Today we’ll have a look at my latest toy, something I’ve been holding off to buy in the hopes that Nikon would release something similar. In the end they didn’t and I just couldn’t wait any longer – enter the Samyang 14mm f2.8.
I really had high hopes that Nikon would release an affordable wide angle prime for the DX format. First I waited for the announcement in August, then September and finally October. The announcements came and went and no wide angle prime in sight. Why a prime? Well, for starters primes are often cheaper than zooms while still providing better image quality. Besides, primes are just sexier…what? You all now it’s true so stop looking at me like that. There are some excellent 3rd party wide angle zooms available, most notable the Tokina 11-16mm f2.8. However, that lens is way out of my budget unless I just want a lens and nothing else for a rather long time, and I have plans for several more purchases. The cheapest of the bunch would be the Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6 but it would still be around a 17% increase in price compared to the Samyang 14mm f2.8 that I in the end decided on.
What’s that? Never heard of Samyang? It’s a Korean brand and it also goes under several other names. I stumbled upon it during my extensive research of wide angle lenses and immediately became interested in the low price and good quality it seemed to posses. As usual I won’t be writing an in-depth review or anything (you can find a couple here and here), instead you’ll get my take on the lens based some quick testing. To see it in action, check out the previous post, it’s the only proper photo shoot I’ve used the lens for so far and it will also show you the main application I’ll be using it for: environmental portraits. Most people would probably use a lens like this for landscapes but for me it’s exactly what I’ve been missing for some of the portraits I want to take.
First of all: I shoot with Nikon’s DX format, which is a cropped sensor. This lens is designed for a full frame sensor and is therefore larger than the equivalent DX lens would be. On full frame this is an ultra wide lens, on a crop sensor it’s merely quite wide. In my previous post you can get a sense for what kind of perspective you can expect to get on a crop sensor and personally I think it’s a pretty good balance between a normal and a very exaggerated perspective. You’ll have to be the judge if it will suit your style of shooting or not.
So how can this lens be so cheap? The secret of that is that it’s a completely manual lens. There are versions of this lens that does send metering information to the camera but mine does not, it doesn’t do anything unless I tell it to do so. In other words the camera doesn’t know what aperture is being used, it can’t focus the lens, and it doesn’t know how to meter the scene. For me, all of these are pretty much non issues. I shoot all manual anyway and I usually don’t care much what the camera tells me about metering since I set my own exposure for the scene with flash anyway. However, if you intend to use this lens for moving subjects or in situations where you need to be quick, well, good luck. This isn’t a lens for everyone, you have to know what you’re getting yourself into.
The only thing I was worried about was that I would have trouble focusing but, as it turned out, the focus indicator in the viewfinder actually still works with this lens, even on my little D3000. So far I’ve found that I get the best results if I start focusing closer than the subject and then turn the focusing ring until the focus indicator becomes steady. If I go the other way I tend to get back focus. So that was a nice surprise. And let me tell you, the focusing ring is ridiculously smooth – I could turn that thing all day and not get bored with the lovely smoothness, very pleasant.
What about quality? I can’t complain. Using this lens on a DX camera means that you only use the sweet spot in the centre so you don’t have to worry about poor performance in the corners. If I have any gripe it would be that it’s not as sharp as I was led to believe by all the reviews. Perhaps I just got a softer sample but it’s definitely noticeably softer than my Nikon 35mm f1.8, that thing is razor sharp. Maybe I still need to perfect the focusing as well. It’s not bad though, it’s still sharp, just not as sharp as expected.
Bottom line, would I recommend this lens? For the price I got an excellent wide angle lens, a sexy prime no less (hello focusing ring), which I can promise you’ll see a lot more of in the near future. For the first time I feel that my lens kit doesn’t limit my shooting style (that’s not to say that I won’t get more lenses eventually though, you can never have too many, right?). So yes, if you’re on a budget I would definitely recommend this lens, provided that you’re comfortable with doing things manually.
This is getting pretty long so let’s just discuss the product shots quickly. The first two shots were taken with four flashes (2x LP160 and 2x YN560). The lens is lying on a dark table with a flash coming in from each side of the frame. The flashes themselves were resting on a couple of DVD cases each to get the off the table so the light wouldn’t hit the surface. What we get by using light like this is very defined textures and details since you have a light source for each direction that can highlight these aspects. In the first shot the flash from the top doesn’t do that much since it mostly hits the glass but it still manages to put a bit of a highlight on the hood. I quite like the very crisp and defined look of these shots.
The last shot to the left here is more standard fare. LP160 in softbox from camera right and snooted YN560 from camera left. I got lucky with the faint reflection in the lower left corner, I think it adds quite a lot. I’ve been thinking about getting some black plexiglass or some kind of black tile for this kind of shot so I can work with reflections as well. Also worth mentioning is that the light from the right is feathered so that only the edge of the light hits the subject. That way you get the softest part of the light. I also experimented a bit with a third light that was meant to only provide something for the glass to reflect but I couldn’t get a satisfactory result so I gave up on that.
There, all done so I’ll let you go now. Hopefully this has given you something to think about if you’ve been considering going over to the wide side.