Regulars know we only rarely review APS-C lenses, but a 33mm f/0.95 lens with floating elements did manage to catch my attention, especially as it should give an idea of what to expect from the future full frame lenses of Laowa’s Argus line, so let us see what the Laowa 33mm 0.95 CF has in store for us!
You can find most of the sample images in full resolution here.
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- Chromatic aberration
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Specifications / Version History
With 14 elements in 9 groups the Laowa 33mm 0.95 is a rather complex prime lens and im combination with the metal barrel this also leads to substantial weight. The full specifications are:
- Diameter: 71.5 mm
- Field of view: 46.2° (diagonally, APS-C)
- Length: 83 mm
- Weight: 575g (without hood, without caps)
- Filter Diameter: 62 mm
- Number of Aperture Blades: 9 (slightly rounded)
- Elements/Groups: 14/9
- Close Focusing Distance: 0.35 m
- Maximum Magnification: 1:7.8
- Mount: Sony E (APS-C)
The Laowa 33mm 0.95 CF is a full manual lens without any electronic contacts or communication with your camera. Focus as well as aperture need to be set manually on the lens.
The focus ring has a really nice resistance and turns a little more than 270° from the minimum focus distance of 0.35 m to infinity. This is a rather long focus throw which I think is a very good design choice for an f/0.95 lens where you will often deal with shallow depth of field and need to be able to set precise focus.
The aperture ring is a bit disappointing as Laowa took a step back from previous lenses like the Laowa 15mm 2.0 Zero-D FE: there are no click stops (therefore also no de-click-feature) and the stops are not equidistant. Some people more into video may like the clicklessness, but to me it happened very often that I accidentally changed the aperture value.
So compared to some other chinese lenses – especially the TTArtisan ones manufactured by DJ-Optical – the aperture ring feels a bit cheap here.
What sets the Laowa 33mm 0.95 apart from almost all the other chinese non-Laowa lenses is the floating elements and internal focus design. This makes a huge difference as we will see in the sharpness sections.
The outer casing of the lens seems to be made from a mix of high quality polycarbonate and metal parts, markings are engraved and filled with paint.
The lens comes with a bayonet type rectangular metal hood. I quite like these designs for being less bulky than the usual hoods but they also make using a filter in combination with the hood more difficult.
For an APS-C lens the Laowa 33mm 0.95 CF is not small, it is similar in size to e.g. the Laowa 15mm 2.0 FE or the Sony FE 35mm 1.4 GM.
light falloff (APS-C)
The values are comparable to those of other fast lenses, stopped down the vignetting is actually less severe than I would have expected.
light falloff (Fullframe)
Now I am sure – as it is the case with every APS-C lens – you are wondering how much of the fullframe area this lens covers. This highly depends on the focus distance. As a general rule of thumb remember this: vignetting is always significantly reduced as you focus closer, keep that in mind when someone shows you a picture of a flower he found on his balcony telling you “APS-C lens xy totally covers fullframe, bargain of the year!!!”.
Furthermore the transition between black and not black is significantly softer at wider apertures, so it also gets worse when you stop down.
Also consider that bokeh as well as sharpness deteoriate big time when leaving the APS-C area.
Nevertheless, technically the lens covers a bit more than the APS-C area, so here is a comparison between fullframe uncropped, fullframe cropped so that there are no black edges at f/0.95 and the APS-C framing:
Fast lenses usually show a noticeable amount of optical vignetting. Without going too much into technical details optical vignetting leads to the truncation of light circles towards the borders of the frame.
In the center of the frame almost every lens will render a perfect circle, but only lenses with very low optical vignetting will keep this shape in the corners.
So in the following comparison we move from the center (left) to the extreme corner (right) and see how the shape of the light circle changes.
The Laowa 33mm 0.95 was set to 0.6 m focus distance, results may vary at other distances.
