This is an in-depth review of the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 AS UMC, a manual focus prime lens designed for Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus, Pentax, Samsung and Micro Four Thirds mounts. While I will be referring to this lens as “Samyang” in this review, please keep in mind that you can find exactly the same lens under different names such as Bower 35mm f/1.4 and Rokinon 35mm f/1.4 in the US. In fact, the South-Korean lens manufacturer Samyang Optics sells its lenses to different companies like Vivitar, Falcon, Rokinon, Walimex, Bower and Pro-Optic, which simply re-package the lens and imprint their logos / add tags and sell them. Interestingly, while the lens is exactly the same, these brands are sometimes sold at different price points too (probably due to differences in packaging). The lens I tested for this review is the “Samyang” version, supposedly branded and packaged by the original manufacturer.
The Samyang 35mm f/1.4 is targeted at photographers that do not need autofocus and want to get a fast aperture lens for a variety of needs such as landscape, architecture, street and travel photography. At just under $500, the lens is a huge bargain when compared to brand lenses from Nikon, Canon and Sony that all sell their pro-grade 35mm f/1.4 lenses at around the $1,500 price range. The Samyang 35mm f/1.4 is designed to work on both APS-C / DX and full-frame / FX sensors, so it will work on cameras like Nikon D7100 (with a similar field of view as a 52.5mm lens) and D800.
The Samyang brand is relatively new in the DSLR lens market. The brand became known after its 24mm and 85mm lenses that were released in 2011-2012 time frame received a lot of praise for their excellent sharpness and performance when compared to the Nikon and Canon versions. Since then, Samyang has been promoting its name in the photography world by releasing new bargain lenses for various camera mounts, including mirrorless. For example, the recently announced 16mm f/2.0 lens is specifically designed for APS-C and Micro Four Thirds mounts, targeting the fast-growing mirrorless market.
Is the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 really a bargain when compared to other 35mm lenses? How does it perform wide open and when stopped down? How does it handle? In this review, I will do my best to answer these and other questions and will show you samples from the lens, with comparisons against the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G, Sigma 35mm f/1.4 and Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 lenses.
1) Lens Specifications
- Mount Type: Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus, Pentax, Samsung and Micro Four Thirds
- Focal Length: 35mm
- Maximum Aperture: f/1.4
- Minimum Aperture: f/22
- Lens Construction: 12 Elements in 10 Groups
- Angle of View: 63.1º
- Number of Diaphragm Blades: 8
- Minimum Focusing Distance: 30cm/11.8in
- Filter Size: 77mm
- Dimensions (Diameter x Length): 63x112mm
- Weight: 660g
2) Lens Handling and Build
The Samyang 35mm f/1.4 AS USM does not have the same solid build as the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 or the impressively built all-metal Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 lenses. Its outer barrel is fully made of plastic and the only metal component seems to be the lens mount. While the outer shell is plastic, I am sure the lens has plenty of metal inside, since the lens is as heavy as its Nikon and Sigma counterparts. Keep in mind, that while metal construction is generally good for protection and wear, good plastic does not expand and shrink as much as metal does in extreme weather conditions. So there are certainly advantages and disadvantages to both. As long as the focus/zoom rings are made of metal (and other inner components that physically move during AF or zoom operations), a plastic barrel can often be an advantage in cold weather, especially for handling it without gloves. I specifically pointed out focus/zoom and moving components, because if those are made of plastic, they have a tendency to get “sticky” in extremely cold temperatures and could potentially break if moved by force. I shot with the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 in near freezing temperatures in February and it worked well without any problems when focusing. However, I do not know how well the lens would do at very cold temperatures way below zero. While I did not have problems with cold temperatures, it does not mean that you can take this lens to tropics or expose it to rain and expect it to perform. The lens is definitely not weather sealed and it probably will start to act up if you use it in very wet conditions. In addition, the lens lacks a rubber gasket on the lens mount, which means that dust and other debris could potentially end up in your camera if you do not keep the lens mount clean.
