Real Life Review – The Rokinon 24mm f3.5 Tilt Shift Lens – A Budget Lens with Big Performance?

Posted by on Nov 15, 2013 in Real Life Reviews | 26 Comments

Anyone who follows our work knows that Sam and I are crazy for the creative advantages of Tilt Shift lenses for our nature and landscape photography. We are not crazy for the price we have to pay for these specialty lenses though. The Nikon 24mm lens sells for $2200 while the Canon 24mm lens sells for about $2400. Ouch!

Enter the Rokinon/Samyang lens squeezing in at under $900 (street value) and we have a serious alternative to consider. But do you get what you pay for? Is the Rokinon a lesser version of the Nikon and Canon both of which are top drawer lenses in terms of quality? I took the Rokinon out for an oopoomoo Real Life Review during a 4-day trip to the Canadian Rockies. Read below to find out my thoughts on this lens.

The Rokinon 24mm Tilt shift lens - Great value but at what cost?

The Rokinon 24mm tilt shift lens – great value but at what cost?

Initial Impressions
Taking the lens out of the box, I really was surprised by how light and ‘plastic-y’ the lens felt. I am used to the heavy and robust Canon Tilt Shift 24mm f3.5 L II lens which is built like a tank. The Rokinon felt like a plastic toy in comparison.  I was also not impressed by the small tilt and shift knobs. I find the Canon knobs too small and the Rokinon knobs were much smaller than Canon’s! Not great for a working photographer from cold Canada where gloves are survival tools not shooting accessories! The version of the lens I received had small, grey post-like controls for tilt and shift and locking of these movements. Apparently newer versions of the lens have larger knobs (as shown above).

The one thing that did impress me a lot was the fact that the Rokinon lens has independent tilt and shift rotation which is totally cool. The Canon 17 and 24mm tilt shift (version II) lenses also have independent rotation of tilt and shift and I can’t stress enough how much I love and use that feature. The major drawback of Nikon’s suite of tilt shift lenses (and Canon’s older tilt shift lenses) is that the shift and tilt rotation are fixed to one another and this limits the creative effects you can do with these lenses.  Kudos to Rokinon for adding this much needed feature to their budget priced lens. Also kudos to Rokinon for making a lens with a big image circle that has the same degree of tilt and shift capabilities as the Canon 24mm tilt shift lens. Awesome!

©Darwin Wiggett - Here I used tilt to bring the entire subject plane into focus and shift to make a megapixel square image. In this case the shift and tilt on the Rokinon were in the same orientation.

©Darwin Wiggett – Here I used tilt to bring the entire subject plane into focus and shift to make a megapixel square image. In this case the shift and tilt on the Rokinon were in the same orientation.

In the Field with the Rokinon
One of the reasons the Rokinon is a less expensive lens than either the Canon or Nikon tilt shift lenses is that it has a manual aperture ring that is not coupled electronically with the camera body. What this means in practice is that you need to open the lens to f3.5 to do precise focus and tilt movements and then stop the aperture down to the shooting aperture you desire. With a Canon camera and a Canon tilt shift lens, you can set your aperture in advance to whatever aperture you desire. The camera viewfinder or Live View always shows you the view at widest aperture number (e.g. f3.5) making precise focus easy. Simply get focus and shoot no matter what aperture you choose to use in the end. With the Rokinon the process is two step: focus and tilt at f3.5 and then stop down to your shooting aperture and adjust your shutter speed in manual to get proper exposure.

I didn’t mind the extra step in workflow, but what I did mind was the design of the aperture ring right up against the focus ring. Often when I turned the aperture ring to the aperture I wanted to use (mostly f8), I accidentally also moved the focus ring! Drove me crazy! You have to be really careful when turning the aperture ring or else you will nudge the focus and ruin your precisely tilted and focused image.

The aperture ring on the Rokinon is thin and butted up against the focus ring. Even if you have small fingers chances are good you might nudge focus when adjusting aperture.

The aperture ring on the Rokinon is thin and butted up against the focus ring. Even if you have small fingers chances are good you might nudge focus when adjusting aperture.

But is it Sharp?
I can live with a slightly slower workflow, and having to be extra careful with the aperture and focus ring… but if the lens is not sharp what’s the point? OK , so what the verdict?

Well.. the Rokinon is definitely as sharp or sharper than the older Canon 24mm TS-E version I plus it has independent tilt and shift rotation and a bigger image circle and more degrees of tilt and shift. A used Canon 24mm TS-E version I costs about $900. For the same price you could have the Rokinon new and gain many creative advantages over the older Canon Tilt Shift lens. A no-brainer for sure!

