Laowa 17mm f/4 GFX Zero-D: Expand Your Field of View

Our Fujifilm GFX Owners Group got the news that the Laowa 17mm f/4 GFX Zero-D for the GFX was coming out soon a few weeks ago. So I reached out to the Laowa representative in our group who confirmed it was coming and he put me in touch with someone that could send me a sample for testing. I then created an ambitious shooting schedule that included many 10-15 mile days walking around Miami and Deerfield Beach, Florida, to test Laowa’s latest lens as quickly and extremely as possible given the amount of time that I had. I will continue posting photos from the Laowa 17mm to 500px and Instagram in the weeks to come so be sure to follow me there if you want to see more samples.

Laowa 17mm by Louis Ferreira on 500px.com
Build Quality
My initial impressions were very good and the lens felt great once the focus ring loosened up a bit. The Laowa 17mm f/4 feels nothing like a Fujifilm GF lenses but it reminds me a lot of Zeiss manual lenses, only larger and proportionally lighter. I have always been a big fan of Zeiss glass and I generally prefer character over more clinical lenses if the resolution is similar, so I had high expectations.

I was a little surprised that the Laowa 17mm did not come with a lens hood. It could use a well-designed hood to control flare, which you can read about below. This might be challenging though since the only way to attach a hood to the front of the lens is by using the 86mm front filter thread that I haven’t had a chance to test yet.

Laowa 17mm by Louis Ferreira on 500px.com
Nowhere in the marketing is the lens listed as being weather sealed so take it in the rain at your own risk. I had no choice but to expose my copy to rain during multiple days of shooting to get a good understanding of how the lens works for this review. In fact, the weather has been so unseasonably bad that I unintentionally captured lightning strikes in multiple single-shot photos.

Laowa 17mm by Louis Ferreira on 500px.com
Metal manual lenses have a very distinct feel that some love. If you are one of those photographers, then you will love the Laowa 17mm since it does not use plastic on the exterior of the lens. I imagine there might be some plastic internally because the lens feels a little lighter then I would anticipate, but maybe the feeling comes from me handling a lot of heavy brass lenses.

The Laowa 17mm is well balanced on the Fujifilm GFX100 and probably feels balanced on the GFX50S from what I recall, but I think it might be a bit large and heavy for the GFX50R. Most GF lenses are on the large side for the GFX50R, so it is not a complaint, and if you own one you are likely used to lenses feeling front heavy.

Laowa 17mm by Louis Ferreira on 500px.com
Image Quality
Many are going to compare the Laowa 17mm f/4 GFX Zero-D to the Fujinon GF 23mm f/4 R LM WR, and that really isn’t a fair comparison because getting focus spot on with a wide manual lens can be difficult. The smallest turn of the focus ring or shift in perspective can severely limit the peak resolving performance of the Laowa 17mm; the autofocus of the Fujinon GF23mm is a big advantage, especially when shooting without a tripod or with continuous autofocus on the Fujifilm GFX100.

To my eyes, the Fujinon GF23mm creates a more consistently well-corrected clinical image than the Laowa 17mm; but the Fujinon GF23mm lacks the character of the Laowa 17mm while resolving a similar amount of fine detail. The Laowa 17mm can keep up with the Fujinon GF23mm 95% of the time for half the price, but you must nail focus to compare the resolving power of both lenses, this is difficult with the Laowa 17mm without a lot of magnification and a good amount of light.

Laowa 17mm by Louis Ferreira on 500px.com
The Laowa also has some advantages over the Fujinon GF23mm, like an exceptionally close focusing distance of  7.9″/20cm. The Laowa 17mm and Fujinon GF23mm lenses can both be used handheld, using a low shutter speed on the GFX, but the 17mm is more consistently tach sharp when pushing the limit handheld.

The Laowa 17mm can suffer from some internal reflection and can render light from up to a meter outside the frame, which can most likely be eliminated with a proper lens hood. I would really like to see Venus Optics design a lens hood specifically for the Laowa 17mm because it will help this lens shine for those that enjoy clinical wide photography. The only way to affix a hood to this lens is by using the 86mm filter threads so I doubt there are many if any options at this time that will work without obstructing the lens’ field of view.

Laowa 17mm by Louis Ferreira on 500px.com
Pentagon bokeh is also a slight disappointment that might annoy some, but it can be used creatively. Venus Optics started with a 7 blade aperture design, which was later changed to a 5 blade aperture design that Is the cause of the pentagon bokeh that you can see above. I was told that the change was made to enhance sun stars. The Laowa 17mm won’t make them consistently though, and when they do show up they are very forward in the image.

Overall image quality is quite high at all focal distances, and I am pretty sure this lens will out resolve any photographers needs, even if they use the Fujifilm GFX100. I might do some more technical testing in the future if requested, but I personally do not see the need. I think this lens will make the majority of GFX photographers happy.

Laowa 17mm by Louis Ferreira on 500px.com
Conclusion
I will very likely add the Laowa 17mm f/4 GFX Zero-D to my camera bag in addition to my Fujinon GF 23mm f/4 R LM WR. I really like the lens, and it is well designed for shooting handheld or on a tripod.

The Laowa 9mm has been a go-to lens for me since it was released and I am very happy with its performance. Similarly, if the Laowa 17mm performs equally as well for Astro, which I do every month, it will be my new go-to lens for Astrophotography and wide-angle photography. Zero-D Laowa lenses perform well above their price point, and I would be comfortable recommending the Laowa 17mm over the Fujinon GF23mm for photographers that rarely shoot wide but want a quality native lens.

Laowa 17mm by Louis Ferreira on 500px.com
The Laowa 17mm f/4 GFX Zero-D is a great lens and I hope we see more third party glass-like it for the GFX soon. The representatives that I have been in touch with are very excited about GFX and it sounds like they hope to release more G-Mount glass for the GFX at a relatively low price point to become a part of the GFX system’s growth. Venus Optics struck a good balance between build quality and price point when finalizing their design and I hope they continue with future GFX lens designs.

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