Another one? The Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 APO Review

It seems like every chinese based lens manufacturer is putting out new fast fifty equivalents for APS-C these days. Some have ventured into full frame territory, but most stay within the APS-C segment. Mitakon, TTartisan, 7Artisans and now also Laowa are all the more prominent of the lot. My prefered focal lengths have always been 23mm and 35mm on my APSC Fujifilm system. So I welcome as many of these lenses as possible.

Let there be light! – Plenty of it! – X-Pro3 | Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 @ f/0.95

Laowa has become quite popular the last couple of years for their high quality optics for both video and photography uses. I have reviewed a couple of their lenses in the past. The 9mm f/2.8 for APSC, The 17mm f/4 for GFX medium format and the 65mm f/2.8 2:1 macro for APSC. I have been very impressed by their lenses so far, so I had high expectations when the company stated that the new Argus lineup would be a lens lineup that would feature their very best lensdesigns.

So here we are again. Another review of another fast 0.95 prime lens for APSC. This time it’s not a 35mm focal length, but rather a 33mm. Converted to full frame FOV it’s actually exactly 50mm. The new Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 APO promises something the other manufacturers doesn’t.
APOCHROMATIC lens design. You read it. APO. That little 3 letter abbreviation that promises to correct even the harshest of abberations. Both chromatic and spherical.
But does it deliver?

Well let’s find out shall we? The Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 APO lens review coming up!
But first, disclaimer time.

  1. Not paid by Laowa. 
  2. I like Laowa A LOT
  3. All images of- and with the Argus 33mm lens in this article were shot by me. Please refrain from using them without my prior permission.
  4. It’s monday, I’m goddamn tired, and I crave a beer already…

Now that’s over and done with. Let’s get down to it.

Build and feel

When doing this little writeup I can’t avoid comparing this new Laowa lens to the 7artisans 35mm f/0.95 and the Mitakon 35mm f/0.95 mk2 that I have review here on my site before. You can find the Mitakon review HERE, and the 7artisans review HERE. The latter features comparisons between the two, and today I’m going to post IQ comparisons between those two AND the new Laowa lens, to see how they compare.

When comparing the Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 APO to the other two lenses, it becomes apparent right from the start that it’s a way bigger lens. The other two lenses features 52mm and 55mm front filter diameter, whereas the Laowa has a massive 62mm front filter thread. The Laowa has kind of a “trumpet shape” and it comes with a square hood design that sits nice and flush to complement the design. Again making it rather big and front heavy.
It features the well known “Blue Laowa Ring” near the front of the lens, and it has a VERY prominent yellow “Argus” logo branded onto it. Why Laowa used this yellow I will never know. All I now is that I masked it off straight away with a piece of black tape.

The aperture ring is clickless!! I am so f***ing tired of this by now that I have no more words! How hard is it to make these aperture rings click? I know that Laowa has made clicked aperture before. So why not this time? I simply HATE IT WITH A PASSION when I look down and see it knocked over to 1.2 or 3.6 without me even noticing.
I like my lenses with clicked aperture. PERIOD! But then again, I’m not into doing video stuff.

The focusing ring is very smooth and large for good grip. But the focus throw is waaaaay too long. I have to rotate it 270 degrees from 0.35m to infinity. That means I cannot do a fast focus pull from far to near in one single swoop! I have to rotate and move my hand 2 times during a full scale focus pull. This has caused me MANY missed shots on the streets. To some people this might be ideal. You can finetune focus a little easier at close focus ranges, but the way I use this lens, the long focus throw is a definite minus.

X-Pro3 | Laowa 33mm f/0.95 @f/0.95

All in all, the lens feels great I the hands. It’s a very solid metal build with metal mount. It weighs in at 590g and it sure has a very premium feel to it. It’s well designed, even though not as well paired with the retrolook of the X-Pro3 as the Mitakon or 7artisans.
It features a very handy DOF scale, but come on…. who shoots an f/0.95 lens at f/11 anyway? (well….I actually did…. LOL )

Tech Specs

Below is the technical specifications for the Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 APO lens.

