I’ve always wondered why no one ever made a 28mm f1.2 lens that mattered or even at all. It’s such a forgotten focal length. But the Laowa 28mm f1.2 is putting that to rest. And more importantly, they’re packing it into a really small body that’s incredibly capable. The Laowa 28mm f1.2 balances out the sharpness and image quality that isn’t clinically perfect. And in so many ways, this is Laowa’s best lens.
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The Big Picture
There’s a lot going for the Laowa 28mm f1.2. First off, it’s a very small lens for what it is. And it feels like a classic lens due to the manual focus and metal body. You can easily use it when zone focusing and even when looking through the viewfinder. It’s only when you peer into the beauty the optics produce that you’ll see how the photos glow with a radiance you’d only find in the movies. Despite all this, the lens isn’t weather resistant. And we’ve got some qualms with that in addition to the minimum focusing distance and the lack of lens contacts.
Despite all this, the Laowa 28mm f1.2 is being awarded four out of five stars. It’s an incredible lens that will please tons of photographers. Want one? Please check them out for $599.
- Metal body
- Clicked or de-clicked aperture option
- f1.2 aperture
- Beautiful lens character
- Depth of field scale that works effectively enough
- The lens flare of the Laowa 28mm f1.2 is a stunning beauty equivalent to the golden sunset we all wish to stare at on our days off.
- Small sized
- It’s $599
- I wish that this had focusing and exposure contacts
- Laowa refuses to add full weather resistance to its lenses. And it’s killing me at this point; because if they only did this, they’d have an automatic buyer in me.
- Minimum focusing distance that I’d expect of a rangefinder lens.
The Laowa 28mm f1.2 lens that we reviewed is a loaner provided to us by Venus Optics. I tested it with my own Sony a7r III and my own Tiffen Split Screen filter.
The Laowa 28mm f1.2 is a first of its kind. I couldn’t find any current 28mm f1.2 lenses on the market. So Laowa has taken the 28mm lens, traditionally a not very popular focal length, and given it the f1.2 treatment. They could’ve done literally anything they wanted with this, and it would’ve been innovative. But they don’t need to. Not only is this an f1.2 lens, but it’s also apochromatic, which means that whatever is in focus will have so much more natural pop to it. Truly, this is a work of pure art.
The Laowa 28mm f1.2 lens looks a whole lot like many other optics on the market. Towards the front of the lens, there’s a giant focusing ring. Behind that are the distance markers and depth of field scale. And closer to the lens mount is the aperture ring.
The front of the lens has a 62mm filter thread. That means that it’s indeed pretty small. But note that you can’t use a lens filter and the lens hood at the same time. That’s a shame.
Down here, on the bottom, you’ll find the click or declick switch. This is good for hybrid shooters.
Walking around NYC with the Laowa 28mm f1.2 in my hand reminded me at every single turn of the corner that this is a metal lens. During some of the city’s coldest winter days, my fingers were freezing. And touching the lens surely reminded me that it was made of metal. Some folks might complain about this, but I don’t. I’ve been asking brands to make more metal lenses for a while. In fact, they’re Hillary’s favorite! With all this said, the Laowa 28mm f1.2 feels great in the hand.
The only thing that I think is disappointing about this lens is the fact that it doesn’t have full weather resistance. I want to be able to take this lens out into the most inclement weather conditions that would otherwise make autofocus lenses pause. And I think that this has to be the next priority for the company.
Ease of Use
The Laowa 28mm f1.2 is a manual focusing optic. So if you know the ins and outs of how to use those, then you’ll be just fine. Zone focusing is typically the way to go. However, with Sony, you can see the focus peaking happening once you’ve enabled that. Further, you should also enable focus magnification to a button.
Of course, this is a manual focus lens. So the Laowa 28mm f1.2 will be approached by folks in one of two ways: zone focusing or focusing through the viewfinder. In fact, there’s good reason to want to do both. First off, zone focusing just makes the most logical sense for manual focus lenses. But if you want to take advantage of that beautiful bokeh, then you’ll be shooting with it pretty wide open. That’s when the viewfinder or LCD screen, in combination with focus peaking, magnification, and prayer, truly helps.
