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Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 CF APO Review: So. Much. Bokeh.

Venus Optics’ Laowa lenses have been growing in both notoriety and popularity over the last few years thanks to their nearly constant stream of new and interesting optics for a wide variety of mounts. The company’s latest is backed by the high-quality promise of its new Argus line: the Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 CF APO for APS-C systems.

The incredibly fast $500 50mm equivalent manual lens boasts an Apochromatic (APO) design — which should prevent or correct any chromatic and spherical aberrations — and is targeted at video shooters using APS-C systems. APS-C sensors generally means smaller optics, but the Argus bucks that trend and is by no means small. Weighing in at 590 grams (~20.8 ounces), you’ll definitely notice it making your camera a tad front heavy when attached on pretty much all modern APS-C cameras.

As for using with it, since my own work focuses mostly on still images instead of video (and PetaPixel as a whole focuses on still photography first and foremost), this review will be mostly from the perspective of a still shooter.

Build Quality and Design

The 33mm Argus is a great feeling lens with a solid metal build and mount giving it a “high-end” feel. Even though this lens is meant for smaller APS-C systems, the lens looks and feels just like its bigger cinema counterparts. The lens itself is quite sturdy with a smooth “clickless” aperture and focus ring, a sleek blue ring at the end of the barrel, and is finished with a rectangular lens hood for a little cinematic flair. The focus ring has just enough tension to feel a little resistance when making adjustments, while the aperture ring is left feeling slightly looser by comparison. Overall though, it’s wonderfully machined and feels great.

The only thing that threw me off on the aesthetic was the lens hood. Maybe my review sample is an outlier, but for some reason, it just does not sit symmetrically on the lens. That is to say, it sat just ever so slightly skewed to the right, and while this had absolutely zero impact on the shots I took, this tilt just kicked my OCD into overdrive and drove me crazy every time I had it mounted on the lens. It bothered me to such a degree that I just did not end up using it.

Focus and Aperture

Like many of the Laowa lenses in Venus Optics’s lineup, the 33mm f/0.95 Argus is a manual focus lens only. After weeks of using and testing cameras that specifically tout the speed of their autofocus systems, using this manual lens was actually kind of refreshing. Enabling focus peaking is a must when shooting at such wide-open apertures as the f/0.95 offered here, but even then, simply breathing can make you miss the shot so, be prepared to fire a few extra frames in order to assure you’ve nailed that perfect focus.

A bit of a frustrating point with this lens is despite the large and smooth focusing ring, there is an excessive amount of throw in it.

I practically have to stop and take a break every time I’d adjust from near to far focusing. You effectively have to rotate the focus ring almost entirely around (270 degrees) to go from the close 0.35 meter to infinity focus. If this were in a cinema rig that takes advantage of a pulling unit, this wouldn’t be an issue, but most shooters will definitely have to take two twists when quickly adjusting focus distance and likely you’ll miss some key moments if you’re shooting anything that’s not sitting still.

The extra pull does have some usefulness when you’re focusing up close as it allows you to really fine tune things, but if you’re using it as more of a walkabout lens, get working on your forearm strength.

As I mentioned above, the aperture ring is clickless which is ideal for video and will work great if the lens is mounted in a focus pulling kit or gimbal, but as a photographer, it was incredibly easy to accidentally shift the f-stop without immediately noticing. There were countless times while using this lens that I would set it to f/0.95 and it would shift to f/1.4 or f/2.8 by accident and I wouldn’t see it until I reviewed the shots. While I can see that having a clickless aperture is hugely useful in some cases, I think Laowa would have been better served giving us a click and de-click switch to make the lens more versatile like Sony does with its lenses. When in permanent de-clicked mode, it just feels like a cinema lens and not one that is tailored for photographers, which is a shame given the quality of images (more on that below).

