Rolling-Review: Laowa 9mm 5.6 FF-RL

Introduction

laowa 9mm 5.6 ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Laowa 9mm 5.6 on Sony A7rII

The king is dead, long live the king! After the Voigtlander 10mm 5.6’s field of view has been matched by the Samyang 10mm 3.5 XP and the Laowa 10-18mm 4.5-5.6 it has now been surpassed by this Laowa 9mm 5.6 FF-RL. Can a lens be wider and at the same time better? Let us try to find out!
Lens is being tested on 42mp Sony A7rII and 24mp Leica M10

This is a rolling-review to give a first impression. It will get steadily updated as we get to know the lens better.

Sample Images

laowa 9mm 5.6 ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Sony A7III | Laowa 9mm 5.6 | f/11
laowa 9mm 5.6 ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Sony A7III | Laowa 9mm 5.6 | f/11
laowa 9mm 5.6 ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Sony A7III | Laowa 9mm 5.6 | f/5.6

Disclosure

The Laowa 9mm 5.6 FF-RL was kindly provided free of charge by Venus Optics / Laowa for reviewing purpose for a few weeks.

Specifications / Version History

This is a one of a kind lens, there has not been a 9mm fullframe lens before! So far it comes for Sony E-mount, Leica-M mount and Nikon Z. I now have a look at the M-mount version which has the following specifications:

    • Diameter: 66 mm
    • Field of view: 135° (diagonally)
    • Length: 63 mm (+adapter)
    • Weight: 350g (+adapter, without caps)
    • Filter Diameter: – (100 mm holder will be available)
    • Number of Aperture Blades: 5 (straight)
    • Elements/Groups: 14/10
    • Close Focusing Distance: 0.12 m
    • Maximum Magnification: 1:4.8
    • Mount: Leica-M

I will update this section as soon as I get an E-mount version of this lens.

You can already order the lens directly from the manufacturer’s homepage for $899 (M-mount) and $799 (E-mount) (affiliate links)

How wide is it?

 

At the wide end a millimeter makes a big difference, so this Laowa 9mm 5.6 is noticeably wider than the Voigtlander 10mm 5.6, more than the numbers may suggest.

Handling / Build Quality

laowa 9mm 5.6 ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Front element

The Laowa lenses always gave the impression of high build quality but I have the feeling they are still trying to improve.
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 roughly 100° from the minimum focus distance (0.12 m) to infinity.
The aperture ring has full-stop click stops and travels ~80° from f/5.6 to f/22.
I was a bit surprised that – despite incorporating a very complex floating elements design – the click stops are not equidistant. This won’t bother the most of you, but it kinda spoils the whole picture for me.

laowa 9mm 5.6 ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Rangefinder coupling and 0.7 m click stop

The M-mount version of this lens is rangefinder coupled between 0.7 m and infinity and there even is a click stop at 0.7 m, so you can feel if you leave that range without taking your eye of the rangefinder (not that the rangefinder is particularly useful when using a 9 mm lens).

laowa 9mm 5.6 ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Holes for 6-bit coding

There are also holes included to add 6-bit coding so you can disguise the Laowa 9mm 5.6 as a Leica lens when used on one of the later Leica M-mount cameras.

The E-mount version does not feature electronic contacts to communicate with your camera and there is also no filter thread.

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.
Vignetting is high, but in line with other small ultra wide angle lenses like e.g. the Voigtlander 10mm 5.6 or 12mm 5.6.

color cast

Like with other small ultra wide angle lenses there is a slight color cast in the corners. I am waiting for overcast weather to show you a good sample.

Sharpness

infinity (42mp Sony A7rII)

laowa 9mm 5.6 ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d

What did I expect here? The Laowa 9mm 5.6 is noticeably wider than the Voigtlander 10mm 5.6 E but pretty much the same size and weight, therefore I would have been happy if the 9mm would not be much worse than the 10mm. To my surprise the 9mm is actually quite noticeably better though.
The 10mm 5.6 really needs f/11 in the corners and even after stopping down and CA correction in post some aberrations remain.
The 9mm 5.6 on the other hand yields actually good corners at f/5.6, in fact better than the 10mm 5.6 ever gets. There is a slight midzone dip though, but it is mostly resolved at f/8.0.

There are two things worth noting though: with lenses this wide mount tolerances can have a noticeable influence on the across frame performance (especially in the midframe), therefore lens A may perform great on camera B but not camera C.
Furthermore the corners already look best at f/5.6. This is due to diffraction, as the actual f-stop in the corners is slower than that in the center, therfore the corners are diffraction limited already at the maximum aperture (which is also true for comparable lenses).
But this should not take away from the fact, that I think the performance is astounding for such an extreme yet compact lens.

