Why Rokinon Cine Lenses Work for Me but Maybe Not for You, or Vice Versa
|I just bought a set of Rokinon cine lenses, and the first comment I got from a friend was: “Hey, you’re the guy who’s made all those posts saying lenses are forever, get good ones.” I plead guilty, but before I get charged with lens cognitive dissonance, allow me to explain.Lens quality is not a totally black and white thing. I see the range of quality this way.
The single factor that determines those categories has always been the one that stymies us all: Cost.
Samyang started making acceptable quality but (relatively) low priced lenses with Canon EOS and Nikon mounts in 2011. Fast lenses—F1.4. Then last year they began to convert those lenses to cine* lenses. Now they have an 8mm, 14mm, 24mm, 35mm, and 85mm. A 50mm is on schedule for the end of 2013 or the first part of next year. The 24, 35, and 85, and presumably the upcoming 50, are all T1.5. The 14mm and 8mm are T3.1, and T3.8 respectively.
I was close to becoming fully committed to Zeiss ZE still camera lenses for my FS100 but decided to hold off to see how the Rokinons (Samyang) cine lenses checked out. The consensus throughout the world is that they’re the best deal you can find for the money. They’re not as well built and solid as Zeiss, maybe not as well built as a Canon L lens but they have much better focus rings for use with digital cinema cameras. And they’re a fraction of the cost of the equivalent Zeiss and Canon L lenses.
In addition, the Rokinons allow smooth aperture changes because, like cinema lenses, they have no click stops. Focus ring gears are permanently attached. Focus marks are on the side for better visibility when shifting focus. What’s not to like about all that. I placed my order with B&H.
– STOP THE PRESSES –
The above was written before the Rokinons were delivered. A friend of mine bought the same set for his C300 and I had checked them out and they looked pretty good to me, so I ordered a set. However, I had only checked out his lenses one night, with a hand held camera, at a coffee house, focusing on the cheesecake and pie through the glass of the cooler, the computers against the next wall, etc. I didn’t see any problems so I ordered the same set.
When my lenses were delivered, I opened up the 35mm first and decided to put it through the paces before opening the others. I set up a product shot with a variety of colors and contrast and well lighted. I put the camera on a tripod and checkout the Rokinon against the Nikkor 35. Guess what–I didn’t like the Rokinon.
While my friend’s 35mm looked good wide open, this one didn’t. At F4 it was as sharp as a Zeiss, or probably very close. But wide open it was soft. It got a little less soft when stopping down a bit to T2 and 2.8 but was still noticeably softer than at F4. The contrast seemed less as well. I had read one user review that mentioned the contrast and also a slight color shift when shooting wide open. A couple of others had said it was softer wide open. Some phrased it in a more positive light: the lens really comes into its own at T4, etc. In other words, it’s sharp at T4 but not at wider apertures. That’s like saying Jennifer Lopez looks good in tight jeans. All lenses look good at F4.
But my friend’s 35mm Rokinon looked good at wider apertures. Again, It that situation wasn’t as controlled as my test. Another friend who is more of a lens freak than I am said he’d heard from several sources that there was some product variation in these lenses. I had run across that with a Sigma 24-70 f2.8 a few years ago. It was noticeably soft at the wide end at f2.8, so I sent it back. I did the same with these Rokinons–sent them back and bought more Zeiss lenses. So the logical conclusion seemed to me to be that I had a bad copy in the 35mm. I could have returned it to B&H and got another, and it could have been that the 24mm and 85mm were OK, but I made a decision that I really wasn’t ready to work with cheaper lenses and their eccentricities.
Unless you spend more money than a luxury automobile costs, you’re going to find that most all lenses have some sort of limitation. Good still camera lenses like Zeiss and Canon L are usually pretty consistent throughout the ranges. While an f1.4 lens might be softer wide open than stopped down, the difference will be negligible for most users. I didn’t feel the Rokinon difference was negligible. I don’t mean to knock Rokinon. Lots of people use them quite successfully. Matthew Duclos likes the 35 and gave it a very positive review. That leads me to believe that the theory about manufacturing variances is valid. I probably just got a bad copy. I probably could have worked around the wide open softness–I don’t have to shoot wide open all the time. But a question popped into my head: Why are you spending money on lenses that don’t really look any better than your old Nikkors? I couldn’t come up with a good answer for that, except that I liked the fact that they were all fast lenses.
But if they didn’t look good at big apertures, what’s the point?
The thing that really turned me off the 35mm was that it really wasn’t a 35mm lens. In comparison to the Nikkor 35, it looked more like around 40-42mm. I didn’t like that at all. The result of all this is that I went back to my original lust for Zeiss lenses and spent more money. I got the 25mm f2 and the 35mm f2. Those two lenses cost more than the three Rokinons. They cost more than 4 Rokinons.
I already had the 50mm f1.4 and will get the 18mm Zeiss later in the year, hopefully. The Rokinons, had they been more acceptable to me, would have given me faster speeds, no click stops, and markers down the side for easier visibility when following focus. What is the lesson learned from trying out these new cine style Rokinons and then sending them back?
First, always buy any lens long enough in advance before a shoot to check it out thoroughly. Unpackage it carefully in case you do send it back. Be aware that with cheaper lenses there may be manufacturing tolerances that aren’t the same as those of higher quality lenses. Always buy from a company like BH so you can return a problem lens easily with no hassle.
There’s one more point to make. Online reviews. Trust them or not? The Rokinons have excellent reviews, and you have to look hard to find any talk about problems. However, if you do a specific search for a specific problem, then you will find all the complaints. This is something I should have realized but didn’t. If you google “Rokinon cine lens soft at T1.5″ or something along those lines, you’ll see some posts where people talk about that issue. But if you read a hundred user reviews, probably 90% of them or more will be very positive.
Rokinon lenses did not work for me, but they might work for you. As I mentioned, a friend who has a $15K C300 and makes great images got a set and loves them. Could be the luck of the draw, could be I’m overly critical, could be I could have got a different copy of the 35 and been a happy camper…who knows. In my opinion, and this is just my opinion, if I were starting out and trying to be economical in my gear purchases and didn’t have any lenses at all, then the set of Rokinons would probably be OK. They’re fully manual, have better focus rings than L lenses, no click stops, focus gears built on, and are a great deal for the money. You may have to go through some returns to get what you want. They are available in Nikon, Canon and Sony E mounts. If I couldn’t afford the Zeiss, I could work within their limitations. But I gritted my teeth and popped for more Zeiss glass. I’ve always had excellent lenses and am at a fortunate place where I can still have quality lenses. If that were not the case, I could make movies with the cheaper lenses.
*A note about “cine” lenses. The Rokinon lenses are marketed as cine lenses but in reality they are simply still camera lenses that have been modified in the same way Duclos modifies lenses. They’ve had the click stops removed, focus gears attached, and they’re marked in T-stops rather than F-stops. Markings are oriented to the side like cine lenses. However, a true cine lens will have a much longer focus throw (usually around 270 degrees), markings will be much finer and more accurate, all front threads will be the same size, all will have the same wide open T-stop (the Rokinon wide angles are slower than these three), and most importantly real cine lenses will not breathe, or will not breathe enough so you’d notice.