Image Quality

How does this lens perform, especially considering the APO designation they claim? While we have not directly compared it yet to Mitakon or 7artisans rivals, from what I did shoot with the lens I found it to be surprisingly good, especially wide open in hard lighting situations. It was rather windy when I did some of the floral shots so nailing the focus was a challenge wide open, but the images were still pretty sharp and clean in the corners stepped up to f/2.8 but beyond that things got a little soft.

Does it perform the best here? No, but let’s be real: people don’t buy f/0.95 lenses for sharp images edge to edge at all apertures. They buy them for that super dreamy bokeh to draw attention to a subject that is very likely more centrally located in the frame. If it’s decently sharp there, that’s a win when the quality of the defocused area is nearly as important as what is in focus. While you can stop down with a lens like this, it’s not why you get one.

And speaking of those defocused areas, the bokeh on this lens is the reason to get it: it’s so dang nice. I did not notice any glaring rings or harsh spotting and only appreciated a soft, buttery goodness that the bokeh-addicts will absolutely love. I can see the Argus being used to create some incredibly dreamy portraits and even more interesting texture-driven and printable works of art.

The Apochromatic design of the lens supposedly ensures less color fringing and a much better color performance overall when compared to other fast lenses of similar focal length and aperture. This does not mean it will be sharper, only that you can expect better color accuracy in those extra shallow depth of field moments. Will there be vignetting when shooting wide open? Absolutely, but nothing unfamiliar and unexpected from a lens this shallow. The difference from the center to the corner edge is maybe about a stop of light when shooting closer objects and about two stops when shooting wide open for “landscape” images, but in both scenarios, the loss is easily recoverable in post.

Sample Images

Things I Liked

  1. Gorgeous bokeh
  2. Solid metal body and lens hood
  3. Smooth focus ring
  4. Sharper than I expected
  5. Chromatic abberation was minimal
  6. Great when set in a focus/aperture pulling kit for video
  7. Affordable price for a nifty fifty equivalent lens at f/0.95

Things I Didn’t Like

  1. Heavier than I expected for an APS-C lens
  2. Clickless Aperture ring seems like a cool idea, but is frustrating in practice
  3. The amount of focus throw is almost obscene
  4. Crooked Lens hood drove me crazy
  5. Great for video, iffy for still work

Super Bokeh, But Is It Useful For Still Work?

The Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 CF APO is the company’s first entry in its series of “high quality” lenses under the Argus branding. It seems like a fantastic lens for videographers and is definitely a good sign of things to come from the company. While there are a few things I did not enjoy about this lens — the tilted lens hood, the amount of focus throw, and the “loose” aperture ring that would occasionally mess up my shots — I still think it can be a fantastic addition to have in your APS-C kit. This opinion leans even more positive if you’re a video shooter. For photographers specifically, its quirks can be annoying, but perhaps worth it for the bokeh it produces.

Are there Alternatives?

This lens is rather unique in its positioning with its only real rivals being similar lenses from Mitakon and 7artisans which have pretty good reputations for the most part. Venus Optics claims its control of aberrations is superior and has many samples to back that up, but it will be up to you to decide based on the images I show here and any samples the company has shared.

Should You Buy It?

Yes, for the most part. If you are a hybrid shooter that does both video and stills, then the Laowa Argus CF 33mm f/0.95 APO lens would definitely be a welcome addition to your kit for only $500. On the other hand, if you focus solely on stills, there are other options out there with autofocus that will treat you better for “in the moment” and action-based shooting situations. You’ll just have to settle for f/1.4 or f/1.8 and miss out on some of that extra bokeh found here.

Laowa has now (definitely) officially announced their full-frame Argus 33mm f/0.95 lens

This whole Laowa Argus lens lineup thing’s been a bit of a ride. The first indication that they were coming was back in January last year. In March, rumours appeared of six new lenses coming, to be expected in 2021. In December, an image of a 35mm f/0.95 was leaked. And in January this year, […]

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The new Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 CF APO for APS-C has arrived

The new Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 CF APO for APS-CFirst revealed by multiple rumor websites, long before it was supposed to be announced, the Argus family of lenses from Venus Optics is finally here, starting with the Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 CF APO.