  • Focal length: 33 mm
  • Aperture range: f/0.95-f/16
  • Field of View: 46.2 °
  • Near focus limit: 0.35 m
  • Maximum magnification: 0.125x
  • Number of aperture blades: 9
  • Focusing mechanism: MF
  • Construction: 14 elements / 9 groups (1 aspherical lens, 1 ED glass, 3 high refractive index)
  • Filter size: 62 mm
  • Available mounts: Canon EF-M, Fujifilm X, Nikon Z, Sony E
  • Dimensions: 71.5 x 83 mm
  • Weight: 590 g.

The lens diagram above shows a rather complex 14 element in 9 groups build. The front lens element appears almost completely flat, which actually looks really cool.

The apochromat

As is probably clear to everyone by now, the Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 is an apochromatic lens design. What does that mean exactly? Well, Wikipedia has a very good description, so I’m just going to quote that article:

Chromatic aberration is the phenomenon of different colors focusing at different distances from a lens. In photography, chromatic aberration produces soft overall images, and color fringing at high-contrast edges, like an edge between black and white. Astronomers face similar problems, particularly with telescopes that use lenses rather than mirrorsAchromatic lenses are corrected to bring two wavelengths into focus in the same plane – typically red (~0.590 µm) and blue (~0.495 µm). Apochromatic lenses are designed to bring three colors into focus in the same plane – typically red (~0.620 µm), green (~0.530 µm), and blue (~0.465 µm).[1] The residual color error (secondary spectrum) can be up to an order of magnitude less than for an achromatic lens of equivalent aperture and focal length. Apochromats are also corrected for spherical aberration at two wavelengths, rather than one as in an achromat.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apochromat

So in theory the Apochromatic lens build should ensure much better color performance and much less color fringing. Something that many fast lenses suffer from. It does not ensure added sharpness per se. But more a perceived added sharpness because of added color accuracy and contrast.
So don’t expect the Laowa Argus 33mm to be sharper than say the Mitakon and 7artisans, but expect it to be much better corrected for abberations and purple fringing.

X-Pro3 | Laowa 33mm f/0.95 @f/5.6’ish (stupid clickless aperture…)

Image Quality

Of course this is where it gets interesting. And actually it’s the only thing that matters! How does this lens actually perform optically? Is the APO designation just a marketing ploy, or does it actually hold true? Let me say this straight away, the IQ of the lens is good! I performs really well especially when used in harsh lighting scenarios. Scenarios where the Mitakon 35mm and the 7artisans 35mm can sometimes show purple fringing and CA. (I will say that those two lenses especially the 7artisans is so well coated and corrected that it minimises the contrast loss from abberations quite effectively)

Sharpness
The Laowa is quite sharp even wide open. Not as impressive as the Mitakon or the 7artisans but still quite impressive for a 0.95 aperture. Obviously this is centerframe. Midframe it’s decent, and corners are soft as molasses. This continues up until f/2.8 where you get decent corner sharpness and midframe sharpness. Center gets a good boost of contrast and sharpness from 2.8 too.
But seriously. Don’t buy a cheap 33mm f/0.95 lens for corner sharpness…. just don’t. Buy it for the luscious rich bokeh when centering your subject.

X-Pro3 | Laowa 33mm f/0.95 @f/0.95

Bokeh
The bokeh is buttery smooth. edge to edge. No harshness, no onion-rings. Nothing but very creamy amazing sea of bokehliciousness. lol… OK, you get my point. Out of focus areas are very very nice looking with this lens. Fall off from in focus to out of focus is very smooth, and the character that you get from it makes it very good for upper body portrait ranges.

