The Rokinon 14mm f2.8 is the same lens as the Samyang, Bower and Pro Optic 14mm f2.8 and is currently the cheapest way to get into the ultra-wide lens game for Canon and Nikon cameras. The kind folks at B&H Photo lent me this lens for a couple of weeks to make some evaluations and I’ll be discussing the Canon EF mount version here, though I expect all conclusions to hold true for the various other mounts that are also available.
I’ve made a quick video hereto show the lens in my hands. I think it’s a useful way to gauge the size and functionality of the lens as well as easily show some of the features.
I was pleasantly surprised by the feeling of this lens when I first un-boxed it. It feels solid and well built with a satisfying click from the manual aperture ring. Most lens manufacturers these days put little stock in the feeling of their focus rings because most people are shooting with auto focus. The Rokinon 14mm is manual focus only though and I’m pleased to say that they didn’t skimp on their focus ring design. It is damped nicely with just right resistance and rotates very smoothly. You’ll also immediately notice that is has a very long throw to it. AF lenses tend to go from MFD to infinity with just an inch of barrel movement these days but this lens requires a couple of hundred degrees of rotation, giving you far greater accuracy, especially when the subject is closer to the lens.
The other thing that I was happy to see is that unlike Canon with their 8-15mm fisheye lens, Rokinon were able to design a lens cap that attaches securely to the lens hood ‘petals’. Canon’s terrible cap design on their $1500 lens is one of the worst shortcomings from their lens department that I can remember. Take note Canon, a $400 lens just trumped you.
The bulbous front element means of course that you can’t use any filters with this lens. Whilst some companies solved this issue for the Nikon 14mm lens, it doesn’t seem as if anyone has made a bespoke solution for the Rokinon lens as far as I know. If you know better, please comment below! Perhaps the Nikon 14mm solutions could me made to work but I can’t comment on that.
Canon Live View With Manual Lenses
Whilst testing the lens out in the field I discovered some strange behavior when using Live View mode on my Canon 5D MK3. I immediately recorded this quick video in the field with my iPhone to demonstrate. Take a quick look at the video and then read on below for my subsequent investigation and comments.
I know I know, some of you didn’t watch the video. In a nutshell when the Rokinon lens is used on the camera in Live View mode, with Exposure Simulation turned ON, the screen fails to show the correct exposure. Instead it shows an extremely undexposed view that bears no correlation to the image that is captured when you press the shutter button. This makes it extremely difficult to focus in some situations and of course tricky to get the correct exposure.
As soon as I got home after experiencing this I took to Google to see if anyone had posted about similar experiences with the 5D Mk3. What I found was that the problem is not limited to the new 5D and in fact has been documented for every Canon camera that has the Live View function. Yes it is most definitely a bug, and an annoying one at that, but it seems that Canon is being stubborn and not fixing it. In other words they are taking the view that if someone wants to use a non-Canon lens then they will have to just deal with it. Cynical people amongst you might even wander if it is a deliberate move. To re-iterate what I said in the video, the Live View functions perfectly in video mode, so it has NOTHING to do with any technical reason why it might not be possible. It is only crippled in photo mode.
We’ll take a look at some test shots in a moment at various apertures but this above example is worth sharing. I’m not sure what aperture it was shot as since the camera doesn’t record that with this lens but you have to agree that center sharpness in this image is not at all bad in a real world test.
This image demonstrates the smearing of detail that you get in the extreme corners of the image. Unfortunately there is little you can do about this but you’ll see once you’ve shot a few images with it that there can be times when it isn’t noticeable and times when it really is, depending on the surface that is in the image in the corner. For example take a look at the interior shot below in the distortion example. A smooth wooden floor is unlikely to demonstrate this issue very noticeably from a distance.
I conducted some tests to check out the sharpness and contrast at both ends of the focal range in the center. I shot images of a $5 bill using mirror lockup on a tripod at various apertures. Each test was performed three times and the results compared and sharpest one chosen for viewing.
As you can see from these tests there is an improvement by stopping down and the lens is at its sharpest at f8. Diffraction effects are not the worst I’ve seen but I personally wouldn’t go past f16. On such a wide lens as this that would give you some serious depth of field anyway.
Typically I like to test corner sharpness in a similar fashion as well but due to the extremely wide nature of this lens and the inherently large amount of distortion and smearing towards the corners it made it impossible to conduct the test in a suitable manner.
Of course a 14mm will display a lot of distortion and this interior shot of my dining table shows the problem areas with this particular lens. We have a bulge in the middle which is causing the front edge of the table to bow outwards, and we also have the more typical edge distortion. With electronic lenses you can set programs like Lightroom to automatically sense which lens was used and then apply the correct distortion correction either with a click of a button, or automatically. With no electronic contacts on this lens though there is no way to record in the image metadata which lens was used and hence no way to automatically apply anything in Lightroom. The lens will simply show up as ‘lens unknown’.
Lightroom doesn’t ship with a lens profile for this lens but Thomas Berndt has created one that you can load into LR.
- Download the Lens Profile
- Open the profile in TextEdit
- Find the line that reads: ” False”
- Change the word “False” to “True”
- Save it with a new name
- Copy the profile to
- Restart Lightroom
- Your new lens will now be in the Canon section (if you put it in a Canon folder, you could also create a Rokinon folder)
(via Joop Snijder Photography)
Using this correction profile turned the above image into the following:
So it is possible to correct this distortion at least to the point where it would be acceptable for interior photography like this kind of shot. Correction distortion does lead to some loss of quality as will always happen when you start pulling pixels apart but for we application it will be just fine. Only people who print huge images should worry about the process in that regard.
