Samyang 14mm f2.8 Lens review (Bower, Rokinon)

 
I had heard some very good things about the Samyang 14mm f2.8 a.k.a. Bower and Rokinon. It is a rather inexpensive manual focus ultra wide-angle prime lens made in Korea and comes in a Nikon and Canon mount. The Nikon mount lens comes in 2 versions, totally manual and one with the pins to work with Nikons auto exposure cameras. The AE version will control the aperture. It does not have filter threads due to the bulbous front element and has a built in hood that the lens cap fits over much like a lid. I am writing about the Nikon mount version.
I had read some discussion it might be as sharp or sharper than the Nikon ultra wide-angle zoom 14-24mm f2.8. I also read it had some distortion of the mustache type. Since I don’t have a 14-24mm, I cant compare them, but I did test it against my Nikon 16-35mm f4.
I have been jonesing for 14mm for quite some time after being at locations I could have used the extra 2mm over my widest focal range on my Nikon 16-35. I didn’t want to hike with 2 wide angle zoom lenses and even though the Nikon 14-24 is very good, it is very heavy. Who needs 2 heavy zooms. The Nikon 16-35 is a very sharp lens and it takes filters as well as having a more useful focal range so it is my main landscape tool. A prime 14mm however would fit in my pack and compliment the 16-35 quite nicely. The old Nikon 14mm f2.8 prime doesn’t seem to be that good on modern digital cameras compared to newer lenses and is prohibitively expensive. After doing a little research I decided to check out the Samyang (the Rokinon version) 14mm prime. I wasn’t all that concerned about the distortion it reportedly had because distortion is rarely noticeable in most landscape shots. I probably correct about less than 2 percent of the landscape shots in post processing I take with my Nikon 16-35 that has distortion of the barrel kind.
In my research, I read Ken Rockwell had tested one and he was disappointed because it was very soft, seeming to be the opposite of what many others were saying. Well… I ordered one and when it arrived at my doorstep it was early enough in the day for me to set up my test scene and start shooting. I use the same setup to test all my lenses for consistency. The lens is very well built, the focus ring is very smooth but I immediately noticed it was very soft compared to my Nikon 16-35. Hmmm… Ok, it is a manual focus lens, maybe I need to work on my manual focusing skills. Never mind that I manually focus my Nikon all the time. I spent the next 30-45 minutes making sure I was focusing the 14mm correctly. No joy, this lens was soft. Looked like Ken may have been right. But, knowing sometimes there are bad copies of a lens, I returned it and had a replacement sent.
The replacement arrived and I went about setting up my test again. I took a couple shots… Yes! I could tell right away this one was going to be better. I didn’t even need to look at the shots on the computer. Of course, I did, comparing it to the Nikon 16-35 that I was hoping it would compliment in the field. All testing was done with my D3x on a tripod, using live view for focus, mirror lockup and a remote cable release. But what is a comparison without pictures:
Larger versions of images found here: http://www.pbase.com/ddietiker/samyang_14mm_f28  
This is the test shot of the Rokinon 14mm f2.8 at f8. The mustache distortion is quite obvious.
samyang-14mm-f8
The shot below is the Nikon 16-35 f4 at f8. Notice there is quite a big difference in the type of distortion and also how much wider just 2mm is compared to 16mm.
nikon-16-35-16mm f8
One of the first things I noticed is the Rokinon (Samyang) has no real noticeable chromatic aberrations. The Nikon is very good, but the Rokinon is better. This next shot is the focus point of the Rokinon f8
samyang-14mm-focus-point
Followed by the focus point of the Nikon f8
16-35-focus-point
The next shot is the Rokinon (Samyang) upper left corner at f8. Notice how little CA there is and the corners look pretty good.
samyang-14mm-left-corner-f8
Followed below by the Nikon at f8. The Nikon is not at it’s best in the corners at f8, and the Nikon cleans up much better at f11.
16-35-16mm-left-corner-f8
The shot below is the Rokinon (Samyang) at f11. Not much improvement, but it doesn’t need much, it is already pretty good at f8.
samyang-14mm-left-corner--f11
Followed below by the Nikon at f11.
16-35-16mm-left-corner-f11
So after getting a very soft Samyang 14mm, the second is much better and appears to be as good as my main landscape tool, the Nikon 16-35. Maybe there is something to people saying it is as sharp as the Nikon 14-24 at 14mm. I will be hanging on to this Rokinon. Now I need to get out and actually use it for landscape shots. If you order one, make sure you test it, since there do appear to be some soft  copies. For those getting the new Nikon D800, this lens will definitely deliver with those 36 megapixels.