The lens generally handles and balances well when attached to a camera. The focus ring was a little stiff at first, but got much better after several weeks of use. One huge advantage of this lens, in my opinion, is its large 77mm filter thread. When compared to other 35mm lenses in this review, this is the only lens in the group that features a 77mm filter thread. This means that you can use your standard polarizing, ND and other filters without having to worry about buying smaller filters or step-up rings. For me, this is certainly a huge convenience factor when working in the field.
Size-wise, the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 is a fairly tall lens. Take a look at the below image that shows its size relative to other 35mm lenses (From left to right: Sigma 35mm f/1.4, Nikon 35mm f/1.4, Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 and Samyang 35mm f/1.4):
As you can see, the barrel of the lens is pretty tall, with or without the petal type plastic hood. Note that being manual focus lenses, the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 and the Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm f/1.4 both have aperture rings. If you notice that your camera cannot recognize the lens, make sure that the aperture is set to the minimum aperture of f/22. Unfortunately, there is no aperture lock on this lens, so you might have to deal with this situation every once in a while.
3) Manual Focus Assist Accuracy
While the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 AS UMC is a manual focus lens, it still contains a focus chip on the lens that communicates with the focus system in your camera to assist in acquiring proper focus on your subject. When you look through the viewfinder, you will see that the camera will tell you which way to move focus to get proper focus using left and right arrows. When the camera thinks that focus is correct, it will show a circle instead of left/right arrows. This communication with the lens means that while the lens does not autofocus, it still needs to be accurately calibrated for proper manual focus operation. Unfortunately, that’s where I often find issues with fast aperture manual focus lenses. Many lenses, including the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 are often improperly calibrated, which means that you could end up with out of focus pictures when trusting the camera’s manual focus assist feature. The Samyang 35mm f/1.4 that I had certainly had focus calibration problems, because I could not obtain any in-focus shots when using manual focus assist. The good news is, you can actually change and tune this behavior through the same “AF Fine Tune” feature of your camera that you use to tune lenses with autofocus capability. However, this feature is limited to +20 to -20 adjustments, which may not be enough if the lens sample is severely misaligned.
I highly recommend to check manual focus accuracy when you first receive your lens copy, so that you could exchange it for a different one, if needed. The procedure for checking focus accuracy is pretty straightforward – set your camera + lens on a tripod, fire up live view, zoom in to a close distance to your subject, then move the focus ring until the subject is in perfect focus. Next, turn off live-view and try to half-press your shutter button. If focus indicator shows a green dot, then you are good to go. If you are seeing an arrow, use the AF Fine Tune feature to re-calibrate the lens and try again. If manual focus assist does not work beyond +20 or -20, your lens is very badly calibrated and needs to be returned or exchanged.
4) Lens sharpness, contrast and color rendition
As I reveal in the subsequent sections of this review, the sharpness performance of the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 is very impressive when compared to other 35mm lenses. I was rather surprised by the resolving power of the lens – it actually outperformed the almost 4x times more expensive Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm f/1.4 lens at all apertures, from center to corner. When stopped down to f/5.6 and smaller, the lens performed almost on par with my new favorite Sigma 35mm f/1.4, which is very impressive.
Some Technical Info:
- Camera: Nikon D800E
- Focus Method: Manual Focus via Live View
- Image Format: 14-bit RAW
- Workflow: Import RAW into Lightroom 4 with default settings, Export in JPEG format, 100% Quality
- Analysis Software: Imatest 3.9, Master Edition
- Testing was performed at f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11 and f/16 apertures
5) Samyang 35mm f/1.4 MTF Performance
Take a look at how Imatest measured the sharpness of the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 in a lab environment:
As expected, the lens starts out a little weaker wide open, with fairly good overall sharpness. As you stop down the lens to f/2, sharpness starts to improve considerably, especially in the center. The Samyang 35mm f/1.4 reaches very good resolution at f/2.8 in the center, with its peak performance between f/5.6 and f/8. The lens does not show strong signs of field curvature, which is good news.
When it comes to bokeh, the lens renders strange-looking highlights. While the background highlights do not have a very defined outer shape to them like the Nikon 35mm f/1.4 and Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 lenses do, there is some visible fringing on the edges and the inner parts of the highlights have dirty, directional “wavy” dots, as illustrated in the below image:
But this is not the worst performer of the group in my opinion – the Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 renders strong outer rings with onion-shaped bokeh, which is not something very pleasant to look at.