Optical vignetting is noticeable at wider apertures, as is to be expected from an f/0.95 lens. An average performance.
infinity (18mp Sony A7rII in crop mode)
When we compare the Laowa 33mm f/0.95’s results to those obtained with other f/0.95 lenses I reviewed here they look simply spectacular. There is no relevant field curvature, the midframe looks almost as good as the center and even the corners might be good enough at wider apertures for some use cases.
Stopped down to f/8.0 the performance across the whole frame leaves little to be desired, which is also rare for super fast lenses like this.
Now to put things into perspective the other f/0.95 lenses I reviewed are fullframe 50mm lenses.
So instead we might have to compare the Laowa 33mm 0.95 to the TTArtisan 50mm 1.4, which will give a comparable subject isolation when used on a fullframe camera and features an entrance pupil of the same size.
Here we see a better midframe on the Laowa lens at wider apertures whereas the corners get to very good levels 2 stops earlier on the TTArtisan lens, still, I would call this a draw and the f/0.95 lens should be the lens harder to design here.
In the end I am pleasantly surprised by the Laowa’s performance in this category.
portrait distance (1.4 m)
For portraiture it isn’t so important how flat the field is, it is more interesting to see what the sharpness is like when focused at different parts of the frame to take field curvature out of the equation.
This is what I did here, I refocused for every shot and aperture to get the best possible result at different locations in the frame (center, inner midframe and outer midframe).
Focus distance was roughly 1.4 m and the circle of the dollar bill is more or less the size of a human eye.
100% crops, A7rII
Away from the center the Laowa 33mm 0.95 CF is a bit soft at the maximum aperture, but astigmatism is generally well corrected and for portraiture applications it should yield pleasing results.
This lens fares noticeably better here than the fullframe 50mm f/0.95 lenses I have reviewed (e.g. TTArtisan 50mm 0.95 or Zhong Yi 50mm 0.95), but a well corrected fullframe 50mm f/1.4 lens has a slight edge (e.g. TTArtisan 50mm 1.4).
Unlike on not-as-well-corrected super fast lenses setting precise focus off center was not an issue with this lens.
close (0.35 m, 1:7.8)
100% crops from center, A7rII
Now at the minimum focus distance things get really interesting. What is surprising is the almost complete absence of spherical aberration even at the maximum aperture.
If you look at reviews of (even way more expensive) fast lenses without a floating elements design you will notice very soft images, but this is not the case here: the Laowa 33mm 0.95 is very contrasty and high resolving, even at f/0.95.
Have a look at some of my other reviews to see the difference: Zhong Yi 50mm 0.95 M, TTArtisan 50mm 0.95, Voigtländer 50mm 1.2 E to only name a few.
Now there is a price to be paid for that and that (apart from size and weight) is very high field curvature which is easily visible in the f/0.95 crop. If you are taking pictures of a flat subject it takes at least f/5.6 for decent across frame performance, but don’t get me wrong: this level of spherical aberration correction is amazing for a lens with these parameters and it is the first f/0.95 lens that is actually usable at the minimum focus distance.
If you don’t know what spherical aberration and field curvature means maybe have a look at this article.
As always evaluating flare is a complex matter since you can get any lens to look bad if you push it hard enough and a slight change of scenario can affect results a lot.
At wider apertures there are some obvious issues though: with a strong point light source in the frame a big ring flare appears and veiling flare also is an issue. Both these things improve on stopping down but here you will get some severe ghosting.
You should also really use the hood, as you can see from the picture above where I forgot it at home.
Also at night strong light sources will yield a ring flare at wider apertures. Considering the big and plenty lens elements the performance is not a big surprise, still I was hoping for a bit better, but maybe you are one of those that love lens flares in their pictures and like to use them for artistic purposes.
100% crops from APS-C corner, focused on center, A7rII
Coma is visible at wider apertures as was to be expected, but other f/0.95 lenses have fared significantly worse here. It still needs stopping down to f/5.6 to reduce this aberration to very low levels though.
