Lets get to something from my vintage vs new lens shoot out I did a few weeks ago – A review on the Samyang / Rokinon 35 1.4 Lens.
I’ve been using the Rokinon version of this lens for several months ( years now ). Its become one of my favorite lenses. Lets take a look why and go into the details of the various versions of this lens that are out there. I’m also NOT pulling punches on where this lens comes up short because there are some places that it does. These areas may or may not matter to you.
Samyang is officially the company that makes this lens, but its sold under several other names and companies including Rokinon, Vivitar and Bower.There are probably a few others out there as well.
There A Difference Between Vendor Brands Besides Price ?
YES ! besides price, there is one main difference. Its which direction the lens focuses in. If you shoot Nikon with its backwards ( to everyone else ) focus turn, then you’ll be ok with the Samyang OEM branded version of this lens. If you shoot Canon, cine glass and most other brands, then you’ll want the Rokinon version because it focuses in the normal direction. Bower may focus either way depending on the lot it seems and Vivitar focuses backwards.
Lets get right to the point, freaking awesome optical performance ! I’m thrilled with it. Even wide open its a great performer for the price. Ok, so a Canon L lens _will_ be a bit better, but 2X-3X the price better ? Thats up to you. If you make your living competing with 20 other shooters for the same shot, or get top dollar for your day rate and $ doesn’t matter, go ahead and just get the Canon. For everyone else who might prefer more value for their money, this lens is a no brainer. Its sharp and contrasty wide open. Yes there is some CA / diffusion, but its very minimal compared to a lot of older glass. You’ll instantly see how nice it is in comparison. This is pretty close to the L glass in overall performance without the big price.
Its Manual Focus
Yup ! no AF here to talk about. A nice 180 deg turn of the lens barrel. Smooth and silky with hard stops, this is real. Internal focus means the lens barrel stays at a constant length and the front doesn’t rotate. This lens works great with a short extension tube for closer focusing.
Focusing on this lens is a pleasure for its range and smoothness. A very big plus here. Another more expensive lens has only a 90ish degree focus turn.
Ok this is weird but my lens focuses past infinity. Long lenses will do this because when they get cold, parts contract, you need the extra range to focus to actual infinity. However, I can’t think of any reason why this lens does so except poor factory calibration. Maybe its something due to the internal focus, but I doubt it. Seems like less than ideal QA. UPDATE I’ve done some poking around the web and it seems this is just how this lens is made. Its not a deal breaker, but if you spin the lens to the infinity hard stop expecting it to be sharp, it won’t be. Thats REALLY REALLY bad for people shooting stills in fast moving situations where you expect hitting the hard stop means you are at infinity. Instead you HAVE to look at the lens to set it there or use the LCD screen with magnify on to see critical focus.
This probably isn’t something you’ll see written up, but since this is a very much a manual lens I need to bring it up. The focus markings are really skimpy. I have no idea why because it makes no sense. Look at this close up shot. Why can’t 5, 7 and 20 ft be marked ? its not like it would cost any money. It makes the well done depth of field markings next to useless for even modest work. Its this sort of stupid short coming that can make or break a product. If the optical performance of this lens was any less, this would be part of my reason to to NOT buy this lens. Seriously, DoF markings on a fully manual lens matter and cheating here is, well, leaving me speechless.
Later lenses from Rokinon seem to of heard this comment, they have improved their lens markings a bit like adding DoF markings.
I’ll also note, no IR focus mark. Ok, thats SERIOUSLY old school to talk about IR film,but some folks do mod dslr’s and remove the IR filter. The mark should be there. I’ll GUESS its around 2.8 to 5.6 on the RIGHT side of the focus mark. Really, it would of cost NOTHING to included it !
Something Is Shaking Inside
I’ve confirmed this on 2 copies of this lens. Shake the lens, something is wobbling around inside. WTF moment for sure. It seems like the floating focus elements have some play. I’m not talking about shaking this lens like a paint mixer, but just some easy up and down motion. The sort of motion you might get when shooting from a car, boat or plane. Could this wobbling mess with your image ? I don’t know because I haven’t tried, yet !
There was something wrong with the lens. I sent it to Rokinon and they “repaired” it by simply replacing it with a new one. THANKS ! that’s what good service should be and without any hassle. Also note I now have the cine version of the lens and will be doing a review of it shortly.
The lens front is plastic. Bummer. Not a deal breaker but disappointing. Upside ? filters will tend to not get stuck as often and will be easier to get out when over done. The lens itself is constructed of plastic externally, aluminum internally. This reduces the weight of the lens.
