Thanks to GTA Lens Rentals for providing this lens for review.
The Nikon 14-24mm f2.8, released in late 2007, is the stuff of legend; it’s considered by almost everyone who has tried it to be sharpest wide angle zoom lens on the planet! Just do a search on the web and all reviews say the same thing, the lens is a freaking anomaly! Once you try it your definition of sharp is forever changed. The lens was such a game changer that many Canon shooters salivated in envy because, frankly, all of Canon’s wide angle zoom lenses suck. Suddenly the market exploded with lens adapters so that Nikon lenses could be mounted on Canon cameras. I personally knew a half a dozen Canon landscape photographers who bought the lens and adapter. The introduction of the Nikon D800 in 2012 also caused shockwaves because of its 36 MP sensor. The file quality on the D800 is also legendary. Combine the D800 with the 14-24mm and you have a combo that makes many other camera and lens combos look like a Holga. At this point all my Canon landscape buddies with the 14-24mm lenses just switched to Nikon.
Why didn’t I make the same move as my buddies? Easy, I’m addicted to my Canon tilt-shift lenses for landscape photography. The creative advantages of tilt-shift lenses over a wide angle zoom are many including the ability to tilt the plane of focus, to shift for perspective control and to shift to make panoramic photos and mega-pixel stitches. Nikon’s tilt-shift lenses are not as versatile as Canon’s because Nikon does not not make the tilt and shift rotate independently like Canon does. Independent rotation of tilt and shift are critical for full creative potential of these lenses. As well Canon’s live view is better than Nikon’s (works in lower light and, displays the view at the widest aperture no matter what aperture you choose). Plus I find that I’m not a big fan of super wide lens (wider than 20mm) because the distortion just looks too gimmicky. A focal length of 24mm for me is the perfect wide angle: wide but still ‘real’ looking. And finally, with my Canon 24mm tilt-shift lens I can use my filter system and all the advantages that filters offer me. It’s hard to filter that bulging front element of the Nikon 14-24mm lens and I know many photographers who have spent a fortune buying giant filter systems and contraptions to put filters on the 14-24mm lens; in the end most give up.
So I’m happy with my camera and lens choice and out of the blue GTA Lens Rentals gives me a call asking if I want to try the Nikon 14-24mm lens with a Novoflex lens adapter for my Canon. Well gee, let me think. I get to play with a legendary lens and have an excuse to go and take photos. Well… let me think about it 😉
I’ll cut to the chase. The results were as good as all the hype suggests. This lens is freaky sharp. It’s as sharp as my beloved 24mm TS-E and as sharp as the 17mm TS-E. But with the Nikon you have focal lengths from 14 to 24mm with every single focal length on the lens razor sharp! After you use this lens you’ll see just how poor your regular zoom lenses really perform.
Using the Nikon lens on a Canon body requires you focus manually with the Novaflex adapter set to move the aperture to wide open. I always used live view magnified to 5x for precise focus. After getting focus I moved the adapter to stop down the lens (I usually set it in the middle of the range to give me something near f8, but you really never know what aperture you’re actually shooting at). I can see why my Canon buddies just went out and bought a D800 so that the workflow was much easier than using a lens adapter.
So is a Nikon 14-24mm lens in my future? Not at all. The lens just does not fit my creative vision. I’m not a super wide angle dude. The creative advantages of tilt shift lenses are too alluring for me and I still love using filters. But for anyone curious about the 14-24mm and wants to see if it might be a tool for your creative vision I highly recommend a one week rental from GTA Lens Rentals . In fact, I think before buying any lens, rent it first; nothing worse than laying down big bucks for a lens that just doesn’t work for your style of photography.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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
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.
Let’s cut to the chase. Here at oopoomoo we don’t do technical lens or camera reviews. There are many good sources on the web for optical bench test performance and pixel peeps at lenses and cameras. We are interested in lenses and cameras as real world tools to help us express our vision and tell our stories. And so we take gear out in the field and make actual photos and videos. Does the gear help or hinder our creative process? That’s the ultimate question.
Why test a 35mm f1.4 lens?