The Vignetting is pretty strong at f2.8 but still not as bad as I was expecting and, for example, a lot less than on the recently reviewed and far more expensive Tamron 24-70 f2.8. For the type of uses that I can see people using this lens though, I don’t think many would be shooting at f2.8 anyway so it isn’t much of an issue. What I’m referring to there though is what you and I would normally know as vignetting, a darkening of the image in the corners that typically decreases with a stopping down of the aperture. Unfortunately the Rokinon lens also displays a downright ugly color shift and permanent area of vignetting in the corner. The image below is a simple image of a wall, the wall itself is not important but this is a 100% crop from the top left corner. You can see the green tint pretty clearly and what is more disturbing is that this was shot at f16. I’ve seen this small area of vignetting and color shift at all apertures. There is a chance that this might not exist when used on Nikon and Sony full frame cameras but I can’t comment. Of course you also wouldn’t see this on Canon crop cameras but this lens is designed to be used on a full frame camera so it’s disappointing to see this and it is very time consuming and difficult to correct the shift in color.
DSLR Movie Making With The Rokinon 14mm
For photographers the lack of any sort of auto focus or electronic aperture control on this lens will be seen as a negative point but quite the opposite applies to those who want to use it to shoot video. Being easily able to change the aperture with a mechanical ring is preferable to the electronic method and it also provides a simple hands-on feeling that I just plain enjoy. As I mentioned earlier, the focus ring also feels great and has a nice long throw that can be seen in the first video. There are some other things to consider though if you plan on picking one up for some DSLR movie making. Without a doubt you can expect some pretty heavy distortion from this lens. Understandable in a rectilinear 14mm but the distortion pattern of this lens seems a bit odd and there is a rather large bulge in the center. To some extent you can fix this for photos using Photoshop or Lightroom but of course you don’t have that ability with a video. You can learn which subjects will display the deficiencies though and try and avoid them. Man made straight lines will be an issue but natures ‘straight’ lines are always more believable when slightly distorted as few natural things are ruler straight in the first place. When I was out shooting some test images I shot some woodland scenes with the lens on a 5D Mark III to give you an idea of the wide view and how it appears in video. It’s certainly a lens that you have to learn how to use, and use sparingly, as it can make you feel a bit sea-sick if it is panned around too much. Nonetheless, a well placed super-wide shot in an edit can look pretty cool and if you don’t dwell on it too long you’re unlikely to notice the distortion.
Pros & Cons
- Price – at approximately $399 I like the price for such a unique field of view
- Build quality is punching above its weight
- Manual aperture ring is great for DSLR movie making
- Smooth and nicely resisted focus ring also nice for movie making
- Some amount of vignetting and corner color shift remains at all apertures
- Very heavy distortion (though what 14mm doesn’t have this..)
- Plagued in Live View photo shooting by Canon’s decision to not fix a simple software issue
Ultra-wides like this 14mm are definitely a specialist lens and rectilinear ultra-wides (ie not fisheye lenses) are few and far between. For Canon users there is the $2100 14mm f2.8 MKII or there is the Rokinon 14mm f2.8 for $399. A further alternative would be to use a fisheye like the 8-15mm (or one of Sigmas very good alternatives) and then use software to ‘de-fish’ it. Lightroom is capable of such maneuvers but stretching and warping pixels in that way will always degrade it severely and that seems like a huge waste of an expensive lens unless used only occasionally.
So who would want to use this kind of lens ? The first thing that probably jumps to mind is landscape shooters, though pro landscape photographers are almost always considering how big they can print their work and the quality of this lens would likely lead them to look for something a bit sharper. For amateurs though I think a lot of people will be drawn in by the expansive view it provides and will overlook the slightly soft nature of the images. With a bit of post production you can make some nice shots. The next thing that comes to my mind is real estate interior photography. I’ve done that kind of work myself and in most scenarios the wider the better. The majority of that kind of work these days is displayed digitally online in sizes that typically don’t stretch beyond 1000px horizontally. With some quick applications of lens profiles in Lightroom, a real estate photographer will easily get results worth of web distribution and also print in the small sizes that typically accompany property listings. Of course the lens is fully manual so you have to be shooting something that doesn’t move and interiors are a great option. I also happen to know that a lot of those gigs these days don’t pay a lot of money do unless you are specializing in high-end homes there’s no sense spending the $2100 on the Canon version. The third use that comes to mind is for sports photography remote cameras. Being a remote, you wouldn’t have AF active anyway so the fact that this lens is manual focus is no problem. You would have to be careful with your exposure modes as there is no aperture priority but if you are shooting an indoor event that you can just set it to manual. In that sort of scenario, if you have a spare camera body you can be capturing a nice extra angle with a unique filed of view for very little extra money. The fourth major use of this lens is of course for film making as I have alluded to through the review. Manual aperture and manual focus are all seen as positives instead of negatives for the filmmakers and the fact that the price is relatively low means that you can afford to have a lens with a unique look, and not be too worried that you can’t use it all the time for fear of overdoing it. It’s the sort of lens that when used briefly at the right time in a video can really add some interest, just be sure not to use it all the time or people will start to notice the weird distortions that it gives to everything.
So whilst this lens is not really a good performer optically, it surpasses my expectations physically and demonstrates just enough overall quality that I could certainly recommend it for some situations.