The Laowa 35mm f/0.95 was announced earlier this year alongside a 45mm f/0.95 also for full-frame. It's the world first full frame 35mm lens and the widest prime with an ultra-fast aperture of f/0.95. It's not the cheapest or the lightest lens on the market, but it certainly produces images that you'll want to share with people. This versatile lens might not have autofocus but it's slick design and smooth focussing will make you fall in love with manual focus again.
Any Laowa fans who were less than impressed with the lack of an aperture click on previous lenses such as the Laowa 33mm f/0.95 CF APO will be happy to know it's got a click button. While this lens isn’t perhaps a must-have in your kit bag, it’s fun to use and creates beautiful images that are more on the arty side of life.
It’s not a small lens to carry around though, weighing 755g and with a filter size of 72mm, it’s certainly not a pocket-size 35mm. You might want to think twice if you're using it for street photography (more on that later) but with the. It does however feel solid with its all-metal body, focus and aperture ring.
Mount: Canon RF, Nikon Z, Sony FE
Full frame: Yes
Image stabilization: No
Lens construction: 14 elements in 9 groups
Angle of view: 63 degrees
Diaphragm blades: 15
Minimum aperture: f/16
Minimum focusing distance: 0.5m
Maximum magnification ratio: 2.0x
Filter size: 67mm
The selling point of this lens is its incredibly wide f/0.95 aperture which creates images where the out-of-focus areas are beautifully smooth and the in-focus areas are pin sharp. The focus dial is smooth with the perfect amount of torque that makes capturing even moving objects pretty easy considering it’s a fully manual lens.
The lens doesn’t have any electronics so you can’t operate aperture on camera. Instead it has an aperture wheel on the lens which enables you to manually select the aperture. While this means you can only shoot in manual or aperture priority, for anyone used to using old analogue lenses it'll be a welcome feature.
Build and Handling
When shooting at such wide apertures, it’s important that focussing the lens is hassle-free. It's vital to have focus peaking enabled, especially when shooting wide open. Even between 0.5m and 0.8m, it's easy to make sure your focal point is super sharp when focus peaking is turned on.
The focus ring rotates almost three-quarters of the way around the lens which makes it hard to change focus distance in one swift movement. If you’re out using it to shoot street photography, you’ll have a hard time quickly changing between focus points close to you and focus points far away. To change the focus from the minimum to infinity, I need to turn my hand twice which feels a little clumsy. The focus ring is split pretty evenly across the different focus ranges to give fine and precise adjustment no matter how far away you are from your subject.
The aperture ring feels solid, it comes with grooves to make gripping it easier and has an option to hear clicks at each full f/stop. If you prefer to shoot with an entirely smooth aperture ring you can turn this feature off which is especially good when shooting video.
The lens itself feels very well built with a full metal body and hood. The aperture ring and focus ring have deep grooves that make it really easy to hold and adjust even on a hot day when your hands are a bit sweaty. For a 35mm lens it is a little on the hefty side and felt a bit unbalanced when shooting on the Canon R5. Perhaps if you were shooting with a grip or on the new Canon EOS R3 the weight will feel more balanced.
Focusing distances are displayed in both meters and feet. It also features a hyper-focal distance scale which helps to ensure focus if you're not using focus peaking and are used to shooting on SLR cameras. The aperture and focusing distance numbers are etched into the lens itself and then painted which add to the quality feel of this lens.
When shooting with this lens I mostly chose to shoot wide open to make the most of the f/0.95 aperture I so very rarely get to use. I was impressed by how sharp the images were even when wide open, the out of focus areas were smooth and the focus fade was gradual. Stopping down to f1.2 does make the lens slightly more useful especially if you’re shooting portraits as at f/0.95 you can’t even have the eye and eyelashes in focus. Similarly, if you’re shooting anything with text it would be worth stopping it down even to something like f/2 to ensure it’s all in focus.
The obvious downside to this lens is that it doesn’t have autofocus. This meant that on occasions I missed the shot I wanted as I wasn’t able to focus fast enough. This was especially true for moving objects or when I was massively changing my focus distance as you had to rotate the focus ring so much. That being said, if you were patient and able to set your focus and wait for the moving object to fly into your frame, you can capture a sharp subject with a super blurred background which means your eyes don’t veer from the main focal point.
The lens doesn’t have any electronics so if you don’t like using an aperture ring to control aperture you probably won’t get along with it too well. If I could control everything manually I would (I miss my fuji’s exposure dials) so going from a Fujifilm shooter to operating the Laowa lens felt very natural. Unlike some Laowa lenses, it also comes with a click feature so that you can feel when you go between whole f stops.
Having shot a range of images including still life, landscape, and floral this is actually a pretty good all-round lens considering the use of f0.95 is quite specific. If I owned the lens I probably wouldn’t shoot wide open all the time but it’s equally nice to have the option to do so.
We run a range of lab tests under controlled conditions, using the Imatest Master testing suite. Photos of test charts are taken across the range of apertures and zooms (where available), then analyzed for sharpness, distortion and chromatic aberrations.
We use Imatest SFR (spatial frequency response) charts and analysis software to plot lens resolution at the centre of the image frame, corners and mid-point distances, across the range of aperture settings and, with zoom lenses, at four different focal lengths. The tests also measure distortion and color fringing (chromatic aberration).
Centre sharpness is excellent, even at f/1.2, though wide open at f/0.95 is noticeably softer. The lens is also consistently sharp in the centre right through to f/16. Corner sharpness is disappointingly poor at apertures larger that f/4, given this isn't an especially wide-angle optic.
Fringing is visible in the corners of frame at all apertures, though it's most apparent at f/4 and narrower.
There's mild pincushion distortion, but you're only likely to notice it when shooting an especially geometric scene.
If you’re not bothered about carrying a lens that is more than a little chunky (especially for a 35mm) the Laowa 35mm f/0.95 could be the one for you. It enables you to take beautifully artsy focus and even wide open, it’s still pretty sharp. The focus fall-off is incredibly smooth, as is the bokeh produced from this lens. Despite being a fully manual lens, it’s relatively easy to capture in focus moving objects thanks to a smooth focus ring. The only downside is if you’re shooting street and want to change from shooting something in the distance to something close up, you’ll have to twist the focus ring about 270 degrees. This would be a great addition to any kit but certainly not an essential.