Venus Optics finally confirms the introduction of the first of its Laowa Argus family of lenses, the Argus 33mm f/0.95 CF APO for APS-C, which will be available this month, for a price of $499.00, first for Fuji X and Sony E mount, with versions for Nikon Z and Canon RF starting shipping by the end of May.

As a side note, it’s interesting to see how companies name their lenses. Argus, the name chosen by Laowa for this series, comes, according to the company, from the Greek mythology “and was the name of a vigilant guardian with a hundred eyes and an “all-seeing” sight”. Argus Panoptes, the complete name of the mythical figure, is a many eye giant known for having generated the saying “the eyes of Argus”. Venus Optics says that the name was chosen because it represents “the ultra-bright f/0.95 aperture of the lenses and the exceptional image quality they deliver.”

The new Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 CF APO for APS-CThe “eyes of Argus” in this case will be not one but four lenses, as revealed at the start of the year by rumor websites. They are the Laowa Argus 25mm f/0.95 for Micro Four Thirds, Laowa Argus 35mm and 45mm f/0.95 for full-frame, and this Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 CF APO for APS-C. Multiple “eyes of Argus” covering a variety of formats, all offering a super fast aperture, perfect for low light photography.

The 35mm f/0.95 is the first released lens of what Venus Optics says is “the much anticipated Argus line.” Featuring the ultra fast f/0.95 aperture with APO design, the lens offers photographers and videographers a classic focal length for everyday shooting and a versatility to shoot at difficult lighting conditions. According to Venus Optics, “the lens delivers exception image quality wide-open and suppresses the chromatic aberration to the minimal. Coupled with the 35mm (1.15 feet) minimum focus distance, a buttery smooth and exquisite bokeh rendering can easily be created.

The new Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 CF APO for APS-CA lens for narrative filmmaking

The lens will be appreciated by photographers for portraits, low light photography, and astrophotography, but videographers will find “multiple touches of videographer friendly features for narrative filmmaking”, from minimum focus breathing to a stepless aperture ring. Here are the key features that videographers will appreciate:

  • Low Focus Breathing
    Venus Optics also attempted to compress the focus breathing of this new Argus lens to the minimal in its class. This is perfect for narrative filming where the distraction of the framing changes is no more.
  • Stepless Aperture
    The stepless aperture ring allows videographers to adjust and control the exposure smoothly.
  • Extended focus throw with 62mm filter thread
    Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 CF APO has a long focus throw (300°) and allows photographers and videographers to have a precise control of the focus over the shallow depth of field for isolating the subject better. A 62mm filter thread is designed to fit with screw-in filters.
  • Internal Focus Design with a small form factor
    An internal focus optics design has been adopted so that the lens will not extend in length during focusing, it offers additional stability and prevents dust from getting into the lens. It is particularly useful for videographers where add-on accessories like matte-box are often used. Venus Optics still managed to keep the lens compact (3.26” / 83mm long) and lightweight (590 g/1.3 lbs) despite the internal focus design.

Venus Optics says that the lens was designed to deliver impressive performance at wide-open aperture. It incorporates one Extra-low Dispersion Glass, one Aspherical Lens and three Ultra High Refraction Glass to suppress both lateral and longitudinal chromatic aberration (CA) to the minimal at all apertures in its class. It also delivers an exceptional image sharpness across the frame.

The new Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 CF APO for APS-CButtery smooth bokeh

The fast aperture makes handheld shooting at low light situations much easier, meaning that you can now tell your story in any condition without compromising your image with higher ISO. As an extra bonus, you get a shallow depth of field that offers great versatility for selective focus and isolate the subject for a better story telling.  The 9 circular aperture blades produce smooth, round bokeh with no hard edges.

The new Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 CF APO for APS-CThe closest focusing distance of 35cm (1.15 feet) from subject to sensor allows photographers to capture different perspectives with details of the object, with clean images at both ‘in-focus’ and ‘out-of-focus’ areas. The fast f/0.95 aperture concurs with the focusing distance to offer a close up shot with shallow depth of field, allowing you to create buttery smooth bokeh with breathtaking close-up details, for visually and aesthetically appealing images.

