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Medium-Format Magic in a Full-frame Lens. Laowa 45mm f0.95 Evaluate


Imagine being able to get the kind of bokeh and depth of field with your full-frame camera that medium format camera users show off in their images. Creamy, buttery, super smooth, out of focus portions with an ultra-shallow depth of field. The Laowa 45mm f0.95 Z-mount lens delivered this and more in the week or so of indoor and outdoor testing I did with it. It’s not an autofocus lens, but it still won me over.

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If you’re a long-term, full-frame system user who’s craved the “medium-format” look in your images, but don’t want to splurge on something like a Nikkor Z 50mm f1.2 S lens to achieve it, then look no further. Chinese manufacturer Venus Optics (aka Anhui ChangGeng Optics Technology Co., Ltd.) has launched its second full-frame f0.95 lens. Famous in photography circles for their 24mm f14 2X Macro Probe lens, Venus Optics just announced the second full-frame lens in their Argus lineup, the Laowa 45mm f0.95 lens. Touted as an ‘exceptional standard lens‘ with an ultra-wide f0.95 aperture, it’s aimed at those who desire more depth-of-field in their lenses. We got our hands on a sample Z-mount version of this lens and were positively thrilled by it.

Too Long; Didn’t Read

As far as affordable yet high-quality lenses go, this Laowa 45mm f0.95 lens takes the cake. At just $799, it produces some delicious-looking, out-of-focus portions when shooting at its widest aperture of f0.95. Portraits look glorious, giving the kind of feel and character to your images that’s often seen with images from medium-format sensor cameras. The all-metal body feels fantastic to use, and the aperture dial can be de-clicked if you prefer. Sharpness isn’t terrible when wide open, but that’s hardly what you’d be buying such a lens for.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Super shallow depth-of-field
  • All metal body
  • Long, smooth focus throw to go from closest focus point to infinity focus
  • De-clickable aperture ring
  • Gives you the medium-format look on your full frame camera
  • Removable lens hood allows for screw-on filters to be attached

Cons

  • Not weather sealed
  • No auto focusing
  • Heavy vignetting at times when hood is attached
  • No electronic lens contacts to transfer EXIF data to camera

Gear Used

Innovations

The Laowa 45mm f0.95 lens is claimed by Venus Optics to be the first full-frame 45mm f0.95 lens in the world.

For readers who are confused over how an aperture value can be below f1, the aperture of f value of a lens is basically the focal length of the lens, divided by the diameter of the opening of the lens at the aperture. So any lens with an aperture value less than f1 has its aperture diameter wider than the focal length of that lens. In the case of this lens, the diameter of the aperture at f0.95 is approximately 47.37mm.

It’s far from the f0.7 value on the famous Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm f0.7 used by film director Stanely Kubrick to film candlelit scenes for Barry Lyndon, but it’s no slouch either.

Tech Specs

Taken from the Argus Laowa 45mm f0.95 FF product page on the Venus Optics website

Lens Laowa Argus 45m f/0.95 FF
Focal Length 45mm
Aperture f/0.95 – 16
Angle of View 51.3°
Format Compatibility Full-Frame
Lens Structure 13 elements in 9 groups
(Aspherical Lens*1, ED glass*1, UHR glass*3)
Aperture Blades 15
Min. Focusing Distance 50cm (19.7″)
Dimensions About 76.8mm*110mm ( 3.02 x 4.3 ”)
Filter Thread 72mm
Max. Magnification 0.12X
Weight About 835g/ 1.84lb
(Without lens hood & both front cap and back cap)
Mounts Sony E / Nikon Z / Canon R

Ergonomics

A large focus ring on the Laowa 45mm f0.95 lens has a 300° focus throw for smooth manual focusing. A bright blue ring runs across the front of the lens, probably signifying that it’s part of the Venus Optics premium range of Argus lenses.

Venus Optics has added a Click / De-click switch on this lens. This is presumably for videographers using this lens who may want to silently and seamlessly adjust their aperture while filming. For the purpose of this review, I kept this switch on the Click setting so that I can be aware if I accidentally turned the aperture ring while taking photos.

The aperture stops on the aperture ring aren’t spaced evenly. You turn the aperture ring more when going between 0.95 to 2.8, for example, than going from f8 to f16 (the narrowest setting).

The Laowa 45mm f0.95 lens has a removable, reversible lens hood. This allows for 72mm screw-on filters to be used with it. For this review, though, no filters were used.

Build Quality

The all-metal body of the Laowa 45mm f0.95 is delightful to hold and use. When you’re handling this lens, especially when turning the focus ring, you don’t get the feeling that it is a sub-$1000 product. The hood is metallic too, but it doesn’t twist into place like most lens hoods do. You’ll need to twist, then push on the hood.

All images of me seen in this review were taken by my friend Trish Patel (who’s also the female model you’ll see in the sample images taken with this lens)

At under 2 lbs, it is fantastic for long hours of shooting. I enjoyed the balance it provided when used with my Z6 II. It’s nearly twice the weight of the Nikkor Z 50mm f1.8s I usually pair with it. But the lens never felt like it weighed down the camera when it was hung around my neck.

