I’m no stranger to a wide-angle lens, back in my crop Pentax days I used to love shooting my old Samyang 8mm Fisheye, and more recently with my Sigma fp I’ve been enjoying the 14-24mm f2.8. On a full-frame sensor 14mm is already really wide, so imagen my excitement when Laowa asked me to try their 9mm f5.6 W-Dreamer lens.
Now, this isn’t the first time this lens has been covered here. Adam Frimer did a review even before the lens came out, but I figured having another point of view on such a unique lens wouldn’t be a bad thing.
For an ultra-wide lens, I was really surprised at the size. Sure, I know it’s a slow lens at f5.6 but I expected 9mm on Full Frame to be larger physically. The small size and nice build quality make it feel quite substantial. The chunks of glass are wrapped in a nice metal body weighing in at around 350g.
Both the focus and aperture rings feel very nice. This is on-par with my expectations from a fully manual lens.
I got the Leica M mount version of the lens. That meant I had to use an adaptor to fit it onto my Sigma fp. I was a little worried about this: wide angles are sensitive to any misalignment.
While I know Leica does make an official M-Adapter L at a whopping $435 I opted for the 7 Artisans M to L mount adaptor at $35. I don’t really own any M mount lens and needed it just for testing purposes.
Luckily, this one seems to work just fine and even looks pretty nice on the Sigma fp. It’s crazy just how small this ultra-wide combination is. Just think that adding an SSD drive to this setup gives you 4k DNG raw video. That could be handy for shooting in ultra-tight spaces in cars, fridges, or other unique places.
It’s hard to translate just how wide this lens is. I figured the easiest way was to take two shots: one using my Sigma 14-24mm, and the second using the Laowa 9mm. Here is the overlay of the two images.
The 9mm Laowa makes the 14mm shot look almost normal in comparison. It’s not till you try to take a shot in portrait mode and realize it’s very easy to get the tripod in the frame. (see below). It’s only then that you realize just how stupidly wide 9mm is.
A possibly overlooked feature of this lens is the ability to focus down to 12cm. At this range, you are almost touching the front element. In fact, the lens was practically inside this flower for this shot.
To give an idea just how close things can be and how much to the side the lens sees, I grabbed a Funko Pop and some LED lights to make a quick shot.
Since this is a fully manual lens, I pressed the DPAD button on the Sigma fp. This triggers the zoom/focus check so I could make sure the Funko was sharp.
Adding a little vape, and this was the result.
Designing a 9mm Full Frame lens can’t be easy, particularly in such a compact package. And unlike Laowa’s other wide-angle lenses, this lens isn’t a Zero D, but a W-Dreamer. This is indicating that this lens is more about creative freedom than the perfect performance.
Doing some quick test does show that some comprise had to be made.
First up is the brick wall test which shows significant distortion. But this is possibly the worst-case scenario for this lens, and when shooting more organic, this wouldn’t be as noticeable.
Sharpness seems great in the center, at least on my 24mp chip. At f5.6, the lens does get softer at the edges. I kind of expected that, as things start to stretch at the edges. Stopping the lens down improves things.
The thing that caught my eye the most was the vignetting. It can be quite strong at the extreme edges and has a blue tint.
I tested the lens against a white wall to see if the vignetting would subside when stopping down. The results are pretty much the same. The vignetting is strong with this one. I would actually consider it to be a part of the character of this lens. It is more likely happening due to how much the lens is bending the light more than anything else.
In the real world though this is less of an issue, leave the vignetting and it sort of has this filter look to it or you can correct it in post to have more of a normal looking shot like this one I took at St Ninians Isle on Shetland.
You still have to be careful though with that wide-angle distortion, as it will stretch things at the edge of the frame. Check this shot of Bow Fillde Rock where it appears much taller than what my eyes see, but I feel it actually helps the image even if it’s not scientifically correct.
Combine this with the close focus and you can take very quirky, almost caricature, images of people as I did here with my son using some Speuklar Led set up as a Star shape.
Here’s the lighting setup.
By far, my best shot with this lens, though, was during my recent trip to the Loup of Fintry where the 9mm gave me a really unique view of this wonderful place along with a nice sunset.
The Laowa 9mm f5.6 W-Dreamer is a solid well-built lens that while not optically perfect brings a unique view of the world that can be both fun and spectacular in the right situation. It’s not going to be a lens you can use every day but despite that and its flaws its one I would happily add to my kit just for the creative freedom it offers and the odd time where such a lens truly shines.
The Laowa f5.6 is available for $899 in Sony E, Nikon Z, and Leica M and L mount versions.