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Laowa, Mitakon dodge GST obligations

Back in the olden dayes, until the 1980s at least, lenses had to be focussed by hand! Nonetheless, a surprising number of pictures turned out to be sharp as a tack – a testament to the precise hand-eye co-ordination of your average 20th century photographer. These people developed the skill of almost simultaneously turning the lens barrel to focus it, and then pressing the shutter button – generally using the same limb!

While those days are long gone, the new wave of alarmingly inexpensive manual lenses from newish Chinese manufacturers provide a great incentive to develop our manual focus skills. And they are so affordable you almost don’t begrudge paying GST. But read on…

Recent releases include the Mitakon Speedmaster 90mm f1.5 for all the popular full-frame mirrorless mounts (sans L-mount). That’s a hell of a wide aperture to be offering for just US$600. Leica has a 90mm f1.5 for around US$14,000. It’s also manual focus, so the $13,000-and-something difference in price can’t be attributed to a very expensive German autofocussing system. Zhong Yi (Mitakon) says its new lens, alludes to the Leica Summilux 90mm. Mitakon has a whole series of these appealing wide-aperture primes, most of them well under $1000, and most of them ‘in homage’ to an existing lens by another manufacturer.

GST? Why bother? (International shipping is free, by the way, for orders over the value of US$500.)

Specs for the 90mm include 110cm minimum focussing distance and dimensions of 74mm x 102mm, with weight a glass-rich 770g.

It looks like there are a few retailers stocking Mitakon lenses in Australia, including Digital Camera Warehouse. They might like to have a quiet word to the manufacturer, which appears to be evading the obligation to collect GST when shipping to Australian-based customers direct from its online store. This sees Zhong Yi undercutting its Australian affiliates and cheating Australian taxpayers at a time when the local industry needs as many sales as it can muster.

We looked at the Mitakon Speedmaster 35mm F.95 for Sony E-mount. On the sharply-priced Digital Camera Warehouse site it was at $1075 incl GST. On the even-more-sharply-priced Mitakon China site it was US$599 with no GST and free shipping to Australia. A currency conversion shows the total cost of buying from China is only $841 – something like a 20 percent discount.

If any local retailers agree this is not fair, they might like to have look at the ATO dob-in-a-tax-evader service.

UPDATE , Dec 2: And lo and behold, it appears something has changed in the few hours since we published this story!  We received an email just after 5pm yesterday from the Zhong Yi export sales manager informing us: ‘I had just been told that we are not currently allowed to ship to Australia.’

This policy appears to have been put in place in response to the publication of this article, as an earlier response from the same executive to the question: Do you charge Australian GST for lenses sold into the Australian market?

Received this response earlier on the day of publication (Dec 1): ‘We ship via Fedex Priority and we will declare the item as gift and as low value.’

We also went through the online ordering/checkout process to confirm (tax-free) shipments to Australia, with absolutely no obstacles. Australians were not barred earlier on December 1. So a victory for transparency perhaps? Certainly a guarantee of more local sales of Mitakon lenses by Australian businesses.

The other recent-release manual lens from a budget Chinese manufacturer is the Venus Optics Laowa 85mm F5.6 2x Ultra Macro APO lens, ‘the world’s smallest 2x macro lens for full-frame mirrorless camera systems.’

It has 13 elements in nine groups…three extra-low dispersion elements…minimum focusing distance of 16.3cm…2x magnification ratio…and an internal focusing mechanism. It’s unusual in being capable of 2:1 magnification.

The lens is 53mm in diameter and 81mm long, and weighs just 259g.

It’s currently available to order from the Venus Optics website and authorized retailers. The Canon RF, Nikon Z and Sony E mount versions are priced at US$449 while the Leica M mount version retails for US$499, with first shipments out in December 2021.

Venus Optics is at one with Mitakon in not bothering to adhere to Australian tax law by collecting GST. But at least Venus Optics is upfront about its dishonesty, even conceding it under-declares the value of products shipped to Australia. From its FAQ page:
Q6: Does the price include VAT/GST/duty?
A6: This price does NOT include VAT/GST/duty. Similar to purchasing in other foreign webstores, there is a chance that the customs will impose duty/VAT/GST when the parcel is shipped from foreign countries to your country. Of course, there is a chance that you wont get taxed either. Venus Optics will NOT take any responsibility on the extra fees arisen and will NOT accept refund/return of your order.  Please check with the custom department in your country before making a purchase. Please note that we, by default, declared the parcel as $100 (or lower) if there is no special requirement received.

No GST is charged and the shipment will be declared a gift and of low value.

We looked at a lens release already in the market, the Laowa 100mm F2.8 APO Ultra-Macro. On sale from the Laowa website for US$529 ($741) including shipping to Australia from HK. Purchased locally and legally, it will set you back $849.

Venus Optics lenses are sold in Australia by, among others, the Camera House group. Once again, in the interests of Australian retailing, you would hope someone at Raleru’s head office would have the interests of Camera House members sufficiently in focus to ask Venus Optics to cease and desist its shenanigans.
– Keith Shipton


Do you charge Australian GST for lenses sold into the Australian market?



We ship via Fedex Priority and we will declare the item as gift and as low value.


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