I'm not a big fan of ultra-wide angle lenses. Shooting at 12mm usually requires that you get really close to your subject and create weird, warped-out-looking images, but I was recently hired for a job that required a wide field of view. I ended up buying three lenses to find the right tool for the job.
A few weeks ago, I was hired to take photos and film a promo video for a new $12 million yacht. Although the rooms in this boat are gigantic compared to other boats, they are quite small compared to your average home, and to capture them fully, I needed an ultra-wide angle lens. But did I need an ultra-fast lens for this job? Usually, when you're shooting small spaces, you want a deep depth of field, so I probably wouldn't be shooting at f/2.8 anyway.
When I started looking up lens options for my Sony cameras, I was shocked that there were only two lenses at 12mm with autofocus: the Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 for $2,900 and the Sony 12-24mm f/4 for $1,800. Can the f/2.8 version really be worth an extra $1,100? I also discovered a Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 for just $529. Why were the prices of these lenses so different? I decided to get all three and put them to the test.
Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 Review
At $,2900, the Sony 12-24mm f/2.8 is one of the most expensive lenses I've ever tested. Build quality is impressive and the focus and zoom rings feel satisfyingly smooth. What you're truly paying for with this lens is sharpness at 12mm while shooting at f/2.8 throughout the frame, and this lens delivers. Although it suffers from vignetting at f/2.8, the lens appears to be almost just as sharp at f/2.8 as it is at every other aperture. As with all Sony lenses, autofocus is fast, accurate, and completely silent for both still and video shooting. For astrophotography, a lens like this will create stunning photographs at f/2.8, but for other genres of still photography or video when a deeper depth of field may be important, this lens may be overkill.
Sony 12-24mm f/4 Review
Sony's f/4 version of their 12-24mm looks like a slightly smaller version of their f/2.8 version, but the build quality and the feel of the focus and zoom rings are almost identical to its bigger brother. At 12mm, this lens can produce great photos, but you will notice significant softening around the edges of the frame. This lens also suffers from vignetting at f/4 and will require you to stop down to f/5.6 to get a totally clean image. That being said, I'm not really sure these shortcomings would ever be noticed in normal photographs. In the real world, both the f/2.8 and f/4 versions of this lens created almost identical-looking photos and videos. If you're shooting something like real estate and you need the wide field of view but you don't necessarily need the extra light, the f/4 version of this lens seems like an easy choice.
Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 for Sony Review
The Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 has surprisingly good build quality for its low price of $529. The housing is metal and the focus ring spins smoothly. The lens is surprisingly sharp at f/2.8, even in the corners, but it suffers from pretty significant vignetting when it's wide open. The images out of this lens looked surprisingly similar to the Sony competitors, but the lens has one major flaw. The autofocusing mechanism for this lens seems to "hunt" pretty jarringly for a subject. Unlike the Sony lenses that can smoothly rack focus, the Rokinon lens makes an audible clicking sound and jumps into focus. The autofocus seemed accurate enough for still photography, but probably not smooth enough for video. That being said, with ultra-wide angle lenses, the depth of field is usually so deep that autofocus may not be necessary while filming.
Every once in a while, I review a product that is cheapest and also happens to be the best, but in the case of Sony ultra-wide lenses, I'm afraid you're going to get exactly what you pay for. The Sony 12-24 f/2.8 is definitely the best lens, but at $2,900, it certainly should be. The f/4 version of the lens is probably a better choice for your average architectural photographer, and the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 is a bargain if zoom and autofocus aren't necessities. Check out the video above for my full thoughts and sample images.
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