Samyang 650-1300mm f8-f16 Lens Test
Recently, out of whim, I bought a Samyang 650-1300mm f8-f16 lens. I know from what I read online that this is not a sharp lens nor is it going to be much useful and practical for most scenarios but the allure of the extreme telephoto got the best of me.
This lens is made by a Korean company who also creates some wonderful and affordable lenses (Samyang 8mm/7.5mm fisheye, 14mm f2.8, 24mm f1.4, 35mm 1.4 and 85mm 1.4). Before they upped their game and started producing these wonderful manual focus lenses, they started with creating crappy telephoto lenses (including mirror lenses such as the 800mm f8, 500 or 600mm f5.6). This extreme telephoto zoom is one of the earlier crappy lenses.
In all fairness to Samyang, this lens was probably created mainly as a telescope and not as a camera lens. The lens is available in T-mount (I think this is the mount for telescope) and an adapter for various mounts (including Canon EF and Nikon F) are available.
Before going on the informal test for optical quality, I’ll go first about the build quality.
The lens is made of metal except for some parts. The lens mount is made of tough plastic (or metal) and the T-EF adapter screws on the end part. It screws on very tightly. Specs of the Samyang lens specifies 2kg so it is a heavy lens (not as heavy as telephoto primes) and the added weight of the tripod (a strict requirement for this lens) makes it not practical for most photowalk of hikes.
In order to zoom, you push and pull the back part and this shows a black painted metal with the focal length and aperture carved in the black metal.
[Left] The front objective of the lens (the orange reflection is the lens of the Fuji X10 which I used to shoot these pictures).
[Below left] The Samyang lens at 650mm. [Below center] The Samyang lens at 1300mm. [Below right] Tamron 70-300mm VC at 300mm.
The zooming mechanism is not very elegant and not very stable. You have to turn the lens right to loosen it then pull it back or you can rotate and pull back but this makes the camera also rotate. Furthermore, when the lens is extended (especially when it is not yet tightened from the zooming action, there is a possibility that the back part would fall taking the precious camera with it.
Despite the mostly metal construction, I would not trust the lens to hold the camera steady so I would never leave the lens with the camera attached to it without watching it.
The lens also has a tripod base where you can attach the tripod plate. The problem is that this is located in the front half of the lens – not a problem when shooting at 650mm but a big problem when shooting at 1300mm where the whole setup is not balanced (I had to remove the battery grip of my 7D to lessen its weight and make the setup more balanced).
The lens as a built in hood (not deep enough for the focal length) hiding a big front element (86mm diameter). The front element doesn’t seem to be coated (look at the mirror like objective compared to the reddish reflection of the X10 lens).
Now on to the tests…
In order to fully analyze the lens, I chose my Tamrom 70-300 VC lens as a point of comparison. It is my longest lens and the price are not that very far apart (the Samyang lens costs Php13,800 plus Php650 for the adapter and the Tamron costs Php18,000). I guess this is a valid comparison since comparing the Samyang lens to much more expensive lenses is unfair (and I don’t have or can’t afford the telephoto primes).
For testing the lens, I focused (using live view) on a building I think more than 2 kilometers from my house. Focusing is not very easy to do since the slightest vibration causes the viewfinder and LCD to jump wildly. Also, the focusing ring only does about 90 degrees turn so a slight adjustment moves the focus plane a lot. For shooting, I used a wired remote and a 10 second delay plus mirror lockup to remove vibration as much as possible. Both set at ISO 200. The Samyang lens is at f8 (the only aperture setting at 650mm) while the Tamron is at f10 (forgot to change but this difference doesn’t matter much).
Based on the above pictures, it is clear that the Tamron produces better out of the camera pictures (even when cropped) as it has higher contrast compared to the very low contrast image from the Samyang (didn’t I say that the Samyang lens appears to be uncoated?).
Click on the pictures to get a larger view.
With some post-processing, here are the results.
Samyang (left), Tamron (right).
Here, the chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is very obvious on the Samyang (very little on the Tamron).
Now if the subject is closer (the tree is about 500 meters away), the results are…
… pretty much the same.
In fact, the difference between the Tamron lens and the Samyang lens is greater (the Tamron lens is better at 300mm when shooting medium distances compared to longer distances. The difference in contrast is detail is much much obvious with the Samyang providing a muddy low contrast view of the leaves while the cropped Tamron provides a more detailed and more contrasty picture.
Still, the Tamron pic provides a better picture than the Samyang lens (even as cropped).
What about at 1300mm? Here are some pics I took at 1300mm using the Samyang lens.
I didn’t make a comparison with the Tamron (someone else might or I might when I feel like it). Just remember that at this focal length, the Samyang is already shooting at f16 and the effect of diffraction, vibration and others lowers the image quality much more.
Me, posing with the Samyang lens. (shot by Eman using the Samyang 85mm f1.4 – a very good lens).
The conclusion here is pretty obvious, if you want telephoto, you’re better off with the Tamron 70-300mm VC and just crop what you need. The additional Php3,550 (about US$85)gets you a nice lens with the hood, autofocus, image stabilization (vibration compensation) and a much much lighter lens which can be shot handheld on bright days. The Tamron also does close up very well.
So what’s the saving grace of the Samyang lens? None. Unless you’re a guy who wants to compensate for something or just want to show off a big lens to those uninitiated in the photography world or wants to pass this lens off as a Canon L lens (put a red rubber band to get that red ring look).
When I bought this lens, I didn’t have high expectations for it and I was proven right. I bought this lens as a rather expensive toy and that it will remain. I’ll probably get it out to shoot the moon or something once in a while.
As an aside, don’t diss Samyang because of this lens. They produce amazing and affordable lenses in the lower focal lengths. The 8mm fisheye I have is GREAT. Eman is using the 85mm f1.4 and it’s also great (will post a test once more pictures are made using the lens).
Samyang has produced great lenses lately and I’m waiting for them to release more lenses, particularly a tilt-shift lens (when they release a tilt-shift lens in 24mm or wider, my resolve to get a full-frame camera will be solidified) and a macro lens. In these lenses, the autofocus will not be missed and if they’re priced at a third or less than the brand name manufacturer, then I’m all in.