Flare and Sunstars
The Laowa doesn’t really flare much. Only when you use it without its designated lens hood you will get a nice round circular lens flare that actually looks pretty damn gorgeous. I chose to shoot the lens without the hood because of this flare. It retains decent contrast despite flaring, which looks quite cool.
When stopped down to f/11 or f/16 your lightsources will get really nice sunstars. Not the best I’ve ever seen, but certainly not the worst either.

Vignette
Does the thing show vignette wide open? Hell yes. Is it too much, hell no. It is to be expected for a lens of this caliber. It looses about a stop of light near the corners when shot at close-/mid range at f/0.95. At infinity at f/0.95 (who would ever shoot like that…lol!) you get about 2 stops of lights loss at the edges. Not the best lens I’ve ever tested in this regards, but certainly not the worst either.

Allright. So the APO thing. Does it work?
Well actually, it does. At least in the chromatic abberation corrections department. I had a very hard time getting any sort of chromatic abberation from this lens. I shot my typical backlit hugh contrast scenarios, and it just didn’t show any signs of any fringing or anything of the sort. Where I didn’t get consistent results was with contrast wide open. It does have good contrast, although I must say that the 7artisan handles contrast wide open a lot better than the Laowa. I don’t know if it is because the T-stop of the 7artisans is actually lower, but at equivalent camera settings at f/0.95, the frame from the Laowa seemed less contrasty than the 7 artisans.

So in summary, it’s sharp enough, even wide open. It has glorious bokeh. It exhibits very little CA, and it had good contrast. But how does it stack up against the competition then?

3 x 0.95

So let me spend a few lines on comparing the new Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 APO to the Mitakon 35mm f/0.95 mkII and the 7artisans 35mm f/0.95.

In both the image above as well as the specification charts below it’s fairly obvious to see that the Laowa is quite different from the other two lenses. Whereas the 7artisans and Mitakon share so traits and have so many commonalities, a lot of people actually thought that the 7artisans was a rebranded/rehoused version of the Mitakon. It isn’t, but I can’t blame people for thinking that it is.
The Laowa is very different. It has unique lens build, a unique size and it’s just an allround different lens. Both in physical appearance as well as optical appearance.

Lens Laowa Argus 35mm f0.95 APO7artisans 35mm f0.95Mitakon 35mm f0.95 mk2
Filter thread62mm52mm55mm
Size (width x length)Approx. 71,5 x 83 mmApprox. 57 x 56 mmApprox. 63 x 60 mm
Weight590g369g460g
Aperture blades9 rounded12 rounded9 rounded
Aperture rangef/0.95 – f/16 clicklessf/0.95 – f/16 clicklessf/0.95 – f//16 clickless
Elements/Groups14 elements/ 9 groups11 elements/8 groups11 elements/8 groups
Minimum focus distance35cm37cm35cm
Angle of view46.2 degrees43 degrees43.5 degrees
Suggested Retail price$499 USD$249 USD$599 USD

All 3 lenses feature the (to me) dreaded clickless aperture. All three are solidly built in all metal constructions. All three feels really good. The Laowa definitely fall short for me regarding the looooong focus throw which I really don’t like. The other two lenses has a short throw which is much more usable in my type of photography. However, you might find the long focus throw much better suited to your needs. So it’s all a matter of subjective preference.

They all focus really close, having a near focus limit of below 40 cm. It makes for some very interesting creative possibilities. In this regard the difference from 33mm to 35mm focal length actually makes quite a difference. The Laowa being the widest, and the 7artisans actually being a bit less wide than the Mitakon (even though they’re rated at the same angle of view) means that will get closest using the 7artisans, followed by the Mitakon, and then the Laowa last.
I did a simple test setup today. Focused at the closest possible distance using a tripod and you can see the results below.