We prefer prime lenses (fixed focal length lenses) over zooms because primes make us think more about lens perspective and the effect of perspective on story. Zoom lenses make us lazy – to learn more about how to use a zoom lens effectively please see this video. Also primes give us a wider range of apertures than zooms do. And aperture choice is a huge story-telling camera control! With a prime lens we can achieve a super shallow depth-of-field using apertures like f1.4, f1.8 or f2.0. Zoom lenses very rarely have any of these apertures available. For both photo and video work, having that super thin slice of focus and a sea of bokeh helps us direct the viewer’s attention to specific parts of the scene. Plus the 35mm focal length is perfect for general photography and video, taking in a moderately wide angle of view but without crazy distortion of perspective like we see in wider angle focal lengths. In short, the 35mm focal length is believable; it feels like a lens that documents the world similar to the way we view things. And the 35mm focal length has a long history in photography as the focal length used by journalists and street photographers.
Why the Sigma 35mm f1.4?
Sam shoots Nikon, I shoot Canon so if a 35mm prime is so awesome as a creative tool why are we not reviewing Nikon or Canon lenses? Simple. We like getting the best value possible for our hard earned dollars. We felt the Nikon and Canon 35mm f1.4 lenses were overpriced ($1700 and $1500 respectively). The Sigma 35mm f1.4 checks in at just over $900! And according to numerous technical reviews on the web (e.g. here and here) the optical performance of the Sigma lens is better than the Nikon and Canon equivalents. Wow! What is not to like? So… before we buy anything we test it, to see if it works with our creative process.
What we liked!
After playing with the lens in the field for a week we found it to be a wonderful tool that was easy to use and that delivered exceptional results. Here is a list of things we really liked:
- fast, accurate and silent auto-focus
- wonderfully large manual focus ring (we use manual focus a lot and a big ring is essential for good video work)
- close focus ability for nice tight portraits, intimate landscapes or close ups (focuses down to 28cm)
- really sharp lens especially at the centre even when shot wide open at f1.4 (many lenses suck at their widest apertures, this one does not)
- edge sharpness is really good and is surprisingly good from f2 and up
- awesome to use in backlight because the lens has very little flare
- nice bokeh with very little fringing in high contrast areas
- we like that the largest number on the aperture ring is f16; anything larger creates diffraction making for poor quality images (Sigma takes away that option and leaves you with the usable large depth of field aperture choice of f16)
- build quality seems high and it balances well on the camera
- price is much more palatable than other brands
- the range of apertures makes for creative story telling
- available for Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Sony and Sigma cameras
What we did not like!
- this is a huge lens that seems more like a short telephoto than a wide angle lens (this is the biggest and heaviest 35mm f1.4 out there!)
- there is no weather sealing so if you shoot in damp, humid conditions or dusty there may be a problem with moisture or grit getting into the lens (although we shot with it for three days in snow and rain without any issue)
- we have to buy two of these lenses; one for Nikon and one for Canon!
Overall we think the Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM lens is a wonderful tool for a great price especially if you see yourself wanting a moderate wide angle prime for the flexibility in aperture choice or if you plan to shoot serious video work. The Sigma 35mm f1.4 is an oopoomoo recommended tool for artful story telling!
Anyone coming to the Persistent Vision Photography Event this Saturday in Bragg Creek will be entered into a draw to win a set of top pro lenses from Sigma Canada. The two lenses in question are the Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 and the Sigma 70-200 f2.8 and together are worth $2700 (available in Canon, Nikon, Sony or Pentax mounts). Not only will you get a stunning weekend of inspiration and learning with David duChemin, the oopoomoo team and our panel of pro photographers and publishers, you can win this great lens set from Sigma Canada! Only those who pre-register through The Camera Store will be eligible (tickets must be purchased before 5 pm MST on Friday March 15). Tickets to the event will be sold at the door for $200 cash but cash sales are not in the draw for the lenses plus why pay nearly $40 more at the door, save money and sign up now.
See my review of the 24-70mm Sigma Lens.
See my review of the Sigma 70-200mm lens.
See you at Persistent Vision!