The Laowa Argus 45mm f/0.95 FF is the latest in Venus Optics' line of signature Argus lenses, all of which feature a monstrously wide f/0.95 aperture. In short, every Argus lens is a bokeh machine – and the 45mm is no exception.
The choice of a 45mm focal length is an interesting one. Obviously this puts the Laowa Argus 45mm f/0.95 FF roughly in nifty 50 territory, but the extra width makes the field of view tangibly different.
• Read more: Best 50mm lenses
At f/0.95, this is one of the fastest lenses you can buy, though this aperture isn't as novel as it once was; we've already got full frame lenses like the almost equivalent Mitakon Speedmaster 50mm f/0.95 and Venus Optics' companion optic, the Laowa Argus 35mm f/0.95 FF.
So what does the Argus 45mm bring to the table, and what compromises do you make to achieve that ludicrously bokehlicious effect?
The Laowa Argus 45mm f/0.95 FF: Specifications
Mount: Canon RF (reviewed), Nikon Z, Sony E
Lens construction: 13 elements in 9 groups
Diaphragm blades: 15
Image stabilization: No
Weather sealing: No
Minimum aperture: f/16
Minimum focusing distance: 0.5m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.12x
Filter size: 72mm
Dimensions: 76.8 x 110mm
The Laowa Argus 45mm f/0.95 FF: Key features
Clearly, the key feature here is the headline f/0.95 aperture. If you want sublimely shallow depth of field, giving you the ability to blur your backgrounds and separate your subjects, along with incredible low light performance, you can't beat an aperture this wide.
Another important feature, which was absent on the Argus 35mm, is the ability to click or de-click the aperture ring thanks to a sliding lock. Typically a clicked aperture (which 'snaps' into place for each f-stop) is better for photography, and reduces the risk of accidentally nudging the aperture while adjusting the focus ring.
Conversely, videographers prefer the clickless aperture (which turns smoothly and silently between f-stops) as it means that noiseless, vibration-free aperture adjustments can be made to compensate for changing light conditions.
The Laowa Argus 45mm f/0.95 FF: Build and handling
As with all Laowa lenses, the Argus 45mm is a fully manual lens with no electronic connections. This means that there is no communication with the camera whatsoever, so you need to adjust the focus and aperture by hand – and the camera will not record lens EXIF data (only your shutter speed and ISO).
Given the razor-thin depth of field when shooting at f/0.95, the fact that the lens has a very long focus throw is invaluable, as it enables you to make the micro-adjustments necessary when finding your point of focus. At the same time, if you've never shot at f/0.95 – and, indeed, if you've never shot with manual focus – get ready for a steep learning curve!
Like just about every Laowa optic, this is an incredibly well built and sturdy optic. Metal construction, good heft, well damped focus ring – it looks and feels like a premium lens. That said, it's also quite a chunky one – though it is still dwarfed by other fast primes, such as the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L, so it's not too big.
The Laowa Argus 45mm f/0.95 FF: Performance
When it comes to bokeh – which is the entire reason you would purchase this specific lens – the Laowa Argus 45mm f/0.95 really can't be beaten. The shallow depth of field, between the wide aperture and focal length, affords beautiful blur and subject separation.
The quality of bokeh is a subjective thing, but in all we find it quite pleasing – though the bokeh balls do "cat's eye" towards the edges of frame, as is usually the case when shooting at these kinds of extreme apertures.
Sharpness wide open is slightly soft, as you would expect, though by f/1.4 the center is very impressive – but you'll need to stop down to the f/4-5.6 range for sharpness in the corners of the frame. Ditto vignetting, which is noticeable at f/0.95 but becomes less intrusive the more you close down the aperture.
It's worth noting that flare can be an issue when shooting backlit subjects, though the flare is quite characterful – as you can see in the image below. Some may find it a useful creative effect, others will want to avoid it like the plague.
The ability to flit between clicked and clickless aperture really is a godsend for hybrid shooters. Being able to adjust the f-stops smoothly and silently is obviously a boon for video, but it can also be useful for shooting stills and shooting between the set aperture values.
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 center 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).
Center sharpness is great at f/1.4 and narrower apertures, though images are relatively soft when shooting wide open at f/0.95. Corner sharpness is also disappointingly low for a lens of this focal length – you have to stop down to f/4 to get image quality that's sharp across the whole frame.
It's a fairly disappointing performance in this test, as lateral chromatic aberration is clearly visible in the corners of frame, and to a lesser extent in the mid-frame region surrounding the center.
The Laowa Argus 45mm produces slight pincushion distortion, but you're unlikely to notice this unless you're shooting especially geometric subjects.
The Laowa Argus 45mm f/0.95 FF: Verdict
The Laowa Argus 45mm f/0.95 FF does exactly what it says on the tin, offering a near-standard lens with an outrageously wide aperture. Resembling a nifty fifty in terms of its focal length, the slightly wider angle arguably makes an already all-purpose field of view even more versatile.
The trade-offs for the bokehlicious aperture come in terms of wide-open and across-the-frame sharpness (though the center sharpness is very good at a still super-fast f/1.4), along with the all-manual operation.
The challenge of shooting at f/0.95 is amplified by having to focus manually, but once you've mastered the art of shooting with this lens you will be rewarded with uniquely rich, deep and characterful images.