A thing that I noted in the gallery above is how the focus plane is curved on the Laowa and on the Mitakon, whereas it seems much more plain in the 7artisans (notice how the viewfinder to the right is relatively sharper. It should be sharp since its the same focus plane as the red Leica dot)

When comparing sharpness and general image quality between the three lenses I chose to place the object (my amazing Leica M7) at a distance around 1,2 meters to better determine the details. Obviously a more seasoned reviewer would also test these thing at a distance, but it’s too boring! – If you want to see shots with either the Mitakon, the 7artisans or this Laowa lens at a distance, then just look for sample images in each of those reviews. They all fare well, albeit resolving power is not really any of these lenses’ strong suit.

When looking at the overall IQ you can see that the Laowa renders a bit more blue/cold (these were all shot at a set 5000K color temp) than the Mitakon and the 7artisans. The 7 artisans looks to be more contrasty, but I think it’s because of it’s lesser T stop at comparable settings. It’s simply a bit more undereksposed, making it look as if it retains deeper blacks and has higher contrast. The Mitakon has the sharpest image to my eye, whereas the Laowa is the least sharp to my eye.
In this comparison it actually looks like the Laowa has the least contrast out of all of them. Making my question if that APO build really does matter in terms of contrast.
CA seems to be handled worst by the 7artisans (look at the top plate near the dials for purple fringing) whereas the Laowa just pulls in in front of the Mitakon. Vignetting seems about the same across the board.

ALL THE IMAGES ABOVE ARE SOOC RAW CONVERTED TO JPEGS. CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE FULL SIZE FILES

Conclusion and sample image gallery

So, the Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 APO is the first lens in Laowa new series of high quality lenses under the Argus name. It sure is a good sign of what’s to come. This lens is a very nice lens. A very capable lens that is very versatile.
There are some things that I simply do not like about this lens, but this is only because of my personal usability preferences. I can’t stand de-clicked apertures and I find the long focus throw to be a hindrance to my usual way of focus pulling from infinity in one fast swift motion. I bet there are many people out there who would love both of these features. But this is my review, and I can cry if I want to! 😛

In regards to image quality Laowa promises a lot given the APO moniker. But in my testing I found that it mattered only somewhat. It definitely renders lovely precise colours, and I had a very hard time getting it to show any form of abberations, be they chromatic or spherical. The bokeh from the Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 APO is very lovely. It’s very smooth and very pleasing, and it has very pleasant looking falloff from in- to out of focus.
Sharpness wide open is decent, although nothing crazy. It gets much better when stopping down to f/2.8.

The big question here is. Will it offer you something that the competitors doesn’t? To be honest. Not really. The competition in the segment is getting rather good.
But that is not the same as saying that the Laowa isn’t money well spent. It is a very nice lens that I think a lot of APS-C shooters will enjoy immensely. And if video/hybrid shooting is your thing then the Laowa is definitely the better option of the three. So make up your mind as to what your needs are for a lens like this. If it fits the bill then you’re in for a treat.

The Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 APO has a suggested retail price of $499 USD.
Shipping starts from Early May for Fuji X and Sony E mount. Nikon Z and Canon RF versions from Mid May.

Me and my X-Pro3 w/ Laowa 33mm f/0.95 @f/0.95

Sample images

All samples have been shot on my Fujifilm X-pro3 cameras. I have shot this lens in as many different scenarios as time would allow me. All images have been post processed using Adobe Lightroom software. 
The wordpress gallery algorithm/compression makes the images look really soft and weird unless you go to the lower right hand corner and press full size. So make sure to click that to view the individual images at their full 2048px wide size

15 comments

  1. thank you for that review, i was waiting this for very long time, looks like i will stay with my 7artisans.. i get it about 190usd, for that price, its amazing.

    1. Honestly – I love this review and say thank you. I get the issue with clickless aperture control but in a nutshell – if I could take these pictures with a lens costing $499 USD I would be the happiest guy around!

