These are flattering and expressive Japanese cinema lenses from the 1960s. They are fairly sharp for their age especially when stopped down one stop. Wide open they are softer and have lower contrast. Their gold, single-layer lens coatings are a big reason for their lower contrast as well as their beautiful gold lens fares / ghosts.
These were probably the most quirky and unique set we tested in my opinion. They have all kinds of fun aberrations, a unique bokeh and big warm lens flares. They produce very pleasing skin-tones and tend to make people glow a little wide-open. They are soft but in a very pleasing way.
This test was my first experience with Kowa spherical primes, and they did not disappoint. If you were shooting something where you wanted a unique look and wanted a lot of big lens flares, this would be a good set. If you were going to own a set, I would recommend getting them rehoused. Both TLS and P+S Technik rehouse them.
These are my favorite spherical lenses to date. I have used these on many digital platforms as well as with film. I love lenses that bring a unique characteristic to a project. I also like mixing and using several different sets on one job. But these Kowas, they are definitely my favorite and I try to use them as much as possible.
What I really like about these lenses are their very strange characteristics. They feel kind of dirty, grungy, but in a good way. They feel real.
Kowas flare very easily (which I like). The wider lenses tend to have a very “bubbly” kind of flare, along with a veiling flare. The longer lenses tend to have mostly a veiling flare. In some cases, when using large high output light sources to flare these lenses, one can see the image duplicated inside of the elements. This to me makes them highly unpredictable, but thats the reason I like them so much. Of course, if flaring is not your thing it can be mitigated with many matte box accessories, hard mattes, etc.
The bokeh is a swirly kind of look, adding to the character they bring to the project. They also have an overall cool look, while maintaining a very warm flare. They maintain softness and a low contrast while also being sharp.
Other great characteristics are being very light in weight, making them great for handheld and Steadicam use.
These lenses can be a great asset to the right project, and to me, are so beautiful its almost cheating.
The spherical Kowa lenses are known for their vintage style, in particular the lower contrast and brilliant flares that they produce. If that’s the sort of look you like, you should see the anamorphic versions! The Kowas, like the K-35, were a relatively unsuccessful line of primes compared to the Super Speeds, but they’ve come into their own now with a massive resurgence and unprecedented demand.
Potentially the most flawed of the lenses we tested (other than the Lomos…) there’s still a magic in their flawed design that is difficult to put into words. An unintentional organic style that is the result of compounded design flaws… and yet, still a stunning image in the right scene.