In 2023 there are plenty of lens manufacturers originating from China speaking to various different target audiences. While some are the Primark of the lens industry – simply trying to offer cheaper alternatives to the reknown manufacturers of lower quality – others have become the actual innovators in the photography lens business.
Having used more than 60 of those lenses from 14 different manufacturers I thought it is a good time to highlight the best ones I came across.
Some things to be aware of
- I am only talking about fullframe lenses here. Many Chinese manufacturers also offer unique and interesting APS-C lenses, but I have little to no experience with those
- I have reviewed a lot of lenses, but not all and you may also favour different aspects in a lens than I do, so this can obviously never be a “complete” list
- With most of these manufacturers there is little consistency across their line-up when it comes to mechanical design as well as optical performance. As an example: the TTArtisan 50mm 1.4 has absolutely nothing in common with the TTArtisan 50mm 1.4 Tilt – smart people buy products they like, fanboys buy whatever product from brands they like
- I am not sure if the chance to receive a decentered or otherwise defective lens is actually higher compared to manufacturers from Japan/Germany, but getting one of these lenses replaced can in fact be more difficult. I recommend to either buy them from a local distributor or directly from the manufacturer’s online shop for better product support
- I bought several of the lenses on this list for my personal use and do actually use them regularly
Ultra Wide Angle Lenses
Laowa 9mm 5.6
This is not only the world’s widest rectilinear (meaning non-fisheye) lens, it is also much better than it should be. Despite being noticeably wider this is a much better performer than the more expensive Voigtländer 10mm 5.6 and therefore a real masterpiece of Laowa’s lens designer.
A lens this wide will probably not be your bread-and-butter lens and it takes some skill to use it properly, but I took plenty of pictures with it I really like and that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.
Laowa 15mm 2.0
This 15mm 2.0 was actually Laowa’s first mirrorless design (first shown at Photokina in 2016) and it is a lens I am using since and that proved to be very useful for taking pictures in dimly lit environments without a tripod as well as for astrophotography and also for wide-angle close ups.
When it comes to the E-mount world there are two strong competitors that you should surely check out as well: the way more expensive Sony FE 14mm 1.8 GM and the next entry on this list, the Viltrox 16mm 1.8 AF. There is hardly any competition in the M/Z/RF/L-mount worlds though, making this a desirable lens for many users to this day.
Viltrox 16mm 1.8 AF
Viltrox described this as their fullframe benchmark lens when it was released in 2023 and for good reasons: great optical performance, useful controls coupled with an LC display not found anywhere else and all that at a surprisingly low and very competitive pricepoint.
From a technological point of view this is the most advanced lens on this list, not only ahead of the other manufacturers from China, but also of many of those from Japan.
Wide Angle Lenses
Laowa 28mm 1.2 Argus
In 2023 the 28mm focal length is still a bit neglected in the Sony E-mount world, therefore this Laowa 28mm 1.2 was a very welcome addition with its world record f/1.2 maximum aperture.
While some of the f/0.95 to f/1.2 lenses are soft at their maximum aperture this lens is very contrasty and that in combination with its wide angle bokeh is really good for creating the illusion of depth in environmental portraits. I had an early review sample before it was released and without knowing what the price will be and going by its performance I expected this to carry a much higher price tag than the $599 it sells for now.
7Artisans 28mm 1.4
This was one of the first M-mount lenses from China I bought and it is still one of the best ones. It is compact, affordable, its build quality is great and to my eyes it gives much nicer bokeh than the Leica 28mm 1.4 Summilux-M – its only competitor in the M-mount world.
A novelty (which unfortunately didn’t become the norm): this lens came in two versions; one optimized for the thin Leica filter stack and an FE-Plus version optimized for the thicker Sony filter stack.
Laowa 35mm 0.95 Argus
This is the only 35mm lens as fast as f/0.95 for fullframe, but it is also a better performer than all the similarly priced 50mm f/0.95 lenses, which is quite spectacular actually.
This is one of those lenses where no one realizes now how good it actually is, therefore no one buys it, it will probably go out of production one day and some years after that it will be highly sought after – similar to the f/1.4 Canon FD lenses or the f/1.2 Contax/Zeiss lenses or the latest Olympus OM lenses with ED elements.
