Sunday, 11 January 2015

Samyang 12mm f/2 review: Compact, inexpensive and well performing

Samyang is a third party manufacturer which tries to fill the gaps in system camera lineups with manual focus lenses. One common gap is affordable wide angle prime lenses, which they have filled with lenses like Rokinon 10mm f/2.8 and Rokinon 14mm f/2.8. What these lenses have in common, though, is that they are quite large, and relatively slow.

Now, a new lens has popped up, the Samyang/Rokinon 12mm f/2, which is fast, and quite compact in size:


From left: Samyang/Rokinon 12mm f/2, Lumix X 12-35mm f/2.8 (my review) and Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 (my review) set to 12mm.



How do they do it? It is not because the Samyang 12mm lens only covers the Four Thirds sensor. It is designed to cover also the APS-C sensor size, coming in versions for Sony E mount and Fujifilm X mount, and many more.

The reason why the lens is so small, is that it is designed for mirrorless system cameras only, with a shorter register distance than DSLR cameras. The shorter register distance allows making smaller wide angle lenses, as exemplified with the Lensbaby 5.8mm f/3.5 circular fisheye lens.

It is natural to compare the Samyang 12mm f/2 with the Olympus 12mm f/2, as they both have similar specifications:

LensSamyang/Rokinon 12mm f/2Olympus 12mm f/2
Length59mm43mm
Diameter73mm56mm
Weight260g130g
Minimum focus distance0.25m0.20m
Lens elements/groups12/1011/8
Filter thread67mm46mm
PriceUS$300US$700

With the 2x crop factor of the Micro Four Thirds format, the lens has an equivalent focal length of 24mm. This makes it a quite wide angle lens.

So what's the lens like?

Physical


The lens comes in a fairly large, padded box. A hood, and front and rear lens caps are included, as well as a cloth pouch:


The lens is made from metal materials, and gives a solid, high quality feel. Both the front and rear lens elements are quite large, and domed. As you would expect, the lens bayonet mount is metal:


The focus ring is very well dampened, allowing for a very precise and smooth focus operation, well suited for video use. The focus assembly is of the traditional kind, where all the lens elements move back and forth while focusing. This is the traditional way of designing the focus for manual lenses: Internal focus is mostly used with mirrorless autofocus lenses.

The focus goes all the way down to 0.20m. Keeping in mind that the focus distance is measured from the sensor plane, this means that the working distance is close to 0.10m, that is the minimum distance between the subject and the front of the lens. The focus scale appears to be accurate.

The aperture ring is also well dampened, and has click stops for half stop apertures between f/2 and f/16, and one click stop at f/22. This is a quite common arrangement.

Both the focus ring and the aperture ring have nice ridges, which makes it easy to grip them. There are no rubberized surfaces, though.

The Samyang lens is a purely mechanical lens, and has no electrical contacts. This means that the camera does not recognize that the lens is mounted at all, and certainly cannot read off information about the focal length or aperture.

It also means that you need to set the "SHOOT W/O LENS" option. Otherwise, the camera will not operate, as it believes that no lens is mounted at all. Here is the "SHOOT W/O LENS" menu option from the GH2 camera:


The camera will still store EXIF data in your image files, however, the information about focal length and aperture is never passed to the camera, and will be missing when using this lens.

Image quality


To evaluate the image quality, I have taken pictures with both the Rokinon 12mm f/2 and the Lumix X 12-35mm f/2.8, which I think is a truly stellar lens:


To compare the image quality, here are some 100% crops from various apertures from the centre of the image:


And from the lower left corner:


What we see here, is that the sharpness of the Samyang 12mm f/2 is quite impressive, already wide open. As one would expect, the sharpness improves a bit when closing down to f/2.8. But it is certainly very useful also at f/2.

