Rokinon recently released a new offering in the 35mm lens range, and I was super excited to get my hands on it for a number of reasons. The great price, wide aperture, and popular focal length of 35mm makes for a great combo, but never having used a Rokinon product before I wasn't quite sure what to expect. After an extensive review covering nearly two months (thank you Rokinon, for lending it to me for that long!) I am finally able to come to a conclusion about this new offering.
As anyone who has ever looked into purchasing a prime lens knows, the 35mm market is heavily saturated with a number of options from a number of different manufacturers. Canon, Nikon, Sony, Sigma, Tamron, in both fast and slow varieties. Unless you're dead set on a Canon L or Nikon G, it can be a tricky purchase. Hopefully this review helps you to narrow down the choices and flesh out the details of a lens that just hit the scene.
In order to explore as many different avenues as possible for using this lens, I enlisted the help of another shooter. While I'm primarily an architecture and interiors photographer (where 35mm is actually a popular focal length) I wanted to be able to give the lens a fair shake in other arenas where 35mm is even more widely-used, for example, portraiture, lifestyles, and videography. Due to the rapidly growing popularity of DSLR video, I called upon an experienced videographer friend of mine, Peter Donaghy, to help shoot some video with the lens. Peter usually shoots lifestyle and music and I figured that the low light and portraiture subjects would make a good addition to our real-world evaluation of the lens.
Upon unboxing the lens, I was immediately struck by the solid build quality of the lens. The construction is solid metal and the paint finish is very uniformly applied and resistant to chipping and scuffing. It also looks pretty slick; even though the red ring immediately makes me think 'Canon L,' the black and red is a classy combo. The metal mount ring is very solid and there were no loose or sloppy points that I have noticed over the past two months of shooting with the lens. The hood fit snugly and didn't wiggle around (unlike many much more expensive Canon lenses that I've used over the years). The aperture ring is snappy and the focus ring is smooth, with a beautiful even throw that allows for fine manual focusing.
Feeling rather confident, I took the lens along to a couple of interior shoots for designers around LA. While interiors isn't exactly the first thing that springs to mind when people purchase a new 1.4 lens, it was a great way to test out the real world sharpness and microcontrast on a paid gig. This is real world stuff, I've never been a fan of measurebating or MTF charts, much preferring to check out the real world results in real world situations when compared to other pieces of gear that I've used. Since the lens is manual aperture and manual focus for all mounts except Nikon (focus confirmation is available for an additional $20), it may take a bit of getting used to. Since I usually use live focus for my interiors work, this wasn't really a problem, but it's something to be aware of. For ease of viewing and comparison, all photos in this article are simply jpegs created from the raw files supplied by the camera after import through Aperture; no adjustments were applied to any image or video.
Since I'm a huge stickler for distortion in lenses, this is always something I look out for. Barrel distortion was basically a non-significant factor when compared to lenses like the Canon 17-40 and 16-35 II. This is an absolute blessing for photographers who do work for designers and architects, as bowed lines and a 'fisheye' effect are pretty much unusable as a final product, and pushing and pulling pixels to straighten lines out always tends to degrade image quality more than I like. I found that I had to do little to no correction in post for barrel distortion which was a nice treat.
Contrast and sharpness are absolutely superb, as well. I own a number of Canon L lenses and this, to my naked eye, did not seem any less sharp or any less contrasty than any of my lenses. Color rendition is absolutely fantastic and I didn't have to touch the saturation slider at all while adjusting my photos in post.
There is a slight bit of vignetting when shooting wide open, as with most fast lenses in this range. I personally don't mind it and think that it adds a nice effect to most photos, though your opinion of course may differ.
My name is Peter Donaghy, and I'm a DP, photographer and videographer in Los Angeles. I mostly shoot lifestyle, musicians, nightlife and dance footage and stills for some of Los Angeles' largest venues and promotors. Since we wanted to show what this lens can do in fast-paced environments with live subjects, rather than Mike's glacially slow interiors work, we brought it out on a few shoots to capture stills and video.
I have to say that I'm incredibly impressed with this lens in the low light environments that I usually work in. I shot all of this footage using the Rokinon 35mm 1.4 and a Canon 5d Mark III handheld with an L bracket with a hotshoe flash on top or Glidecam in some video situations. As previously mentioned, all of the footage is 'raw,' that is, there were no changes to color, saturation, contrast, etc.
As you can see, we both agree that the color and contrast straight without adjustments is fantastic. Thanks to the solid build quality I had no qualms about getting up close and personal in these packed venues; a little bump here and there wasn't cause for even a slight concern.
In terms of shooting photos with this lens, I focused on portraits of friends and artists. During the day, the bright light allowed me to shoot at at mid-range apertures, which produced incredibly crisp images and gorgeous out of focus areas. I really can't get over how sharp this lens is: we have both used this lens and compared to Canon L glass the color rendition is, to our eyes, just as good.
MORE EXAMPLE IMAGES
-Sharp throughout all aperture ranges, even at 1.4 the sharpness is commendable
-Colors are very snappy, contrast is crisp, no noticeable color casts
-Construction of lens is phenomenally solid, also balances very well on most SLRs
-Size and texture of focus rings allows for follow focus attachments very easily for video applications (e.g. follow focus modifications)
-Fast aperture for manageable price, especially when compared to Nikon and Canon equivalents
-Beautifully smooth operation of all moving parts (aperture and focus rings)
The Less Good, But Hardly Bad:
-The DOF at 1.4 in subjects that are near to the lens is RAZOR thin, though we can't hold this against the lens, it's just a product of manually focusing at 1.4 - if you're not used to it, you're in for a surprise.
-The distance meter appeared to be slightly off, it was better to rely on our eyes when manually focusing, and it might take some time to get used to the long focus throw, however, it is incredibly smooth and easy to operate.
-Lack of focus confirmation or autofocus on anything but Nikon
-Slight vignette at wider apertures (though if this is a con, you can decide, I actually enjoy the look but I've gotten in plenty of arguments over it)
For the street price of $479, this lens is a fantastic deal. If your work requires you to work quickly in dim situations, you may want a lens that retains autofocus and electronic aperture (if you aren't a Nikon shooter), so do take note of that, but the price reflects the lack of electronics. However, for those of us who are able to set up and take our time composing and focusing, it's a non issue. The absolutely rock-solid build, fantastic colors and contrast, smooth focus throw and lack of distortion make this lens an absolute winner for anyone who is looking for a lens to cover multiple bases. Photographer/videographer crossover specialists will rejoice in the applications of the lens for video, and they'll also be able to create some fantastic photographs with it to boot.
The Rokinon 35mm f1.4 Aspherical can be purchased at B&H Photo Video for $479 for Canon, Sony, Pentax, Olympus and Samsung and $499 for Nikon (with focus confirm chip).