You can see the Voigtlander 10mm 5.6 E in a direct comparison here.

infinity (24mp Leica M10)

laowa 9mm 5.6 ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d

Performance on the Leica M10 is surprisingly similar. The midzone dip looks slightly more pronounced, but ther corners show a very similar performance.

Distortion


Sony A7III | Laowa 9mm 5.6 | f/8.0

The lens shows moderate yet slightly wavy distortion. Laowa created a profile for Lightroom to correct this which does a reasonably good job, you can download it here.
It also includes vignetting correction but it is too strong, I recommend a value between 20 and 40 here.

Sunstars

Sony A7III | Laowa 9mm 5.6 | f/11

Beautiful 10-stroke sunstars as the other recent Laowa ultra wide angle lenses.

Chromatic Aberrations

lateral


100% crops from inner midframe, Sony A7rII

Usually ultra wide angle lenses show a high amount of lateral CA. This is surprisingly not the case with the Laowa 9mm 5.6 as the lens is almost free of lateral CA.
The corners are very clean, you really have to look at the midframe to find a small amount of CA, which is easily corrected in post.

longitudinal

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

Alternatives

Laowa 5.6/9, Voigtlander 5.6/10, Laowa 4.5/11, 4.0/14, 2/15 and Canon TS-E 4/17

You are looking at a review of the widest ultra wide angle lens and you got this far, therefore I doubt the comparably huge and long AF zooms are an alternative to you, but you can still have a look at our Guide to Ultra Wide Angle Lenses for the A7 Series to learn more about these options.

Voigtlander 10mm 5.6 E Hyper Wide Heliar:
My ultra (or hyper?) wide angle lens of choice for the past years.
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.
Long story short: I sold my 10mm 5.6 and will buy a 9mm 5.6
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

Laowa 11mm 4.5 C-Dreamer:
9mm and 11mm are a huge difference in terms of field of view and one would expect the 11mm to perform better – all else equal.
I did compare the lenses side by side and this is not really the case.
The 11mm shows more coma, astigmatism and lateral CA in the corners, distortion is also different, in total less, but a bit wavier. The optical design does also not look as complex and it doesn’t focus as close.
But there are also advantages: it has a 62mm filter thread (widest lens with a normal filter thread), better flare resistance, is ligther and cheaper.

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.

First impressions

Wider and at the same time better than the Voigtlander 10mm 5.6? This is not something I expected but my first impressions are exactly like that.
I will be updating this rolling-review with a more in depth analysis in the coming weeks.

laowa 9mm 5.6 ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Laowa 9mm 5.6 on Leica M10

You can already order the lens directly from the manufacturer’s homepage for $899 (M-mount) and $799 (E-mount) (affiliate links)

Further Sample Images

laowa 9mm 5.6 ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Sony A7III | Laowa 9mm 5.6 | f/11
laowa 9mm 5.6 ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Sony A7III | Laowa 9mm 5.6 | f/5.6
laowa 9mm 5.6 ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Sony A7III | Laowa 9mm 5.6 | f/5.6
laowa 9mm 5.6 ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Sony A7rII | Laowa 9mm 5.6 | f/8.0

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.

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26 thoughts on “Rolling-Review: Laowa 9mm 5.6 FF-RL”

  1. Hi Bastian, interresting lens for canyons and small interiors. I like the sunstars, I put it on my list for time lapsing and full spectrum photography with my converted Z6. Did you see any coma? or testimage of a night-cityscape? Great work! Bjorn

  2. Hi Bastian,

    Wow, I was very excited when I found out that you will be testing the lenses and the 9mm sure looks promising!

    Also, any initial review of the 14mm? Is the optical performance comparable or better than the 9mm? Does it accept 67mm filters like the 11mm?

    Oh I also noticed a small typo in the image containing the lens lineup; it should be 4/14 I think

    1. Ah yes, it is 4/14 of course, thanks for pointing that out!
      This review will be updated later, especially with better product pictures.

      While I received good copies of 9mm and 11mm the 14mm is unfortunately a bit decentered, which is why I am waiting for a second copy right now.
      The 11mm takes 62mm filters and 14mm takes 52mm filters, which might make it a nice match to the Loxia lenses.
      What I can already tell you about the 14mm: flare resistance is better than the 9mm and distortion is very low.

