Venus Optics Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 CF APO Review | Under F/1.0 For Under $500!
If you want an ultra-fast prime lens, you have to pay a fortune, right? Maybe not! There are more and more lenses on the market that are hitting impressively bright, wide apertures such as f/1.2, f/1, and yes, now even f/0.95. In this Venus Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 review, we’ll tell you why it’s one of the best options around.
Venus Optics is not making cheap knock-off lenses out of plastic. Their entire Laowa lineup has been made of pretty much all metal; very solid and sturdy, and much better quality overall than most other third-party options. Often, they cost a fraction of the price, too!
In this review, I’ll answer a few very important questions that you might (and should!) ask about this lens. First and foremost, is it any good? (Seriously, for just $499, how can an f/0.95 lens be very good?) It may be a solid chunk of metal and glass, but how good is the image quality, and smoothly does it actually feel in use?
Let’s dive in and find out! SPOILER ALERT: No, it’s not perfectly sharp at f/0.95. What did you expect? It is, however, an incredible lens that I am going to recommend, depending on the type of photography you do and what your own creative style is. The characteristic look of extremely shallow depth and creamy bokeh are something to behold!
Venus Optics Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 CF APO | Specifications
- FOCAL LENGHT & ANGLE OF VIEW: 33mm, (50mm full-frame equivalent)
- LENS MOUNT(S): Sony E, Fuji X, Nikon Z, Canon RF (Remember, this is an APS-C lens!)
- APERTURE & RANGE: f/0.95 to f/11
- STABILIZATION: No
- AUTOFOCUS: No
- MANUAL FOCUS: Internal manual focus, minimal focus breathing, long focus throw, physical distance markings & hyperfocal markings
- OPTICAL CONSTRUCTION: 14 elements in 9 groups, 1 aspherical, extra-low dispersion, 3 ultra-high refraction elements
- MECHANICAL CONSTRUCTION: Metal mount, barrel, focus ring, and hood
- MAGNIFICATION & FOCUS DISTANCE: 13.8 in (35 cm)
- FILTER THREADS & HOOD: Metal hood, plastic slide-on lens cap, 62mm filter threads
- SIZE: 2.8 x 3.3 in (71.5 x 83 mm)
- WEIGHT: 20.8 oz (590 g)
- PRICE: $499.00
Venus Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 Review | Who Should Buy It?
With most prime lenses having relatively fast apertures of f/2, f/1.8, or f/1.4, you might wonder just how important or useful it is to have an aperture of f/0.95. Honestly, most photographers will never even mount a lens on their camera that is faster than f/1.8, and some photographers will be perfectly happy with lenses that are no faster than f/2.8.
The aperture f/0.95 is, in fact, roughly two whole stops faster than f/1.8, and more than 3 stops faster than f/2.8. Simply put, that difference in aperture offers you three distinct advantages:
Light-Gathering (Low-Light Photography)
First, of course, you get more light-gathering ability. The lens is brighter, which means you can achieve a “good” or “correct” exposure in darker, lower light. For both photographers and photographers, the many ways this advantage can be useful are obvious.
And, yes, you can film video of the Milky Way galaxy with this lens. It’s not as bright as if there is just a faint bit of moonlight, of course, and a full moon with this lens will look like broad daylight!
Faster Shutter Speeds (Low-Light Action Photography)
Secondly, that improved light-gathering ability also means that, if you’re not interested in shooting in darker and darker conditions, what it translates into is a faster shutter speed in similar lighting conditions. If you’re shooting active subjects in light that is relatively dim, but still not pitch-dark, you’ll be able to freeze that action, and/or shoot hand-held instead of needing a tripod, etc.
More Background Blur (Portraits, Fine-Art Photography)
Thirdly, a bigger, wider aperture equals more shallow depth of field, more background blur. This is useful to some photographers, however, it also has drawbacks. On the one hand, beautifully shallow background blur is a wonderful thing to have for things like portraits and fine-art photography. On the other hand, they are not very advantageous at all for subjects like landscape photography, or basically any photographic style where you are pretty much always working at stopped-down apertures such as f/5.6 or f/8.
Is There Such A Thing As Too Shallow Depth?
Honestly, though? Lots of portrait photographers are happy with the shallow depth they get with their f/1.4 or f/1.8 prime lenses, and with good reason. Those apertures are a good balance of a subject being in-focus and a background being blurred. Because, with extremely fast apertures, you start to run the risk of a portrait having literally nothing but a subject’s eyelashes and eyeballs appearing in-focus, and their nose, ears, and most of their hair are distractingly out of focus!