Sony A7rII | Laowa 33mm 0.95 CF | f/2.8
There is low barrel distortion visible with a very slight waviness towards the corners. Lightroom does not feature a correction profile, but as the distortion is mostly uniform, dialing in +4 is doing a decent job.
If you are considering an f/0.95 lens it is probably because of the shallow depth of field it can yield. When it comes to bokeh there is not only quantity though, but also quality, so let us have a closer look how the lens performs at different distances.
As is ususally the case in close focus scenarios the bokeh is smooth and non-distracting, what is unusual compared to the other f/0.95 lenses I have reviewed is the high sharpness and resolution at these distances:
At head and shoulder portrait distance the blur is still very smooth but the cat’s eye bokeh towards the corners becomes more obvious. Still, it looks really nice to my eyes.
Now at longer focus distances the effect of optical vignetting becomes obvious, have a look how the water looks close to the center of the frame compared to the border regions: it looks less out of focus due to the optical vignetting:
Similar to e.g. the Sigma 50mm 1.4 EX we also see triangle shaped highlights towards the corners.
Personally, I still like the bokeh rendering of the lens as it is mostly smooth and undistracting, this is a subjective topic though, so best have a look at the sample images provided and decide for yourself if you like what you see.
crops from center, A7rII
The Laowa 33mm 0.95 CF has 9 rounded aperture blades which are well but not perfecly aligned therefore the sunstars are not well defined, especially at wider apertures. Between f/8.0 and f/11 they do look decent though. If you want to learn more about this topic have a look at this article.
Lateral CA are very well corrected by the optical design and nothing to worry about.
Laowa gave the 33mm 0.95 CF the Apo tag and from what I have seen this is well deserved. It may not be completely free of longitudinal CA, but considering the maximum aperture of f/0.95 the performance is really, really good, as you can see from the following picture, where there are only small traces of outlining visible.
Nowadays there are plenty of fast ~35mm APS-C lenses available: 7Artisans offers a 35mm f/1.2 (already MK II) as well as a 35mm f/0.95. Zhong Yi also offers a 35mm f/0.95, Meike a 35mm f/1.2 and then we have plenty of 35mm f/1.4 lenses more, even some with autofocus. I haven’t used any of those, so if you want to know more about them you have to look at other reliable sources, e.g. Lenstip, Cameralabs or Mirrorlessons who more often review APS-C stuff.
What I can tell you is that the Laowa 33mm 0.95 is the most sophisticated, featuring the highest element count as well as a floating elements design. Therefore I expect way better performance at closer distances compared to the competition. It might also be the heaviest and biggest of these lenses though.
Now all the f/0.95 lenses released so far, except for the unobtainably expensive Leica 50mm 0.95 and Nikon 58mm 0.95, have been rather simple unit focus designs with plenty of compromises like subpar sharpness at closer distances as well as infinity, really bad coma correction, severe issues with longitudinal CA and bad flare resistance.
When I saw the optical design – and taking into account the experience of Laowa’s lens designer – I was hoping for some improvements and in many categories this is what we got: sharpness is significantly better than on the other f/0.95 lenses I have used as is the CA correction. Coma correction – while not great – is much better, too. Flare resistance is an issue with this lens as well though and we still don’t have electronic contacts for E-mount, unfortunately.
If you are using a fullframe camera it is probably a better idea to get a good 50mm f/1.4 lens in the first place which will do the same thing in a more compact package. But if you are an APS-C shooter this is a good option to get the subject separation and low light capabilities of a fullframe 50mm f/1.4 lens for your APS-C camera and at a decent price point.
Now I am not an APS-C shooter, but I enjoyed using this lens and now I really hope the upcoming fullframe Laowa f/0.95 lenses will be a lot like this: good sharpness thanks to a floating elements design, nice bokeh, fair price.
You can find most of the sample images in full resolution here.
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