Venus Optics has continued to expand an already long list of ultra-wide-angle lenses with the addition of the Laowa 12-24mm f/5.6 C-Dreamer for full-frame mirrorless systems. Where many ultra-wide lenses can be big, bulky and incredibly expensive, this new “slow” lens becomes even more impressive with its relatively low price of $649. While the affordable entry-level lens is available for Canon RF, Sony E, Nikon Z and Leica M mounts (for $50 more), is it really a “dream” to use?
The new $649 C-Dreamer 12-24mm f/5.6 is a fully manual lens (like most of Venus Optics’ other lenses) that features a fixed f/5.6 aperture and a full body. metal which, in total, weighs only about 500 grams. As well as being one of the most affordable ultra-wide-angle lenses on the market – costing almost half the price of most of its branded rivals – it features a distortion-free optical design that saves you from having to apply a lens profile to your images during post-processing.
Most other 12-24mm ultra-wide-angle lenses are the “fast” f/2.8 type, which often makes them larger, heavier and much more expensive. Taking that into account, Laowa’s slower f/5.6 lens starts to make a lot more sense since when most people shoot with an ultra-wide lens, they’ll stop for a depth of deeper field.
Design and build quality
Despite the low cost of the lens, the build quality of the 12-24mm f/5.6 C-Dreamer makes it feel like it’s worth a whole lot more. The small and dense design gives it a really high quality feel even if it’s not particularly fast.
The aperture ring features a ‘click’ design with stops ranging from f/5.6 to f/22 with very little rotation under 30 degrees which ensures you won’t experience any aperture drift during zoom adjustments or focus. Conversely, the zoom and focus rings are smooth, with no click stops along their respective rotations, but they’re stiff enough that you don’t have to worry about them drifting when positioned at odd angles. The focus ring has a long stroke which allows for very detailed distance markings
The lens cap is also all metal and locks securely in place to ensure it doesn’t fall off during transport. There is also an unconventional lens hood built into the body of the optics which will help you avoid damaging or scratching the glass element when placing the lens on a flat surface. The back of the lens features a solid metal mount with the lens elements also protected from damage when placed flat on a surface.
Laowa includes a small outer filter/lens hood ring that provides a standard 77mm filter thread so you can attach a variety of filters without having to purchase additional rings.
The small form factor and lightweight design make it easy to pack and travel, but you should be aware that the lens isn’t weatherproof, so be sure to keep that in mind when heading out. the elements with him and bring adequate protection. .
Handling and performance
The nice thing about ultra-wide-angle lenses is that they tend to focus extremely close to subjects. The Venus Optics Laowa 12-24mm f/5.6 C-Dreamer is no exception on this front with a minimum focusing distance of around an inch from the front of the lens. This means that with a little extra lighting, it’s even possible to treat this wide angle as a pesudo macro lens.
Plus, the new lens adds a welcome change from the boring, soft sun stars that many of the recent lenses I’ve tested have produced with impressively sharp ten-pointed star patterns. The downside though is that when shooting wide aperture the lens seems to lose a lot of contrast. This may be where the company came up with the “dreamer” name, as it can be a little softer than one would like at this opening. Stopping a bit (f/11 to f/16) seems to solve this problem and handles contrast much better while delivering amazing sun stars.
Being a manual lens, you’ll have to trust focus distance markers (at best fiddly) or leverage your camera system’s focus tools to ensure they get a sharp image, but that can be difficult in bright outdoor positions when shooting shallow and closer shots. articles and often (since I wear glasses and have to rely a lot on autofocus/advanced systems) it wasn’t quite accurate, leaving me with many slightly blurry shots.
While the lens was mostly distortion-free at the widest settings, there was still a large amount of vignetting, ghosting, and falloff along the edges when it came to sharpening along the edges. . Again, quitting cleans this up a bit, but it’s a little disappointing. Having tested the distortion, although slight, it clears up as you pull around the 14-15mm mark, then once you get past the 18mm mark there is a slight pincushion type distortion. None of this is a dealbreaker and all were surprisingly easy to fix in Adobe Lightroom.
Additionally, there’s a slight green color cast when shooting at the wide end of things, as seen in the “macro” images above and a few of the other examples here. For the most part, this is easily cleaned up in post with a white balance adjustment, but it’s still worth being aware of as something that needs to be dealt with once back at the computer.
Using filters on the lens works without issue as long as the filters are suitable for 77mm and used in conjunction with the supplied filter ring/lens hood. If you happen to use an elevator ring to use larger filters or square systems, when shooting wide at 12mm you will almost always see the filters in the corners of the shot. If this is in the cards for you, be sure to zoom in a bit to say 14mm or 15mm and you should be fine.
Overall the lens is sharpest around the f/8 to f/11 range and it’s pretty consistent from 12mm to 24mm which is a pretty big improvement over other wide angle lenses from Laowa which were previously the best performers at the widest field of view.
Unfortunately, corners still tend to drop noticeably across the board. Chromatic aberration is very minimal in the corners of this lens, but there may be flares near the center of the frame in some situations. It’s nothing huge though and is very easily fixed in post. Stopping at f/8 or f/11 also helps clean this up quite significantly. Still, the overall sharpness disappointed me.
Finally, as this is a fully manual lens with no built-in electrical components, you should be aware that no EXIF data will be transmitted to the camera. For most users, this shouldn’t be a big deal, but for people like me who do a lot of testing and need to track f-stop and focal ranges, it can get quite frustrating to monitor.
Somewhat useful, but not so dreamy
While the lens is useful and affordable, it’s not the sharpest of lenses, which makes me feel like it wasn’t really a “dream” to use. Much like the “cookie” lens I reviewed recently, there are certainly usage scenarios for this lens, but I didn’t really find much fun taking it out to take pictures compared to a lot of my other goals.
The Laowa 12-24mm f/5.6 C-Dreamer gets points for its affordability and it can deliver interesting and fun images, but beyond the low price you’ll probably spend most of your time with this lens living in the f/8 to f/11 to get the most out of it, and that seems pretty limited for a lens that’s already fastest at f/5.6.
I think if Laowa were to improve the design by making it cleaner while providing electrical connections to allow EXIF data transmission, it would be much more appealing, even if the price had to go up a bit to accommodate the improvements. As is, it feels niche.
Are there alternatives?
The good news is that there are plenty of alternative options for ultra-wide-angle lenses for mirrorless systems, and some are even close to the same price as the new Laowa 12-24mm f/5.6. These include the $699 Laowa 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 C-Dreamer FE and the $899 Laowa 9mm f/5.6 FF RL. Additionally, you can pick up the Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 Art DG DN for $1,299 or, if you’re willing to jump a bit, the Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 for $2,998. , the $2,497 Nikon Z 14-24mm f/2.8 or the $2,299 Canon RF 14-35mm f/2.8 are all solid options for their respective mounts.
Should you buy it?
Probably not. If you need an ultra-wide-angle lens for your kit and can’t justify paying $1,500 to $3,000 for one of the larger f/2.8 ultra-wide-angle options with autofocus, then I could see it. If not, this lens is probably not for you.