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. Is this claim true?
The impressive thing about the little lens is it’s so small that the entire thing looks like a body cap. Venus Optics is fond of finding niche lenses and creating improved versions at reasonable 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 is not the most wide-formatted on the market but it’s still small enough to be useful for walking and travel. 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. For precise adjustments, the aperture ring can be clicked to allow for easy focus adjustment. Although the cookie lens has very little space, it’s easy to adjust the settings when you shoot. It is also placed at the edges of the body of the camera.
The focus ring has a nice firm tension to it that allows for smooth adjustments and prevents drift when positioned at odd angles. It is located at the front of the lens which makes it difficult to locate when using 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 worth noting, however that the lens can telescope in and out depending on how you focus. It is not noticeable, but it can be noticed by those who pay 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. Although vignetting is easily corrected by manual profile adjustments, it can still be noticeable at wide apertures. 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. The quality of your images will improve dramatically if you start to reduce the aperture. 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. The lens provides a wide view with minimal distortion, decent sharpness and good consistency across the various settings. The vignetting can be quite obvious across the entire lens, however it is easily corrected in post with almost 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.