Equipment & Software Reviews
Samyang 14mm f2.8, A Ripper Lens!
12/08/13I felt they had poor edge detail, massive distortion, lousy levels of chromatic aberration and a few other problems as well. But that all changed due to one rather extraordinary lens, the Samyang 14mm f2.8.
I have had the Samyang for probably 2 years now and used it on a great many paying jobs and it has never failed to deliver.
Let me just tell you straight, this is an extraordinary good lens, its really really sharp, has reasonably low distortion levels for an ultra-wide (though it has an odd moustache distortion characteristic), stunningly low levels of CA and it even works a treat wide open and at f4 provided you don't mind the vignetting (which is of course fixable) and it has little field curvature.
I have never ever come across an ultra wide lens that performs like this one for any where near the money.
As far as I can tell the current 14mm Samyang is the second version of this lens, the first was deficient in a couple of areas and was quickly removed from the market and later replaced by this updated version, so some old reviews on the web may actually be of the version one lens and reflect its issues.
Tellingly I had it mounted on my much loved Minolta Dynax 7 film body today for a class and everyone who looked through the camera commented on how sharp it all looked, yes it even looks tack sharp through the viewfinder and trust me few lenses pull off that trick!
So just how could a lens like this be used and why could it change the way you shoot?
Consider this, if a lens is very wide and very sharp and you have enough resolution at the sensor level you can shoot a scene and then later crop to whatever field of view you want. In other words shoot at 14 and then crop to say 18mm equivalent or 20 or 24 etc. Sounds a bit extreme, not at all, this lens on an APSC Sony Sensor is equivalent to 21mm, but on the Nex 7 with 24 megapixel version, images could easily be cropped to say 28mm equivalent.
Of course this level of cropping can only work if the lens is really sharp right out to the edge, which the Samyang is and if you use the lowest ISO settings to mitigate noise.
But wait there is more, much more!
One of the neat things you can do with an ultra-wide is tweak perspective by shooting a bit wider than needed and tilting the lens, trouble is, if your lens is not sharp all over and you have too little resolution in the final image the results are obviously not great, but the Samyang and my 24 megapixel Sony A900 make this little trick easy.
Think of it, basically I can get much the same effect as a 24mm tilt shift lens does on an APSC sensor by composing appropriately, applying lens corrections and cropping, but all for $300.00-$400.00!
Shooting with a great ultra wide makes it possible to create framings in 16:9 or 1:1 or any other format a cinch, in a way we can use it in much the same way we used to use 6 by 6cm square format cameras, and in this case probably with higher image quality overall.
Surprisingly the ultra-wide can be an interesting path to rather specialized macro images. Normally ultra wides don?t focus all that close and when they do the images are not really sharp but in this case we can focus sharply down to about 8 inches, which is not much of a magnification level but it provides for some unusual perspective effects that can’t be achieved by other approaches.
The Samyang has two characteristics that enable it to work well in this application, it is very sharp wide open in the centre and the out of focus bokeh is very smooth for a wide angle lens. We can easily shoot wide open in close up which throws the background right out of focus despite the short focal length and the background possesses a smooth non distracting blur that beautifully separates the subject from the background. The look is really unlike anything else I have experienced and adds a neat tool to my armory. Ultimately I may only use 50% of the frame on a FF DSLR but that is hardly an issue unless I want to go really big.
And then what about perspective corrections in photo editing, well they work well if you have extra room around the subject and plenty of clarity, this is because you always loose a lot of image area once you twist and prod the image into shape, so the trick is to shoot wider than normal. But and its a big one, most ultra wides are very poor performers once you get away from the central image area, and I am including stellar expensive lenses from Nikon and Canon and even Zeiss in that statement as well.
I will add that there are exceptions, the Sony/Zeiss 16-35mm comes reasonably close in resolution to this little Korean wonder at 16mm, but there is a significant difference between 14 and 16mm, oh and the Sony/Zeiss costs about $1500.00 minimum and trust me its not much chop at anything longer than 28mm, no actually its a dog from 28-35mm!
Yes folks the Samyang has made me eat my pixels, it makes for an amazing array of new possibilities and in the process shows us one really good reason why ultra hi resolution cameras such as the Nikons D800 and other hi res APSC models like the Sony Nex 7 really make sense. We can crop crop crop baby till we drop!
Looking into the performance a little deeper I can make a few comments that might help prospective purchasers.
The focus markings are a joke, by that I mean you actually obtain suitable infinity focus at just under a marked 2m, it will focus beyond that but it is pointless and trades off near field clarity. There is some minor field curvature but nothing like most other ultra-wides and is easily accommodated.
Focusing at the marked infinity point can be helpful wide open as it concentrates the clarity around the centre area and renders the outers quite soft and vignetted and the foreground well out of focus, I imagine this is why Samyang chose to allow the lens to focus so far beyond the point really needed for overall clarity so I won?t count it as a fault.
The Chromatic aberration is as I said extremely minor, however for ultra critical use it is to be found in the yellow/blue range which is actually very unusual as it is almost universally in the red/cyan range for most wide angle optics. In any event the CA is easy to fix in any decent editing application.
As said it can actually be shot wide open, even on full frame, the only trade off being significant vignetting, but this in my opinion just gives you another creative option, though the vignetting cleans up easily enough so long as you have exposed optimally. And trust me the resolution even at f2.8 probably far exceeds what most wides obtain even at f8-11. Diffraction does have a clear dulling effect at f11 on the Samyang and it is easily seen at f16 so unless you desperately need ultimate depth of field these f stops are best avoided. My testing has shown that f6.3 is the optimal aperture for all over clarity so unless you’re really struggling for more DOF stop right there and pay careful attention to where you have focused.
Most ultra wides flare badly and it presents a major design challenge as you are very likely going to end up with the sun or specular highlights in your photos, but the Samyang is amazingly good in this respect, though strangely I have heard some folk complain about flare on internet forums, I imagine these would be the same folk who if they won the lottery would be complaining that the financial adviser wanted to charge them a modest fee to help them make the most of their win. Trust me the Samyang does not flare in any significant way.
The contrast levels of this lens are very high, in fact I would judge it to be quite similar to a Zeiss optic, there is a trade off with this however, it means highlights will be easy to clip unless you pay close attention to exposure. In fact I got caught out on this issue with my first shoot which included Manchurian Pear trees in blossum, the flowers being white clipped at an exposure level that with my normal low contrast optics was normally a non- issue. Overall you probably need to slightly underexpose the RAW files a tad to be sure of full highlight gradation, don't worry about the shadows they will still have plenty of punch.
As for construction quality and feel, it is plastic but seems very good and punches way beyond its price, it may not reach the stellar levels of a Zeiss or Leica lens, but in all honestly feels every bit as good as a top grade Nikon or Canon optic and compared to your average kit lens it would be a revelation.
And now for some really great news, this little baby can still be bought for around the $300.00 to $400.00 mark, and if you for one moment think that is even mildly expensive, you best check out the Canon or Nikon alternatives first.....it is probably the best lens bargain I have ever come across and I mean ever!
Now before you get all excited and go to ebay and press the buy button, please note, this is a fully manual lens, in other words no auto focus and you have to manually set the aperture at the time of taking the shot and of course use the lens with your camera on full manual mode. Trust me it is not an issue at all in real world shooting but it means you do need to know your way around your camera and have some idea of how lenses work with regards to aperture and focus.