Samyang has traditionally not been at the top of many people’s wish lists when it comes to high-quality prime lenses. But with the introduction of the Samyang XP 85mm f/1.2, the company now has optics that can provide top quality at a very respectable price point. This lens may be manual focusing only, but the company has also poured all its efforts into the optic side of things, which is good news for those who want premium-level quality.
As the 85mm focal length has traditionally been a good solution for portraits, there is strong competition in this marketplace. Can the Samyang not only provide good value but also be a viable alternative to the rest?
Typical of modern, high-quality prime lenses, the Samyang XP 85mm f/1.2 comes in at a heavyweight 1050g and measures 10cm lengthwise. The lens barrel is all metal aluminum alloy, with a smooth, rubberized focusing ring and slightly knurled aperture ring.
As this is a manual focusing lens, there is a simple aperture and distance scale included on the lens barrel. It’s also immediately apparent that the Samyang has taken more than a few design hints from the top line of ZEISS lenses, which gives it that extra look of quality.
The front of the lens is very substantial, taking 86mm filters and as the lens focuses internally, many types of high-quality filters can be fitted. The lens is equally useful on crop sensor cameras, providing a 136mm viewpoint, which some may prefer for portrait shooting.
Optically, the lens comprises 10 elements in seven groups, which also includes an aspherical element and a pair of high refractive index versions. Each element has also been treated to an ultra multicoating, which should improve overall image clarity and suppress ghosting and flaring.
The close focusing distance is roughly standard for this type of lens at 80cm, with a maximum magnification of 0.13x. The total diaphragm blades of nine are also quite standard but, coupled with the maximum aperture of f/1.2, this lens should be a good candidate as a portrait shooter as well as performing nicely in low-light conditions.
Lab tests, graphs, and line data are all well and good, showing minute differences between individual lenses, but this also has to translate to real-world applications. In other words, what are the standout differences between images at different aperture settings and with a wide variety of subjects and scenes?
For such a wide and fast lens, the Samyang XP 85mm f/1.2 handles chromatic aberration better than expected. With the aperture set to f/1.2, there is only a slight amount of purple fringing seen in high-contrast areas, but nothing that can’t be eradicated with software. If you want the best results straight out of the camera, stopping down to f/2 almost eradicates all CA.
The lens displays noticeable amounts of light falloff in the corners at f/1.2, which is not overly distracting. This effect can also be reduced to almost nothing by f/4.
One of the reasons for buying into a lens with such a fast aperture is for the out-of-focus or bokeh rendition. Pleased to say, the Samyang can produce a very smooth background blur with no noticeable erratic color transitions. Highlight balls look very rounded in the center of the frame but do tend to turn into more cat’s eye shapes at the edges of the frame.
In terms of overall sharpness levels, the lens does look a touch soft between f/1.4-f/2.8 across the frame. Both the center and edges of the frame clean up nicely by f/4 with very sharp results. Sharpness throughout the frame stays the same up to f/11, but then starts to take a hit from diffraction from f/16 and above.
Although the Samyang XP 85mm f/1.2 does take a hit in sharpness levels with the aperture wide open, the overall color and contrast are very acceptable. More than anything, the lens provides an as-you-see-it rendition of a scene, without any overly-saturated colors.
How Does It Compare to Sigma?
The Samyang XP 85mm f/1.2 sits in a middle-of-the-road price point area, which means you generally have to take a large step up or down for a change in quality. One lens that costs a few hundred dollars more, but is well worth checking out, is the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art. The Sigma is arguably not as fast as the Samyang at f/1.4 and it’s also a heavyweight beast at 1130g.
On the downside, the Sigma does display a good deal of chromatic aberration with the aperture wide open at f/1.4. This effect largely disappears by f/2.8. The Sigma also features autofocus, which can be a deciding factor for many.
The Sigma lens does beat the Samyang for overall sharpness levels and resolution, but you would also expect these attributes for a higher-priced lens. This means when comparing both lenses, you essentially get what you pay for as with any crank up in price. However, the Samyang is still a good performer at its chosen price point. The Sigma is also now available for the mirrorless format in a more compact package.
|Samyang XP 85mm f/1.2||Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art|
|Close Focusing Distance||80cm||85cm|
|Optics||10 Elements/7 Groups||14 Elements/12 Groups|
The Samyang XP 85mm f/1.2 Offers Good Results at a Budget Price
The Samyang XP 85mm f/1.2 can still be seen as a fast prime lens that provides excellent resolution from f/2. At the widest aperture settings, there is notable softness across the frame, which counters the rest of its features. If you don’t mind stopping down past f/2, it’s still a very useful lens in low-light conditions. The lens also doesn’t feature any type of weatherproofing.
On the plus side, there is little evidence of chromatic aberration at the widest apertures and the bokeh rendition is as you would expect from a high-quality lens. The lens has a professional feel and, although it’s manual focusing, it’s very easy to nail focus in reality.
All being said, the XP 85mm f/1.2 is still very reasonably-priced for an f/1.2 prime. If you can live with apertures smaller than f/2, it’s a very cost-effective way to buy into a high-quality 85mm prime lens.