Pergear 35mm 1.4
Neither in terms of optical nor mechanical quality this Pergear lens can compete with the latest 35mm f/1.4 high performance lenses like the Sony FE 35mm 1.4 GM, but it is tiny, lightweight and extremely affordable at $129. And for that price it is actually much better than it should be, especially compared to way more expensive 35mm f/1.4 vintage lenses.
If you are not sure if you could get along with a manual focus lens this is a great option to find out without breaking the bank. Because it is so small and lightweight you can also just put it in the bag and always have a fast lens available when you need it.
Mr. Ding 50mm 1.1
This lens came out of nowhere and what a surprise it was. Despite its rather simple 8/6 design and the lack of aspherical elements it performs surprisingly well and it is also compact and affordable. The real stand out feature is its beautiful bokeh though. If you are a Sony user this is also one of the few lenses that work really well with the Techart LM-EA9 AF adapter, turning this into a very compact yet fast AF lens.
When using this lens I always get the feeling it had been designed by someone who actually knew what he was doing.
TTArtisan 50mm 1.4 Asph
This is somewhat the 50mm version of the 7Artisans 28mm 1.4 mentioned above. Build quality is great, optical performance is great and it is very affordable.
I recommend to have a look at my review of the Leica 50mm 1.4 Asph where I compared these two lenses. Afterwards you can decide for yourself if you want to buy a $4500 lens or a $225 (E/Z/RF/L-mount) to $369 (M-mount) lens and then doing something actually useful with the $4000 you saved.
TTArtisan 50mm 2.0 Pancake
Similar to the Pergear 35mm 1.4 this TTArtisan lens does not offer a staggering performance, but at $69 it costs less than I had to pay for the hood of one of my Voigtländer lenses once.
While price and performance are similar to some of the vintage 50mm lenses, this one doesn’t need an adapter which makes it the smallest fast 50mm fullframe lens you can mount on your modern mirrorless camera.
Zhong Yi 90mm 1.5
This lens was released at roughly the same time as the TTArtisan 90mm 1.25, by which it was a bit overshadowed. That being said this Zhong Yi is actually the better package due to being noticeably ligther and much sharper, especially at infinity.
Fast 85-90mm portrait lenses for M-mount are usually rare and expensive, but here you get a lot of glass and image quality for the money. For users of other mirrorless systems this might not be that attractive though, as here the market is full of fast 85mm lenses – including plenty with AF.
Laowa 90mm 2.8 2:1 Macro
Laowa started the trend to offer full frame macro lenses that can be focused from infinity to twice life-size. Unlike some other macro lenses this one does not only perform great at close distances though, it also does at infinity.
This works great as a high magnification macro, it works really well for landscape/architecture shooting and it is also a nice (albeit not overly fast) portrait lens. A true general purpose short tele.
619g | $499 | MF | no Exif | E/Z/RF-mount | Review
I have been reviewing a lot of these lenses from China over the past years and I have to admit sometimes it wasn’t overly enjoyable, as there are in fact a lot of boring and uninspired ones, sometimes with severe optical as well as mechanical issues.
But lenses like the ones I am showing you here are the reason I kept going and I will keep going.
We have such a broad range of lenses to choose from thanks to these manufacturers: very affordable ones like the Pergear 35mm 1.4 and TTArtisan 50mm 2.0, giving those running on a tight budget the opportunity to use lenses with specifications otherwise unobtainable, really unique lenses like the Laowa 9mm 5.6, 28mm 1.2 and 35mm 0.95 and also those showcasing state of the art technology like the Viltrox 16mm 1.8 AF.
The lenses I took these following pictures with (sometimes barely) missed the threshold to be added to this list, but they might still be worth a closer look depending on what you are looking for. You can find all their reviews here.
My name is Bastian and I am your expert here when it comes to ultra wide angle lenses, super fast portrait lenses (ranging from a 50mm f/0.95 to a 200mm f/1.8) and I also have reviewed way too many 35mm lenses.
Don’t ask me anything about macro or wildlife shooting though.