Review: Laowa 11mm 4.5 FF-RL

Introduction

laowa 11mm 4.5 zero-d distortion zero ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Laowa 11mm 4.5 on Sony A7rII

Laowa introduced 3 ultra wide angle lenses at roughly the same time in Summer 2020. This 11mm 4.5 FF-RL is in the one in the middle in terms of focal length and maximum aperture, but is it the goldilock’s lens in this set or should you rather stick to the record breaking 9mm lens or the low distortion 14mm lens? Let’s have a closer look!

Sample Images

laowa 11mm 4.5 zero-d distortion zero ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Sony A7III | Laowa 11mm 4.5 | f/8.0
laowa 11mm 4.5 zero-d distortion zero ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Sony A7rII | Laowa 11mm 4.5 | f/11
laowa 11mm 4.5 zero-d distortion zero ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Sony A7rII | Laowa 11mm 4.5 | f/8.0

laowa 11mm 4.5 zero-d distortion zero ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Sony A7III | Laowa 11mm 4.5 | f/8.0
laowa 11mm 4.5 zero-d distortion zero ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Sony A7rII | Laowa 11mm 4.5 | f/11

Most of the sample images in this review can be found in full resolution here.

Disclosure

The Laowa 11mm 4.5 FF-RL was kindly provided free of charge by Venus Optics / Laowa for reviewing purpose for a few weeks.

Specifications / Version History

Apart from the Irix 11mm 4.0 I think this is the first 11mm prime lens and so far it comes for Sony E-mount, Leica-M mount and Nikon Z. I have a look at the E-mount version here which has the following specifications:

    • Diameter: 63.5 mm
    • Field of view: 126° (diagonally)
    • Length: 58 mm
    • Weight: 254g
    • Filter Diameter: 62 mm
    • Number of Aperture Blades: 5 (straight)
    • Elements/Groups: 14/10
    • Close Focusing Distance: 0.19 m
    • Maximum Magnification: 1:10
    • Mount: Sony-E

You can already preorder the lens directly from the manufacturer’s homepage for $799 (M-mount) and $699 (E/Z/L-mount) (affiliate links)

Handling / Build Quality

laowa 11mm 4.5 zero-d distortion zero ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Laowa 11mm 4.5

The lens looks and feels like it is an all metal construction, all the markings are engravend and filled with paint and the new laser engraved Laowa logo on the non removable hood looks pretty cool, too.
The focus ring has perfect resistance and travels 120° from the minimum focus distance (0.19 m) to infinity. The focus ring also features a focus tab.
The aperture ring has full-stop click stops and travels ~80° from f/4.5 to f/22.
I was a bit surprised that the click stops are not equidistant. This won’t bother the most of you, but it kinda spoils the whole picture.

laowa 11mm 4.5 zero-d distortion zero ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Focus tab on Laowa 11mm 4.5

The lens does not feature electronic contacts to communicate with your camera but if features a 62mm filter thread, making it the widest lens with a normal filter thread.
Unfortunately the non removable hood spoils the game a bit, as it makes attaching a screw-in filter (especially a polarizer) very hard and the usage of a generic filter system impossible (Laowa will offer a 100mm magnetic filter holder for this lens as was already the case for the 9mm 5.6 and 10-18mm 4.5-5.6).

Vignetting

light falloff

Because of the non removable hood we cannot get decent values on light fall off with our usual method. As we have seen in the past with these small wide lenses there also isn’t much improvement on stopping down.
Wide open you get roughly 3.0 EV light falloff in the corners of the A7rII sensor.

color cast

Sony A7rII | Laowa 11mm 4.5 | f/11

Like with other small ultra wide angle lenses there is a slight color cast in the corners. It is similar to what we have seen with the Laowa 9mm 5.6. I usually use gradients in Lightroom to correct this color cast if necessary.

Sharpness

infinity (42mp Sony A7rII)

laowa 11mm 4.5 zero-d distortion zero ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d

Similar to the Laowa 9mm 5.6 there is a slight midzone dip at wider apertures visible. The corners look good from wide open, best across frame performance is reached around f/8.0.
The corners seem to show a bit more astigmatism and/or coma compared to the 9mm 5.6, we will have a closer look in the coma section.

The lens compares favourably to the Voigtlander 10mm 5.6 E, another obvious competitor is the Voigtlander 12mm 5.6 E III, which I did not test personally and we only have 24mp sharpness charts from.
Looking at the review of the 12mm 5.6 III this 11mm 4.5 looks like it performs similarly while being slightly wider and faster.

close (0.19m, 1:10)


Sony A7rII | Laowa 11mm 4.5 | 100% crops from center

A minimum focus distance of 0.19 m is good for an 11mm lens and an improvement over the Voigtlander 10mm 5.6 with 0.3 m and 12mm 5.6 III with 0.3 m as well.
The performance in the center and also in the midframe is good, but the border and corner regions suffer due to astigmatism and field curvature.
The Laowa 9mm 5.6 focuses even closer and also has a flatter field at closer distances, but at the cost of increased distortion.

