Laowa C-Dreamer 9mm f/2.8 Zero-D Review

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Pros
  • Outstanding central sharpness
  • Low CA
  • Low distortion
  • No flare
  • Widest view in class
  • High-quality traditional construction
  • Very compact
Cons
  • Manual focus tricky in bright light
  • No weather sealing
  • Relatively high price

Laowa 9mm F2,8 Zero D Front Oblique View

Here we have yet another groundbreaking lens from Laowa Venus Optics, the C-Dreamer 9mm f/2.8 Zero-D for APS-C format. This is a very, very wide lens and to achieve the same field of view we would need something like a 13.5mm lens in 35mm-format terms. This becomes all the more extraordinary when we consider that it is also billed as having Zero-D, that is, zero distortion. So let’s have a closer look at how this manual focus lens behaves, and performs, using the Sony Alpha A5100 24mp body.

Handling and Features

Laowa 9mm F2,8 Zero D Vertical View

The overall look and feel of the lens suggests high quality, the 215g weight is due to the metal and glass construction, despite this being a very tiny lens indeed. The metal lens hood bayonets into position with good precision. There is no click stop to hold the hood, but the tension is such that it is very unlikely to move out of true in use. Within the bayonet fit of the hood is a standard 49mm filter thread.

The front element is very small with this design and coated with Laowa’s FEC (Frog Eye Coating) which repels grease, dirt and moisture. The lens elements are all multi-coated.

The manual focus ring is adequately sized, within the limitations of the overall diminutive size of the lens. The action is not the silky smooth that many manual systems have, but a rougher feel. However, this feel is also consistent and without any tight or loose spots. It is also not too tight, just right for making a balance between ease of use and security that the distance cannot be inadvertently changed. There is a well spaced and clear depth of field scale, which for this lens is really essential.

As regards manual focusing, this is possible with ease if the magnified image is used on the A5100. If the standard display were to be used, then focusing would be pretty much impossible. The depth of field scale can come to our aid though as there is so much DOF to take advantage of. For example, at f/11 depth of field extends from infinity down to about 0.2 metres, or 0.7 feet. A snapshot setting like this enables some amazing camera angles to be employed, which along with the wide field of view suggests some exciting creative possibilities. Focusing is down to 12cm, a maximum magnification of 0.13x, or 1:7.5. Focusing operates in the direction of traditional Nikon or Pentax manual focus lenses.

The aperture ring is smooth in operation and has positive click stops at one stop intervals. The spacing of these is not even, so using half stops is achievable up to f/11, thereafter the spacing being too close to use reliably. The ring operates in the same direction as traditional Canon manual focus lenses.

Laowa 9mm F2,8 Zero D With Hood On Sony A5100

Optical construction comprises 15 elements in 10 groups, including 2 Aspherical and 3 ED (Extra Low Dispersion). The diaphragm consists of 7 blades.

The lens is available in Fuji X, Sony E and Canon EF-M mounts. The Sony E mount provided for this review fitted perfectly, with no roughness or play whatsoever.

Manual focus in bright outdoor conditions does prove to be something of a problem in that the camera screen is virtually impossible to see clearly. A tripod and black cloth might hark back to the 1800s, but would work very well. However, using the hyperfocal distance on the lens, aided by the DOF scale, a smallish aperture such as f/8 would yield sharp images every time. Composition may still be tricky under the brightest light, but it does work and in duller light things come into their own and the lens is absolutely a doddle to use.

Laowa 9mm F2,8 Zero D Rear Oblique View

Performance

Centrally, sharpness is excellent at open aperture, f/2.8. It becomes outstanding at f/4 and f/5.6, excellent at f/8 and f/11, very good at f/16 and still good at f/22.

Edge sharpness is not at the same level, being soft at f/2.8, fair at f/4, but crisping up to being very good from f/5.6 through to f/11. Thereafter, diffraction hits and results are only fair at f/16 and soft at f/22.

Of course, ultra-wide lenses are not intended for shooting flat test charts, and at more normal distances and with more normal subjects images certainly look crisp enough.

Venus Laowa 9mm f/2.8 Zero-D MTF Charts
How to read our MTF charts

The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution as LW/PH and is described in detail above. The taller the column, the better the lens performance.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Sony Alpha A5100 using Imatest.

CA (Chromatic Aberration) is very well controlled, especially at the centre, where it is generally held to less than one-third of a pixel. The edges are also well corrected to well under 1 pixel. In normal use, CA will not be a problem, but in any event, it can be further reduced in software if necessary.

Venus Laowa 9mm f/2.8 Zero-D Chromatic Aberration Charts
How to read our CA charts

Chromatic aberration (CA) is the lens’ inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.

Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Sony Alpha A5100 using Imatest.

The ZERO-D designation of the lens suggests zero distortion and although we can actually measure -0.59% barrel distortion, this is really an excellent result for such a wide lens.

Flare control is brilliant, and even overtly against the light shots with the sun in the frame do nothing to faze the Laowa lens. Maybe in the most extreme circumstances a small amount of haziness can creep into edges, but it’s quibbling and for normal subject matter there is no flare.

Bokeh is hardly the raison d’etre of the ultra-wide lens, but in this case, where out of focus backgrounds can be induced, they are very well reproduced, with excellent, smooth gradation of tones.

Venus Laowa 9mm f/2.8 Zero-D Sample Photos

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