Therefore, shooting at f/0.95, or even at f/1.0, f/1.2, or f/1.4, is something you have to be very careful and selective about. Your subject should usually be far enough away from your camera that it can be in focus, and then you can still trust the fast aperture to substantially blur the background. That, right there, is the magic of an f/0.95 lens. Not so much in getting up-close with a subject, so close that shallow depth means that almost nothing is in focus, (although that can be creative too!) …but mostly, in achieving more background blur at normal distances, where the viewer’s eye simply isn’t used to seeing such a blurred background.
So, ask yourself, what is your subject matter, and what is your personal style as a creative artist, too? Could either technical or the creative/artistic merits of f/0.95 be useful to you? Maybe!
Venus Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 Review | Pros & Cons
The advantages and disadvantages of this lens don’t just revolve around whether or not you “need” f/0.95, of course. The other main strength of this lens overall is the fact that it is very well-suited to video shooting, with a smooth manual aperture ring and an extremely long focus throw. (300 degrees; that is, more than 3/4 of an entire barrel rotation!)
Aside from that, the pros and cons are pretty straightforward with this lens. It’s very well built, and its features set such as smooth manual focusing, (and no autofocus, and no stabilization) make it pretty easy to decide if such a lens is right for you or not.
Before we get into the technical aspects of image quality, let me just begin by saying that the images are gorgeous from this lens. Creatively, the lens is just a delight to point at your subject(s) because of the way it renders them from the moment you first look through the viewfinder. The “look” is just beautiful.
Is the image quality technically perfect? No, but then again, if you were to compare it against most other lenses on the market, let alone other lenses in its price range, you would have to stop the Argus 33mm way down to, say, f/1.8 or f/2.8, in which case image quality sees a massive improvement.
Wide-open at f/0.95, the Argus 33mm is, in fact, sharp throughout most of the image frame. However, fine image detail does not have the same “bite” that you can expect from, say, a Sony GM lens. There aren’t any Sony G-master lenses that offer an f/0.95 aperture, of course; in fact, there is only one Sony GM lens that offers an f/1.2 aperture; most GM lenses are f/1.4, f/1.8 or slower.
That is important to keep in mind as we study the sharpness. It’s not perfect at f/0.95, however, if you stop down to f/1.2, f/1.4, or f/1.8, you begin to get very impressive resolution.
Simply put, if you want f/0.95, you take what you can get, because the competing options (other third-parties, not Sony, more on that later) are just not as good.
The creamy, buttery background blur is what this lens is all about, plain and simple. Not only is the depth of field extremely shallow, as you would expect from such a fast aperture, but the actual character of the blur itself is very pleasing. This is, of course, the advantage that you get with a lens that is optimized for not just sheer resolution, but the character of the images as well.
Even under challenging conditions with potentially “busy” bokeh, such as repetitive patterns, or harsh contrast, the Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 delivers beautiful images.
When stopping down, bokeh stays very aesthetically pleasing, even though shallow depth decreases. So, even if you buy this lens to be used at more normal apertures like f/1.4 or f/2, you’ll still get to enjoy beautiful background blur, of course.
Colors & Contrast
Again, colors and contrast are beautiful, however, contrast is a bit flattened and colors are just a tiny bit muted when using the lens wide-open. By the time you stop down one stop or so, you get clear, crisp, vibrant images.
One category that I want to add to this lens review that I don’t normally cover specifically is the blooming highlights effect. On lenses that are ever-so-slightly soft wide-open, there is a unique effect that happens with high-contrast, near-white highlights such as seen above: they cause a unique sort of aberration; the bright whiteness “blooms” or “bleeds” over to nearby subjects.
This is especially a potential problem with an f/0.95 lens because it’s not always possible to work at such a bright aperture in bright daytime conditions! Even on a camera with a base ISO of 100 and a max shutter speed as high as 1/8000, bright sun is simply too bright for f/0.95, period. So, if you photograph bright, high-contrast highlights, and especially in sunny conditions, you can expect to see them “bloom”.
Vignetting & Distortion
Venus/Laowa pride themselves in creating lenses with very little to no distortion, and this Argus 33mm delivers a high standard in terms of minimal distortion.
However, as you might imagine with such an ultra-fast lens, vignetting is very present at f/0.95, and it stays quite noticeable until you are stopped all the way down to f/2.8 or f/4. Having said that, many lenses are still wide-open at f/2.8 or f/4, and with that in mind, the vignetting of this lens still offers an overall advantage in terms of light-gathering.
