Friday, March 6, 2020

Laowa 17mm GFX

Sunset filter test
GFX100 - Laowa 17mm with a Singh Ray 92mm thin mount and 86-92 step up ring
f/4 1/125 ISO 1000

I’ve used a GF23mm for several years and still like it; however there have been times I wished I had a slightly wider lens. That wish has been granted by the Laowa 17mm GFX. 

Laowa 17mm on left with GF 23 on Right

The GF23 f/4 is a 35mm equivalent of 18mm whereas the Laowa 17mm is an equivalent of 13mm; just enough to make a difference to me. There are subtle differences between the lenses; the GF has autofocus and a 82mm filter size whereas the Laowa is manual focus with a 86mm filter size. The optical design of both lenses is different with the GF23 having 15 elements in 12 groups and the Laowa 21 elements in 14 groups. Neither lens offer image stabilization. The Laowa is about one half the cost of the GF.

Filter test
H&Y filter system using a 100mm sq filter; notice the vignette in upper corners
f/8 1/160 ISO 50
sunset filter test
92 mm thin mount Singh Ray filter

Filters – there isn’t much to say about the GF23 and filters as I haven’t had any issues. The Laowa is slightly different.  I’ve tried my normal filters on the Laowa using the H&Y filter system and 100mm filters and sadly got what I felt was too much vigneting. I could correct the vignette only so much using Capture One and decided to explore other avenues. I’ve been using a Singh Ray thin mount 92mm filter on a 86-92 step up ring. This has worked the best for me reducing the vignette to less than 5% before processing the image in C1 and getting near 100% correction. That’s the “bad news” if you will.

I stopped testing filters shortly after the 92mm thin mount filter. I would have preferred using an 86-mm thin mount however one wasn’t available at the time. I believe the combination of the step-up ring and thin mount filter is less thick than a normal size filter and less as thick as adding a filter system such as either a Wine Country or H&Y.  Having stopped the filter testing I went instead to pure image quality attempting to answer a question of what this lens is capable of without any filter.

Testing outside is one thing, how does the lens hold up inside in a narrow space. The mission at Tumacacori worked well as a test bed.

Shooting inside the mission
f/4 1/60 ISO 800

I had not planned it however I quickly decided to shoot the rest of the day in black and white using a custom setting in camera.  The remaining images were all captured in camera as black and white and processed in Capture One.

f/4 1/10 ISO 800
f/4 1/10 ISO 800
100% cop from the image above

Image quality of the Laowa is on par with any of my GF lenses. I’ve been using the GFX100, 100-megapixel camera for several months now and any defects are readily noticeable. In the short period I’ve had the Laowa 17mm GF I’ve found the build quality excellent as are the image files. The lens is a tad heavy but not to the extreme. 

Shot handheld
f/8 1/160 ISO 50
Shot handheld
f/8 1/160 ISO 50
I thought the shadows were too dark in this and was surprised when I open the file in C1.
f/5.6 1/200 ISO 200
Shot handheld
f/8 1/160 ISO 200

I plan on testing the Laowa on capturing the milky way later this year and I’ve already made plans to pack the lens when I visit Jordan early next year. So in the end I guess a couple of questions should be asked – “Is it worth it?” “Is the lens capable of 100-megapixels?”  The answer is yes to both.

And last one. I had originally set this up as a layered shot shooting one file for the shadows the other for the light. This is not the result of that idea; instead it is one capture. Processed in C1 it shows the amount of detail in the shadows that one can achieve using a GFX100.

More to come