Review: Venus Optics Laowa 9mm f2.8 Compact Dreamer (Sony E Mount)

The Venus Optics Laowa 9mm f2.8 Compact Dreamer is quite the weird lens, but it’s the wide angle option Sony needs.

If you attach the new Venus Optics Laowa 9mm f2.8 Compact Dreamer to a Sony a6500 camera, then you’ll see that while it’s a weird lens it’s also a lens that Sony really needs for their system. It’s billed as a lens with really low distortion–and it indeed doesn’t have a whole lot of it except around the corners. Designed for APS-C sensors, I also feel like this lens isn’t necessarily a big winner for Venus Optics. Many of their lenses have this beautiful character to them, but this one feels flat in many ways and that means you’re going to surely rely more on what the sensor is capable of doing. That’s fine, but I’ve never been so lukewarm about a lens from Venus Optics.

Editor’s Note: Venus Optics hasn’t officially announced this lens yet. But due to their leak and my previous testing of the lens, they’re allowing me to publish my review.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Decent image quality
  • Sharp
  • Keeps the distortion down a whole lot
  • With a lens like this you’re either focusing up close and personal or far away. There is no in between.

Cons

  • The colors are just adequate. There’s no spark!
  • Distortion around the corners is a bit annoying.

Gear Used

The Venus Optics Laowa 9mm f2.8 Compact Dreamer was tested with the Sony a6500.

Tech Specs

Specs copied from DPReview

SiteLong Japan Co., Ltd. announces the new product “LAOWA 9mm F2.8 Zero-D” of LAOWA (Venus Optics).

Product Overview

  • Product name LAOWA 9mm F2.8 Zero-D
  • Suggested retail price Open price
  • Expected market price TBD
  • Scheduled release date around early April 2018

Main Product Features

  • This product is the best lens for photographing landscape photographs, architectural photographs, interior photographs, star photographs and so on.
  • Use 3 special low dispersion lens (ED lens) and 2 glass aspheric lenses luxuriously. By adopting an optical design with extremely reduced distortion to zero, it is possible to capture landscape photographs and architectural photographs without the influence of distortion.
  • It is the widest angle lens (113 °) lens among the wide-angle lenses for APS-C cameras of the open F 2.8 which are on sale now.*
  • It adopts metal enclosure with excellent robustness and luxury. Effective flower type hood is attached.
  • This product is the brightest, the most compact and lightweight lens among the same class products. Because it is very convenient to carry, it is also ideal for daily snapshot.
*As of February 1, 2018 VenusOptics examined

Main Specifications

  • Focal length: 9mm
  • Maximum F value: F2.8
  • Viewing angle: 113 degrees (corresponding format: APS-C)
  • Lens construction: 10 groups of 15
  • Number of diaphragm blades: 7
  • Shortest shooting distance: 12 cm
  • Maximum magnification: 0.13 times
  • Filter diameter: φ 49 mm
  • Weight: ~ 215g* Variable depending on mount
  • Corresponding mount: FUJIFILM X, Canon EF-M, Sony E

*Product specifications are subject to change without notice due to improvements etc.

Ergonomics

The Venus Optics Laowa 9mm f2.8 Compact Dreamer lens is an overall very simple optic. There’s a lens good and a front area. But unlike many other wide angle lenses, this one allows you to attach a filter on the front. Weird, but very convenient for sure.

The only controls on the Venus Optics Laowa 9mm f2.8 Compact Dreamer are the aperture ring towards the back and the front focusing ring. That’s all that there is to it.

Build Quality

The Venus Optics Laowa 9mm f2.8 Compact Dreamer has an all metal body, which is really nice. The focusing ring and the aperture ring are all large enough for most needs. The overall body is quite small and keeps the package pretty compact when attached to your camera. The lens lacks weather resistance though, so be careful with it. What Venus Optics could surely add to help would be a better lens hood. This one is okay, but not ideal I feel. With that said, some of the images in this review were shot in the rainfall and the camera and lens were just fine.

Ease of Use

This is a manual focus lens, so you’re basically just focusing back and forth manually and stopping the lens down accordingly. Set your camera to aperture priority and you’ll be all set. But even further, the lens focuses either really up close or really far away and there is no in between. So if you’re shooting subjects that are maybe a few feet away from you, expect everything to be in focus. It’s sort of odd but it works out.

Focusing

The Venus Optics Laowa 9mm f2.8 Compact Dreamer is a manual focus lens. So you’ll be, wait for it, manually focusing. If you hate manual focus, good. You can essentially set the lens to infinity and forget about it after stopping down a bit.

Image Quality

The image quality from the new Venus Optics Laowa 9mm f2.8 Compact Dreamer lens is overall decently sharp enough. The bokeh is alright. The chromatic aberration is kept down quite enough. And the color is acceptable. But that’s part of what worries me here. Venus Optics lenses have always had character to them. This one has none. It’s sterile, it’s plain. I expect this from Canon or Nikon.

Bokeh

The Venus Optics Laowa 9mm f2.8 Compact Dreamer lens is a very wide angle lens. Don’t expect a whole lot of bokeh unless you’re focusing up close and personal and even then, don’t expect it to be the prettiest bokeh. Venus Optics has lenses with much nicer and smoother bokeh overall.

Chromatic Aberration

In my tests, I couldn’t really find any sort of major image quality problems with exception to distortion in the corners. But even then, it’s kept down quite a bit for a lens like this. For that, Venus Optics should be given quite a bit of praise.

Color Rendition

When you attach the Venus Optics Laowa 9mm f2.8 Compact Dreamer lens to a Sony camera, you’re best off really tweaking the colors. It’s as flat as flat can be and that’s because it’s probably aimed at landscape photographers. I’d have loved more vibrant colors, but alas I didn’t get them.

Sharpness

Sharpness with the Venus Optics Laowa 9mm f2.8 Compact Dreamer lens is very good overall and all around. At this point, I have come to expect this much with their lenses. The best spot for me is at f5.6 but f8 still yields nice results. While this lens is sharp, I still think that Venus Optics has sharper lenses still.

Extra Image Samples

Conclusions

Likes

  • Small
  • Sharp
  • Low distortion

Dislikes

  • Lack of character, they engineered it out of their lenses

The Venus Optics Laowa 9mm f2.8 Compact Dreamer is a nice lens. But it’s missing that special mojo that I’ve come to love (and buy) about Venus Optics. I feel like this is a very clinically perfect lens and that’s perhaps what they were going for. But what I really want is for Venus Optics to bring their character back to their lenses. The low distortion is nice as is the sharpness. But that charm? It’s lacking. I mean, think about it like a sexy car without any sort of horsepower or in fully automatic mode. That’s sort of what this lens is like.

The Venus Optics Laowa 9mm f2.8 Compact Dreamer receives four out of five stars from us.