In other words, you’ll probably get more light-gathering out of this lens (off-center) at f/2.8 than an f/2.8 zoom that is wide-open.
Sunstars & Flare
Flare is either a complete wash of warm glow when the aperture is open, or relatively nonexistent when the lens is stopped down. Good!
Laowa lenses always have quite good sun stars, and with the widest aperture being f/0.95, you’ll start to see sun stars as early as f/2.8!
Color Fringing, Aberration, Coma & Astigmatism
This lens definitely has coma and sagittal astigmatism when the aperture is faster than f/2.8. If you were expecting to get Nikkor “Noct” performance for under $500, your expectations are simply unreal.
Having said that, as far as f/0.95 goes, the performance is truly impressive. In fact, the “coma wings” are actually far, far less noticeable on this lens than virtually all of the old manual focus lenses from years ago. By f/2, I would consider this a very respectable optic for nightscape or astrophotography.
Macro & Close-Up Photography
When focusing as close as possible, (Which is decently close, but not “macro” territory) you really see the most magnificent bokeh possible, especially for an APSC sensor. This lens will just destroy your background, so to speak.
Also, whatever sliver of your subject does manage to fall into the ultra-thin plane of focus, will, in fact, still be about as sharply rendered as it would be from further away, as long as it is relatively close to the dead-center of the frame. Once your subject is off-center, then at the closest distance of ~13 inches, off-center subjects are quite soft or even downright blurry at virtually all apertures.
Design & Durability
Now that you know everything about this lens’s image quality, let’s talk about its physical and other qualities! Indeed, it is solidly built, and you feel it when you first pick up the lens. It’s not just made of metal, the actual physical performance feels very professional.
Both the focus ring and the aperture ring are buttery smooth. With the aperture ring being fully de-clicked, and the focus ring’s whopping 300 degrees of throw, the physical design is definitely very video-friendly.
Also, both photographers and videographers alike will be happy to see physical focus markings, indeed even hyperfocal markings etched on the lens barrel. Very nicely done and professional-looking, Venus Optics!
Honestly, the only complaint I can come up with is this: Although the hood itself is a great, sturdy metal one-piece hood with full rectangular coverage, the cap that slips on over the hood is also a single piece of plastic, and it does not clip on as securely as traditional lens hoods. Unless you are very attentive to how you put the lens in your camera bag, the cap will probably start falling off the hood after a lot of use.
The Argus 33mm is very well-made, with mostly all-metal parts, however, it is not a weather-sealed optic. That’s not too big of a risk since there are no electronics within the lens, however, if any moisture gets deep inside the lens, or seeps into the camera body itself through the lens, then you’re in trouble. Thus, although I wouldn’t hesitate to use the 33mm f/0.95 in inclement weather, I also wouldn’t leave it uncovered in a torrential downpour, of course.
Manual Focus Performance
One of the features that Laowa touts regarding this lens is its smooth, long focus throw. Indeed, in real-world use, the Argus 33mm f/0.95 is a delight to focus manually with. The physical focus ring, which is mechanically coupled to the optics, offers perfectly responsive, buttery smooth focusing.
Also, the focus throw is indeed nice and long, allowing for maximum precision, which is very useful for both photo and video shooters, especially considering how thin the plane of focus is at such fast apertures.
Here’s something that video shooters will really like: there is negligible focus breathing with the Argus 33mm f/0.95. That means that when you’re “pulling focus”, you won’t really notice any of that “zooming in” or “zooming out” effect that can be visible in your foreground and background. Again, this is impressive for such a relatively compact, and quite an affordable lens.
Once again, I have to start this section by saying, “if you’re shopping for a lens with an f/0.95 aperture…” …because that really is where the majority of the value lies for this lens.
So, let me put it this way: if you’re looking for such an extremely fast lens, some competitors could cost you thousands of dollars; indeed, as much as $8,000, for the Nikon Z 58mm f/0.95 Noct. That is a full-frame lens, admittedly, so f/0.95 on full-frame isn’t a fair comparison of light-gathering or shallow-depth versus this APS-C lens. Still, if you look at the f/1.2 full-frame 50mm primes out there, you’re still going to spend about $2,000 for a name-brand optic.
This APS-C format, 33mm (~50mm full-frame equivalent) f/0.95 lens stands relatively alone in terms of what it offers in value.
We’ll talk about the competition next. Hint: This Venus Laowa lens is still a better value, because of how its price tag compares to its overall performance and physical quality.