Flare resistance

Sony A7rII | Laowa 11mm 4.5 | f/8.0

As always evaluating flare is a complex matter since you can get any lens to look bad if you push it hard enough and a slight change of scenario can affect results a lot.

Sony A7rII | Laowa 11mm 4.5 | f/8.0

The sample above is the worst I could create. With the sun close to the corner you can create a line of ghosts and rainbow artifacts.

Many lenses look worst with the sun just outside the frame close to the corner and this one is no exception:

Sony A7rII | Laowa 11mm 4.5 | f/8.0

A very slight change of framing will make this go away though. Very often you can shoot straight into the sun and only encounter little issues, if any at all:

Sony A7rII | Laowa 11mm 4.5 | f/8.0

The lens performs slightly better than the Laowa 9mm 5.6 here and slightly worse than the Voigtlander 10mm and 12mm ultra wide angle lenses.

Coma


100% crops from extreme corner, focused on corner

There is a bit of coma visible in the corners at maximum aperture, but it mostly goes away on stopping down to f/5.6.
The parameters do not make this Laowa 11mm 4.5 an obvious choice for astro photography, there are better options available for this task.

Distortion


Sony A7rII | Laowa 11mm 4.5 | f/8.0

The Laowa 11mm 4.5 shows some wavy distortion that is easily noticeable with straight lines running through the frame.
Laowa does provide a correction profile but towards the corners it isn’t doing a great job. I tried some other profiles and – while not perfect – the one for the Laowa 15mm 2.0 does seem to do a pretty good job.

Sunstars


50% crops from center, A7rII

No sunstars at f/4.5 but well defined 10-stroke sunstars between f/8.0 and f/22 as we have also seen on the other recent Laowa ultra wide angle lenses.
If you want to learn more about sunstars have a look at this article.

Chromatic Aberrations

lateral


100% crops from border, Sony A7rII

Not too uncommon for ultra wide angle lenses the Laowa 11mm 4.5 shows a noticeable amount of lateral CA. These are still easily corrected either in camera (for Jpegs) or in a raw developer like Lightroom by one click.

longitudinal

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

Alternatives

If you are still undecided what you are looking for our Guide to Ultra Wide Angle Lenses for the A7 Series is a good address to learn more about ultra wide angle lenses.

Laowa 9mm 5.6 FF-RL:
The 9mm is even wider which can make finding good compositions a little harder. Optically, comparing the copies I had, I tend to rate the 9mm slightly higher, but the 62mm screw-in filter thread and the slightly better flare resistance may make this 11mm more desirable to some.
buy from manufacturer’s homepage | B&H | ebay.com | ebay.de for $799 (affiliate links)

Voigtlander 10mm 5.6 E Hyper Wide Heliar:
My ultra (or hyper?) wide angle lens of choice for the past years until it has been replaced by the Laowa 9mm 5.6.
It is slightly better in terms of flare resistance, but resolution (especially in the corners and at wider apertures), performance near minimum focus distance, lateral CA and coma it is noticeably worse.
buy from CameraQuestebay.deamazon.deebay.comamazon.com | B&H for 1099$ (affiliate links)

Laowa 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 C-Dreamer FE:
If you value flexibility and compact size over image quality and you don’t know yet what focal length is the right one for you this may be worth a look.
buy from manfucaturer’s homepageamazon.com | B&H (affiliate links) for $849

Canon TS-E 17mm 4.0L:
To get the same angle of view as the TS-E 17mm (when taking a shift panorama) you need a 10.2mm lens, so you are pretty close with this 11mm lens. This 11mm has some handling advantages (less bulky, takes 62mm screw in filters) and flare resistance is a bit better, but you will obviously also end up with less pixels for the same framing. With today’s high resolution sensors this might be a trade off you are willing to take though.
buy from amazon.com | amazon.de | B&H | ebay.comebay.de for $2150 new or $1500 used (affiliate links)

Samyang 10mm 3.5 XP:
I don’t enjoy using a big DSLR lens on a mirrorless camera when there is a smaller alternative, therefore I didn’t try this lens and cannot tell you much about it.