If you own a Canon 17-40 f4 or a Canon 16-35mm f2.8 zoom lens, the Rokinon easily matches or surpasses the sharpness of these lenses especially when tilt is used to bring the entire subject plane into focus and an aperture of f8 to f11 is used for the shooting aperture. For me, as a landscape photographer, if I had to make a choice between either of the two wide angle Canon zooms or the Rokinon, I would take the Rokinon any day of the week (it’s just as sharp or sharper when stopped down but with all the creative advantages of a tilt shift lens). Canon’s two wide zooms are disappointing performers in my opinion especially for the price paid – but that is another story!

©Darwin Wiggett - shot with the Rokinon 24mm Tilt Shift lens at f8

©Darwin Wiggett – shot with the Rokinon 24mm Tilt Shift lens at f8

Sharpness in the foreground of the photo above - tilted to match subject plane and aperture of f8

Sharpness in the foreground of the photo above – tilted to get focus in the subject plane and shot at an aperture of f8

Sharpness in the background of the image above - tilted to match the subject plane at f8. these kinds of results can not be achieved with a wide angle zoom without focus stacking.

Sharpness in the background of the image above – tilted to match focus in the subject plane at f8. These kinds of results cannot be achieved with a wide angle zoom without focus stacking.

But can the Rokinon compare with the Canon 24mm TS-E f3.5L II? In a word — no. The Canon 24mm TS-E f3.5L II is my gold standard for sharpness in lenses. This lens continually amazes me with its sharpness throughout the aperture range; I rate the Canon lens as a 9.5 out of 10 in terms of sharpness and optical performance. The Rokinon is good but I would rate it as an 8 when used correctly and only when stopped down to f8 or f11. Check out the comparison shots below to see what I mean.

My nature lens chart for testing sharpness

My lens chart for testing sharpness 

Centre sharpness of the Rokinon (topt) and the Canon 24 mm tilt shift lens (bottom) at an aperture of f3.5. The Canon is harper; the Rokinon has a warmer colour cast

Centre sharpness of the Rokinon (topt) and the Canon 24 mm tilt shift lens (bottom) at an aperture of f3.5. The Canon is harper; the Rokinon has a warmer colour cast

Edge sharpness at f3.5 with the Rokinon (top) and the Canon (bottom) - a definite difference here!

Edge sharpness at f3.5 with the Rokinon (top) and the Canon (bottom) – a definite difference here!

At f8 the Rokinon (top) approaches the centre sharpness of the Canon lens (bottom) but the Canon lens still is slightly.

At f8 the Rokinon (top) approaches the centre sharpness of the Canon lens (bottom) but the Canon lens still is slightly sharper.

At f8 the Rokinon, the edge sharpness (top) improves drastically coming close to but not matching the Canon's edge sharpness at the same aperture (bottom).

At f8 the Rokinon, the edge sharpness (top) improves drastically coming close to but not matching the Canon’s edge sharpness at the same aperture (bottom).

Everything is relative. If you are used to and happy with the sharpness of the Canon 24-105mm f4L or the 16-35mm f2.8L then you will be thrilled with the sharpness of the Rokinon especially when stopped down to f8 or f11. At wider apertures the Rokinon is not too impressive in terms of sharpness especially at the edges of the frame.

I have been spoiled with a really great lens in the Canon 24mm TS-E f3.5L  which is tack at all apertures and from edge to edge. It’s hard for me to go to a lesser quality lens once you see just how sharp a great lens can be! the Rokinon is good but it just is not in the same league as the Canon 24mm TS-E f3.5 L II lens!

©Darwin Wiggett - Lower Waterfowl Lake, Banff National Park with the Rokinon 24mm tilt shift lens

©Darwin Wiggett – Lower Waterfowl Lake, Banff National Park with the Rokinon 24mm tilt shift lens at f8 – sharper than many wide angle zooms but not as sharp as the Canon TS-E 24mm f3.5L II lens

Conclusion
The Rokinon is great value in a lens. You get all the benefits of tilt and shift in an affordable lens that is as sharp or sharper (when used at f8 to f11) than most lenses that photographers use already. You have to put up with stopped down metering but this is not a deal breaker for an already manual lens workflow. If you are on a budget and want to get into the advantages of tilt and shift for landscape photography, then I recommend the Rokinon.

