The Samyang 85mm f/1.4 Versus the Sony 85mm f/1.4

Sony's 85mm f/1.4 is a fantastic lens... but you could save $1,100 if you buy the Samyang version

85mm lenses are believed by many to be the ultimate portrait lens. It's the right length to keep you a reasonable distance from your subject without producing too much distortion while producing ultra-sharp images with beautiful bokeh. In the video above and the post below, we will be comparing Sony's $1,800 85mm lens to Samyang's $700. 

Features

The Sony 85mm f/1.4 has more features than the average lens. Its aperture can be controlled digitally via camera dial (like most modern lenses) or it can be controlled mechanically by the aperture ring on the lens. The aperture ring can be set to click every 1/3 stop or it can turn smoothly (a feature some specialized videographers will appreciate). The lens also has an autofocus lock as well as an autofocus/manual switch. The Samyang version has none of these features and only has a focus-by-wire focus ring on it.

Although I can appreciate the extra features on the Sony version, I personally will never use any of them, so to me, they aren't of much value. 

Vignetting

While shooting wide open at f/1.4, both lenses suffered from some vignetting (darkening of the edges), but Sony's lens was clearly better. The Samyang lens had slightly darker edges at f/1.4, but looked very similar to the Sony once you stopped down to f/2 and beyond. 

Sharpness

Both images looked almost identical throughout their f-stop range in the center of the frame, but on the edges, the Sony was slightly sharper, especially wide open. 

Color

The Sony produced a cooler image than the Samyang, but after a slight white balance shift, the colors looked identical from both lenses. 

Flare

When shooting directly into the sun, the Sony lens was able to capture a much more accurate, contrasty image with a small lens flare. The image taken with the Samyang lens had a larger flare that produced a more washed out image. In normal shooting environments, the image quality out of both lenses looked very similar, but if your subject is extremely backlit, the Sony will perform better. 

Autofocus Noise

I wouldn't have normally even done this test, but I read online that some people found that the Samyang had loud autofocusing. I found the opposite to be true. The Samyang sounded very similar to other lenses that I own, while the Sony had the strangest autofocusing noise I've ever heard in any lens. Not only was it strange, but the Sony's autofocus was significantly louder as well. 

Autofocus Speed

Although I felt like the Samyang lens might have been slightly faster, it was too close to tell for sure. Both lenses were able to autofocus extremely quickly and with 100% accuracy in bright daylight. 

Continuous Autofocus Speed

Although it was hard for me to tell on location, it's pretty easy to see in the video above that Sony's lens did perform better in our extreme continuous AF test. If you happen to be shooting video of people walking towards your camera (for example, at a wedding), it could be worth buying the Sony for this extra performance alone, but if you are a wedding videographer, you probably aren't going to be shooting with an 85mm lens. For standard filming, the Samyang lens was able to hold focus on a shifting subject just as well as the Sony, but under extreme conditions, the Sony was better. 

Conclusion

The Sony 85mm f/1.4 is a better lens in almost every way, but only by a small margin. If it cost a few hundred dollars more than the Samyang, the Sony would be an easy choice, but it doesn't. The Sony 85mm f/1.4 costs $1,100 more than the Samyang, and that price is hard to justify.

For the average photographer, I'd recommend buying the Samyang 85mm f/1.4. For 40% of the cost, you are getting 90% of the results. With the extra money, you could buy another camera body, lens, or light. But, of course, if you have the extra money to spend and you want the absolute best or you need specialized features like the smooth aperture ring, flare reduction, or continuous AF performance, the Sony version might be worth the hefty price.  

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11 Comments

Stas Aleksandersson's picture

Good article, Lee. I have a question on an unrelated topic - why your article for example is reader view available and some not. I remember it used to be that all articles on Fstoppers were reader view available...
thanks.

Bokeh? Eye AF?

Or you could go for the Sony 85 1.8, smaller and lighter than both of them, AF performance comparable to the 1.4 from Sony for less than the Samyang, you loose one stop of light but I have never missed it, I shoot it wide open and it performs great!

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

That's what I have also. I've been going back to my original mindset why I bought a mirrorless camera, size and weight.

The Sony 85 1.8 lens is excellent.

Lose <1 stop but close enough I suppose.

I absolutely LOVE my Samyang 85mm! I bought it for roughly a third of the price of the Sony, with the intention of trying it out and returning it if I wasn't happy. The bokeh is fantastic, the rendering is great, and the sharpness at 1.4 is astounding on the 7R3. Because the aperture ring and function buttons aren't dealbreakers for me, I won't be upgrading. On the latest firmware it's ridiculously fast, even with eye-AF on animals.

Michael Aubrey's picture

The MF Samyangs were basically glued together and inevitably would break with enough use. While the price difference is appealing, can I trust the Samyang to last?

Lensrentals doesn't give them high marks here and they have the data on damage and repairs.

Great video Lee. And greetings from Manchester UK. I’ve had a look at the Sony and was blown away by the creamy bokeh. Anything else seems like a compromise but the difference in price could be another len’s in the bag. I love doing portraits but wondered about using up a lot of tight budget just for this lens. I’m using it on a Sony A73 and wanted to keep with Sony for some video work too. If you had another Sony prime lens to pick for the bag what would you suggest?
Best wishes and keep up the brill videos.

David Stephen Kalonick's picture

"Sony guts" Anyone get that reference without looking it up??? 😂

hi lee! i’m looking to buy the samyang 85mm f1.4 for my sony a7iii. i live in dubai, and when i called the retailer he asked if i want the MF option or the AF option. the AF option costs about $250 more. from your video i’m not able to understand what the difference is? the lens you’re using has a manual focus ring, but you’re also auto focusing while using the lens. does the AF option have both AF/MF in it? hoping to hear back soon. thanks lee!