Here is another image quality comparison, taken at a closer focus distance, and with a higher contrast. I kept the wire, and the bamboo sticks, in the focus plane:


This test is much harder to do. Due to the lower light, focusing is more difficult. Also, the focus is much more critical at close distance. Finally, a small tilt of the camera will make the focus plane wrong. So take this test with some grain of salt. Anyway, here are 100% crops from the centre:


And from the left lower side:


As you would expect with these modern lenses, they are all very sharp in the centre, also wide open. In the corner, the Lumix G 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 is probably the worst performing lens, but it is still useful. It may appear that it has a somewhat spherical focus plane.

The Samyang lens is quite respectable in the corner, but a bit dull wide open. And as I have come to expect, the Lumix X 12-35mm f/2.8 is very good indeed.

Bokeh


This is a wide angle lens, so you would probably not think about out of focus rendering when you consider it. However, at close focus distances and wide open, it does render the background very blurred. Here are some example images:


Here is a closeup:


The bokeh sure looks very good with the Samyang 12mm lens. Here are two more examples taken at the minimum focus, f/2. Click to enlarge them:


Conclusion


It is very good to see that Samyang has started designing lenses specifically for mirrorless cameras. That makes them much smaller, faster, and better.

The Samyang/Rokinon 12mm f/2 is a classic Samyang design: Very good mechanical quality, tight, well dampened focus ring, a proper aperture ring. The image quality is very good.

The lens appeals to both traditionalists, who enjoy a classic mechanical lens with metal materials, and to video makers, who need a smooth, well dampened focus operation, free from focus breathing.

Lens
Pros
Relatively inexpensive, good for video, with a smooth focus ring, no focus breathing due to a traditional focus mechanism
Autofocus is good to have when making close up pictures of moving objects, e.g., kids or pets
Cons
Comparatively large and heavy
Expensive

Example images


Lumix GH4, ISO 200, 1/800s, f/2:


Lumix GH4, ISO 200, 1/200s, f/2.8:


Lumix GH4, ISO 200, 1/1300s, f/2.8:

23 comments:

  1. I bought the Samyang full frame fisheye based on your review and love it. I don't think I want a 12mm particularly because I have the 14mm Lumix and my OM D kit zoom goes down to 12 mm. Still I expect that it would not be hard to focus this manual 12mm by scale in most situations just like the Samyang fisheye. A rectilinear reasonably fast prime in the 9 to 10mm range would interest me. My all time favorite lens was the 20mm Nikkor so I know and love ultrawides. So the 9-18mm Oly looks like the main one for me in ultrawide.

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    1. For most people, I would say that the Olympus 9-18mm zoom lens is a better choice. The 12mm lens is more of a specialty lens, made for those who like prime lenses, and who like mechanical lenses. Also for video use.

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    2. I have since purchased the Olympus 9-18mm before reading the above reply. I am in my 70s so I DO like prime lenses but with old eyes not woking very well I really LIKE autofocus! So rectilinear 10mm f2 would get my attention because I could probably focus by scale. That was one of the first skills I developed as a kid using a non rangefinder 35mm. Night street shooting would be how I would use such a lens.

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    3. This lens is designed for use on APS-C cameras (like Sony A6000), where it becomes an 18mm equivalent lens. That is quite interesting.

      On Micro Four Thirds, it becomes 24mm, which is not nearly as interesting. So I think this lens is a good choice for those who really like old fashioned mechanical, manual lenses. Other than that, there are more useful lenses available at the same price point.

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  2. I have made a test with samyang 35mm, tokina 11-16mm and panasonic 12-35mm if you wanna post the test on your blog maybe? I can send you my pictures from the test.

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  3. Nice review. I bought another Samyang lens, the 7.5mm fisheye (under its Rokinon brand name) and was pleasantly surprised: one of the sharpest lenses I've ever used, on any camera of any type. Do you think the 12mm is as good? And - a related question - since I'm curious: now that you have two 12mm lenses (the Samyange and the Olympus) are you keeping them both, or is one the 'winner' for you?

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    Replies
    1. The Samyang 7.5mm fisheye is one of the best Micro Four Lenses in terms of value for money, in my opinion. For anyone interested in wide angle photography, it is a must have lens.