Conclusion

good

  • sharpness and contrast from f/5.6 even in the extreme corners
  • minimum focus distance
  • sunstars
  • handling/build quality
  • size/weight
average

  • CA correction
  • coma correction
  • distortion
  • flare resistance
  • price
not good

  • no electronic contacts
  • vignetting
  • slight green color cast in the corners

The Laowa 9mm 5.6 offers a record breaking focal length and on top of that the optical performance pleasantly surprised us.
Based on this the 11mm 4.5 has a bit of a hard time, as it may not look as sexy as the 9mm at first sight.
But actually, we have a record here, too: this 11mm is the widest lens with a normal filter thread. This is a clear benefit over the Voigtlander 10mm 5.6, 12mm 5.6 and the Laowa 9mm 5.6 as it makes using a polarizer (which I used for many of the sample images) easy and convenient, but unfortunately the non removable lens hood makes using a generic filter system impossible.

The overall optical performance is similar to the Laowa 9mm 5.6 and the Voigtlander 12mm 5.6 at shared apertures and slightly better than Voigtlander 10mm 5.6, compared to the Voigtlander lenses you are not getting electronic contacts and exif readout here though.

All in all a very solid ultra wide angle lens and an interesting alternative to Voigtlander’s 10mm and 12mm offerings.

You can already preorder the lens directly from the manufacturer’s homepage for $799 (M-mount) and $699 (E/Z/L-mount) (affiliate links)

Further Sample Images

laowa 11mm 4.5 zero-d distortion zero ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Sony A7III | Laowa 11mm 4.5 | f/8.0
laowa 11mm 4.5 zero-d distortion zero ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Sony A7rII | Laowa 11mm 4.5 | f/8.0
laowa 11mm 4.5 zero-d distortion zero ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Sony A7rII | Laowa 11mm 4.5 | f/8.0
laowa 11mm 4.5 zero-d distortion zero ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Sony A7III | Laowa 11mm 4.5 | f/8.0
Sony A7III | Laowa 11mm 4.5 | f/5.6
laowa 11mm 4.5 zero-d distortion zero ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Sony A7rII | Laowa 11mm 4.5 | f/11
laowa 11mm 4.5 zero-d distortion zero ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Sony A7III | Laowa 11mm 4.5 | f/4.5
laowa 11mm 4.5 zero-d distortion zero ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Sony A7rII | Laowa 11mm 4.5 | f/8.0
laowa 11mm 4.5 zero-d distortion zero ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Sony A7rII | Laowa 11mm 4.5 | f/8.0
laowa 11mm 4.5 zero-d distortion zero ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Sony A7III | Laowa 11mm 4.5 | f/11
laowa 11mm 4.5 zero-d distortion zero ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Sony A7III | Laowa 11mm 4.5 | f/11
laowa 11mm 4.5 zero-d distortion zero ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Sony A7III | Laowa 11mm 4.5 | f/5.6

Most of the sample images in this review can be found in full resolution here.

Further Reading

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My name is Bastian and I am your expert here when it comes to ultra wide angle lenses, super fast portrait lenses (ranging from a 50mm f/0.95 to a 200mm f/1.8) and I also have reviewed way too many 35mm lenses. Don't ask me anything about macro or wildlife shooting though.

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49 thoughts on “Review: Laowa 11mm 4.5 FF-RL”

  1. thanks for the review, great to see laowa delivering another decent UWA.
    11mm is such an extreme FOV. i really cannot see myself using <16mm on a regular basis as i don't do architecture/interiors much. But i'm always quite impressed by what you manage get out of those pretty extreme focal lengths.

    I find vignetting/lightfalloff quite distracting here as it seems to creep in from the sides in many of the shots, completely altering the mood. I'm not sure if you used this artisticly or just weren't able to correct it…

  2. I’d love to read a guide on composition techniques and considerations for such wide lenses – I can’t imagine myself shooting so well when the field of view is so extreme, and I have no idea how to begin!

  3. Integrating the non-removable hood on a lens like this – a really strange decision, it only brings inconvenience and increases length. Looks like they’ve reused a barrel from some wider/faster lens to reduce costs.

    Do they still use the standard lens cap, or, there’s some fancy one, covering the hood?

  4. The distortion and vignetting reminds me of Samyang 18/2.8. Before it had correction profile included in Lightroom, the closest I got to fix it was using profile for another “moustache” lens, like Canon EF-M 11-22mm for example, and playing with the Distortion amount and Manual Distortion amount. Can’t test it here with a small JPG, but this would be the way I’d try.

