Samyang 85mm f1.4 Aspherical is one of the affordable lenses from Korean lens maker Samyang. Like the Samyang 8mm fisheye this lens is manual focus only and is available in various mounts. I bought the Nikon AE (auto exposure) version since I want to future proof my lenses (in the event that I decide to switch to Nikon). The lens is being used by Eman most of the time and all the pictures here were shot by him (except for the test shot).
On a full frame camera, this will be a true 85mm but used on a Canon APS-C, it provides an equivalent field of view of 135mm and 127.5mm on a Nikon DX.
The lens is built nicely and has similar to the build quality of the 8mm fisheye. There is a manual aperture ring on lens mount side which is easy to move. Then the rubber focus ring which is nicely damped (very very stiff on first and now is moving smoothly). I think the lens is made mostly of metal and is heavy for its size. As a 1.4 lens, it also has a very large front lens and is nice to through and look at.
The lens also includes a hood made of hard plastic, a front cap and a rear cap. The Nikon AE version has electrical contacts so you can control the aperture from the camera (aperture ring must be set to smallest otherwise it will show an error on the camera). The Canon version has no contacts whatsoever. When I’m using these Samyang lenses, I use them through a Nikon lens to Canon EOS adapter which works quite well (for Samyang lenses at least – Nikon G lenses cannot be closed or opened with the adapter I have).
The only bad thing I can say about the lens build quality is the unfortunate design of the lens cap and the hood. With the hood on, you cannot put or remove the lens cap and this makes it annoying. Other than that, the lens is nicely built.
Sharpness and Optical Quality
This is an informal test of the lens wide open (f1.4). The reddish part is not chromatic aberration but a discoloration of the mat.
The pictures show that the lens is very sharp wide open from the center to the corner. The corner even seems sharper than the center (possibly this is due to my focusing as the mat is not parallel to the sensor plane and I might have focused a little to the front). It only gets sharper as the lens is stopped down (taking in mind the effect of diffraction). The lens also has a nice contrast and nice color rendition.
The real enemy against sharpness is that it’s manual focus and at f1.4 and at 16mp or 18mp, focus has to be very precise. Focusing through a viewfinder (particularly in the small pentamirror of the Nikon D5100) is hard and will need a very good eyesight. Focusing through a magnified live view is easier but this makes it slower and more unstable (plus framing will be affected). The focusing ring is nice but I wish the focus path is longer (I think around 90-120 degree from minimum focus to infinity).
The lens is very good for bokeh-licious portraits but its very bad for macros (closeups). The minimum focus distance allows for I think only 10% magnification so a kit lens will do a closeup picture much much better.
Well, here are the pictures (all taken by Eman, some edited by me). Very good sharpness and the thin DOF makes the subject pop (assuming you can get the correct focus). Almost all of these were taken at f1.4 with one or two taken at f1.6 or f2.0.
I guess the pictures say it all, this is a very sharp lens, even wide open. It’s also relatively cheap (as far as lenses go). The only drawback is that it is manual focus and at 85mm f1.4, this is not a very easy thing to do. Unlike the 8mm fisheye which basically has a relatively large apparent DOF (I basically shoot that lens at f8 and focus 2ft away), focusing is much more critical and much harder to achieve in this lens.
Is this a good value?
If you’re after pure image quality, then yes! Based on some reviews I read, it is sharper than the Canon 85mm 1.2L and probably as sharp (or sharper) than the Nikon 85mm 1.4G and those lenses cost 4 times as much.
If you’re after an overall easier lens to shoot, then probably no. The Canon 85mm 1.8 and Nikon 1.8G is not that much more expensive (a little less than Php4000 or US$100 more than this lens).
So, the decision is up to you.