Filling in the Holes
Here at Canon Rumors we are always interested in seeing more large aperture prime lenses. Those of us who have invested in Canon's mirrorless system (M, M2, M3) are still waiting for Canon to really demonstrate that it is serious about mirrorless. While the lenses released by Canon in an EF-M mount have been stellar for the most part, they have also primarily been fairly slow variable aperture zooms. Those of us who long for wide apertures have pretty much been left in the cold, but fortunately third party manufacturer Samyang (reviewed here in the Rokinon rebranding) has been showing the EF-M mount a little love. Canon Rumors recently shared its review of the Samyang (Rokinon) 21mm f/1.4, which you can see here if you missed it. These lenses were released side by side and form a new little wide aperture trinity with the 12mm f/2 for mirrorless systems.
These lenses are designed from the ground up for lightweight mirrorless systems, and it shows. The Rokinon 21mm f/1.4 ED AS UMC and the Rokinon 50mm f/1.2 AS UMC bring a lot to the table, though not without a few significant drawbacks that may present a challenge for some photographers. Read on to discover more, or check out the complete review here if you want to go a bit deeper.
Check out this video where I take a look at the overall build and design of these lenses.
In my opinion these are by far the most striking lenses that Samyang/Rokinon is building. It’s not really that the build grade is all that different from the full frame lenses. It is still the standard engineered plastics over a metal frame, but it’s as if when it shrunk down to the diminutive size of the mirrorless lenses the fit and finish seems to shine more (and they are more glossy than the larger lenses). I fell in love with the look when I reviewed the excellent Rokinon 12mm f/2 NCS a year and a half ago (after which I purchased a copy for myself). It was a like a really small, slightly classier L series lens complete with its own red ring. I had a sense of déjà vu as I started unboxing these new lenses. They are compact, great to look at, and tremendously smaller than their full frame counterparts. I had a copy of the incredible new Zeiss Milvus 85mm f/1.4 on hand while doing this review), so the Rokinon 50mm f/1.2 (75mm for Sony and Fuji users – 80mm for Canon shooters – and 100mm for Micro 4/3rds mount) seems just tiny by comparison. The Milvus 85mm is nearly 3 ½ times heavier than the little Rokinon 50mm f/1.2. It is very interesting to see a visual comparison between the massive Canon EF 50mm f/1.0L and the svelte little Rokinon 50mm f/1.2:
I particularly love lenses with a huge amount of glass showing (large aperture), and the little Rokinon definitely qualifies. It really stands out as a handsome lens, from the glossy finish to the nice looking focus ring to the red accent above the aperture ring. I also like the look of the coatings and the great looking color shades they produce when light hits them. This is a lens that photographs well!
The 50mm f/1.2 lens has 9 elements in 7 groups, including two aspherical (AS) elements. The UMC in the name stands for “Ultra Multi-Coating”, and refers to the coatings on the lens designed to increase contrast, reduce flare, and help with chromatic aberrations. It is a diminutive 2.66 x 2.92″ (67.5 x 74.1 mm) and weighs 13.58 oz (385 g). Despite the relative low weight the lens feels substantial and dense. Those with extremely light mirrorless bodies might find the balance just a slight bit front heavy, but easily manageable. The Rokinon 50mm f/1.2 has a 62mm front filter thread, which is, unfortunately, not a very common one. The lens has nine rounded aperture blades that help keep a round aperture shape and produces nice 18 pointed sunstars when stopped down.
Those of you that are into video production might also want to check out the cine versions of these lens. While optically the same, the 50mm T1.3 is measured in T-stops [amount of light that gets through the lens to the sensor] not f-stops [the physical size of the aperture) The cine versions have two very important differences: 1) the aperture is declicked (no fixed f-stops), which allows for iris aperture pulls and also 2) both the aperture and focus rings have Industry Standard 0.8 pitch gearing on focus and aperture rings for use with follow focus rigs. One important takeaway from the cine version of the lens is that it shows that the light transmission on this lenses is very good (its T-stop rating is very close to its f-stop rating).
