | Laowa FE 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 | 10mm | f/11
laowa 10-18mm zoom c-dreamer 4.5-5.6 ultra wide 42mp a7 a7rII a7rIII review sharpness
Sony A7rII | Laowa FE 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 | 14mm | f/7.0
laowa 10-18mm zoom c-dreamer 4.5-5.6 ultra wide 42mp a7 a7rII a7rIII review sharpness
Sony A7rII | Laowa FE 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 | 14mm | f/11
laowa 10-18mm zoom c-dreamer 4.5-5.6 ultra wide 42mp a7 a7rII a7rIII review sharpness
Sony A7rII | Laowa FE 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 | 10mm | f/5.6
laowa 10-18mm zoom c-dreamer 4.5-5.6 ultra wide 42mp a7 a7rII a7rIII review sharpness
Sony A7rII | Laowa FE 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 | 18mm | f/11
laowa 10-18mm zoom c-dreamer 4.5-5.6 ultra wide 42mp a7 a7rII a7rIII review sharpness
Sony A7rII | Laowa FE 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 | 10mm | f/4.5
laowa 10-18mm zoom c-dreamer 4.5-5.6 ultra wide 42mp a7 a7rII a7rIII review sharpness
Sony A7rII | Laowa FE 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 | 18mm | f/11
laowa 10-18mm zoom c-dreamer 4.5-5.6 ultra wide 42mp a7 a7rII a7rIII review sharpness
Sony A7rII | Laowa FE 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 | 16mm | f/8.0
laowa 10-18mm zoom c-dreamer 4.5-5.6 ultra wide 42mp a7 a7rII a7rIII review sharpness
Sony A7rII | Laowa FE 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 | 10mm | f/5.6
laowa 10-18mm zoom c-dreamer 4.5-5.6 ultra wide 42mp a7 a7rII a7rIII review sharpness
Sony A7rII | Laowa FE 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 | 10mm | f/8.0
laowa 10-18mm zoom c-dreamer 4.5-5.6 ultra wide 42mp a7 a7rII a7rIII review sharpness
Sony A7rII | Laowa FE 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 | 10mm | f/8.0

You can find most of the shots in this review in full resolution here.

Further Reading

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My name is Bastian and for many years I have been mostly shooting Nikon DSLRs. As of today I have made my transition from Nikon to Sony and I am mainly using small but capable manual lenses. My passion is landscape photography but I also like to delve into other subjects from time to time.

32 thoughts on “Review: Laowa 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 FE C-Dreamer”

  1. I was wondering, do you still prefer the voigtlander 10 for wide angles vs the Sony 12-24? Trying to decide if it is worth getting to accompany my Sony 12-24. Thanks!

      1. I was just reading your ultimate wide guide and was wondering that with the introduction of the 12-24, if anyone’s preferences switched. Specifically, from the 10 to the 12-24.

        1. 10mm is completely different from 12mm. It is a bit like asking me whether with the announcement of the GM 24-70mm 2.8 the Loxia 21mm 2.8 is now obsolete.
          The 12-24mm, I am not personally interested in for several reasons (size, filtersize, flare resistance, AF, sunstars).
          But your preferences do not necessarily match mine, so you might come to a vastly different conclusion.
          There is no best lens, the best lens is the one that fits your personal needs best (which I obviously know little to nothing about).
          All we can do is thorougly review the lenses to make it easier for you to choose.

          1. And THIS is why I’ve had this site as the first in my list of bookmarks for years. Your reviews come across far less as someone trying to sell something, and more of “this is how this lens works for what I do, and how it doesn’t.”

            Which, sometimes those suggestions and points are exactly what I’m looking for, and sometimes they’re not. Regardless, I always get the straight story here.

            I do have a question on filtersize though, is your objection to just having another size that you may or may not have filters for?