      1. Very interesting lenses! the 9mm is available in the site, but I did not found the 11mm or the 14mm. Are they not yet available? Regards!

          1. Thanks for the answer! This lens is not filter friendly I suppose? What are you doing to equalize sky and fields lightness? Staking? It is a very very attractive lens 🙂

            Thanks a lot for the review!

          2. There is supposed to be a 100mm square filter holder for the 9mm lens, I will check how that one works.
            Generally, the comparably high vignetting helps a bit to not blow out the sky 😉
            On the 10mm 5.6 I was sometimes even using a reverse GND instead of a hard GND.

  3. Thanks! While a 9mm (11mm is pretty wide too, speaking for myself only) is certainly too wide for most applications, a small-ish 14mm that can take normal screw-in filters is very much a dream come true, cant wait for your review and for Laowa to release them!

  4. As always, thank you. This lens looks like it would be awesome for extreme WA work.

    One question for you: Would Laowa have supplied a profile to Phase One for their Capture One software? (A lot of Sony users have been using this for post-processing, rather than Lightroom).

    1. Not that I would be aware of.
      I also don’t know if it is even possible for a third party to create correction profiles for Capture One, Adobe provides the necessary software.

  5. Hi Bastian, thanks for the work done, as always. Any info on availability within EU with good return policy? Duties and sample variation are my main concern.

    Thanks!

    1. I can understand, german customs are also no fun to deal with.
      Laowa Germany said it will be available mid July, I guess other countries should get a shipment around that time, too.
      If you tell me what country you are from I can ask Laowa.

  6. I guess you probably haven’t tested is thoroughly yet….But based on your initial impressions, do you think the Laowa 11mm performs better or worse than the FE Voigtländer 12mm lens?

    1. The Voigtlander 12mm 5.6 E is one of the few ultra wide angle lenses I did not use personally.
      Judging by our review of it and what I have seen from the 11mm 4.5 so far I think they
      are quite similar performers.
      The 11mm shows more distortion but features a 62mm filter thread over none on the 12mm, which would be a benefit for me, but it also lacks the 12mm’s electronic contacts.
      The 12mm 5.6 has already been discontinued and sometimes available with big discount, which makes it an interesting option, too.

  7. Thanks, I’m from Croatia. Companies over here are slow to adopt “exotic” lenses in their rotation to begin with and the return policies are more or less non-existent. I rely heavily on other EU distributors for that reason alone (Germany mostly, but others too). I’ll wait for a couple of weeks, no need to rush. 🙂

    Thanks again!

    1. I never loved the 10mm.
      I sold it, hoping it can be replaced by the Laowa 10-18mm 4.5-5.6, but that lens had one flaw too much in the end, so I ended up buying David’s 10mm (also hoping my first 10mm might have been a faulty copy) but in the end they performed the same.
      Now I am really quite happy with this 9mm, ability to use it on a Sony camera or Leica M10 with little drawbacks is now a welcome feature.
      That the E-mount version won’t have electronic contacts makes it easier for me to make the decision to go for M-mount 🙂

  8. Thank you for the review – reliable, sensitive and thougthful, as always! For me, this lens would probably not be that useful; but I am looking forward eagerly to hear more about the Laowa 4.0/14mm … I did not succeed to find a good copy of the Laowa 2.0/15mm, and in addition was not happy with the focussing of the latter (for me, there was not enough room between 1m and ∞ in order to focus accurately), so maybe the 4.0/14mm could be a nice option if the focussing would be a bit more generous ;).

    1. 9mm is certainly not for everyone, I agree 🙂
      That is also an interesting note, I will have a look how the focus rings of both lenses compare around infinity.

  9. Hello Bastian, thank you for your kind answer!

    And yes, it would be very helpful if you could compare the handling of the focus rings around infinity! From your review, I infer that the focus ring of the Laowa 9mm/5.6 is a joy to use (you write “the focus ring has perfect resistance and travels roughly 100°”, and the photo shows quite some space between the marks for 1m and infinity), therefore I have some hope that Laowa has improved this in the 14mm/4.0, too … (Both copies of the Laowa 15mm/2.0 which I tried had (for my taste) an extremely stiff focus ring, so it was not possible to rotate it precisely; together with the little room between 1m and infinity, the focussing did not work well for me.)

  10. I might be missing something, but how come you can’t do falloff measurements? The CV 10/5.6 has a built in hood but you were still able to do measurement on it.

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