The problem with modern optics is that once technical perfection is nearly achieved, the photos start to look similar. That’s not the case with the Laowa 6mm f2 Zero-D. The new Micro Four Thirds lens has an unusual design that mixes a five-blade aperture with a 121.9-degree field of view. That combines unusually shaped bokeh with exaggerated perspective distortion. But is the combination a winning one or just a quirky one?
I tried the new Laowa 6mm f2 on the OM System OM-5. If you like lenses with unique character, you’re going to want to keep reading.
The Big Picture
The Laowa 6mm f2 Zero-D MFT is bursting with character. There’s the pentagon-shaped bokeh, for starters. Then, there’s the 121.9-degree view that’s ripe with all kinds of fun perspective distortion. Finally, there’s the bright f2 aperture and the edge softness that draws the eye to the middle of the frame. That’s all built into a reasonably priced, mostly metal lens that’s easy to use.
Of course, one photographer’s character is another photographer’s list of complaints. If you want a lens that’s sharp from edge to edge while wide open, this isn’t it. The lens also lacks weather-sealing and is manual focus only.
Micro Four Thirds photographers who want a wide view with lots of quirky character are going to love this lens. Pixel peepers, not so much. I’m giving the Laowa 6mm f2 Zero-D MFT four out of five stars.
- Lots of quirky character
- 121.9-degree field of view
- Fun pentagon-shaped bokeh
- Compact and lightweight
- Close focusing capabilities
- Metal build
- Simple controls
- Accommodates filters
- Compatible with auto-exposure modes
- Lots of edge softness at f2
- No weather-sealing
I paired the Laowa 6mm f2 Zero-D MFT with the OM System OM-5. Both are on loan from their respective companies.
The Laowa 6mm f2 is a bit unusual. While everyone seems to be adding blades for that perfectly round bokeh, this lens has just five blades. That’s mixed with a 6mm (12mm full frame equivalent) ultra-wide view. And, even stranger, the ultra-wide can still focus closely to subjects. While all that may be pretty odd, it means the images coming from this lens carry a unique look to them.
Laowa 6mm Ergonomics
The Laowa 6mm f2 Zero-D is a tiny lens, measuring only a touch over two inches long. At less than seven ounces, it isn’t going to add much weight to the front of the camera body.
That small size doesn’t leave much room for controls. In fact, there’s just one: the focus ring. The ring is labeled and accompanied by a depth-of-field scale.
Close to the mount on the underside, there’s a Micro USB port.
About half of the front of the lens is plastic. But, that allows a 58mm filter to be added without touching the curved glass. The lens ships with a petal-shaped hood, which is really short in order to stay out of the way of the lens’ wide view.
As a metal lens, the Laowa 6mm f2 feels great in the hands. It actually feels nicer than the OM-5 body I tested the lens on. The focus ring turns smoothly and doesn’t feel too fast or slow.
Unfortunately, the Laowa isn’t weather-sealed. The USB port also doesn’t come with a cover. So, I wouldn’t take it out in the rain without protection.
The Laowa 6mm f2 is manual focus only. But, focusing what amounts to a 12mm f4 on a full-frame camera isn’t terribly difficult. The wide-angle lens leaves more in focus. And, the lens still worked with Olympus’ focus peaking.
The lens is also capable of focusing from as close as 3.5 inches away. That adds flexibility and the ability to create fun wide-angle distortion with close-up photographs.
Ease of Use
Manual focus lenses aren’t as easy to use as their autofocus variants. But, as far as manual focus lenses go, this 6mm is on the simpler side of the spectrum. The fisheye focal length creates a wider depth of field. Focusing takes some patience, but I was more likely to get sharp shots compared to the longer focal length manual lenses I’ve used.
While many manual focus lenses lack an electronic connection with the camera body, the Laowa 6mm isn’t completely manual. Photographers can still use features like aperture priority mode and auto ISO. The lens metadata is also still saved to the file.
The lack of controls also helps here. There’s only the focus ring, nothing else to bump or get in the way. The aperture is adjusted on the camera body instead.
Really, the only difficult thing about this lens was attempting to use it with gloves on. The lens has an ultra-wide field of view, and it’s shorter than my fingers are wide. I had to be conscious of where my hands were, in order to not see the tips of my gloves in the edges of the images.