          2. I have a few 150mm square filters, but history showed I only rarely carry them, as they are so bulky.
            Also the message I get from many (also professional) photographers I talk to: they are okay with 100mm, less so with 150mm or more.
            These big filters take up lots of space in the backpack and the weight also adds up (I am not even mentioning cost here).
            There is yet another issue: when the distance between filter and front element is big there is a higher chance to encounter
            reflections, and so it already happened to me that the lens itself was reflected in the front filter and caught in the picture.

          3. True enough. I’m a bit of an amateur to say the least. I was thrilled with the Fuji 10-24 and now I just upgraded to the Sony 12-24. It is just hard for me to know if the difference between the 10 and the 12+ on the sony is big enough for me to look into that lens further. The sony is a better lens from what I’ve read, but 10 being wider might offer something substantially different than the sony. That is why I asked. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer.

  2. I think it’s worth applauding the fact that Venus Optics took suggestions from the high-end Sony user community and implemented a 10-point sunstar. If I recall correctly, they started with a rounded 9-blade aperture. While this lens may not be the sharpest ultrawide option, it’s very cool to see Venus Optics breaking into new territory and being aggressive with their focal ranges and designs.

    1. I’d rather have seen them keep the original aperture design but sunstar folks were probably rather many and vocal.

      15cm mfd is interesting, slight bit of a shame there’s no fec. Maybe some mfd bokeh shots? : )

      I like the rear filter idea.

      Varying and wavy distortion with no exif is as mentioned in the article slightly problematic for certain (architectural) scenes and a slightly less useful SSS.

      FEC and the original aperture and I would have felt more inclined to try it out.

  3. Thanks for this excellent review!

    Which polarizer did you try? I think that a circular one would not work anyway (it would be on “backwards”), but a slim *linear* polarizer has a good chance of working, assuming it will fit. Tiffen and Heliopan make them, among others.

      1. Was it a circular or linear polarizer? A linear one should be about as thin as a UV since it has only one piece of glass.

        Hard to say which would be more convenient, 37mm round polarizer on the back or 100mm square polarizer on the front. Probably the front one, except for storing it and its holder.

        Thanks

        1. The circular one is also only one piece of glass, it is the rotating mechanism that takes up space.
          And to my knowledge this is also present on a linear polarizer (better be, as it would not be adjustable if not).

  4. At first as an architecture photographer i can say what your shots are absolutely amazing!!! By the second im really disappointed about electronic contacts and no exif as a result (((

  5. I downloaded the original files and took a closer look. Were these really ISO100 as there appears to be a lot of noise? Also great images that they are…I’m not sure low shutter speeds of fast moving objects really help us establish what level of sharpness this lens really offers…..

    1. As always you have the sharpness charts for evaluation and the samples to see what this lens can be used for. As vignetting is strong correcting it (as I did in some of the samples) will lead to added noise.

  6. Did you find in your testing that you were shooting at 10mm intentionally to demonstrate the performance at that focal length? Or do you think it was unintentional? It appears from your sample images that at least 50% of them were shot all the way out at 10mm.

    I’ve found this to be a trap of wide angle zooms that I tend to always want to push them a little wider or tighter, and usually end up shooting at the extremes. This recently drove my selling the 16-35 GM and purchasing the Laowa 15.

    Because of this, I think that the 10mm Voigtlander may be more appealing to me personally.

    1. The focal length being used is always stated under the sample images.
      I tend to use it mostly at the ends of the zoom range (10mm and 18mm) with only few shots in between.
      My current personal take on the comparison between 10mm 5.6 and 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 can be found in the alternatives section,
      but obviously this will vary from person to person.

      1. Thanks Bastian! Since the lens will be available in Z-mount, it’s quite interesting to me, since it seems that with Nikon the short end will remain at 14mm for some time. It would be great if Laowa would offer their existing lenses with Z and R mount too, not just the new designs.

  7. How does it compare to the Voigtländer 12mm E-Mount lens? I have the 10mm and 12mm Voigrländer lenses and I’d like to know if this lens could replace it without a considerable drop in image quality

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