Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D (Canon EOS) - Lab Test / Review
Lens Reviews - Canon EOS (Full Format)

Review by Klaus Schroiff, published July 2016


A few weeks back we reviewed an exciting product from a newcomer company - the Laowa 105mm f/2 STF. The characteristics of this lens are truly exciting and, even better, the performance is also top notch. Laowa is about to release another unusual lens - the Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D - a fully corrected, ultra-wide full format lens which will be available in Canon, Nikon AI, Pentax K and Sony A- & E-mount (September 2016). Laowa provided us with a prototype just prior of the launch. The project will be partially funded via Kickstarter. The final retail price will be 949US$ but if you are bold, brave and especially fast, you may get a discounted one for 649US$ in the campaign. While you may think that the pricing is steep, you should be aware that the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4 USM L or Canon EF 14mm f/2.8 USM L II have a far higher price tag.

Please note that lenses as extreme as the Laowa 12mm f/2.8 are notoriously difficult to master in terms of image composition. While Laowa promises very low distortions, it is challenging to avoid a vanishing point effect due to perspective distortions unless you keep your camera strictly leveled. Primary applications are architecture photography or in-room scenes. Extreme close-ups and landscapes should also be interesting.

Laowa did not only manage to provide such an extreme focal length combined with a fast speed - they were also able to tame the dimensions of the lens. Despite being wider, it is actually a bit smaller than the Canon EF 14mm f/2.8 USM L II for instance and far from being a brick like the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4 USM L. Another aspect that may be surprising for some is the build quality - it is impressive (once again) and comparable to more established players such as Voigtlander. The Laowa is based an all-metal lens body with a smoothly operating focus ring and a dedicated aperture ring (the clicks are in full stops) ... which also tells you that it is a fully manual lens without electronic coupling (Note: The Pentax K/Nikon AiS & Sony A-versions will have a lever-coupled aperture according to Laowa if the camera supports mechanical aperture-control). Given the extreme focal length this is hardly a showstopper though. If in doubt you can always use magnified live-view for focus fine-tuning. Needless to say but the more you stop down, the darker the viewfinder becomes (except on Nikon-F/Pentax-K/Sony-A - see above). EXIF data is also not embedded into your images.

The Laowa lens is supplied with a detachable metal lens hood. In order to protect the vulnerable, bulb-like front element we'd still recommend to keep the hood attached for protection all the time. The field-of-view is so extreme that the hood is actually very small anyway. The prototype didn't come with a lens cap but we were assured that the final product will include one. As you may imagine the front element doesn't allow a conventional filter thread. However, Laowa will offer an optional filter holder for (expensive) 100mm filters.

The image below shows the schema of the Laowa 12mm f/2.8. It illustrates a so-called retrofocus or inverted tele lens design. This earliest retrofocus lens dates back to the 1930s but the world had to wait till 1950 when Angenieux, a French manufacturer of movie lenses, introduced such lenses on a broader basis. Today it is used in most modern ultra-wide lenses. Its asymmetrical design allows to position the the rear element further away from the sensor making it an obvious choice for DSLR systems. They also provide a comparatively steep angle of incidence onto the sensor thus avoiding some of the issues that short focus lenses can introduce here (such as color casts in the image corners). Retrofocus lenses are, however, somewhat more prone to field curvature and they tend to be comparatively big. However, Laowa obviously solved the latter issue at least. As far as close focus correction is concerned, Laowa went the extra mile by incorporating an floating system which optimizes the performance according to the chosen focus distances.

There is one more thing ... for Sony E-mount users at least. Laowa will offer an optional converter to transform the lens into a 17mm f/4 Shift lens with a max. shift of +/- 10mm. Image shift can be used to correct the mentioned perspective distortions within certain limits. Thanks to the shorter flange focal distance on Sony E cameras (18mm vs 44mm), there's some ample space that Laowa took advance of for implementing this exciting feature. The converter contains additional optical elements thus creating the longer focal length here. This is simply necessary in order to avoid vignetting issues during shifting. Please note that the converter is currently in development. Sony users can, of course, still use the naked lens as is - all it takes is a standard (glassless) adapter.

Optical construction16 elements in 10 groups including 2x aspherical & 3xELD elements
Number of aperture blades7 (rounded)
min. focus distance0.18m (max. magnification ratio 1:5)
Filter sizeOptional filter adapter planned (100mm)
Hoodpetal-shaped (bayonet mount, supplied)
Other featuresFloating elements, the Nikon/Pentax version features lever-coupled aperture control