I'm a fan of this focal length. I like a 50mm lens on full frame, but I also like it on a crop sensor. It becomes more of a natural portrait lens, for one, and is also a very interesting perspective for landscape work as it provides a nice degree of compression to scenes.
There are a few distinct challenges that come from using manual lenses, even more so when you are using a manual focus only lens without any electronic coupling to the camera body. On most modern lenses you will find a small electronic chip on the lens mount. It is through this chip that the lens communicates with the camera body. This is what I refer to when I speak of an “electronic coupling”. The Samyang/Rokinon mirrorless mounts lack this coupling. This can result in a major misconception along with some very real handling challenges.
I quickly became aware of the misconception when I was looking at the listing for the lenses at B&H Photo. The first user review for the lens in the Canon EF-M mount reported that the lens didn’t work on a Canon M3 body (the body I’m using for review). You can probably tell from the tenor of my review so far that this is not the case. Just make sure to enable menu setting that allows the shutter to release without a lens attached. This is not because you want to fire your camera without a lens, but rather because it will enable the use of lenses without electronic coupling like these (or any vintage glass/non native lens mount lenses you may be using).
The biggest handling issues with the lenses are due to that lack of electronics. The lens will not report any information to the camera, so your EXIF date will be incomplete. There will not be any indication of the lens, the focal length, or the aperture value. The ISO and shutter speed will still be reported along with any other camera specific information. For those of you who care about the details (like me) this lack of information can be rather frustrating. When I am reviewing lenses, for example, I like to report the aperture value I used in various situations. Without that information I either have to note it separately at the time of capture (no thanks!) or operate off of memory.
The second issue is that no software will automatically identify the lens and thus identify a standard profile in Lightroom/ACR. You can manually select the lens with RAW files and apply the profile that exists for it.
Beyond that, just know that these lenses are fully manual. Manual focus, and the aperture must be manually selected via the manual aperture ring. The latter isn’t really a big deal if you typically choose your aperture anyway. In fact, in some ways I rather like having a manual aperture ring as it often causes you to be a little more deliberate about the aperture value you select. It’s more of an issue if I happen to be remotely controlling the camera and thus lose the ability to select the aperture electronically. This is a major divergence between these Rokinon/Samyang lenses and Zeiss lenses, as Zeiss lenses feature electronic coupling and can also have their aperture iris electronically controlled.
Speaking of manually focusing, the Rokinon lens is fairly nice to manually focus. The Rokinon 50mm f/1.2 had a little more resistance on the focus ring, and particularly when shooting in the cold (which I did a lot of in January and February in Canada!) I found the ring a little too stiff. The action was still smooth, but the resistance was too heavy for my tastes. That may have been copy specific, and it may loosen up over time. One other minor issue that I am assuming was copy specific on the 50mm was a slight “rocking” sensation on the lens mount when I applied a twisting motion to the lens (like when manually focusing). The mount didn’t feel as stable as either the 21mm or the 12mm that I already own. The heavier resistance of the manual focus ring meant that I encountered this minor issue often enough that it made an impression. Despite these small annoyances I still found the lens enjoyable to use in field work.
The lens has a good but not excessive amount of focus travel so finding accurate focus at most focal lengths was easily possible. The focus throw isn’t quite as long as many Zeiss lenses, but the upside is making major adjustments comes a little quicker. On my copy (and at the typical temperatures I was in) I found that infinity focus came just a hair before the hard stop on the lens, so keep an eye out for that when focusing. It may be possible to focus past accurate infinity focus on your copy (a pretty common phenomena).
It is the handling department that will cause the greatest hesitation for most users. Manual focus lenses do require more work than autofocus lenses and aren’t as practical for action photography. Let’s put it this way: some photographers have a higher tolerance for manual focus than others. Some even prefer it. Many couldn’t be bothered…and that’s okay. If you don’t feel manual focus is for you then look elsewhere. If you feel like you can deal with manual focus, though, read on…because I think you will like what comes next.
In this video I take you interactively through the image quality from the lens, including the bokeh, drawing, sharpness, and color rendition. It might help help you to form a more accurate conclusion than just the text and photos:
The reason for ever larger lenses is theoretically to allow for better image quality and resolution. If that is the case, then how can these lenses keep up? The answer is by developing (well) for the smaller sensor. Based on my experience with both the 12mm f/2 and other recent Samyang/Rokinon lenses I anticipated a strong optical performance, and I wasn’t disappointed.