      The Samyang 12mm f/2 is not as interesting. I will keep it, for sure, but it has more limited use: I think it will appeal to those who like traditional, quality, mechanical, manual lenses.

      In terms of optics, I think the Samyang 12mm is as good as you could expect, which is to say that there are no obvious flaws. It is not perfect, when looking at the corners, but it is more than good enough for most conceivable uses.

      I generally don't get rid of lenses, I find that it is better to keep them, so that I can use them in future comparisons and reviews.

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    2. So here's a question for you, then:

      I have and love the 7.5mm fisheye - quite apart from the fisheye effect, I really like the way it renders, particularly the colors. Some examples:
      https://flic.kr/p/rjKfdU
      https://flic.kr/p/pSV87c
      https://flic.kr/p/qavhgV
      https://flic.kr/p/qmJtBa
      https://flic.kr/p/qZbJpx
      https://flic.kr/p/oT3qdr

      ...and as a result, I've been getting tempted to try one of their rectilinear lenses in hopes of getting the same color rendering. With that in mind, would you recommend the 12mm? I do already have the 14mm Lumix f/2.5, so the 12mm wouldn't add that much in terms of coverage (though the extra 2mm in width might be nice, as would the extra aperture); how does it measure up against the 14mm in other respects?

      If the 12mm isn't worth it in your opinion, are there other Samyangs you'd recommend for the rendering? I admit I'd also like another designed-for-mirrorless lens like the 7.5mm and this one; I had a chance to look at the 18mm, and it's awfully large and bulky.

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    3. I think the Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6 is probably the easiest wide angle rectilinear lens to use.

      If you are specifically looking for a manual focus wide angle prime, then there are not very many choices, beyond the 12mm I have looked at here. Samyang has a 10mm f/2.8 lens, but it is gigantic in size.

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    4. Thanks for the reply! Unfortunately, that wasn't what I was trying to ask. (sheepish look)

      What I meant: I really like some of the non-fisheye rendering qualities of the Samyang 7.5mm - the sharpness, and especially the color rendering. (Such as the touch of cobalt blue it adds to the sky.) And I'd like to get those qualities in a rectilinear lens, which is why I'm looking at the Samyang primes - the 12mm in particular, both because I like to shoot wide, and because designed-for-mirrorless makes it much smaller and lighter.

      However, I already have some nice rectilinear primes, including the Panny 14mm and the Sigma 30mm. So before I jump on the Samyang, I'd like to make sure the images are different enough from the 14mm to be worth the purchase.

      The Olympus 9-18mm isn't that interesting to me because it's so slow; I do a lot of interior photography. What I'm specifically looking for is the non-fisheye image rendering of the 7.5mm Samyang in a rectilinear lens, more than the focal length or the manual focus; I'd be interested in anything up to 30mm, as long as the rendering was sufficiently distinct from what I already have.

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    5. I think it is hard to say for sure if the Samyang/Rokinon 12mm f/2 will be to your liking. It does have the classic mechanical/manual/metal style to it, which many like.

      As for how the image colours come out: You could address that by manually tweaking the white balance in post processing with a RAW developer program, like Lightroom.

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    6. Thanks again for replying! I think I'm going to go for it; just had another reminder when processing pics from last weekend's shoot this evening.

      https://flic.kr/p/t657XY is with the Samyang 7.5mm;
      https://flic.kr/p/u2J7KG is the same scene with the Lumix 20mm;
      https://flic.kr/p/tKvsqJ is with the Oly 45mm.

      All three were post-processed in Lightroom 5, going for the most pleasing look I could manage on not quite enough sleep. ^^;;

      I think the 45mm does the best job of capturing the scene/field of view I was wanting - the hilly prairie stretching off into infinity. But even after tweaking as best I could, and despite the fact that it's by far the furthest away from that effect, the 7.5mm still has... for lack of a better term, a sense of clarity and definition that I wasn't able to pull out of either the 20 or the 45. Maybe it's greater dynamic range combined with better micro contrast, I dunno; I'm still only an egg in this. I'd almost compare it to the effect I get with a good polarizing filter, only I had one with me and I still wasn't quite able to match.