  2. I don’t like it. It is big and doesn’t seem to suit small Fuji camera. I own the Mitakon which I find to be on the heavier side, but still manageable. I thought that with bigger side the image quality could be substantially better then mitakon, even to the corners. Also in the grass shot the bokeh seems to be pretty weird. Mitakon also manages to have kind of weird triangle shaped bokeh in the corners. I believe it is due to very strong coma. Looking forward to new Fuji’s 33 f1.4.

    1. Interesting review and you make it easy to compare a lot of those 35mm because you review them in your style and way looking at the quality in terms of real use.

      So in the end:
      – too big and heavy,
      – bokeh not that different as the other two,
      – apo-design should not be overrated.

      At some time last year I considered to buy a Voigtländer Nokton 35/1.2 III but now I think that I really should stay for another while with my Touit 32mm/1.8 …

      Hilsen, Bernd

  3. Hi Jonas, always love your reviews. My friend and I always says you could sell just about any lens because of your amazing images! Question: out of the three (Laowa, Mitakon, or 7artisans) which is your favorite to shoot? Thanks!

  4. Mr. Rask: Thank you for the detailed look at the use and results of this new lens. I like the focal length of 50-55 equivalent for everyday images so it was an important addition to the choices we now have. Please tell us if focus peaking works well in this lens when using it in Manual mode. Is it accurate, quick to respond?
    I am a stills-only photographer. Night images outdoors. When I tested two copies of the Mitakon v2 over a year ago (on XH-1 and XPro-2) both had wavy/odd planes of focus at f0.95 and one other weird problem: The peaking was not accurate, telling me a particular detail – on a good peaking target like a motorcycle engine detail or street sign – would be in focus but proving at time of processing *not* in focus. The real-world focus was always a bit in front, if I remember correctly. I gave up on the whole segment but it is tempting to try again with this new entry.
    Fuji USA’s technical service wondered if – at these very challenging electrical engineering tasks like focus peaking the results will always be better “in the family”. The Fuji lenses’ and sensor’s feedback loop design will give the viewfinder better information about the exact point of focus.
    I shoot mostly at night. Selling points of these lenses: light-gathering and then subject separation. Love the benefits for portraiture and “street” images – might test this and a 7Artisans… (although wonky plane of focus was one factor that made me give up on Mitakon.)
    -But the Fuji 35mm f1.4 is still a delight. Would never replace that with one of these.
    Again, thank you, very valuable review and especially the *comparison*.
    BTW I have a different Laowa for fun use on my Sony FF body: their 9mm full frame rectilinear crazy-lens so glad to see them working in my ASP-C orbit, too.

  5. Thank you Jonas. Your posts are always a great reason to take a break from working and learn from your well-prepared reviews.
    As a soon-to-be GFX100s owner pondering which wide prime to pair it with, it would be fantastic to see same-subject photos comparing the Laowa 17 f4 and GF 23mm f/4 lenses to get a sense of the added sweep and scope the 17 can give over the 30mm GF prime. That may sound ridiculous as the differ so much, but it could be instructive. I hope that Fujfilm builds a wider G lens, but it just ain’t on their map.

  6. Hi Jonas, thanks for the review. Could you please give us the shutter speeds of the three Laica camera shots with the three lenses wide open?

  7. Thank you Jonas for excellent review and inspiring pictures!
    BTW, I’m sharing your pain regarding click-less aperture ring. Feel free to send me one of that F0.95 lens you like and I’ll add custom aperture clicks for you : )

  8. Great review, I always enjoy your writings as well as your photos.
    I already have Mitakon and 7Artisans versions, so will give this one a pass.
    Just my 2 cents, maybe it worth to mention (and test) breathing effect, I know you don’t do video, but it is handy for those who do.

  9. Interesting review and very refreshingly not just gushing about a new product. I totally get the rant about clickless apertures. Any old vintage lens I come across that is clickless ends up on Ebay very soon…but then I never do any video. Should not be too hard to add a little mechanical button to switch clicks on and off.

    Oh and Garfield does not like Monday either…so you are in good company.

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