The new Laowa 6mm T2.1 Zero-D Cine Lens is great news for filmmakers with Olympus or Lumix G cameras and for at least three reasons.
First, it’s ongoing support for MFT photographers; second, it’s the widest non-fisheye lens you can get for the MFT format, equivalent to a 12mm ultra-wide in terms of full frame; third, it’s very fast, at T2.1, which is equivalent to f/2.1 or better in terms of stills photography, because T-stop ratings are much tighter and describe light transmission not just size the opening.
The new Laowa, like most of the company’s lenses, is a “dumb” manual focus optic. All Laowa lenses are manual focus, but a few newer models have a chip to communicate with the camera and automatically activate its manual focus magnified view – for example, the Laowa 10mm f/2 Zero- D for MFT.
This lens doesn’t have a chip, so if you want to zoom in to focus, you’ll need to press the correct buttons on the camera.
Focal distance: 6mm (12mm equivalent)
Maximum opening: T2.1
Minimum focus distance: 0.1m
Maximum magnification: 0.177x
Circle of images: 21.6mm
Angle of view: 120 degrees
This is a cine lens, so there are a few things that are different apart from the T rating we’ve already mentioned.
The most obvious physical difference is the provision of not one but two geared control rings. One is for the focus ring and designed to be driven by motorized focus units. This is a standard mount on cine lenses. But the second is for the aperture ring – or “iris”, if we want to speak the language of cinema. This means that the small 6mm Laowa also offers the option of gear-driven iris control.
Another key feature is the “clicked” aperture/iris ring. This is so that the iris can be changed silently during filming and without sudden jumps in exposure.
There are two other notable features: size and price. We’re used to fast cinema lenses being big and expensive, but it’s neither. In fact, it’s very small and fairly light even by MFT prime lens standards, and at $699 it’s not particularly cheap by Laowa standards, but in the world of cine lenses it seems like a good deal. That is, of course, if its physical and optical design is up to par.
Build and manipulate
It’s actually very hard to fault the physical design of this lens. Its metal construction gives it a very high quality feel and the focus and aperture rings are super smooth with no trace of roughness and a nice positive stop at the limit of travel. If you’ve spent many years with “digital” lenses with fly-by-wire focus, this will be like a reminder of how lenses used to be.
The long focus travel allows for an accurate focus distance scale, making depth-of-field index marks all the more useful for zone and hyperfocal focusing.
There is one thing – the focus ring slightly exceeds the infinity marker, and the infinity on our lens did not match exactly with infinity focus on the camera. That said, this is such a short-throw lens that there’s enormous depth of field, even at wide apertures, unless you get really close to your subject.
When it comes to focusing, our lens comes with something we’ve never seen before: a set of shims to insert under the removable lens mounting plate. These are provided to correct small inaccuracies in the camera mounting plate that could affect manual focus using the distance scale. Most photographers and videographers will have grown accustomed to ignoring focus distance scales on lenses and instead using the camera’s AF or focusing aids. This Laowa, however, is designed for the world of adult cinematography, where cameramen use distance scales and measuring tapes, and actors stand on “marks” to deliver their line.
You don’t have to use the Laowa this way, but it’s good to know that if you need to, you have the tools to check and correct manual focus distances down to the nth degree.
We tested the Laowa 6mm T2.1 Cine Lens for both real-world and lab shooting and photography, with our usual set of test targets. We got two sets of results, as we often do with ultra-wide lenses.
On the pitch, the Laowa was quite spectacular. It lived up to its Zero-D label with no visible distortion, despite its ultra-wide angle of view, and unlike our Laowa 9mm f/2.8 Zero-D APS-C lens, there was no no more significant shading in the corners – or any obvious chromatic aberration. That’s pretty amazing in a lens that’s also very small – we’re used to fast, highly corrected lenses that are quite massive.
The Laowa 6mm was found to be a little sensitive to stray light from light sources inside and just outside the frame. Ours didn’t come with a sun visor (we’re not sure there is one) and the front element is only slightly recessed.
In the lab, we got a different set of results, with some edge softness and barrel distortion. The thing is, with such a wide lens, you have to get really close to the lens’ test patterns, at a distance the lens is probably not optimized for. That’s why we perform real-world testing alongside our lab testing.
We carry out a range of laboratory tests under controlled conditions, using the Imatest Master test suite. Pattern shots are taken over the full range of apertures and zooms (where applicable), then analyzed for sharpness, distortion, and chromatic aberrations.
We use Imatest SFR (Spatial Frequency Response) graphs and analysis software to plot lens resolution at the center of the image frame, corners and mid-distances, over the full range of aperture settings. and, with zooms, at four different focal lengths. The tests also measure distortion and color fringing (chromatic aberration).
Center sharpness is quite good wide open at T/2.1, but you’ll need to stop at T/2.8 to get the most out of the lens. Mid-frame and corner sharpness scores are inevitably lower, due to positioning the lens very close to our sharpness test chart in order to frame it correctly with such a short focal length. However, these results are consistent with what we expect from an ultrawide premium.
The color fringing is only noticeable at large apertures, and even then it’s not serious. Stop at T/4 and the fringes are negligible.
The lens produces noticeable barrel distortion, but given the extremely short focal length, the degree of distortion really isn’t that bad and is easily corrected in post-processing.
This is another stellar lens from Laowa, offering excellent optical performance from a surprisingly small and affordable design. Obviously the manual focus design may not be suitable for vloggers, run and gun shooters or street photographers (although the huge depth of field may help), but for photography and video more thoughtful, it’s a brilliant little optic.
And even though it’s a cine lens, it’s also perfectly usable for stills. It uses old-school metering and stop-viewing, so you get a live preview of the depth of field all the time and the camera’s exposure system will automatically adapt to the opening you have defined.
However, on-set photographers may want to hang in there a little longer. Laowa said a stills version is on the way.
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