To be sure its a big handful of glass so a I’ve got no complaints. We’ve have plastic made lenses for years and they seem to hold up just fine. Plastic is also nicer to handle in cold conditions. I had no problems putting a focus gear on this. Also consider how much the big name lens makers also are making theirs out of plastic too….
Its got click stops. For stills, this is ok. For Cine work, there is a DeClicked Cine version. All that really means is that a small single round steel ball isn’t installed into the iris ring control. Really thats it, no magic here to “declick” an iris ring. Why do they charge extra for leaving something out ? The Cine version is available as a Samyang branded lens.
Shallow enough depth of field ? wide open 60D @ ISO 160. With manual focus and DoF of about 2-3 inches, you better be on the money. Going to 2.8 might be your friend if you need a little margin for safety.
Its awesome for the price. Its Sharp where you want it, and fall off depth of field blur where you want it. At 1.4 focus carefully ! Your margin of error is about 1 inch. Ok, gory details now –
Wide Open 1.4 above. All sharp, some loss of contrast as to be expected. This is pretty minimal compared to a lot of other lenses out there and is great performance.
F5.6 What else is there to say ? Its SHARP and CONTRASTY !
Another odd point of this lens. Dead center Bokeh looks great as you’d expect. Going off center, the highlights gain this odd off shape expression I’d call cat eyes. This ONLY happens wide open or close to it. Stopping down a bit makes octogons. There is also the “wooly” effect at times in the highlights. Its some sort of interference pattern most likely cause because 2 lens elements are not aligned perfectly. Its nothing that has an adverse effect on normal image quality, but it does show up the way it does in my examples.
The wide open “cat eyes”. These are street lights far away. I’m focused to minimum distance making the effect most noticeable. Also note the ‘wooly’ effect.
Stop down and the cat eyes effect goes away making much more symmetrical highlights. This shot is full frame 1080 shrunk down.
Here is a larger section showing the wooly effect again in 1080. Double click for a larger full frame image.
Speaking of cat eyes, are you going to argue with this shot ? Yes this lens has that sort of personality that just grabs you. Its the look that defined the start of the dslr revolution with its ultra shallow DoF effects that got everyone excited. Its the lens that will change how you shoot if you have never worked wide open at 1.4 before.
This lens has some flaws to be sure. Would that stop me from buying it ? no. Its still a great deal compared to other 35 1.4’s. Some compromises are to be expected, but none here will stop you from making great images. Ok, maybe the focus past infinity thing could become a pain, but once you get used to it, its not the end of the world.
I’m shooting a lot with this lens these days including some quick portrait work. For video its a great lens that’s between being wide or long, yet if you go wide open has “the look” of longer glass. I’m thrilled with it despite its shortcomings which are not major, just annoying.
A side by side comparison using a light meter to check out the true output of each of these lights under the same test. The aputure 120D really puts out a lot of light, especially with the new 2X Fresnel attachment.
I know I never seem to have a long enough lens, even with a 400mm monster in my case. My next shorter lens is a 70-200 2.8 Tamron, which again I always seem to want a little more reach with. Enter the 1.4X converter. this turns 200mm into 280mm of reach. The trade off is a 1 stop light loss, and some image degradation according to the pixel peepers.
Now you’ve probably never heard of Kenko, or at best passed the name by as some low quality brand. The fact is the converter appears to be identical to the Tamron converter except in color and price. A number of still shooter sites had good things to say about the Kenko, but of course until you have a unit in hand, you never know.
There are at least 3 versions of Kenko’s 1.4 Converter. The newest model is the Kenko C-AF 1.4X DGX Pro 300 converter version which is a 7 element converter. This is the top of the line unit, with a price to match. There is an older DG model, and there is a the MC4 model which is a 4 element version which is about $110 cheaper. The DGX and DG are 7 element converters which offer better quality and ideally the one you want.
The Kenko is a nice small compact unit. You can easily carry it in your pocket for when you need to travel light and fast, but could use some extra reach. It has a full set of contacts to pass thru lens control to the camera body. With several lenses I tried, it also seems to add exposure compensation so that a mounted 2.8 lens will read 4.0. This is a very cool feature to have, especially for shooting stills. Autofocus works when shooting stills. I won’t offer any comments on focus speed and accuracy because its not something I’ve used very much so far. When shooting video I’d never be using AF even if it was an option. The converter does work provided the lens you put on doesn’t put you below 5.6 where the AF system won’t work.
