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Friday, July 20, 2012

Rokinon / Samyang / Vivitar 14mm 2.8 Lens Review and Test

I don't think I've ever met a lens that was too wide for me. My current widest lens is 17-50 2.8 Tamron and that had me looking for a wider lens. I decided to check out the Rokinon 14mm 2.8 after having a positive experience with another one of their lenses, the 35 1.4.

 
 
I took this lens out for some tests at first, then it went out on a trip to Pearl Harbor documenting a bunch of WW2 vets. They were visiting the places they had been when the attack occurred. On this shoot we had several cameras including a full size panasonic HPX500 P2 camera, a AF100 with 14-24 Nikon, a couple of GoPros, D800 and my 60D with 2 lenses. I brought the Rokinon 14 2.8 and a vintage OM 50 1.4 because I had to travel light. I was doing a mix of B camera and audio with full gear. 
 

 
In practice I used the 14 2.8 for just about everything I shot. It was the widest lens we had on the shoot and it came in handy for getting wide shots everywhere from planes to buses to wide scenic shots. I also found that with a Letus LCD loupe on the camera, I could easily hand hold this barebones setup just fine. I had steady shots without too much effort and without any bug bulky shoulder rig. This proved invaluable for shooting discreetly in one or two places where it was required. It also made shooting in tight places like planes and busses much easier.
 
Since this is a pretty wide lens even on a APS-C camera, you have to get close. This is not a lens for the timid that want to hold back and have distance. Its a lens for getting into the middle of it and seeing the big picture up close.
 
The Good
 
The Rokinon 14mm 2.8 has a built in lens shade as one might expect with this sort of a lens and it seems to work fine. The lens cap is a cup style one that covers the entire shade. Its overall size is compact within reason but still big enough you can focus or mount a gear on the focus ring.
 

Build Quality

Plastic outer barrel with aluminum internals. Unlike the 35 1.4, when you shake this lens nothing moves around. It seems like a very solid build overall. The Canon EF mount though has no contacts or chip in the mount. While this might seem ok for a manual lens, they should put in a chip that tells the body the focal length and wide open apeture of the lens. Total cost would be a dollar or two for them and it should be there. As note, they do have some other mounts like Nikon that do have contacts and some basic info is sent to the body.
 
The iris does have click stops because its a still lens. However, they aren't nearly as stiff or distinct as other lenses. With some practice you can get some almost smooth iris changes while shooting that shouldn't be too noticeable.
 

Focus

The focus ring has a nice 270 deg spin. Thats just like a real cine lens and I wish more lenses would do this. This allows the lens to focus to just under 1ft which in a practical sense is about 6" from the front of the lens. Just for kicks I tried my shortest extension tube to see if I could go closer. Using a 7mm extension I found my close focus was literally the front of the lens's front element. Guess an extension tube is useless. That said, stopping down a bit should get you that last bit of close focus if you need it.
 
Now the weird part, the lens focuses past infinity. It has an infinity mark on the barrel, then a hard stop about another 4 or 5 deg further past it. While focus past infinity is common with really long lenses, I'm not sure why this lens can focus past infinity for any practical real reason.
 
 
rokinon samyang 14mm 2.8 lens barrel

No Depth of Field Markings

Speechless. Why ? It wouldn't of cost them anything to do. There is other printing on the ring where the markings would of gone. Depth of field markings are critical when looking to easily find your hyper focal length or to have a quick reference to if you can hold critical depth of focus. No IR focus mark either. 
 

Optical Performance

This lens offered very nice optical performance. 5K stills from my 60D that I used to shoot a bunch of time-lapse shots where great, even at 2.8. For video purposes this lens also performed very well. An interesting note is that when shooting video I was often stopped down to F11 or F16. This seems to of slightly softened the image a bit but that was ok. The resulted in rarely seeing any aliasing or moire. I mean in maybe 100 plus shots I saw something once or twice that was generally minor.
 
In this video I used the lens to shoot all the timelapse / light writing shots. It worked very very well for this.
 

 
This lens does cover full frame sensors, but I don't have a full frame camera to test with. All my shots where done on a APS-C sized camera and my out to the corners results where good.
 
One word of caution : I've heard that the overall QA on these lenses can vary quite a bit. If you buy one and its not sharp or seems to have another odd optical problem like one side of the image is soft, simply return it for another copy. This is based on some comments I found that where 2 years old. Its entirely possibly that Samyang / Rokinon has gotten their QA act together and its a problem of the past.
 

Linearity

There are a couple of image samples on the web where somebody shoots dead square on something like closet door which shows up some pin cushion distortions on this lens. If you need to shoot with a pure rectilinear lens, this may not be your lens of choice. In the real world however, I know I don't take shots like this. In the sample video I included a couple of shots showing ceiling girders in an aircraft hanger. I didn't see anything out of place that would of made me unhappy at all. I think the conclusion here is that most real world shots won't show the problem. Overall the rectilinear nature of this lens at APS-C size is perfectly fine especially considering the price.
 

The Bad

No drop in filter slot. Why would you care ? well just try putting a filter on the front of the lens - you basically can't unless it involves gaffer tape. You also have to have a large filter as well. Typically with really wide angle lenses there would be a drop in filter slot on the lens, or even a thin gel filter holder on the back of the lens mount. For video of course you would want an ND filter. Shooting with a APS-C sensor you could probably put a  filter right on the inside of the lens shade. However you would need to be careful about reflections from the filter and flare bouncing around from the open edges. 
 
I really tried to shoot more towards 5.6 or 8, but I was usually at F11 or F16 and turning the shutter speed up to get good exposure outside. So in the sample video I was shooting at 250th to 600th shutter. While 250th makes for the music video effect going higher is generally not so nice.  What I didn't have time to do is apply something like ReelSmart Motion Blur to the clip to try and add motion blur back in. This of course exposes a general dslr problem, lack of low ISO's like 64 or 25 for these sorts of situations. I was at 160 most of the time when shooting under normal outside light.
 
What I was able to do was mount the 14mm up with my matte box. I have a large "wide angle safe" swing away setup. With some fiddling around I was able to push the lens into the matte box a bit and be safe on the sides. I think I still had room to drop in one filter. thankfully my matte box can take 4X5.65 wide filters so I at least had a shot of NDing this lens down for setups where I had the full rig. However when going hand held bare bones, I would of been looking for a 82mm ND 1.2 to tape onto the front of the lens which I didn't happen to have.
 

Conclusion

The Rokinon 14mm 2.8 a great lens. Solid build, good optical performance, compact size, full frame coverage and reasonable price with very minor compromises. The camera brand lenses are 3X the price so I can easily live with the minor compromises.

This is also a great timelapse lens. I shot some stars at night and the down town city shots with it. Its wide enough to get a big chunk of the sky in, or tall buildings across the street. 

Its a fun lens to shoot with when you need to be minimal. Put on your LCD VF and get your shots.