Venus Optics introduces its first lens of the f/0.95 ‘Argus’ line, Laowa ‘Argus’ 33mm f/0.95 CF APO with a clear invitation to photographers: start capturing chromatic aberration-free image at f/0.95. If a manual focusing lens is in your plans, the name Argus is one to keep in mind.

Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 CF APO Announced

Laowa has announced the Argus 33mm f/0.95 CF APO, the first lens in its new ‘Argus’ line‘. The name Argus comes from Greek mythology and is the name of a vigilant guardian with a hundred eyes and an all-seeing sight. Laowa is no stranger to making interesting and unique lenses, and the ‘Argus’ line looks … Continued

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Laowa 1.33x Rear Anamorphic Adapter Review

The Laowa 1.33x Rear Anamorphic Adapter has only recently made it to market. It was first showcased way back in September 2019 and it has taken a long time to start shipping. Above you can see our interview with Laowa about the 1.33x Rear Anamorphic adapter from IBC 2019. So what is it and what … Continued

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Laowa releases 1.33x Rear Anamorphic lens adapter and 1.4x Full Frame Expander

Laowa has announced available for its new 1.33x Rear Anamorphic Adapter and 1.4x Full Frame Expander Adapter. Both the front and rear of each adapter features a PL mount, letting you add anamorphic capabilities to your PL mount lenses on your PL mount cameras, or expand the field of view of Super 35mm PL mount […]

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Laowa Unveils 1.33x Rear Anamorphic Adapter, 1.4x Full Frame Expander

Venus Optics has announced the 1.4x Full Frame Expander and 1.33x Rear Anamorphic Adapter in PL to PL mount. The anamorphic adapter expands the filming canvas to a 2.35:1 cinematic widescreen ratio on a 16:9 sensor and the 1.4x Full Frame Expander expands the coverage from Super35 into full-frame.

In the case of both adapters, Laowa claims that there is no hit in resolution or image quality, but there are some tradeoffs for each.

For example, when paired with Laowa’s OOOM 25-100mm T2.9 Cine Lens, the 1.33x Anamorphic Adapter can successfully expand the film canvas but does not produce the oval bokeh or horizontal field of view like a true anamorphic lens would, but Laowa says that it still introduces “cinematic character” and can create that distinctive anamorphic flare look. When using the adapter, lenses lose a half stop of light as well.

Below is a full list of compatible lenses, other than Laowa’s OOOM:

  • Angenieux 28-340mm Optimo Zoom T3.2

  • Angenieux 24-290mm Optimo Zoom T2.8
  • Angenieux Optimo Style 16-40mm T2.8 Zoom

  • Angenieux Optimo Style 30-76mm T2.8 Zoom

  • Carl Zeiss Supreme Prime 25 mm T1.5
  • Carl Zeiss Supreme Prime 29 mm T1.5
  • Carl Zeiss Supreme Prime 35 mm T1.5
Carl Zeiss Supreme Prime 50 mm T1.5

  • Carl Zeiss Supreme Prime 85 mm T1.5
Carl Zeiss Compact Prime 15mm T2.9 

  • Carl Zeiss Compact Prime 18 mm T2.9

  • Carl Zeiss Compact Prime 25 mm T2.1
  • Carl Zeiss Compact Prime 28 mm T2.1

  • Carl Zeiss Compact Prime 35 mm T2.1

  • Carl Zeiss Compact Prime 50 mm T2.1

  • Carl Zeiss Compact Prime 85 mm T2.1

  • ARRI 18-80mm Alura Studio Zoom T2.6
ARRI 45-250MM T2.6

Venus Optics proided a few sample screenshots showing how footage that uses the adapter looks:

The 1.4x Full-Frame Expander can offset the aberrations found on cinema lenses and also expand the coverage from Super35 to Full-Frame. Laowa says that it does this while also maintaining the “vintage characters and excellent optical performance” of the lens. During the expansion, one stop of light is lost, which isn’t a terrible tradeoff for turning a high-end lens designed for Super35 sensors into an optic that can work on full-frame cameras.

