Traveller, Photographer, Mountaineer, Human

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.

Build Quality

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…

Optical Quality

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).

Samyang lens at 650mm (left) compared to a cropped version of the Tamron at 300mm (center).  The uncropped Tamron shot (right).

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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.

I added contrast, clarity and vibrance boosts to both (more on the Samyang).  The pictures now look better but not all good (for small online sharing, it’s ok).

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…

Samyang lens at 650mm (left) compared to a cropped version of the Tamron at 300mm (center).  The uncropped Tamron shot (right).

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… 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.

Post-processing doesn’t change the result much.  The Samyang picture (left) needed a lot of contrast boost plus clarity boosts while the Tamron (right) needs little).

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.

Conclusion

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.

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14 responses

  1. Thanks for sharing your observations and analysis. I’ve been tempted when I saw the mega focal length of this lens and am glad now that I didn’t let my curiosity push me to get it. I’m especially happy that you chose to compare it with a modest lens, which is more in the price range of those who might consider the Samyang. (Those that can afford a $12,000 lens probably haven’t given a second thought to the Samyang.)

    November 19, 2012 at 8:42 pm

    • You’re very welcome. There aren’t that many reviews of this lens and for those that I found, no comparison with other lenses.

      November 19, 2012 at 9:19 pm

  2. Ajay

    Hi,
    Thanks for taking the immense effort to post this review. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and it was very detailed in its analysis of the lenses capabilities from a practical aspect. From a more realistic perspective, I put off any plans I had of buying this lens after reading this review. Mind you, I had already noted certain practical difficulties from a handling perspective as well as a focusing perspective (based on the fact that it has no VR at all !!?), but you comparisons of various images sealed the deal.
    Thanks once again on your efforts mate.
    So long..

    June 8, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    • Glad I could be of help. Yes, this lens doesn’t do much other than being big and long and white. It can be used as a sort of telescope I think.

      June 8, 2013 at 11:27 pm

  3. Peter

    I just bought the 650-1300 samyang and I want to ask you if it is moving up and down when you open it on 1300mm the upper part of the lens with the lower part

    June 13, 2013 at 1:30 am

    • Hmmm. Not so sure what it is you’re asking. If you’re asking if the lens moves, then yes, the lens seem to be a little loose at 1300mm in that there is a little movement between the front and back part of the lens.

      June 13, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    • Yes it wobbles a little.

      June 13, 2013 at 9:41 pm

  4. Thanks for the advice… I was about to purchase one sold under the brand name Dorr – but which is 99% identical to the Samyang, probably they are manufactured in the same factory. The focal length IS impressive, but I’ve tested a couple of Tamrons and was quite disapppointed by them – even compared to my modest Nikon DX 55-300mm. So I guess I shouldn’t rush to get the longest focal and focus on an upgrade to a used 80-200 f/2.8 which looks quite appealing to me.

    August 14, 2013 at 6:01 am

  5. richard mleczko

    Hi Thanks for your review of this lens. I too have the Samyang 8mm fish eye and am very happy with the quality. I’m mainly interested in this lens to do astrophotography, the sun, the moon and maybe other stuff. with such a large focal length I would never expect this lens to give me crystal clear images from very far away. have you got any comments regarding photographing the sun and the moon and would you think this mes would be ok for that. – thanks

    December 17, 2013 at 10:13 am

  6. Steevo

    Thankyou for your review. I’m also considering buying this lense for astrophotography and I’m wondering if you have tried using it for taking photos of the moon and stars.

    March 7, 2014 at 3:49 pm

  7. My friend borrowed it and took photos of a full moon.

    Please note that this lens is not very sharp, especially at the long end and aperture is very slow (f8 at 650mm then drops fast towards the long end) so exposure will be long and star trails are I think a sure thing. Have not tried it on the sun yet.

    March 7, 2014 at 10:47 pm

  8. Neil P

    Just been thinking about getting one of these. Someone selling one locally, not new, but unused.
    £200 , ($330 USD) with the “quality” x2 adapter and the 500 f 8 mirror lens.

    Very tempted, though, as you found, even at 1300, I guess I’d get a better image with my 70-200 L Series f2.8 and the canon III x2 convertor .
    With the high available high ISO’s on the 5D3, I managed some usable test shots at ISO 6400, HANDHELD! gave a shutter speed of about 3200.

    On this particular copy, zooming kept getting stuck, even with the locking ring fully loose.
    I’d be tempted to make a ‘shotgun’ style rail for this.

    So tempted just for the ‘fun ‘ factor . What do you reckon, should I buy it and it’s companion 500 mirror lens.
    The 500 seems identical to a cheap Hanimex mirror lens I had for my old Canon F1n

    March 26, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    • I don’t have a 70-200 so I can’t make an opinion whether the 2x converter setup will work (but there’s a big possibility that it will and will be much better).

      Compared to the Tamron 70-300, the Tamron has much better contrast but resolution is still better for the Samyang (cropped Tamron vs uncropped Samyang – click on the pictures to see larger versions).

      My main concern for the Samyang is on how to use it – focusing is too difficult (short focus throw), camera must not be too heavy (especially when zoomed) and tripod is a definite must.

      (Perhaps Hanimex is another brand with which this lens is sold)

      If you have $330 to spare why not buy for the fun factor but try it first.

      March 26, 2014 at 11:18 pm

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