The 50mm f/1.2 offered up a surprisingly strong performance at f/1.2. The difference between this lens and the old EF 50mm f/1.0L is quite startling, with the old lens looking very soft and “dreamy” by comparison. The 50mm f/1.0L is obviously capable of an even smaller DOF, but the bokeh is busier, it has less resolution and contrast, and much more chromatic aberrations. Compared at equivalent apertures on a crop sensor the Rokinon still has a visible advantage in contrast, resolution, and more distinct edges (the 50L does some “doubling” of edges). The image quality at f/1.2 is very useful from the Rokinon, and I didn’t hesitate to use it at that aperture when I didn’t need more depth of field. I would definitely say that the image quality at f/1.2 is sharper than that of the Canon 50mm f/1.2L, also. Check out the wide open resolution and the crop here:
This also satisfies the internet requirement of posting a cat picture with every new lens. Check!
At a pixel level there is a bit more “haze” due to chromatic aberrations and slightly reduced contrast (both of these show a marked improvement by f/2). Take a look at the comparison of an f/1.2 shot and crop) compared with the second image at f/2:
Note how soft the background blur is, but that there is a very slight haze in the detail (though there is a lot of detail!) Now at f/2:
At normal viewing sizes and with many subjects this will be hard to spot. There is a bit of green or purple fringing at wide apertures, but overall it is actually well controlled and can’t really be spotted at standard viewing sizes. I also found it easy to correct for in Lightroom or Photoshop because the pixel width of the CA is quite small. Overall the look from wide open on the lens is very sharp and has a nice bit of contrast for such a wide aperture.
There is a bit of vignette at wide apertures, but it is low enough that I didn’t find it really an issue in field use. This is definitely praiseworthy in such a wide aperture lens and is one advantage of developing for APS-C as opposed to a full frame sensor.
It is fairly easy to correct for in post if you need the corners illuminated, but if you want to just shoot JPEGs you won’t notice it strongly either.
There is a minor bit of pincushion distortion, but, as this brick wall shot shows, the distortion is minimal enough to not really create an issue in field use.
I found that stopping down to f/2.8 or smaller resulted in very crisp landscape images that showed a strong amount of resolution even at a pixel level. This shot down a snowy, hilly road really pleased me when I zoomed into the details in the distance. My experience says that often lenses with lower resolution struggle to render these fine details. I’m always impressed when prime lenses that are optimized for portrait lengths also excel in this kind of setting.
The lens has nine rounded aperture blades, and the great strength of this is that the aperture iris stays nicely rounded even when the lens is stopped down. Circular highlights will begin to show a slightly nonagonal shape, but the overall impression continues to be roundish throughout most aperture values. Here's a look at the wide open bokeh (to see samples at other apertures look at the full review on my website).
While my bokeh testing reveals that the bokeh highlights do have some busyness to them (often referred to as “onion bokeh”), the field/real world bokeh was actually very nice. You can also see that there is a nice amount of resolution and contrast in the wide open image. I particularly like how the lens handled “people pictures” with nice resolution/dimensionality of the subject but then a nice transition to defocus. This shot of a friend under somewhat terrible florescent lighting nicely illustrates when I am talking about.
This lens immediately becomes one of the most attractive choices for a portrait lens for the EOS M system. That big aperture helps achieve a nice shallow DOF. Even at 10 feet the depth of field from this lens on a Canon M series body with a 1.2 aperture is a very small 6.7 inches. This allows you to shoot full length environmental portraits with a nice shallow DOF and separation of the subject from the background.
As such this lens has no true competitor in the Canon system in a native mount, and in other mounts with more choices this lens will still be a very compelling choice. If you want more in focus, stopping down produces stunning sharp, detailed images. Look at the crop from this picture of my daughter at f/2.8 – that is an impressive amount of resolution!