The Expander also has a specially-designed back-focus adjustment mechanism that replaces what Venus Optics describes as a “tedious procedure of back focus adjustments by shims.”

Below is a list of compatible lenses, again other than the Laowa OOOM:

  • Angenieux EZ-2 15-40mm T2.0

  • Angenieux EZ-1 30-90mm T2.0 
  • Angenieux EZ-1 45-135MM T3

  • Angenieux EZ2 FF 22-60mm T3

  • Canon CN-E 15.5-47mm T2.8 L S Wide-Angle Cinema Zoom
Canon CN-E 30-105mm T2.8 L S Telephoto Cinema Zoom
  • ARRI Ultra Prime 85mm T1.9

  • Carl Zeiss Supreme Prime 29 mm T1.5

  • Carl Zeiss Cinema Zoom 15-30mm

Both adapters are built entirely of metal, are shipped with a protective case, and are available for $1000 each or as a bundle together for $1,800.

Laowa 1.33x Rear Anamorphic Adapter & 1.4x Full Frame Expander now available

The Laowa 1.33x Rear Anamorphic Adapter and 1.4x Full Frame Expander are finally available to purchase. Laowa first showcased these adapters way back in September 2019 and they have taken a long time to start shipping. Above you can see our interview with Laowa about the 1.33x Rear Anamorphic adapter from IBC 2019. 1.33x Rear … Continued

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Laowa 15mm f/4.5 Shift Lens: Perfect for Architecture Photography?

Photographer and content creator Manny recently tried out the Laowa 15mm f/4.5 Shift Lens which, while clearly very niche, he argues can be used very effectively for architecture photography in this 12-minute video.

The Laowa 15mm f/4.5 was announced late last year and was called the widest shift lens for full-frame cameras. It is available for several different mounts in both mirrorless and DSLR formats.

While using shift lenses in architecture photography is extremely common, many of those photographers are using high-end optics like Canon’s tilt-shift series for the EF mount. The Laowa isn’t cheap by any means, but it’s nearly half the price of a Canon equivalent: the Laowa 15mm f/4.5 Zero-D is $1,200 while the Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L is $2,150.

For those unfamiliar, shift lenses are a type of lens that allows you to adjust your perspective by manually shifting a lens up and down via a specific joint located in front of the flange. If you take multiple photos at different levels of shift, you can stitch the images together in post and effectively eliminate converging vertical lines. In short, shifting a lens can result in images with perfectly straight lines, which is ideal for high-end architecture photography.

This is not to be confused with the tilt functionality of some lenses like the aforementioned Canon TS-E series. Tilting a lens moves the lens plane in such a way that it is no longer parallel to the image sensor and therefore changes the plane of focus. Tilting is what gives the “miniature” effect to well-known tilt-shift photos and videos.

In order for the Laowa 15mm f/4.5 to be valuable, it must therefore be a solid performer that gets “close enough” to the Canon TS-E lenses in order to both its reasonably high price for a third-party lens.

According to Manny, the lens does a very good job at hitting the most important aspect of a good shift lens: straight vertical lines.

“It produces superb quality: the sharpness is there from the center to corner, though you will see slight dropoff on the corners,” Manny says. “Because this is a zero distortion lens, you can hardly see any distortion within the image. All of the lines are almost perfectly straight.”

That said, there is one major downside to the lens according to Manny.

“When it comes to controlling lens flare, it’s not great,” he says. “Especially if you are shoot at night time and towards street lights, you will see a huge amount of lens flare and smear on the image, which is not ideal.”

Still, for half the price of a competitor lens, its usability during the day should be no problem at all according to Manny.

For more from Manny you can follow him on Instagram or subscribe to his YouTube Channel.

Image credits: Photos by Manny and used with permission.