The canon converter as I mentioned only works with longer lenses, but the Kenko will work on anything you can mount to it. I’ve used my Tamron 17-50 2.8 on it with success creating a 24-70 F4 lens. The Tamron 17-50 2.8 also continued to have its super close focusing as well. This is so handy when you need a little more reach and can live with the light loss of 1 stop. With the converter my 50 1.4 OM is now a 70 F2.0. Kenko does recommend using the converter on longer lenses only, but the bottom line is if it works and the image quality is ok, who cares.
The canon 1.4X extender of excellent optical quality has a serious limitation : its front element sticks out past the front of the lens mount. It is really only designed to work with long canon glass like the 300 2.8, 70-200 2.8 and bigger. If you wanted to get about 70mm from your 50mm by adding the extender, well thats not happening. With the canon they just won’t fit together without hitting glass elements each other, thats if they would even mount together at all. Its a bit surprising that canon has not changed this design with a model III unit, but I guess they wanted the absolute best performance with their long lenses. Just as note, the canon comes in model II and model ( more expensive ) III. Maybe if you are a working pro photog competing with 20 other shooters to sell the same shot, the ( I’m sure ) every so slightly sharper canon might possibly be your edge… except 15 of the other shooters probably have one too. I don’t have a canon 800mm L lens here to see if it that makes a difference either, but if you can afford one of those lenses, then this extender isn’t even sales tax on the big lens.
The Optical Quality
Tamron 70-200 2.8 @ F4 + Kenko 1.4X DGX TelePlus Pro 300 – click on image for larger version
Alright, this is the question that got you to read this most likely, so lets get to it !
The optical quality of the Kenko is dead on awesome. With my tests, both stills and video, there was no way to tell it was in use. Maybe this means I needed to test harder to see the difference that should be there. I shot my tests with a Tamron 70-200 2.8 which is an excellent optical performer on par with the canon 70-200 2.8L II. I have no question that using this unit is not doing any harm to your image sharpness that anyone will even see including the even the pixel peepers. Well that is to say unless all you do is shoot resolution charts all day long perfectly. My image chart tests revealed nothing, or should I say no noticeable loss when shooting with a 60D. This is a crop sensor camera so its using the best part of the converter’s image. You MIGHT find a 5D there is some softness on the edges, or not.
My test results where consistent in both shooting stills and video of test charts.
Shooting some real world video on real shoots, the 1.4X performed perfectly. The shots I got from it I could not tell were taken with the converter, it except I already new. With some lenses, you may need to open them up a stop since not all lenses will talk to the camera body thru the converter correctly. Most of my lenses did ok.
All the online reviews I read put this right up against the canon for image quality, except of course the canon costs a good deal more. I’m going to say yes its true this is a great converter that will keep even the very picky happy.
This is the slippery slope where it gets more interesting. One thing I found is that when using a zoom like the 17-50 Tamron, focus changed between focal lengths. If I focused at 50mm, then pulled back to 35 or 24, the image got soft. I had to refocus at that focal length. This isn’t the end of the world, but it is something have drilled into your head when shooting in fast moving situations – focus focus focus ! Don’t zoom in focus and then pull back with the converter mounted, you have to use the camera’s image zoom function to check critical focus.
I also found the 70-200 also exhibited this quirk. Its not the end of the world, but it is something to be on your toes about.
Are there any downsides to this unit ? Well all 1.4X converters cause a 1 stop light loss, so I can’t complain here. There is probably one thing I will complain about, and its the front lens mount on the converter. When a lens is mounted to the converter, there can by a little bit of play in the mount. The mounted lens may have some wiggle. Its very small, but its there. This wiggle so far has not caused me any problems that I can tell, and may represent the only thing there the canon might beat this one out. I think this is a minor problem for the cost vs the great optical quality of the unit.
UPDATE : 5 or is it 7 years later I still have this converter in use when I need a little more reach.
What are extension tubes ? A very affordable and simple way of getting marco shots using the lenses you already have. Here is a quick review and tutorial on using extensions tubes. The set I’m using is from Opteka but these are identical – Vivitar Macro Extension Tube Set (Set of 3) for Canon.
“In Production” is a brand new video chat program where hosts I and long time friend and friend Carey Dissmore discuss tools and topics related to the video production business. I think we both have a unique perspectives as independent production business owner/operators. We aren’t just here to talk about stuff in a generic review sort of way, but to share insights on using those tools in the real world. Does this thing _really_ work work better, does it make you money faster & easier ? Can you use this with a client in the room ?
This show will be produced periodically as series around specific topics. Our first series is on the topic of Color Grading and DaVinci Resolve. This series is comprised of 6 episodes, to be released weekly. The first two episodes are embedded below.
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