  5. I stopped reading at “non removable hood”. I guess now I’ll be waiting for the 15mm shift at least the the non removable hood there will have a reason to exist

    1. The non removable hood was the main reason why I did not buy the Voigtlander 12. This maybe the same. I hope the 14mm is different

  6. Hi Bastian,

    Great review as always! Wasn’t really into the UWAs offering (5.6/9 & 4.5/11) and was planning to wait for the 4/14 but now I’m interested after your reviews 😄 If the filter thread is not of concern, would you advise getting the 9mm and crop to get the 11mm POV since the 9mm is slightly sharper?

    Have never used anything wider than 18mm and appreciate your input!

    1. Ah that is an interesting question, isn’t it?
      If you mainly intend to shoot at 11mm I would clearly get the 11mm.
      The resizing of a 9mm picture will cost more details than the slightly better performance of the 9mm can make up for.

      1. Ah I see, that’s a good point! How about the composition using both lenses? Would the 9mm require more careful thought and adjustments to get the ‘right shot’ although both lenses are in the UWA focal lengths?

          1. That’s nice to know, thanks for the input Bastian! I think I will go for the 11mm once it’s available locally where I live (often slightly cheaper than purchasing directly from Laowa’s website), can’t wait to try it out though 😊

    1. I was always the frist one to complain when a manufacturer has only bad sample images available when he releases a lens, therefore I allow them to use my pictures for that purpose these days.

  7. Hi, I am already the proud owner of a voigtlander 21 3.5 color skopar and the tamron 28-75. In addition to my profession as a graphic designer, I am thinking of practicing and then orienting myself towards architectural photography to offer my clients, then a very wide angle could be useful. Do you recommend this Lens or another for this purpose? Other question, I love the small 21mm voigt but since tamron released the 17-28, do you think replacing it with this tamron would make me lose quality (but gain in zoom flexibility and be able to go down to 17)? Thank you so much and love your website.

    1. I would not carry the 17-28mm and the 21mm at the same time.
      Question you should ask yourself: is 17mm wide enough?
      If not I would not buy the zoom lens and go for 11/21.

      1. Well that’s a good question. I find that 21 mm is sometimes too tight especially when it is necessary to straighten the verticals. Even though I’ve never tried 17mm it shouldn’t be too different. So I think your advice for an 11/21 seems to support my choice. thank you!

  8. I like the review.

    The lens looks promising, I especially appreciate the filter threads. But as you said, the location of it will make it very annoying to use a polar filter.

    On a serious note, I notice that you don’t have your usual disclosure section that you include when reviewing new lenses. Did you purchase this lens yourself?

  9. Hello Bastian, thank you very much for your review. You mentioned the upcoming 14mm, which I’m eagerly awaiting. Is it coming this year? What’s your guess? I love slow and small UWAs, I just hope this one will have a lesser degree of vignetting

  10. Great Review. It is also a pleasure to recognize Stuttgart, Tübingen and other well known places of our region, South West of Germany, by new perspectives. Super wideangle lenses definitly offer you new kind of sights.

  11. Bastian & Co, I know you don’t usually write about Fuji lenses, but it would be interesting to read your views of the coming 50 mm f/1. Are you planning to review it?

  12. Awesome review and photos as always.
    How do you track the EXIF data on your sample images without the lens being able to do this? Do you make notes as you shoot?

    1. Thanks!
      I am not taking notes, but with a lens like this, there is a limited number of aperture values I will use. Mostly f/8 or f/11, if I need shorter shutter speeds f/4.5 or f/5.6, that makes it easier.

  13. How do you feel about this lens with filter vs using, say, one of the 2 12-24 lenses with a filter system. Obviously the savings in bulk and weight are extensive, but otherwise, how would you say they compare?

          1. Yes, poorly worded. I guess I am just wondering if there would be a fairly large difference in sharpness/other between a bulky 12-24 GM with nisi filter system vs this lens. Trying to decide if this lens is something I’d want to consider just for the filter use and just keep the GM as an all purpose.

          2. For that purpose they are different enough to consider the 11mm as a ligther alternative and it is surely convenient to just leave a small filter on the 11mm and put it in the bag like that.
            I do expect the GM to be a bit better with regards to across frame performance though.

  14. Dear phillipreeeve team,
    I want to purchase this lens but I´m unshure to order by a local dealer 835€ or via international homepage 699$. I live in germany.
    The price difference is a lot.
    Could you give me an advice?

    Kind regards
    Mario

  15. Any news on when you’ll have the review of the Laowa 14mm lens ready? It would be great to have your thorough review before I decide if I should get one…:-)

      1. Thanks for the reply. Not good that you are still waiting for a second suitable copy of the 14mm lens to test. I guess I will stick with just my 9mm for now. 🙂 The first copy I had of that lens was terrible and I got no support (just a short very delayed disinterested response to my emails) from Laowa to replace it either.

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