Venus Optics recently launched the $299 Laowa 10mm f/4 “Cookie” lens, a super compact lens for APS-C cameras that’s practically small enough to fit in your pocket even when mounted on a camera.
The Laowa 10mm f/4 is available in black or silver for Canon RF, Nikon Z, Sony E, Leica L and Fujifilm X-mount APS-C camera systems and is available for $299 direct from Venus Optics.
Featuring 12 elements arranged in eight groups including four extra-low dispersion and two aspherical optics, the lens was built from the ground up to combat distortion, flare, ghosting and chromatic aberration. According to the company, it’s the world’s widest rectilinear “pancake” lens with a 109.3-degree field of view (a 16mm full-frame equivalent), but doesn’t suffer from vignetting and blurring. the extreme distortion that many other lenses of similar focal length and compact size typically have. The question though, is this claim accurate?
The awesome thing about the tiny lens is that it’s so small that the whole thing looks like a body cap. If there’s one thing Venus Optics enjoys, it’s finding unique, niche lens styles and creating their own upgraded versions at affordable prices.
I really appreciate the clever marketing done for the lens packaging as if it were a real cookie, including the “nutritional facts” like maximum aperture, number of blades, minimum distance of focus and “completely fun to use”. Regardless of anything else, Laowa gets a point for that alone.
The lens may not be the widest on the market, but none of the other similar lenses come close to its small size, making it an ideal lens for travel and walks. Like many lenses from Venus Optics, the 10mm f/4 Cookie has “zero distortion” (or at least very, very little) and as such requires no digital correction of the lens profile after cut.
Build quality and design
Like all the other Laowa lenses I’ve used in recent years, the 10mm f/4 lens is fully manual; it has no electrical connection to the camera. Luckily, most cameras on the market these days feature an incredible focus peak, making it easy to see if you’ve achieved focus even without autofocus assistance.
I repeat, this lens is incredibly small and light. When mounted on a Nikon Z camera (my Z6 and Z6 II for the purposes of this review, which I set to DX mode since it’s an APS-C lens), it’s actually quite difficult to keep a solid grip on it due to its thinness, and I found myself twisting the aperture ring to its extreme back and forth when mounting and removing the lens. Since the lens is only about an inch long, the trade-off is that you end up losing some handling and “precision” when making aperture and focus adjustments.
Speaking of which, the aperture and focus rings are quite well designed and feature a ridged grip for both rings, giving users a tactile response. The aperture ring is “clickable” for fine adjustments and to help hold the setting in place when adjusting focus. I understand that this cookie lens is small so there’s not a whole lot of room to work with, but the aperture ring is actually quite difficult to adjust when shooting because it’s placed almost at the edge of the camera body.
The focus ring has a nice firm tension that allows for smooth adjustments and prevents drift when positioned at odd angles. The part I don’t like about the focus ring is that it’s positioned at the very front of the lens, which makes it harder to find when looking through the viewfinder. Often you can see your own hands in the frame when making adjustments. Several of the first images I took with the lens had at least a fingertip, if not half of my hand visible in the frame.
It’s also worth noting that the lens will telescope a bit when you focus. The effect is minimal, but noticeable to those who pay attention.
Overall, the lens is small, tough, and metallic with a smooth, attractive finish. The frustrating part for a lens that could be ideal for travel is the lack of weather or dust sealing.
Distortion is almost invisible which is an impressive achievement, but there are some interesting bokeh patterns, fringing and vignetting when shooting at f/4 that almost felt like I was shooting with a lens Petzval type.
Just like the Petzval lenses, central sharpness is incredibly good, but it starts to fade as you reach the edges of the frame. Vignetting can be compensated for somewhat with some manual lens profile adjustments, but is still definitely noticeable when shooting at the lens’ widest aperture. Image quality, brightness and vignetting remain fairly consistent when going from f/4 to f/11, but at f/16 images start to soften quite significantly around the edges as expected.
The field of view provided by the 10mm lens means that adjusting the focus manually when shooting video will be very problematic, as it will be nearly impossible to avoid putting your fingers or hand in the frame during shooting. Also, at f/4, ghosting and flare aren’t that bad, but still present.
Once you start closing the aperture, the quality starts to get noticeably sharper and crisper. This means that if you’re shooting in a very bright situation or with many light sources, you’ll want to avoid shooting at the widest f/4 aperture to reduce any instances of flares.
Getting visible bokeh is a lofty wish for a wide lens like this, but still achievable if you’re shooting close to your main subject. The good news is that this lens has a very close focusing distance (just 10 centimeters), so when shooting at f/4 you can still get a nice separation between your background and your subject.
When shooting in DX mode or on camera (APS-C), the Cookie 10mm f/4 lens is actually pretty decent, even with its hang-ups. You get an incredibly wide perspective with very little distortion and fairly consistent sharpness across the range of available settings. Yes, vignetting is quite noticeable in all of this, but that part is at least easy to fix in post using just about any RAW processing engine.
High quality glass with poor usability
While the Cookie 10mm f/4 lens is small, useful, and fun, it doesn’t stand out as exceptional in any particular way. Even though there is virtually no distortion, the difficulty of making focus and aperture adjustments coupled with vignetting and flare at f/4 causes the lens to lose a lot of its appeal, especially since it only has an f/4 max. opening.
So in short, if the performance of the optics and the quality of the images are quite good, it loses a lot when you look at it from a functionality point of view, especially since there is no autofocus and that it has no weather sealing.
Are there alternatives?
There aren’t many alternatives at the same focal length as the 10mm f/4 Cookie lens beyond the $239 Samyang 12mm f/2 NCS CS Ultra Wide and 9mm f / 2.8 Zero-D also from Laowa. This 9mm is bigger/heavier, would be sharper, and cost more at $499. Outside of the 10mm zone, there are other alternatives available. These include the $118 APS-C 17mm f/1.4 lens from TTArtisan, the $99 APS-C 23mm f/1.4 lens from TTArtisan, the Ultra WA 12mm f /2 at $329 from Rokinon and the $374 DC DN Contemporary 16mm f/1.4 lens. Sigma lens.
Should you buy it?
Maybe. If you’re looking to experiment with an affordable and fun ultra-wide manual lens, the Laowa 10mm f/4 “Cookie” lens is a pretty good and affordable way to do it. As a bonus, if you’re shooting with an APS-C camera, the appeal increases because there aren’t many crop sensor lens choices available that combine this combination of focal length, size, and price.