Laowa 10mm f/4 ‘Cookie’ Lens Review: Great Glass with Lackluster Usability
Venus Optics recently released the $299 Laowa 10mm f/4 “Cookie” lens, a super-compact prime for APS-C cameras that is 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 directly from Venus Optics.
Featuring 12 elements arranged in eight groups that include four extra-low dispersion and two aspherical optics, the lens was built from the ground up to combat distortion, flaring, ghosting, and chromatic aberration. According to the company, it is the world’s widest rectilinear “pancake” lens with a 109.3-degree field of view (a 16mm equivalent in full-frame), yet doesn’t suffer from the extreme vignetting and distortion that many other lenses of similar focal length and compact size generally have. The question though, is that claim accurate?
The impressive thing about the little lens is it’s so small that the entire thing looks like a body cap. If there’s one thing that Venus Optics has grown fond of, it is finding unique and niche lens styles and making its own improved versions of at affordable prices.
I truly do appreciate the clever marketing done for the packaging of the lens as though it was an actual cookie, including “nutritional facts” like the max aperture, the number of blades, minimum focus distance, and “totally 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 lenses of like it are anywhere near its small size, making it an ideal lens for travel and walkabout. Like many of the lenses from Venus Optics, the 10mm f/4 cookie features “zero-distortion” (or at least very, very little) and as such doesn’t need any lens profile digital corrections after the fact.
Build Quality and Design
Like all the other Laowa lenses I’ve gotten hands-on with over the last few years, the 10mm f/4 lens is entirely manual; it has no electrical connections to the camera at all. Thankfully, most of the cameras on the market these days have amazing focus peaking available, making it easy to see if you’ve nailed your focus even without the help of autofocus.
I’ll say it again, this lens is incredibly tiny and lightweight. When mounting on a Nikon Z camera (my Z6 and Z6 II for the purpose of this review, which I set to DX mode since this is an APS-C lens), it’s actually kind of hard to keep a solid grip on it due to its thinness, and I found myself basically rotating the aperture ring to its extreme in either direction when mounting and removing the lens. Given the lens is only about an inch long, the trade-off is you end up losing out on some handling and “accuracy” when making aperture and focus adjustments.
Speaking of which, the aperture and focus rings are quite nicely designed and feature a ridged grip for both rings, giving users a tactile response. The aperture ring is “clickable” for accurate adjustments and to help hold the setting in place when adjusting focus. I get that this cookie lens is small so there’s not a lot of room to work with, but the aperture ring is actually kind of awkward to make adjustments to when shooting as it is placed practically at the edge of the camera body.
The focus ring has a nice firm tension to it 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 is positioned at the very front of the lens, making 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 few images I shot with the lens had at least a fingertip, if not half of my hand visible in the frame.
It is also worth noting that the lens will telescope in and out a bit when you focus. The effect is minimal, but noticeable to those paying attention.
Overall, the lens is small, tough, and metallic with a smooth and attractive finish. The part that is frustrating for a lens that could be great for travel is the lack of any weather or dust sealing.
Distortion is next to invisible, which is an impressive achievement, but there are some interesting bokeh patterns, fringing, and vignetting when shooting at f/4 that made it feel almost as if I was shooting with a petzval type lens.
Much like the Petzval lenses, the center sharpness is incredibly good, but it starts to fall off as you get to the edges of the frame. The vignetting can be somewhat compensated for with some manual lens profile adjustments but it is still significantly noticeable when shooting at the lens’s widest aperture. The image quality, brightness, and vignetting stays rather consistent stepping down to f/11 from f/4, but at f/16 the images start to soften rather significantly on the edges as expected.
The field of view provided by the 10mm lens means adjusting focus manually when shooting video will be very problematic, as it will be next to impossible to avoid getting your fingers or hand in the frame while shooting. Additionally, at f/4 the ghosting and flaring is not that bad, but still present.
Once you go to start stepping down the aperture, the quality starts to get significantly sharper and cleaner. That means if you happen to be shooting in a very bright situation or with lots of light sources, you’ll want to avoid shooting at the widest f/4 aperture to reduce any instance of flares
Getting visible bokeh is an ambitious wish for a wide lens like this, but still achievable if you shoot close to your primary subject. The good news is this lens does have a very close focus distance (just 10 centimeters), so when shooting at f/4 you can still achieve some nice separation between your background and subject
When shooting in a DX mode or camera (APS-C), the 10mm f/4 Cookie lens is actually pretty decent even with its hangups. You get an impressively wide perspective with very little distortion and decently consistent sharpness throughout the range of available settings. Yes, the vignetting is quite noticeable across it all, but that part is at least easy to correct in post using pretty much any RAW processing engine.
High Quality Glass with Lackluster Usability
While the 10mm f/4 Cookie lens is small, useful, and fun, it doesn’t stand out as exceptional in any particular way. Even though there truly is next to no distortion, the awkwardness of making focus and aperture adjustments paired with the vignetting and flaring at f/4 kind of make the lens lose a lot of its appeal, especially since it only has an f/4 max aperture.
So in short, while the performance of the optics and quality of images is quite good, it loses a lot when you look at it from a standpoint of functionality, especially since there is no autofocus and it does not have any 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 the 9mm f/2.8 Zero-D lens also from Laowa. This 9mm is bigger/heavier, is reportedly sharper, and is more expensive at $499. Looking outside of the 10mm zone, there are some other alternatives available. These include the $118 17mm f/1.4 APS-C lens from TTartisan, the $99 23mm f/1.4 APS-C lens from TTArtisan, the $329 12mm f/2 Ultra WA Lens from Rokinon, and the $374 16mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary Lens from Sigma.
Should You Buy It?
Maybe. If you are 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 shoot with an APS-C camera, the appeal does go up as there aren’t a lot of crop-sensor lens choices available that mesh this combination of focal length, size, and price.