There’s a tribe of photographers out there who’ve clearly never encountered a manual focus lens before in their many years of shooting. And so they’ll turn the rings with the synonymous amazement of witnessing running water from a faucet for the first time.
Next to them is a neighboring tribe of photographers who’ve mostly worked with manual focus lenses and adore all they can do. They make sacrifices for the Leica gods in the form of currency and vibes. These folks will be right at home with the Laowa 28mm f1.2. And they don’t need to be redeemed or liberated with the heretical words and teachings of autofocus.
However, this is also one of my peeves about this lens. The Laowa 28mm f1.2 focuses to around a little over a foot and a half away. That’s something that I’d expect of a modern rangefinder lens and not a lens designed for full-frame mirrorless cameras. Perhaps this was designed for Leica M mount originally?
The Laowa 28mm f1.2 is, in every way, a fantastic lens if we’re talking about pure image quality. It’s sharp without being excessively so. It’s not clinical either, which affords it a whole lot of bragging rights with us. There’s also the gorgeous color that looks phenomenal in the right lighting. But let’s do a bit of a deeper dive.
This is a semi-wide angle lens with an f1.2 aperture. So yes, there surely is bokeh. It’s nice and creamy too! It would be even nicer if the lens could focus closer. But it can’t. The bokeh here pops when shooting wide open a whole lot more because of the apochromatic element. One of the few companies that use these is Leica.
You know how Sony is pretty vivid and saturated? Well, when combined with the Laowa 28mm f1.2, that color remains. But it’s got this beautiful character about it that you can’t quite put your finger on. It doesn’t remind me of a painting. But instead, my brain is harkened to the days when the American Apparel style of photographing things was in every photo that we’ve seen. Except that it’s married to the aesthetics of the late 2000s and early 2010s. That’s to say that it’s beautiful, and for some of us, there will be a nostalgic look to it.
One of my favorite things about the Laowa 28mm f1.2 is the lens flare that it can produce. At just the right angle, it can look golden and glowy and gorgeous and glimmers and all the good “g” words. The metaphorically golden lens optics of the Laowa 28mm f1.2 outdo any Sony G Master or G lens that I’ve used when it comes to character.
Wide open, the Laowa 28mm f1.2 is soft yet also still sharp. But the major sharpness comes when you stop it down. I found my favorite balance between bokeh and sharpness to be at around f2.8. But your opinion may vary from mine.
Personally speaking, I was able to focus on the details of this painting and find a lot of things that I couldn’t see with my eyes at the museum.
Extra Image Samples
From day one, The Phoblographer has been huge on transparency with our audience. Nothing from this review is sponsored. Further, lots of folks will post reviews and show lots of editing in the photos. The problem then becomes that anyone and everyone can do the same thing. They’re not showing what the lens can do. So we have a section in our Extra Image Samples area to show edited and unedited photos. From this, you can make a decision for yourself.
With Creative Filter
Who Should Buy the Laowa 28mm f1.2?
The Laowa 28mm f1.2 is a beautiful lens overall. Here’s who should buy it:
- Photographers working indoors that won’t have to worry too much about build quality issues
- Street photographers that don’t mind not having a lens that’s not weather resistant
- Food photographers
There are a lot of great reasons to want one too. There’s the gorgeous image quality, metal body, and very affordable price point. Want one? Please check them out for $599.
|Name||Laowa Argus 28mm f/1.2 FF|
|Angle of View||75.4°|
|Lens Structure||13 elements in 7 groups|
(2 ED glass and 2 UHR glass)
|Aperture Blades||13 blades|
|Min. Shooting Distance||19.69″ / 50cm|
|Filter Thread||Ø 62mm|
|Dimensions||Ø2.7 x 4.2″ / Ø68.5 x 106.31mm|
|Weight||19.82oz / 562g|
|Mounts||Sony E/ Nikon Z/ Canon RF/ L mount|