Why Are Chinese Lenses So Affordable? Are Japanese Lenses Worth It?

Japanese manufacturers are sure to say that Chinese lenses are just rip-offs of Japanese lenses. But that’s not always the case. However, Chinese lenses still end up being more affordable than their Japanese counterparts. Are they really just rip-offs of one another and is that statement really true at all?

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In some cases, it’s true. But there are a lot of cases where it’s a complete lie. Further, if you think Japanese and German lenses don’t rip off of each other either, then you’re kidding yourself. 

7artisans

Some brands like 7Artisans and TTArtisans take vintage optics and remake them at more affordable prices than what you get for vintage Leica and modern Leica lenses. That’s not bad when you consider that the optics and the build quality aren’t going to be the same. Further, consider that everyone sets their own prices and we don’t know what sort of profit they all make. But the 7Artisans 50mm f1.1 I own is nice and small while giving me good image quality. And truthfully, the answer here is that I’m very happy with it. 

Laowa and Venus Optics often come out with new designs that are pretty innovative. I mean, I haven’t seen anyone else make a 25mm f0.95 lens like they do with extra elements and all. And I also haven’t seen many Japanese lenses come out that have Apochromatic lens elements. But these new Chinese lenses are truly making headway. They don’t have the full operations and factories the Japanese have, but they surely still create the products.

But then there are also the Japanese camera industry’s dirty secrets that we talked about on the LensRentals podcast a while back. For example, the older Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 basically became Nikon’s. But there was a full agreement in the background if you know how things are done. With Chinese lenses, there often isn’t a gentleman’s agreement to support one another behind the scenes and spit in one another’s faces in public. 

Of course, there’s still a lot of Japanese innovation. Look at the Sony G Master line! Or what about all the Canon L lenses! And consider some of the things Tamron and Sigma do.

Years ago, the same thing was also said about Korean lenses like those from Samyang and Rokinon. Because they had some association with Vivitar, they were always just considered inferior. And for many years, that indeed was the case. But these days, the Chinese lenses, Korean lenses, German lenses, and Japanese lenses all have fewer differences between them. 

So if that’s the case, then why are the Chinese lenses so affordable? My theory is just the cost of doing business. The Chinese can typically just make things more affordable and don’t want to compete with the price of Japanese lenses. So to sell products, they drop the price. Everyone loves a deal, so consumers end up purchasing the Chinese-made products with the understanding of losing some things. Typically, I haven’t seen any Chinese lenses with weather resistance. I also haven’t seen a ton of them with autofocus either. So of course, you’re losing out in some ways. And that’s typically why those lenses are often that much more affordable. 

With that said, who cares? Get the lens that works for you.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.