First thing I’d like to bring up is that this lens cost $1,300 less than the Zeiss 35mm Distagon T* F/1.4 ZE and $1,000 less than the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 L USM. For sure, its cosmetic isn’t classy like a Zeiss or handsome like a Canon L lens, but the quality is there. For $500, the Rokinon 35mm f/1.4 AS UMC is the most affordable 35mm lens on the market at this moment. Comparing to a Sigma or a Tamron lens, the Rokinon is much better built. Clearly this Rokinon 35mm f/1.4 AS UMC is the most handsome lens ever built by Samyang. The large rubber focus ring is a joy to play with. It’s butter smooth and has a proper amount of turning radius for precision focusing. Like other f/1.4 lenses, this Rokinon is large and heavy.
The lens wiggles a little when I put it on my 5D MK II. To me, this isn’t a big deal since it’s not a $1,300 lens; however, I wonder if this is just my lens or all other Rokinon 35mm f/1.4 AS UMC lenses have the same issue. The polycarbonate body feels much more solid than the Canon plastic housing on their non L lenses. Look more elegant, too. The lens cap is a nice center pinch type and the hood is sculpted to fit the front end snugly. The depth of field markings are a nice touch for those who mastered the hyperfocal distance technique. Rokinon even throws in a little pouch to protect the lens from scratches.
Inside of the polycarbonate body are a 12 elements in 10 groups made of quality glass with a high refraction factor. On top of the two high refraction optics, an aspherical glass helps to minimize the risk of chromatic aberration. Rokinon also incorporated “floating” element system into this 35mm lens to provide optimum correction of astigmatism from minimum focus distance to infinity. Below is an illustration to show the optical construction of this Rokinon.
In the next part of this review, I will show you a series of photographs in 5:4 cropped size as well as in full frame 35mm. They were shot in different type of lights, natural and artificial, to show how this lens captured colors and lights. Beside using Adobe Lightroom to crop, these sample photographs were not altered or edited.
The four cropped images below show the Rokinon’s ability to render good contrast and color in different lights. In photo 1, I set the 5D MK II to ISO 640, shutter speed to 1/640 sec. at f/2.8. I stand about 4 feet from the water fountains. Photo 2 is an extreme close-up with the focus set at 1ft, same shutter speed and aperture as in photo 1. Photo 3 shows how the bokeh looks at 1/30 sec., f/2.8. In photo 4, the ISO is set for 640, shutter speed to 1/200 sec. at f/1.4.
The reason for me to crop these photos to 5:4 is that we can see the barrel distortion better with the objects closer to the photo’s edges. Photo 1 & 2 show no sign of barrel distortion when the distance from lens to object is within the 1 to 5ft range.
It seems that heavy light fall-off only appears when the aperture is wide-opened. At f/2 and below, the corners is brighten up.
Bokeh isn’t bad when the aperture is set at f/2.8. Thanks to the 8 blades, slightly curved aperture diaphragm. Photo 3 also shows us how smooth the colors are blended together.
Photograph 4 above shows some magenta fringes around the hot spots. I will take more photos to see how bad the chromatic aberration is for this lens.
In photo 5, we can see the sharpness is corner to corner. Even when the lens is set at f/1.4. Pretty awesome for a $500 lens, don’t you think? As I mentioned in previous paragraph, the heavy light fall-off only appears when the aperture is wide opened.
Barrel distortion in photo 6 is considered mild for a 35mm lens. I am not recommend this lens for architectural photography, but if you’re into street or documentary photography, this is your lens. Reason? Optically speaking, the Rokinon 35mm f/1.4 AS UMC is an excellent lens within its range. It is also affordable, low distortion and sharp—even at f/1.4, corner to corner.
Photo 7 was shot toward the bright afternoon sun at f/2.8 and without the lens hood. Ghosting is about average. No sight of chromatic aberration, which is a good thing.
Colors blend beautifully even in extreme contrast lighting.
Photo 9, 10 and 11 are a series of close-ups that were shot in a shade. I really like the bokeh effect this lens produced.
In photo 12, my friend was in the shade while the rest of street behind him was under the bright afternoon sun. To get a decent exposure on my friend, I had to over-expose the background about 2 stops. It seems the chromatic aberration is very well controlled. Only a tiny bit of red fringe around the shirt collar on his right is found, if you look closely at the shirt collar on his right. Colors in the over-exposed part of the picture look great. I have to say that Rokinon multi-coating technology brings good contrast and color, as well as to help reducing flare and ghosting.
In conclusion, this Rokinon 35mm f/1.4 AS UMC surprises me with its capability to produce quality images. Its strength covers the overall optical performance, price and build quality. It is suitable for photojournalism, portrait and other available light photography—including close-ups. Some vignetting appears at its maximum aperture but it’s not an issue once the f/ stop is set at smaller apertures. There is a mild to moderate amount of barrel distortions but that’s nothing unusual for a wide angle lens. The quality of the bokeh effect is not as sweet as the Zeiss Distagon T* 1,4/35mm but it isn’t an issue. The amount of bokeh fringing is typical for a lens in this class—in fact, 35mm lenses from Nikon and Canon L class share the same fate. Although, its body may not be a full-metal cast but the mechanical quality of this lens is on a very high level and the damped focus ring is absolute a joy to use. The light falloff issue is very well controlled when compared to the Nikkor AF-S 35mm f/1.4G. The real surprise is the floating system feature of the lens, which optimizes the internal focusing system in close focus scenarios. Normally, this type of sophisticate mechanism can only be found in macro and high end lenses.
I’m going to pass this lens to my partner to perform a video shoot on a DSLR. Hopefully, we’ll be able to view some video clips and read his review on the Rokinon 35mm f/1.4 AS UMC for video work sometime next week.