If you are planning to use a tilt shift lens as your prime dedicated landscape lens then I would recommend you save your pennies for the Canon 24mm f3.5L II lens simply because it is sharper and better built than the Rokinon. You get what you pay for with the Canon lens! I am not sure how well the Rokinon will hold up in hard constant use. The Canon lens has proven to be tough in my constant use of it in harsh environmental conditions. I would spend money on lenses over an upgrade to a camera body

If you own a Nikon camera, you have a conundrum: should you buy the Nikon 24 mm tilt shift lens and have slightly sharper images and better build than the Rokinon or invest in the Rokinon because it has independent rotation of tilt and shift which I think  is critical for landscape photography? Hmmm … a tough one to call for a Nikon shooter!

The good news is you can find used Rokinon tilt shift lenses out there for under $500 so you can dip your toes in tilt shift photography for relatively little cash giving you time to save up for the big name lenses if you decide you like tilt shift photography. Or maybe that Rokinon will meet all your needs. Like I said I have been spoiled by an exceptional lens in the Canon 24mm TS-E

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About our reviews:

We don’t get paid, get kickbacks, affiliate fees or have any personal benefit to do reviews on camera and lenses. We do it only for the benefit of our audience and to try out gear for ourselves. If you like our reviews and want to see more in the future then consider buying one of our eBooks to help support the site. To learn more about tilt shift photography sure to see our article Seven Advantages of Tilt Shift Lenses.

Thanks to Amplis Foto for lending us the Rokinon lens for testing.

©Darwin Wiggett - Rokinon 24mm lens at  f16 - shifted for panorama stitch.

©Darwin Wiggett – Rokinon 24mm lens at f16 – shifted for panorama stitch.

©Darwin Wiggett - A vertical panoram using the Rokinon 24mm lens at Mistaya Canyon in Banff National Park

©Darwin Wiggett – A vertical panorama using the Rokinon 24mm lens at Mistaya Canyon in Banff National Park.

©Darwin Wiggett - Rampart Ponds with the Rokinon 24mm tilt shift lean at f8 (tilted to focus the subject plane)

©Darwin Wiggett – Rampart Ponds with the Rokinon 24mm tilt shift lean at f8 (tilted to focus the subject plane) 

©Darwin Wiggett - Mistaya River in Banff National Park with the Rokinon 24mm tilt shift lens at f8 with shift and tilt.

©Darwin Wiggett – Mistaya River in Banff National Park with the Rokinon 24mm tilt shift lens at f8 with shift and tilt.

©Darwin Wiggett - Wilcox Pass, Jasper National PArk with the Rokinon tilt shift lens at f8 using tilt to focus the subject plane.

©Darwin Wiggett – Wilcox Pass, Jasper National Park with the Rokinon tilt shift lens at f8 using tilt to focus the subject plane. 

©Darwin Wiggett - Creative effects using tilt with the Rokinon 24mm tilt shift lens.

©Darwin Wiggett – Creative effects using tilt with the Rokinon 24mm tilt shift lens.

 

About the Author

I am a Canadian landscape and outdoor photographer who loves long hikes in the woods, yummy food, hairy dogs, good company and pure wilderness.

26 Comments

  1. GTALensRentals
    November 15, 2013

    Thanks Darwin for a great review. Is good to know Rokinon 24mm TS is a good alternative for tilt and shift photography.

    Reply
  2. Ron
    November 15, 2013

    Darwin,
    Thank you for this review. As I own a Nikon, your comments about my choices really hit home. The idea of the increased flexibly with the Rokinon for Nikon is a big plus. I realize this is not a cheap lens but certainly gets you into tilt/shift for Nikon at a better price.

    Ron

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      November 15, 2013

      Nikon will be sharper at wider apertures but when used correctly the Rokinon has good performance and the independent tilt and shift is a real advantage!

  3. Dima
    November 15, 2013

    I remember buying the 24mm TS-E II. Your photos had a big part in that decision. i had a great deal of fun with that lens, but ended up selling it as i needed money for my zoom lens upgrade (went from canon’s 17-40 to nikon 14-24)
    back then, when the samyang was just announced i pretty much ignored it as i knew i had the best lens in the class. now that it’s gone i can sure see myself getting the cheaper alternative. the difference is small and since i only do classing landscapes, i never shoot under f/11 anyway, so the canons advantage at open apertures doesn’t concern me

    Reply
  4. Stefan
    November 15, 2013

    Hi Darwin, thanks for this information.

