From China with Love: Laowa 17mm f/4

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Ever since I bought the medium format Fuji GFX 50R, I’ve been contemplating the idea of getting an ultra-wide lens to have a go on landscape photography.

So this one joined my GFX party a couple of days ago. In case you haven’t heard about Laowa before, it comes from China and at present they have quite a portfolio of lenses available for several systems.

The Laowa 17mm f/4 GFX Zero-D is their first dedicated lens for the Fuji G mount. And, like all of their other lenses, it’s fully manual, with no electronics whatsoever.

Mounted to any medium format Fuji GFX camera and it gives you the equivalent of a 14mm angle of view in 35mm terms. So this sucker is pretty wide!.. And this is not to be confused with a fish eye lens, because this one is linear and hence the Zero-D spec in its name, which means Zero Distortion.

Why Laowa and not Fuji?

Simple. Because the only Fuji ultra-wide angle prime right now is the GF 23mm f/4 R LM WR which retails at USD$ 2100, whereas this Laowa is available for basically half the price. Yes, I paid approximately USD$ 1100 for mine.

Of course, the Laowa does not have Fuji’s brand prestige and it has no autofocus, but frankly who needs autofocus when shooting ultra wide? You have never ending depth of field on hand, and these type of lenses are meant to be used on a tripod anyway.

Furthermore, I’ve read a couple of online reviews praising the Laowa’s built quality and sharpness. So for half the price of the Fuji – which at USD$ 2100 is not cheap, by the way… – getting the Laowa seemed like a no-brainer to me.

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First impressions

This guy is long and heavy. It’s all metal and my other G mount lens – the Fuji 63mm f/2.8 – feels light compared against it. When mounted on the GFX 50R, the camera becomes front heavy. Don’t ever think about shooting single-handed with this guy mounted on your camera.

Build quality is very good. The focusing ring is smooth and the numbers engraved in the lens body feel top-notch.

My only complain right now is the clicks on the aperture ring, which are not strong enough – when turning the focusing ring, several times I’ve accidentally changed the aperture without knowing. And since there is no data communication between the lens and the body, it’s not that you will be aware of it on the EVF or back screen when shooting. Not the end of the world and I’ve learned now – check the aperture on the lens body before pressing the shutter button!

Image quality

Haven’t shot so many photos but it appears to me the Laowa 17mm f/4 GFX Zero-D achieves its best performance at f/8. Still testing it and when the time comes I’ll write a detailed review.

But from the few photos I took, this lens seems to be pretty sharp and colours are good. I’m quite happy with the results and, at least for now, not regretting this purchase.

I’ve done a bit of pixel peeping and I can see right away it’s not razor sharp like my Fuji 63mm f/2.8, but then again I guess I’m not supposed to compare an ultra-wide angle lens with a standard focal lens.

Below some photos, please click for full-size. Stay tuned for the full review.

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