The one optical flaw I can point to is that it did exhibit a fairly pronounced ghosting pattern with the sun is placed directly in the frame. The lens doesn’t veil strongly (lose contrast), but the “ghosts” were fairly distinct and strongly colored and would be, in my opinion, difficult to remove in post for many users. You will need to both use the included lens hood as well as exercise some caution on where you place the sun. In some cases you may be able to use this to positive effect, but I wouldn’t consider this a desirable aspect of the lens’ optical performance.
The flipside of this is that the sunburst/sunstar effect from the nine-bladed aperture is quite nice when it is stopped down to f/8-f/16.
Space in this review precludes me including all of the image samples that I would like, but I recommend that spend a few minutes looking at many more samples in the Lens Image Gallery for the Rokinon 50mm here:
Price Points and Conclusions:
Take a look at my video review where quickly cover all the highlights and lowlights of the lens and render my final verdict:
The Samyang/Rokinon 50mm f/1.2 has a US price of $499 at B&H Photo, but expect some fluctuation market to market because of the performance of your local currency versus the US dollar. Here in Canada, for example the price is a fair bit higher. This tests a higher price point than many of the previous Rokinon lenses for mirrorless mounts, but this is also a premium aperture value in a nicely made lens with exceptional optical performance.
The EOS M system that I'm reviewing on really has nothing to compare these lenses to. In Sony or Fuji mounts there are both some budget primes (inevitably with both smaller apertures and weaker optical performance) that undercut these lenses in price, while the more serious competitors (with competitive apertures) are invariably much more expensive (the Zeiss options in the Sony E-mount are most obvious). Most, but not all, of these lenses do include autofocus, and a few even have an image stabilizer of some kind. I would conclude that the Rokinon lenses are coming in at prices that are appropriate; relative bargains to their competitors while offering optical performance that can compete with or exceed any of them.
You must factor in the additional challenges of using these lenses, though, and it does take a bit more work (and skill) to unlock those great optics due to the manual focus nature of these lenses. Longer focal lengths are a little bit more difficult for many to manually focus because the DOF is much more shallow than with wider focal lengths. If there is an upside here, though, it is that the various mirrorless systems these lenses are designed for tend to be more forgiving of manual focus than the equivalent traditional DSLRs. Mirrorless cameras show true depth of field on their LCDs (or EV-Fs) and the ability to easy magnify the image makes visual confirmation of focus simpler. Pair this with the various manual focus aids like focus peaking that many mirrorless bodies have and the task of manual focus becomes less intimidating. If you own the Canon EOS M3, as I do, you might want to consider purchasing the DC1-EVF accessory if you don't already have it.
Every new gear choice is an evaluation of the compromises implicit with the gear versus the potential benefits. In the case of the Rokinon 50mm f/1.2 AS UMC lens the benefit is nicely compact, well-built lens in a variety of native mirrorless mounts that offers up excellent, even class leading optical performance. The tradeoff is that this is a manual everything lens with no electronic communication to the camera body. For some that is the ultimate deal breaker, and some of you will inevitable comment “no AF = no buy”, but for some of you that aren’t put off by the premise of these lenses you will find the reality of them to be very enjoyable. If these lenses had autofocus they would sell like hotcakes. They don’t, so they won’t, but those that do buy them will probably cherish them and craft beautiful images with them for years to come. A 50mm lens with a completely usable maximum aperture of f/1.2 is a rare commodity, and that makes the Samyang/Rokinon 50mm f/1.2 a very special lens…regardless of the mount or system it was developed for.
- Samyang (Rokinon) 50mm f/1.4 for EF-M: B&H Photo
- Extremely strong image quality
- Huge f/1.2 aperture with excellent light transmission
- Nice size and weight to compliment small mirrorless bodies
- Nice physical and mechanical construction
- Good portrait option
- Relatively low chromatic aberrations
- Nice (and strong) bokeh
- 9 bladed aperture stays round and also produces nice sunbursts
- Great resolution even at wide apertures
- Strong contrast
- Vignette and distortion fairly well controlled
- Includes lens hood and drawstring bag for lens
- Manual focus only
- No electronic coupling means no EXIF lens data or lens profile
- A little more expensive than many Samyang/Rokinon lenses
- The need to change settings within the camera to make the lens properly function – creates confusion for some users.