Here at oopoomoo we believe the best way to test a lens is to actually use it in the field to see what is does in real life. So I took along a Rokinon (Samyang) 85mm f1.4 mm lens on this year’s Glory of Autumn in the Canadian Rockies workshop and below I share my results and a few observations on this budget 85mm lens.
Why an 85mm f1.4 Lens?
A fast 85mm is a favorite for portrait and wedding photographers because the 85mm focal length is flattering to the human face and the fast f1.4 aperture is great in low light and gives a wonderful dreamy out-of-focus background. I wanted to use the 85mm for landscape shooting on the fall workshop. Why? First off, the 85mm focal length is great for intimate and extractive landscapes. The angle-of-view is perfect for eliminating busy surroundings and pulling in just the right amount of detail so that the landscape looks natural without looking compressed and artificial. We think of the 85mm focal length as a perfect story-telling lens. Combine that with a full range of apertures from f1.4 to f22 and you have a lens capable of a wide variety of depth-of-field effects from ultra thin slices of focus at f1.4 to large areas sharply rendered at f16 and f22.
What’s with the Price?
The Rokinon 85mm f1.4 can usually be picked up for less than $350 new. In comparison 85mm f1.4 lenses from other camera and lens manufacturers range in price from $900 to over $1600! Why the difference? Simple. Rokinon simply left off the autofocus motor and circuitry. As well, the lens uses an old fashioned aperture ring that manually stops the lens down as your turn the aperture ring. What that means is that you are back using manual focus and doing something called stop-down metering. Put your camera on aperture priority and turn the aperture ring on the Rokinon and your camera will figure out the correct shutter speed. As you dial the aperture ring from 1.4 to other apertures, the lens stops down the aperture and so your viewfinder will go dark and your depth-of-field will increase. To use this lens you need to first set it at an aperture of f1.4 for precise focus and then dial in the aperture number you want to use for depth-of-field effects. Regular 85mm lenses not only autofocus, they always show you the view wide open at f1.4 no matter what aperture you have chosen. Only when you press the shutter button does the aperture you have picked engage. So… in practice the Rokinon requires a 3-step workflow. First set your camera to Aperture Priority mode and set the lens to f1.4 on its aperture ring. Then you manually focus the lens (either looking through the viewfinder or by using live view) while the aperture is at f1.4. Finally, if you want to use a different aperture than f1.4, turn the aperture ring on the lens to that aperture and then take the photo (the viewfinder will darken if you use anything other than f1.4). If you are in Aperture Priority mode, the camera will automatically adjust the shutter speed. If you are in manual mode you will have to adjust your camera shutter speed dial to get the right exposure.
Compromises for Price?
The price is a bargain but you lose autofocus and automatic exposure control. Can you live without these features? It depends. If I were a portrait photographer I would want the fast working of autofocus and automatic exposure control. For landscape photography neither is important and in fact the slower workflow was beneficial in making me carefully consider my compositions.
Was there as price to pay in sharpness? For me there wasn’t. The lens was not as sharp at f1.4 as my beloved Sigma 85mm f1.4 and there was more chromatic aberration than the Sigma but when you are shooting soft dreamy photos even moderate sharpness looks really sharp in contrast to all that sharpness (see photo below). The lens gets pretty darn good at f2.0 and is tack from f4 to f11. The lens suffers from diffraction and a loss of sharpness at f16 but is still very usable. I don’t recommend f22 because of loss of sharpness due to diffraction but then again I do not recommend f22 for any lens no matter what the brand! Bokeh (the quality of the out-of-focus areas) was dreamy and creamy at f1.4 through f2.8 but there was some fringing of high contrast edges (correctable in a RAW software converter).
- no autofocus
- no automatic exposure (stop down metering only)
- not good for action photography
- 1/2 stop clicks between apertures on the aperture dial but only a full stop click between f1.4 and f2.0 and f16 and f22
- bokeh fringing
- strong exposure vignetting at edges of frame at f1.4 and f2.0 (but not much worse than other 85mm lenses and most people like the effect to enhance the dreaminess of the photo)
- lower contrast images when shot wide open
- does not focus close enough for my tastes (see images below)
- price, price, price!
- really nice build quality (felt sturdy and well made)
- 140 degree focus throw (love the smooth focus ring with a big throw for precision focus – would be great for video)
- surprisingly good image quality for the price
I had a lot of fun with the lens. The biggest negative for me was that the lens did not focus very close. It would only focus close enough for a head and shoulders portrait. I did add a 12mm extension tube to solve that problem but that means one more piece of gear to bring along. The sharpness was really good given the price and I had no issues with the lens in that regard. I got professionally sharp images. The slight fringing, low contrast and edge vignetting was similar to other 85mm lens and was easily fixed in software. Frankly, I like the effects of all three and mostly left the image uncorrected. For anyone that does photography where the slower workflow is not an issue (landscape or still life), then this lens is a great buy and a wonderful creative tool.
Thanks to Amplis Photo for lending us this lens to review.