As a portrait photographer, I don’t stray into the ultra-wide-angle realm all that often. I’m certainly not against using the Fujifilm XF 16mm f/1.4 or even the Fujifilm GF 23mm f/4 for dramatic effect as you can see on my YouTube video about shooting wide-angle portraits, but any wider and I’m not usually going to reach for it when shooting portraits. But, when Laowa reached out and asked if I’d test their 9mm f/2.8 Zero D lens for Fujifilm, it seemed like a great time to get out and shoot something different.
This will be far from a technical review. There won’t be any closeups for sharpness or test charts. But, I’ll try to pepper in a few details as I see them being relevant. In the end, most modern lenses are pretty darn good and the technicals don’t really need to be talked about unless they absolutely stand out. So, let’s take a look at this fun little lens and what it’s capable of.
Laowa’s slogan for this lens is “Carry Less Capture More” which is absolutely true with this lens. Just like Fujifilm’s f/2 series of primes, this lens is so small and light you can just toss it into any corner of your bag and not worry about whether you’re going to use it or not. Like Carol King, it will always be there for you.
As this is a wide-angle lens, the 1mm difference between this and the Fujifilm XF 10-24mm f/4 makes for a huge change in what you’re able to capture. It’s a lot wider, as you can see below. The Zero D part of its name means that you’re not going to see any barrel distortion in your photographs. Lines will stay straight, regardless of how close you focus. This is really impressive for a lens this wide.
The trade-off there, of course, is a deep vignette. Wide open, you’ll notice at least a couple of stops of light falloff in the corners. It’s easy enough to correct, but it’s something to be aware of for those who are used to Fujifilm’s automatic corrections. I’ve found that it’s easy enough to correct for in well-exposed images and sometimes even nice to leave it in. The vignette below is in part from the lens and also from the filter I was using. I like it in this case.
I’ve found that it can be quite hard to compose with this lens handheld and get straight verticals or horizontals. Slight camera movements will make huge differences with a lens this wide, so if you’re really trying to get some perfect lines, it will pay to lock the camera down on a tripod. When you do, the results will really shine. Extremely wide symmetrical shots look great out of this lens.
One thing I’ve really enjoyed with this lens is how light and small it is. With this mounted on my X-H1 and my Manfrotto MP3-BK slipped into my pocket, I’ve been able to walk all around the city and set up for some great shots of Seoul with very little equipment. I always have to take my tripod with the XF 10-24mm because it is so front heavy, so it was refreshing to make images with such little gear.
I also had a really great chance to shoot some long exposures over the ocean with my good friend Roy Cruz while I visited Tongyeong last week. Capturing the rocky foreground with the dramatic clouds in the background was a breeze with this ultra-wide lens. On top of that, it was pouring rain the whole time, so I got to test how it would hold up.
The Frog Eye Coating (FEC) on the lens managed to reduce the number of raindrops that stuck to the lens, but not eliminate them completely. Unfortunately, this technology doesn’t apply to the filters you put in front of it (now THAT would be a great patent to own…). While shooting long exposures, I had to constantly be wiping the rain off the filters. But, we managed some great shots, even in the lashing winds and rain.
The lens didn’t show any signs of moisture getting inside, either. Despite three hours in the wind and rain, it was fine after a quick wipe down. Being that there’s no rubber gasket on the back, however, you’ll want to be careful when changing lenses that you completely wipe the area around the mount before removing the lens.
Let’s geek out for just a moment and talk about sharpness. In the centre, you’ll be a happy camper. However, expect to stop down to around f/8 or f/11 to get sharp corners. Nothing scientific here, but I feel like this lens resolves a little more detail than the Fujifilm XF 10-24mm f/4. I hope to get a copy of the 14mm f/2.8 and compare those at some point as well, but I feel like the 14mm is likely to be sharper. Check out the frames below to make up your own mind about whether sharpness will be relevant to you.
One other thing you might notice in the crops above is how well corrected colour fringing is. Even in scenes with much stronger contrast, I haven’t really noticed any significant fringing yet, which is fantastic! Less post-processing!
I spoke in my YouTube video about the aperture ring taking a little getting used to. It does turn the opposite way to Fujifilm’s lenses, and this tripped me up a few times before I got used to it. The other thing is that Fujifilm bodies don’t have a system like Nikon’s AI (Aperture Indexing) system, and thus cannot record the aperture values of lenses without CPU contacts. Annoying, but not a deal breaker. Perhaps Laowa could include a chip in future lenses like Zeiss did with some of their lenses.
This lens has been plenty of fun to shoot with. I’ll certainly be taking it with me on future trips to the seaside and whenever I’m out and about shooting in Seoul. Pick up your lens from Laowa now.
Hit me up on YouTube if you have any questions about the lens and I’ll try to get back to you there. Also, look out for a more detailed review hitting Fstoppers.com from me soon. For now, enjoy the images!
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