Venus Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 Review | Compared To The Competition
F/0.95 is rarified territory for me, even as a portrait photographer who greatly appreciates shallow depth, so I had to go on B&H and search for f/0.95 lenses, just to see how many there were!
Surprisingly, if you add up all the different mounts, (meaning, some lenses are counted 2-3 times, and some are made exclusively for Micro Four Thirds, while others are compatible with full-frame) …there are THIRTY other mirrorless lenses with this same aperture, and even a handful of lenses with f/0.85 or f/0.8 apertures!)
Other Mirrorless F/0.95 Lenses
So, let’s break it down. What is the real, direct competition to this lens? It is mostly other third parties, and they are either making extremely expensive lenses, with just a few similarly priced options.
Let’s narrow things down even more, and consider just one mount, (the Sony E-mount, APS-C format to be specific) …and look at just the lenses in this ~50mm equivalent focal range.
There are only two direct competitors, the Mitakon Zhongyi Speedmaster 35mm f/0.95 Mark II, and the 7Artisans Photoelectric 35mm f/0.95 lens. The former is usually priced at $599, but can be found on sale for $429 at times, and the latter is priced at a mere $249.
Honestly? I haven’t reviewed either of those exact lenses, however, I have held a handful of lenses from both of those makers, and looked at quite a few sample images, too. I firmly believe that Venus / Laowa is simply the better lens, period. The overall quality is excellent from Venus, whereas the 7artisans optics are so cheap because, well, they’re made cheaply, and their performance is also not very impressive. Mitakon, (with the more pricey optic) does usually have a little better build quality than 7artisans, however, in my overall experience, Venus’ construction is a little more sturdy.
Indeed, all three lenses are metal, but don’t be fooled! Quality control and assembly tolerances are what make or break (literally) a lens in the long run.
Honestly, if you’re shopping for f/0.95 on your APS-C mirrorless camera, this is the lens to get.
Slower-Aperture Competition (With Autofocus!)
The only time I am going to recommend a different lens is, if you either need autofocus (of course) or if you simply don’t care about the ultra-fast aperture.
Once these needs and/or preferences open up to include certain additional lenses, my recommendations definitely change. Because simply put, the ~50mm equivalent focal range is of course the most popular of all, and there are some really great choices out there.
If you’re flexible on the focal length and the maximum aperture, but really need autofocus, then there are a handful of options in the same price range, or even more affordable, that are extremely compact, …even though they are full-frame lenses! Namely, Sony E-mount users can check out the Samyang/Rokinon AF 45mm f/1.8, ($329) AF 35mm f/1.8, ($399) …or if you really aren’t concerned about an ultra-fast aperture, the utterly diminutive, ultra-portable Samyang/Rokinon AF 35mm f/2.8. ($205-399!)
The Difference Between F/0.95 And F/1.8
Keep in mind, of course, that there is a HUGE difference between f/0.95 and f/1.8 or f/2.8, so these Roki-Yang lenses are totally different from the Venus Laowa 33mm f/0.95. Not only is the aperture significantly different, but also, the Laowa 33mm is much more well-suited to video, with its super-smooth aperture and manual focus rings. If you’re buying any of the Roki-Yangs, do it because they are extremely compact, (for some people that is the whole point of a prime lens, NOT an ultra-fast aperture) …and of course, because they have autofocus.
Alternately, if the aperture is pretty important to you, but you do still need autofocus, the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC DN C (that is, “Contemporary”, not “Art”) is a pretty good choice, with a great balance between a fast aperture, solid overall build quality, decent image quality, and, of course, impressive affordability at just $289-339.
Venus Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 Review | Conclusion
I can’t sum things up any better than by just saying, this was such a FUN lens to review. It was very refreshing to pick up a lens, and just get creative with it in my everyday photography!
Also, this thing can literally “see in the dark”, offering shutter speeds and/or light-gathering abilities that I’ve literally never had at my disposal before.
Admittedly, I didn’t focus as much priority on whether or not this lens was flawlessly sharp at its widest apertures, because I honestly didn’t expect it to be “flawless” at the shockingly fast f-number of 0.95. (Also, I knew I could safely trust that the lens would be incredibly sharp by f/2 or f/2.8, too.)
The bottom line is that if you’re interested in trying out such a lens, for creative exploration or for pushing the technical envelope, (or both at once!) then this $500 wonder could be your new favorite lens!
Check Pricing & Availability
The Venus Optics Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 CF APO can be found for $499. It should be shipping very soon! (Available on B&H)
It will (or may already) be available for Canon RF, Fuji X, Nikon Z, and Sony E.