    A few months ago I bought a used Canon TS 24mm type I and your ebook about tilt shift lenses. At first a great compliment for your ebook because it really helped me to understand how to use such a lens AND especially how I got used to it and started to appreciate this lens. By the way, the same feelings for your filter ebook !! To be honest, I am just back from a week UTAH National parks such as Arches and Canyonland and my Canon TS has made the majority of the images :-) When starting reading your TS ebook I stopped reading when the ‘creativity’ started because that is not really my taste. Within the plane I just was curious and started to read it and learned about how it can help me with my focus of plane. Now my point starts. Because of this added knowledge I also experienced the missing combination of using T and S at the same time. In practice this means using shift for the panorama’s and compensate with aperture for a bit more sharpness within its limited bounderies. So flying back I was thinking of looking for a used type II one but can’t find anyone yet who wants to sel this lens.

    Having read this blog I got a bit confused because at first I thought trying to buy a used type II from Canon but now I am a bit puzzled by the question what to do….maybe the Samyang??
    What is your opinion? Thanks in advance!
    Cheers from a photographer who really likes and appreciates your way of sharing your knowledge and experiences :-))

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      November 15, 2013

      If you want to go budget and only plan to shoot at apertures of f8 or f11, then get the budget Rokinon/Samyang.

      If you want full flexibility of aperture use (maybe for shallow slice of focus effects) and you want the ultimate in sharpness and the best build quality then the Canon is the answer if you can find a used version II. I know a lot of people out there that buy a 24mm f3.5L II and then end up selling it about a year later after they find they don’t use the lens because it is a tougher workflow than an wide-angle autofocus zoom lens. So used ones do get out there. If anyone has one for sale feel free to respond to this post ;-) Same goes for the Nikon 24mm lens.

    • Stefan
      November 15, 2013

      Thx for your fast reaction!
      Less confused now, have patience and try to find a used type II, that is what I will do!
      Stefan

    • Stefan
      November 16, 2013

      Hi Darwin again,
      From your ebook about T&S lenses I read this night an interesting article to which it poited to,
      http://www.northlight-images.co.uk/article_pages/modify_canon_tilt-shift.html
      About modifying a TS24mm lens. Do you still support this modification? If so my ,problem’ from my type I lens is solved, is it?
      Thx

  5. Tom
    November 15, 2013

    Your test chart is awesome!!! Love it. :)

    Reply
  6. Scott Martin
    November 15, 2013

    Thanks for the great review of the Rokinon. The TS-E 24 is on the top of my ‘most wanted’ list but it looks like the Rokinon will let me get into the tilt shift world right away (and I will be able to forget about the Transform Tool in CS6 :))

    Reply
  7. Alfonso
    November 15, 2013

    Thanks Darwin for such good, real life review. I also got the tilt shift bug and got your e-book which I found of great help and very insightful. At the time I was in the market for a t&s lens the Samyang had just come out. I waited paitently to read some reviews and see what users were saying about real life use of this lens.

    I am no fun boy of any brand and whenever I buy some peace of equipment try to find a balance between quality and price. After reading the-digital-picture.com review, Roger Cicala’s at lensrentals.com and some early users I realised that the quality/price ratio for the Samyang was not as I was hoping it to be.

    The final factors that helped me go for the amazing Canon 24mm t&s II were the shocking sharpness difference up to f/8, the built, the knobs, and the lack of chip on the Samyang. These two lenses are not in the same league.

    Your review just confirmed my observations nicely. I waited a litlle longer and finaly saved up for the Canon and I could not be happier about my decision.

    Happy shooting,

    Alfonso

    Reply
  8. Chris Bone
    November 15, 2013

    Darwin, thanks for another of your great hands-on reviews. Now I am really tempted by this lens, particularly with it being less than half the cost of the 24mm Nikon TS. Who sells them in Canada; I have not had any success with on-line searches?

    Cheers,

    Chris

    Reply
  9. Al Fedorak
    November 15, 2013

    Darwin,
    Well done! Great practical review! Your comparison images between the two lenses really show what the end results can be.

    Reply
  10. Kiim Stavrum
    December 5, 2013

    Darwin, you have a canon and a canon TS lens and everyone knows that canon’s put out great color, you never mentioned color comparisons between the rokinon and the canon 24TS II, how did the rokinons color rank with you??

