These days there are so many different choices on Ultra Wide Angle (UWA) lenses in the full frame arena that choosing one shouldn’t be difficult. Right?
As with most photography equipment it comes down to the budget though. Certain factors will also influence the final decision such us:
– Type of photography it will be used for
– How often
– In what type of environment/conditions
– Professional or personal use
Samyang Optics is a company that manufactures CCTV lenses, and developed and released their first DSLR lens only in 2008 according to their website. It is manufactured in Korea and also trades as the Bower or Rokinon brand. This Samyang lens probably falls in the lowest price range when it comes to UWA lenses. Maybe this is why it is not such a well-known brand as it might be overlooked for its give-away-bargain-of-the-year price tag. Today we’ll have a closer look at this lens with a practical hands-on view and how it performs out in the field. Let’s have a closer look…
What’s in the box?
The Samyang 14mm F2.8 ED AS IF UMC comes neatly packed in a carton box and is encircled by two pieces of molded plastic to provide protection. An operating manual, test certificate and soft case join the party. The manual tells you the basics on specifications, user instructions and care for the lens. This one includes a 3 Years Authorized Distributor Warranty card. Nice packaging overall, no frills, and everything is recyclable.
Taking this lens out of the box also leaves a good first impression: its weight is more than expected and the feel of a cold metal body is a warm welcome. The lens has a permanently fixed lens hood attached to it and a very bulbous front lens element that immediately draws your attention when the bulky plastic lens cap is removed.
All in all, this lens makes a very good overall first impression. The Samyang 14mm is neither big nor small, neither heavy nor light; in the ring we can call it a middleweight with loose sitting pants.
The lens cap is a bit odd looking at first but after a day or two you get used to it; it does provide good protection for that bulbous lens element. The lens cap makes known its presence when walking around without a camera bag – you kinda have a problem after removing it “Where am I going to put this HUGE LENS CAP now?” It’s too big to fit in your jean’s pockets and very impractical trying to photograph while holding it in your hand.
Something important you need to keep in mind with this lens is that the front lens element should stay covered and protected, it scratches very easily. Not sure what type of coating is on the glass but it’s kinda ‘soft’ and not very scratch resistant. Mine got a scratch just by gently touching an aluminium railing. I tested a small part of the glass with a needle and all I can say is, be aware! Keeping the lens clean with a soft cloth is quite easy and it does not really attract dust.
The overall build quality on this lens is excellent. The focusing ring is quite smooth, leaning a small bit towards the stiff side. Since it is metal I don’t think it will loosen up too much over time, a good thing. Markings are clear on the lens body and aperture markings run from 2.8 to 22 (This is a constant f2.8 lens, yes life begins at 1.4 but 2.8 is not bad!). It takes about a three quarter turn to move from a very good 28cm closest focusing distance to infinity. Waterproofing is something we can debate about as it is difficult to tell what is going on behind the make-up of this lens. The manual warns against splashing water onto the lens, guess we’ll stay on the safe side. It did venture with me into a very high humidity forest and also got a bit wet as it was raining during the 3km hike, dried it frequently and had no problems. It’s a fully manual lens so not much brains inside to get wet. Let’s hope Mr. Fungus stays outside though.
Of course we want to know how it performs so let’s get straight to it, in a bit… As expected with all UWA lenses, barrel lens distortion is present, and on this lens it’s not good! Phew… that was not a nice thing to say about this lens, unfortunately. Distortion is complex and in the form of a mustache, and an ugly one at that. The good news is that there are one or two good lens profiles (plugins)to be found for post processing to correct lens distortion. You need to learn what this lens is good for when it comes to barrel distortion – architecture would be very low on the list, landscape photography would be very high on the list, snapshots would also be high on the list as a walk around lens. With the barrel distortion and the close focusing distance one can get quite creative. Barrel distortion can of course be conquered in certain situations with a bit of strategic shooting.
Sharpness… well once you get to experience the sharpness of this lens you’ll forget just about all its other short comings. Yes I said experience; it’s one of those things you not only have to see but also experience. The resolution power of this lens is astonishing and competes with the very top players in the arena, even the Carl Zeiss Distagon 15mm (also a fully manual lens). What?!! Yep, astonishing compared to a lens that costs seven times more! This lens performed very well on D600, it rather brought out some weaknesses on the camera’s part. Moiré showed up more frequently in images than I usually encounter, because of the fine detail this lens is able to capture – the resolution of this lens puts a smile on my face every time I use it. Check out the detail on the crop version of this shot at f2.8:
Sharpness does drop off around the corners, but this is to be expected on most UWA lenses. Actually it’s a bit of a strange behavior as there are a few factors that add to the equation like object distances within the scene and the angle of the image plane (camera tilt), greatly effecting DOF play. Every scene has a different outcome, some very sharp around the corners and others rather bad. This is something we as photographers need to know and deal with as it is not really a lens problem – when a flat object like a wall is photographed straight-on the corner sharpness is very good for an UWA… It is something we encounter with most lenses in this arena but with good planning it can be conquered. Corner sharpness is quite good though, so without carrying on too much about it lets rather check out some test images, they are straight out of camera RAW files with slight sharpening for JPEG conversion and resizing. These were not highly controlled test shots, walk-around images might be a better description, as they were taken without this review in mind.
Ok, so what’s missing that makes this well build lens so affordable? This is a fully manual lens which means no auto focus, though the latest UMC version does have a focus confirmation chip. Two small arrows, in the viewfinder, guide focusing. A small dot will show up on the screen for focus confirmation. It’s not very accurate as there is room for play but it helps a bit.
Live view focusing of course is not ideal – with landscape photography this is not really a problem – but with snapshots at f2.8 it’s really a challenge. The distance scale is all wrong on most copies and there are quite a few complaints about it. Most people just live with it or fix it themselves via YouTube tutorials or have their own DIY solutions.
This lens does not have any form of image stabilization. Something I also encountered with this lens is inconsistent exposure metering, it can jump around quite a bit, sometimes 2-3 stops when changing the exposure dial for only one stop.
Something you have to look out for when purchasing this lens is sharpness, as some copies are decentered, creating a soft spot somewhere in the image – usually on the left or right side. Quality control seems to be an issue as reported by some customers receiving a decentered copy. In the UWA arena this is a known problem but more so with the Samyang’s. Mine seems to be fine, I think… It tends to have a soft area around the left edge with smaller aperture values, but it’s gone at F/11, which is just about the limit before diffraction starts influencing image quality.
If you are into astrophotography then you can definitely consider this lens. With a wide field of view and a large aperture at f2.8 which delivers sharp images, it is definitely an option. I played around one night while in a game reserve and was really impressed with the results.
The Samyang 14mm f2.8 is a bag of mixed feelings; it has some very positive aspects like good contrast, colours, CA performance and incredible sharpness. Then there are some aspects that are not so good like vignetting, mustache distortion and no auto focus or stabilisation. Shooting video with this lens is not easy as it has no built-in stabilisation and camera shake does not look with wide angle lenses. If you plan your shots well to overcome things like camera shake, vignetting, barrel distortion and focusing then it might come in very handy. Personally I mostly use it for photography and I love the lens as it serves its purpose well for my needs. Build quality is very good and it seems robust enough, no need to worry about electronic parts. It has become the primary lens in my camera bag for landscape photography.