There’s no weather sealing, unfortunately, but the cold metal touch of the lens has a luxury feel to it. I’d trade the extra weight of a metal lens over a lighter, plastic one any day for this experience.

Ease of Use

As a Nikon user (or even otherwise), if you’re used to mounting your lenses on your camera by turning them while holding the center of the lens, you’re going to find that this lens won’t mount easily. That’s because, in the process of mounting it, you’re probably going to turn the enormous focus ring or the aperture ring instead. It’s best to set your camera down on a flat surface and twist it while holding the base (as seen above). That focus ring looks deceptive. It’s not just the ribbed portion, of course, but includes the part below that has the distance markings as well. I often found myself trying to twist it to attach it to my camera and ended up turning the focus ring most of the time.

Coupled with the focus peaking on the Nikon Z6 II I tested it on, I needed to exercise considerable patience to nail the focus at 0.95, especially when shooting portraits. It helps when your models know how to stay almost absolutely still, but be prepared to use the magnification feature of your EVF when using this lens to perfect your focus. I’m not complaining about this in any way; I enjoy camera gear that makes me slow down to have to use it. But if you’re going to use this lens for a professional shoot and intend on using f0.95 for most of the images, you have to factor this extra time into your planning.

Checking the focus on our model Luiz

I mostly shot fashion with this, and while it was tedious to focus on the eyes with f0.95, the pleasing soft backgrounds made it worthwhile.

Coupled with the focus peaking on the Nikon Z6 II that I tested it on, I needed to exercise considerable patience to nail the focus at 0.95, especially when shooting portraits. It helps when your models know how to stay almost absolutely still, but be prepared to use the magnification feature of your EVF when using this lens to perfect your focus.

Image Quality

Venus Optics says the 45mm focal length is ‘close to human eye perspective.’ While I wouldn’t use it often for street photography, this lens could be a valuable addition to your street lens kit if you’re comfortable with zone focusing. The out of focus areas render so beautifully that they give an almost 3D pop to your subject (if you’re good at nailing focus at f0.95).

Bokeh

Super creamy, especially at f0.95. Patiently get your subject in focus and watch the out-of-focus areas and background melt away. It’s the kind of depth-of-field I’ve only dreamt of seeing on full-frame cameras. Bokeh balls are slightly lemon-shaped. But that aside, top marks to Venus Optics for providing an affordable lens with bokeh that competes with medium format lenses.

Sharpness

At f0.95, you’re not going to get the kind of clinical sharpness you’d see on Nikon’s Z series of 1.8 S lenses. You’d probably dial in a fair amount of sharpness and/or structure adjustments depending on the kind of images you’re editing. But it’s not awful or mediocre in any way. It’s mostly a question of getting your focus right.

Lens Character

There’s a fair bit of vignetting when the lens hood is on (can’t say I saw much of it with the hood off). But I barely took the hood off the lens during my shoots. There is some purple fringing too, but nothing that’s not easily correctable with some basic image editing software. I did not see any noticeable focus breathing either.

Here’s a quick video showcasing images taken at various apertures while the camera was on a tripod. I’ve kept the shutter speed at 1/60s and tried to keep the exposure constant by adjusting the ISO for each image. No edits were made to the photos seen in this video. The Blippi figurine was kept at the minimum focus distance of 50cm.

Color Rendering

The blues in the image here matched those in the skies that day

I used the Standard picture control on the Nikon Z6 II when testing this lens (except for a handful of black and white shots where I used a Monochrome profile). The colors were reasonably accurate and matched what I commonly see when using Nikkor Z-mount lenses.

Extra Image Samples

From day one, The Phoblographer has been huge on transparency with our audience. Nothing from this review is sponsored. Further, lots of folks will post reviews and show lots of editing in the photos. The problem then becomes that anyone and everyone can do the same thing. They’re not showing what the lens can do. So we have a section in our Extra Image Samples area to show edited and unedited photos. From this, you can make a decision for yourself.

Edited

Unedited

Conclusions

Likes

  • Smooth, medium-format lens like bokeh
  • Full metal body with a premium feel to it
  • Attractively priced at USD $799 at Adorama or Amazon
  • Long focus throw for accurate manual focusing

Dislikes

  • No electronic lens contacts for EXIF data saving to your image files

This is an ideal lens for portrait photographers who love shallow depth of field. It’s not the sharpest lens you’ll ever use, but the creaminess of the bokeh and accurate color renditions make up for that. I hardly ever took it off f0.95 during my testing because, challenging as it was to nail focus on the eyes, the results really stood out.

Yes, there’s no way to transfer the aperture data of the lens into the images. But using this lens was a thoroughly enjoyable experience that produced results far beyond my expectations. My desires to dip my toes in the medium format world have been temporarily quelled by the Laowa 45mm f0.95 lens.

I’m giving the Venus Optics Argus Laowa 45mm f0.95 Z-mount lens five out of five stars. Want one? It’s usually going for around $799 at Adorama or Amazon.





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