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      December 6, 2013

      Colours are nice in the Rokinon but are less neutral than the Canon – The Rokinon has a warm cast to it and slightly less contrast.

  11. Mark
    February 2, 2014

    Nice to have this review of Rokinon 24mm TSE lens. I am planning to buy one but my budget won’t permits for Canon 24mm TSE II. So Rokinon is the alternative for now. Most of the information I need is here. Thanks Darwin!

    Btw Darwin, would you know any link on how to use the tilt shift lens? Particularly the when I want to my foreground to background to be sharp. Really appreciate if you have one.

    Cheers

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      February 3, 2014

      We think the best link on how to use a tilt shift lens is our eBook – http://www.oopoomoo.com/ebook/the-tilt-shift-lens/

      We also have tilt shift videos at our youtube page: https://www.youtube.com/user/oopoomootv

      Hope that helps

    • Mark
      March 10, 2014

      Thanks Darwin for the link and I’ve already purchased your ebook guide for tilt-shift. I just got my Rokinon 24mm ts lens and I notice when using the live wiew function, you won’t be able to see the correct exposure and histogram of the image before taking that shot. You need to manually adjust the shutter speed and refer to the exposure meter as your guide. I am not sure if it is really like this. Please do correct me if I may have missed something. Cheers.

    • Darwin Wiggett
      March 10, 2014

      That’s the price you pay for the Rokinon – stopped down metering! Try aperture priority and focus and set tilt at f3.5. The camera will pick the shutter speed. Then for shooting go to f8 and hopefully the camera will figure out the proper shutter speed (or one in the ball park). Take a shot and adjust as necessary (using exposure comp or returning to manual).

  12. Robert
    February 5, 2014

    Bought your book. I already had the old Nikon 855mm t/s lens and had ordered the Rokinon.

    A couple of significant issues: the shift is loose and when used vertically easily slips to the bottom and when using the camera for landscapes and shifting left and right for panoramas I cannot get my fingers onto the control ono which is half hidden by the D800s flash flange. The latter may be a problem with the Nikon version for all I know. A somewhat larger knob would help.

    Reply
    • Robert
      February 5, 2014

      Obviously I meant 85mm. And how knob became ono, I can’t explain but the issue is a bit of an oh no.

  13. Les
    March 24, 2014

    Darwin,
    Thankyou for your excellent blog and beautiful photographs.
    A penny for your thoughts regarding comparing using a tilt shift and a good wide angle zoom. I have a nikon d800 and I have several prime lenses; a 24mm f2.8 nikkor being my widest lens (I shoot landscapes and architecture/interiors on a part-time basis). I am looking at getting either a PC/TS lens or a good wide angle zoom, but can only afford one.
    In your view, how does the Rokinon 24mm tilt shift or Nikon 24mm PC compare with Nikons better wide angle zooms (have to use focus stacking) – i.e. 14-24 f2.8 and 18-35 g ed for landscape photography?
    Are the limitations with filters an issue for the 14-24?
    Have you had any experience with the 18-35 g ed?
    I appreciate that you are very busy. Thanks in advance for your observations.

    Reply
    • Darwin Wiggett
      March 24, 2014

      hi Les,

      Telling you whether to buy a wide angle zoom or a tilt shift lens for landscape photography is like asking a parent to pick which kid they will keep. Each has advantages and disadvantages. For me, I love the creative control and the variety of possibilities you get with a tilt shift lens (image stitching, perspective control, and control over the plane of focus) that is harder to do with a regular lens. However, you sacrifice auto-focus, the convenience of zoom, and quick responsive use that you get with a wide angle zoom. It really does depend on your personality. I say rent a tilt shift lens and try it to see if it works for you.

      If you do decide to get a tilt shift lens I would still favour the Nikon over the Rokinon… the Nikon is sharper at all apertures (I see used Nikon’s flaoting around out there frequently). The 14-24 is an amazing lens but the distortion especially in Architecture is really extreme – but that extreme view can be amazing in landscape photography. And it is hard to filter the 14-24mm. I have never used the 18-35mm lens. I hope this helps.

    • Les
      March 24, 2014

      Many thanks Darwin. Your suggestion to rent a tilt shift is a great idea. I have a job coming up photographing kitchens so I will rent a tilt shift and see what kind of results I get. I might also rent a 14-24. I’m off to the states at the end of May, visiting Yosemite, Grand Canyon, canyon lands, slot canyons, Colorado etc and want to make a good decision re glass.
      Keep up the good work.
      Les

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