Laowa 6mm Image Quality
The Zero-D in the name implies optics that fight the distortion typical of an ultra-wide lens. And, the Laowa 6mm f2 Zero-D does an impressive job at keeping lines mostly straight. When you hold the lens precisely parallel and close to the subject, the lines remain almost straight. But, it’s still a 6mm lens; in real-world shooting, most shots won’t be precisely parallel. This lens will still get buildings that appear to bend as if in a children’s storybook. There’s plenty of perspective distortion, soft edges, and vignetting. But that, mixed with five aperture blades, gives images a unique look that’s hard to achieve with just any lens.
Wide-angle lenses aren’t known for bokeh, and this is the equivalent of a 12mm f4. But, while bokeh can be hard to achieve, when this lens does create it, it’s quirky and fun. The Laowa 6mm f2 uses just five aperture blades. That gives the bokeh the shape of a pentagon. I know having enough lens blades for circular bokeh is all the rage. But, since you don’t see pentagon bokeh very often, when you do see it, it’s really eye-catching. Occasionally, some of those pentagons have a soapy texture to them. Like circular bokeh tends to cat-eye at the edges, the pentagon bokeh appears a bit elongated on the edges of the image. So, if you’re looking for bokeh outside the box, the Laowa 6mm f2 certainly delivers unique blurred backgrounds.
The colors didn’t skew too far one way or the other on the Laowa 6mm. Tones felt fairly accurate for the E-M5. There were a few similar tones in a color chart that didn’t have much separation. But, in real-world use, there’s not much to complain about here. You can occasionally find some colored fringing, particularly on the edges.
The Laowa 6mm f2 is so full of character, it might burst at the seams. Let’s start with the ultra-wide view. If you hold the lens just right and get close to the subject, you can actually get almost-straight lines here. There’s some slight fisheye bend, but it’s pretty impressive.
The 121.9 angle of view, however, means perspective distortion happens pretty quickly. Yes, if you hold the lens just right, the lines will be mostly straight. But, real-world scenes like shooting architecture, if you’re looking up even just slightly, there’s going to be lots of curving lines from perspective distortion. Buildings and light posts on the edges are going to bend. That’s part of this lens’ character.
The real character here is how wide this lens is. It captures a 121.9-degree view. That’s wide enough that buildings across the street can be in the same frame as the ones that you’re standing right next to. It creates a big, wide-open feeling. And, while barrel distortion is minimal, the perspective distortion and soft edges still give images an almost fisheye feel.
Point this lens at the sun, and you can get some lovely lens flare.
The perspective distortion is combined with a bit of vignetting and edge softness, which some photographers may find less desirable. But, mix all that together, add a sprinkle of pentagon bokeh, and you have a delicious character sandwich.
Sharpness falls off pretty quickly when shooting wide open. The soft edges give the lens more of a fisheye feel. Lines were almost straight when measured with a ruler, but the softness made them appear to bend a bit more than they actually did. Step the lens down, say to f8, and the edges will be much clearer.
There are two ways to look at the sharpness of this lens: full of character, or technically soft. Photographers who want edge-to-edge sharpness shooting at f2, like for astrophotography, might skip this lens. But photographers who want quirky character will like this lens.
Extra Image Samples
From day one, The Phoblographer has been huge on transparency with our audience. Nothing from this review is sponsored. Further, lots of folks will post reviews and show lots of editing in the photos. The problem then becomes that anyone and everyone can do the same thing. They’re not showing what the lens can do. So we have a section in our Extra Image Samples area to show edited and unedited photos. From this, you can make a decision for yourself.
Who Should Buy It?
If you want quirky character and an ultra-wide view, then the Laowa 6mm f2 Zero-D MFT is an excellent choice. Unusual pentagon-shaped bokeh, the wide-open feel of a 121.9-degree view, and close-up focusing capabilities combine to create images that are difficult to create with other lenses. The Laowa 6mm f2 is anything but boring. Add the metal build and $499 price point, and there’s a lot to love about this lens.
But, if you want edge-to-edge sharpness, like for astrophotography or pixel-peeping, then keep looking. Sharpness falls off fast with this lens and, in some shots, that just builds character. But, in others, photographers may find the softer edges distracting.
Laowa lists the following specifications for the 6mm f2 Zero-D MFT lens:
- Focal Length: 6mm
- Angle of View: 121.9°
- Aperture Range: f2-16
- Format Compatibility: M43 Format
- Lens Structure: 13 elements in 3 groups
- Aperture Blades: 5
- Min. Focusing Distance: 9cm
- Max. Magnification: 0.18X
- Filter Thread: Ø58mm
- Dimensions: About Ø 61 x 52mm
- Weight: About 188g
- Mounts: MFT
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