It’s crazy that this 12mm Full Frame ZERO-D cine lens is under $1,500

Stan Smith / September 05,2020

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The king of ultra wides just stepped into the ring of cine-line lenses with a very bold claim. The Venus Optics Laowa 12mm T2.9 Zero-D Cine Lens is the newest lens to come out of Laowa. The “Zero-D” supposedly stands for zero-distortion, but at 12mm how is that even possible!? After playing around with the lens for a while, I can officially say, I’m blown away by this lens.

Line up

I think its important to start off by saying, in true Laowa fashion: This lens is also a first. The 12mm marks the creation of the cine-line by Laowa. Laowa has been pretty well regarded by everyone from enthusiasts to pros. It was really only a matter of time before Laowa joined the Cine-Lens battle too. Interestingly, Laowa has decided to start off with their widest lens (in their zero-d line anyway…). However knowing Laowa, I think it’s obvious that only amazing things are coming. We already know that they are soon releasing their much-anticipated OOOM 25-100 T2.9 Lens.  The 12mm Zero-D is most likely a step in a really awesome direction for the company and filmmakers alike.

Build Quality

It’s always fun to look at the build quality of lenses by Laowa. You know building tough is one of their objectives. Literally, every lens I have touched by Laowa feels like a tank, and this lens is no different. With an all-aluminum housing, this lens feels very high quality. The only thing I would say kind of bummed me out a bit was the lens cap. It just needs a tiny bit more friction so that it stays on, it tends to fall pretty easily. Between how the lens build and the way the cap goes on, it has a tendency to fall.

It did kind of surprise me, though, that the lens is so short. I guess its entirely possible to make cine lenses this short. The Zeiss CP.3 set is basically the same size (at a very different price point). I really hope that’s the direction they’re going for if they continue to add primes to their set. It’s also relatively light, which I guess is a good thing. Needless to say, this cine lens obviously comes with all the things we expect on cine lenses. A 270-degree focus throw, and de-clicked aperture with industry-standard gears.

Font Element

When talking about the build quality, we can’t ignore the fact that this freaking 12mm lens has no protruding element. I’m the kind of monster who doesn’t use UV filters on his lenses. But even I get a little nervous with my Samyang 14mm, or with Laowa’s 9mm Dreamer that we reviewed recently.  The 12mm was designed with no protruding element and this is because they took cinematographers in to account when designing this lens. The downside is that there is no filter thread. So how do you mount a filter on this bad boy? (and I missed this bit in the video, sorry about that!) In the box, you get an adaptor that converts the front thread into an industry standard 114mm. That’s really the next best thing.

In the box… Literally

In addition to the beautiful lens, inside the box, you get… another box. Well, a pelican rather. Like really, a real waterproof/crushproof Pelican Case. Complete with pre-cut EVA foam designed specifically for the lens. I think this is such a generous touch for the lens. It really does make you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth. Inside the case you have:

  • Shims – these are used to help with adjusting flange distance on your camera.
  • 114mm Adapter – This ring simply wraps around the front ring of the lens and then it fits snuggly into your matte box.  This is a really nice touch.
  • Paperwork – you standard instructions and warranty cards.

Distortion

Obviously, when talking about a lens this wide, you need one whole section for distortion.

The lens is an absolute delight to shoot with. It really feels weird though, and not for the reason you would think. The weirdness of the lens actually comes from how normal it looks. When you shoot this wide, we’re pretty much use to seeing distortion. This lens just doesn’t have it. Sometimes you can shoot a frame that really just feels like a 24mm or a 35mm. Without context, it’s really hard to tell sometimes. The closer you get to things, however, the weirder they get, but I personally love it. You get a really nice effect of things feeling huge when they come close to the lens. This could be great for some really creative cinematic angles. It’s obviously not a lens for every situation. However, when used correctly the effect this lens gives off is hard to compete with.

Performance

I think the second thing I wanted to know was how well this lens performs. Its probably easier to get a lens to be 12mm wide, than it is to get a lens to be GOOD at 12mm. The 12mm  Zero-D blew me away. The two Achilles heels of any wide angles lens are sharpness and vignette. In terms of sharpness, wider lenses tend to look sharper. The Laowa 12mm really hits a home run on sharpness being almost at peak sharpness from T2.9. Stopping down is obviously better, but without zooming, its kind of hard to tell.

But the vignette on this lens deserves the real trophy. Wide lenses have tons of vignette. Heck, even regular-non-ultra-wide-super-standard-lenses have noticeable vignette. While the lens does have some vignetting at t2.9 (albeit a VERY reasonable amount). You really only need to stop down to about T4 till its almost entirely gone.

look and feel

In terms of color, it has this beautiful vibrant micro-contrast. The punch you get from the lens is really something similar to what I would expect from a Milvus series lens. It has a lot of character and is definitely a great look for a lens set. The bokeh is also very pleasing… in the center at least. I can’t speak for everyone, I personally think the bokeh stretches on the edges of the frame are actually super wonky and extremely unique. When I shoot, I love my shots to be unique and I think this is a great look.

Now, we need to address something. The flare…  It’s not that I don’t like the flare. In optimal situations, the flare is so pretty. It’s colorful with a nice round shape and you see a few elements in it. The problem is that at 12mm. The chances that you’re pointing away from light are very low. Ghosting and unwanted flares are very easy to come by- for better or worst. This is why I think that including a way to adapt a matte box in the box is so important. When you are shooting and want to control flares, your best chance at having that control is with a matte box.

Price

Pricing a lens like this must have been quite difficult for Laowa. If you look around, there really aren’t too many options in this field. Sure there are lenses that are close to this focal length, but none this wide. Lets put it like this: Say were comparing it to a 14mm (an all-around pretty standard wide-angle), 2mm wider might not sound like such a difference. But 2mm of 12mm is about 15% wider than a 14mm. The Venus Optics Laowa 12mm T2.9 Zero-D Cine Lens runs for just under $1499. The only lens comparable in its performance that covers a full-frame sensor is the Arri UltraPrime. The Arri UltraPrime costs over 20 times the price though.

Final thoughts

I don’t think its hard to tell that I am in love with this lens. From the extremely unique look you get, the creativity it inspires, or even the price. The Venus Optics Laowa 12mm T2.9 Zero-D Cine Lens is a beautiful lens that has a place in every filmmaker’s kit. From architectural to landscapes, to cinematic angles this lens has the potential to upgrade any setting. At just $1500 it drives a hard bargain being the only lens in its class and price point. The lens is available for purchase right now.

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