Larger versions of these images can be found here: http://www.pbase.com/ddietiker/samyang_14mm_f28


Updated. The picture below was shot with the Samyang 14mm. You cant see it in this size and I wont post a larger version for obvious reasons, but the 14mm may be the crisp/sharpest lens I have used. It got more detail out of my camera than I was expecting.

_1011144_720.jpg

19 comments:

  1. Very nice review, thanks

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  2. Exactly the review that I was looking for after follwoing the Ken Rockwell story and any others that I could find, I probably won't use mine for architectural stuff so maybe, just maybe I might buy it? probably will, always hard to decide what tools to spend the cash on, could get the sigma 12-24, no moustache there, but it is more expensive and I do need the clickless aperture ring for my video work, so .... Thanks again mate!

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  3. I just ordered one for my holiday to Iceland in 2 weeks time. Hopefully it arrives in time for me to do the "soft" test. Thanks for the info. Hopefully, I can also tell what is soft... since I dont ever focus manually. I will mainly use this lens for aurora night-time on infinity. so focusing shouldnt be an issue anyway... but if its a "soft" lens ...?
    Jen

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  4. Hi Jennika,

    How did your images in Iceland go with the 14mm Samyang?
    I'm heading there for the exact same reason in March 13, and I'm curious to know your feedback.

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  5. Here is a shot I took with the Samyang

    http://www.pbase.com/ddietiker/image/143074129

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  6. It went well thanks guys, sorry I dont seem to get notification of posts, here are Aurora pics using the lens: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jennika/sets/72157632056166005/

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  7. Hi Douglas. Thanks for the review. What I would find helpful is a sample picture from the "soft" lens. I got this lens earlier in the week and am trying to decide if the CA issues I seem to be having with it are just a bad copy.

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  8. I didn't save any from the soft copy Wade. Mine exhibits very little CA. Probably the best lens I have in that regard.

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  9. Looks like third time's the charm. I returned two lenses to Amazon before I got a good copy. Thanks, Douglas.

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  10. I have one arriving tomorrow for my D800, since getting the D800 I have only been shooting primes, (until warmer weather in Maine anyway) DXO has it in their database so I am hopeful that their magic will be as substantive as it has been on all of my other combinations. ( The nikon 85 1.8g is stunning!)
    dale

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  11. Seems like luck of the draw with many 3rd party lens players; yet I've drawn luckily on several Sigmas and Rokinons for the Sony Nex and Alpha platforms and also several for the Canon 6D. I'm studying this lens because you can never be wide enough or fast enough! and the Samyan 24 F1.4 leaves me wanting more stars when I do the Milky Way :) So do I add yet another Samyang into the house? Probably, and this review did nothing to protect my wallet....
    I will say the 'little' Rokinon 8mm for my Nex 6 is one of the funnest lenses I've ever had.

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  12. Hi Douglas, I'm looking at your picture but was unable to enlarge it to see the detail in the background. I have a Rokinon 14mm for my D600 and took a picture of a cliff that ends in the ocean and far away there is a small lighthouse. Although I would have to review my manual focusing, I could not get the lighthouse sharp even though it is much closer to the foreground (5 USA blocks)than the mountains in your picture. These results made me re-consider the type of picture (Wide landscape or not so wide landscape) for this lens. Woudl you care to coment? Thanks in advance.

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    1. Not being able to see your picture, all I can do is guess it may have something to do with the depth of field and the hyper focal distance you were using.

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  13. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    thank you :)

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  14. Can you please let me know how did you test the softness of the lens? Do you have comparison shots of the first (soft copy) and the second (sharp copy)

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    1. Sorry, I did not save the soft shots. It was very obvious to me it was soft when I first looked at the shots. I did compare to my 16-35 to be sure. I used the LCD on the camera to focus.

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  15. I might be a bit dumb! but what should I be looking for to check softness? I don't know what that means. thanks

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    1. Soft = not sharp. Use a known sharp lens. Take the same shot with both lenses using a tripod. Compare the results looking at the center, edges and corners of the frame. The first lens I had was very 'fuzzy' compared to the known sharp lens. It was so bad I didn't really need to compare at all.

      Good luck.

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  16. Great help thanks very much.

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