When it comes to the choice of quality prime lenses, the usual few manufacturers spring to mind. That’s either your camera body brand or the most popular third-party makers. However, other lens manufacturers have been stepping up their game and this is evident with the Samyang Premium MF 85mm f/1.2.
Samyang can also be branded as Rokinon, depending on where in the world you live. But, essentially these lenses fit into the gap of quality optics in the middle area of the market. A more cost-effective solution to the usual offerings. Therefore, let’s check out this lens and see if it is a good option compared to the usual go-to lenses.
From first impressions, it’s immediately apparent that the design of this lens has taken notes from the Zeiss line. A simple and elegant design, which gives the air of high-end quality. Just like the top end Zeiss lenses, this one is manual focus and features an impressively wide aperture of f/1.2 going to f/16.
There are nine rounded diaphragm blades, with 10 elements arranged in seven groups, along with one aspherical and two high refractive elements and multi-layered and anti-reflexive UMC coatings.
The lens has a minimum focus distance of 80cm, an angle of view of 28.5 degrees and comes in at a rather heavyweight 1050g. It’s also available for Canon, Nikon, and Sony mounts, with the Canon 5D Mark IV being the test mule for this experiment.
Lots of high-end features on paper and this is echoed with the build quality. The metal housing and mount feel very robust, with minimal features on the barrel. These include a simple distance scale and a focus ring that rotates 180 degrees.
The lens isn’t weather-sealed, which could be a deciding factor for some. All the focusing is done internally, which means the filter thread doesn’t rotate, allowing for your favorite filters to be fitted.
Lastly, the lens comes with a nicely integrated hood and a drawstring bag for a little extra protection. In total, the lens feels like a quality product with all the hallmarks of a high-end performer.
The Samyang Premium MF 85mm f/1.2 in Use
Strapped to the Canon 5D Mark IV, the Samyang Premium MF 85mm f/1.2 is clearly heavyweight, but with a fully supported left-hand under the barrel, it balances quite nicely. Being a manual only lens means that you may initially miss autofocus, but with only a focus ring to contend with, you soon get into the workflow of deciding sharp focus, rather than letting the camera decide.
When it comes to overall sharpness, the lens works at its sharpest between f/4 and f/8. Fully wide-open to f/2.8, there is slight softness in the center, which is more apparent at the edges. The whole frame starts to clear up by f/4, with sharpness hitting its mark by f/5.6. Although tack sharpness starts to tail off again at f/11, it’s not as dramatic as when wide-open.
With such a wide-open lens, it’s common to have some anomalies, but they are in general less than expected. Chromatic aberration, which is displayed as purple and blue fringing, can be seen in high contrast areas when the lens is fully wide-open at f/1.2.
Stopping down to f/4 gets rid of the chromatic aberration, but with the lens any wider, you will need postprocessing to remove the fringing. Light falloff is also apparent in the corners when the lens is wide open. Again stopping down to f/4 is needed to completely get rid of this effect.
For close-up photography, this isn’t a macro lens, only focusing as near as 80cm. With the lens at its closest focusing distance, the f/1.2 aperture can give a pleasingly shallow depth of field and some nice dreamy images with a smooth background blur.
In general, the bokeh is pleasing to the eye, with the out of focus areas blending colors very well and rounded highlights rendered with the help of the nine rounded diaphragm blades. Maybe not as beautiful as the most top end of lenses, but at this price point more than acceptable.
As for overall image quality, the best results come past f/4 for total definition. Lots of clarity and if you want to go fully wide open, the lens can be a good low light performer, just with a slightly soft look to the overall outcome. If you don’t mind working from f/2 and upwards, then the lens is a very good performer.
How Does It Compare?
As the Samyang is a third-party lens and comes in at a cheaper price point than the big camera brands, it’s worth checking out other third-party makers. The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens is getting rave reviews for its image quality and price point. Plus points here are the Sigma is autofocus and pips the Samyang for wide-open sharpness. It doesn’t go as wide as the Samyang, can suffer from some chromatic aberration wide-open and is more expensive, but for that extra edge of overall quality, it’s worth the extra money.
You could also go down another route with the Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD. It doesn’t go as wide as the other two, but it does feature Vibration Compensation (VC), great optics and just slightly more expensive than the Samyang.
|Samyang Premium MF 85mm f/1.2||Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art|
|Elements||10 elements/ 7 groups||14 elements/ 12 groups|
|Blades||9 rounded||9 rounded|
In total, the Samyang Premium MF 85mm f/1.2 is a high-quality alternative, which can produce excellent images as long as you’re happy working within its optimal zone. This means that fully wide open the lens exhibits some softness, negating the usefulness of such a wide aperture, but it’s there if you need to get the shot, especially in very low light.
The lens also displays some chromatic aberration and vignetting until it is stopped down a little, but on the plus side, the very shallow depth of field can produce pleasing background blur and highlights. It’s also a very well made lens and although not weatherproofed, feels like a lens that could stay in your lens arsenal for a good deal of time.
Considering the price of the Samyang Premium MF 85mm f/1.2, it provides great image quality for the money. It may be manual focus only, but used in the right applications, the lens could be a good alternative to far higher-priced offerings that go this wide. For uses such as portraits where an ultra-shallow depth of field may not be needed, this lens could be a good, cost-effective solution.