      Thanks again for your time.

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    7. I think that as long as you are happy to use a manual focus lens, then I think you will like the Samyang 12mm f/2. It is not as much of a fantastic deal as the 7.5mm fisheye, as there are other lenses too which can provide the 12mm field of view, and some with autofocus.

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  4. Wanted to follow up and let you know how it was going. The lens came in a couple of days ago, and so far haven't had a chance to shoot more than the area around the office - but I'm happy with how the rendering has been coming out. Thanks again for the review and the resource!

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  5. Nice review y and interesting info in these comments. I'm interested in this lens as a economical landscape lens and also for astrophotography. There the big aperture and the good performance wide open makes it a very interesting option despite the small field of view in m4/3.

    One interesting data that is very difficult to get is the horizontal angle of view in m4/3. Could you make such mesure? Is it the same of the similar 12mm Lumix that you own?

    Thank you very much

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    Replies
    1. Hello, the horizontal field of view of the Samyang 12mm lens is slightly narrower than that of the Lumix 12mm lens at infinity. But the difference is very, very small. So you could say that they are equivalent in terms of horizontal field of view.

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    2. If you're interested in some landscape pics with the 12mm (taken with an E-M10):

      https://flic.kr/p/vJz4FL
      https://flic.kr/p/vJzh5q
      https://flic.kr/p/w1yfRb

      I think it compares very favorably for color and rendering with the classic Lumix 20mm f/1.7:
      https://flic.kr/p/w4hMjx

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  6. Hi Travis, what do you think of the Samyang compared to the Panny 14mm in terms of luminance? Is there any significant difference between both wide open? (2.5 vs 2.0)
    I was thinking of using the 14mm with the wide converter (GWC1), wich makes it a 11mm f2.5 lens. But I'm looking for a faster lens, specially for night sky photography. Thanks.

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  7. I haven't shot them side-by-side, so it's hard for me to say.

    In general: I've been more satisfied with it as an outdoor lens than shooting indoors; the color cast I loved outdoors behaved a bit oddly on the one major indoor/museum shoot I've done with it. Since most of my low-light shooting is indoors, this makes it harder for me to judge its low-light performance. On the other hand, the museum was fairly old; both the lighting and the exhibits seemed a bit off in color to the naked eye, so that might not have been the lens. (They're far from my best shots, but if you're interested you can see them at https://flic.kr/s/aHsk9NwkUU . The ones with no lens data listed are the Samyang 12mm; the others were mostly with the Panny 20mm, so that'd be another comparison point.) I've been kinda busy the last couple of months and haven't had much time to get additional indoor shots with it, but I used it in some of the pics at the end of https://flic.kr/s/aHskcLfFCH.

    ...and looking at those, I was wrong; there is at least one fairly direct comparison between the two lenses. https://flic.kr/p/y1VLnh and https://flic.kr/p/x5Vgzc weren't taken at exactly the same spot, but under the same approximate lighting conditions.

    Outdoors, I don't have any comparisons between the two, but this might help you judge the low light capability. https://flic.kr/p/v3wMAd and https://flic.kr/p/vk7jF4 were taken moments apart; one looking at the sunset across a lake, the other in the opposite direction looking at the shallow, semi-marshy end.

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  8. How do your comparisons work considering the amount of in camera corrections native mFT gear get even top notch lenses such as the Olympus 12-40 have pretty significant distortions if you dare to look at a naked RAW file in the likes of photo ninja .

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    Replies
    1. Yes, the two Lumix lenses tested do use in-camera distortion corrections, especially at 12mm. The Samyang lens, on the other hand, does not.

      I don't see this as a problem at all. The image you get, both from the camera, and from a RAW converter, is adjusted for this geometric distortion, so you never notice it in practice.

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