Note that the above image shows “Rokinon 35mm f/1.4” instead of Samyang 35mm f/1.4. As explained earlier of this review, they are both exactly the same lenses.
Most prime lenses heavily vignette when shot wide open, especially on a full-frame body. As expected, the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 lens vignettes quite a bit wide open, with vignetting levels falling sharply when stopped down beyond f/2. Here are the vignetting levels measured by Imatest:
When compared to other lenses, the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 seems to have pretty similar vignetting levels as the Sigma 35mm f/1.4. The Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 is the worst in the group.
Here is the worst case scenario at f/1.4, as illustrated by Imatest:
8) Ghosting and Flare
One of the biggest weaknesses of the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 is its poor handling of ghosting and flares. Since the lens does not have the same high-quality coating on its elements as other 35mm lenses, it is very prone to flare and ghosting. When there is a bright source of light in the frame, the lens exhibits flare with defined edges, as shown in the below image:
There is also visible “rainbow” ghosting in the frame, which you cannot fix in post-processing without having to clone the affected areas. Still, I personally like this rendering of ghosting a little better than what the Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 does with its magenta/purple streaks of colors. Due to the 8 blade diaphragm on this lens, it also renders sun stars differently than other lenses. Personally, I like the 8-edge stars in pictures better – they look cleaner in my opinion. Again, that’s a matter of personal taste.
If you like photographing sunsets and sunrises with the sun in the frame, I would experiment with this lens more to see where to position the sun in the frame best. Some angles are always worse than others, so you should watch out for those bad spots. Light intensity and use of filters also affects ghosting and flare quite a bit, so keep that in mind. The above shots were taken without the lens hood or filters.
Another disadvantage of the lens is its visible barrel distortion, which is quite evident when photographing straight lines. Here are some more Imatest results that show the distortion levels of the lens when compared to other 35mm lenses:
The Zeiss and the Nikon lenses seem to be at about the same level, with some visible distortion, while the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 is the worst of the group. The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 performs incredibly well for a wide angle lens, with practically no visible distortion.
10) Chromatic Aberration
Lateral chromatic aberration levels are pretty moderate, staying under 1.5 pixels at the maximum aperture and smaller than 1 pixel beyond f/2. In comparison to other 35mm f/1.4 lenses, the Samyang is the second worst after the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G lens:
I would not worry about lateral chromatic aberrations though, since those can be easily fixed in Lightroom and Photoshop.
As expected on fast aperture prime lenses, there is a visible amount of longitudinal chromatic aberration.
11) Samyang 35mm f/1.4 vs Nikon 35mm f/1.4G
Let’s take a look at how the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 compares to the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G:
At the maximum aperture of f/1.4, the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G out-resolves the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 in the center, but loses in the mid-frame and the corners. The same thing happens at f/2. However, when stopped down to f/2.8, the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G takes over in the corners and performs better in comparison. From there on, the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G clearly does better in the corners, but has about the same center sharpness and slightly weaker mid-frames due to noticeable field curvature issues. The Samyang 35mm f/1.4 does not show similar field curvature issues, which is good news.
Overall, the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 seems to have excellent sharpness when compared to the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G. Despite having slightly weaker center resolution, the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 resolves more details outside the center area than the Nikon and performs admirably at smaller apertures.
12) Samyang 35mm f/1.4 vs Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm f/1.4
Let’s compare the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 to the manual focus Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm f/1.4:
The Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm f/1.4 is clearly weaker than the Samyang 35mm f/1.4. MTF performance is pretty average at the maximum aperture and slightly improves at f/2. The center performance improves drastically when the Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 is stopped down to f/2.8, but its corners still stay weak in comparison. Only at f/8 the Zeiss more or less gets close in performance. Overall, it is pretty clear that the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 is sharper when compared to the Zeiss 35mm f/1.4.
13) Samyang 35mm f/1.4 vs Sigma 35mm f/1.4
Lastly, let’s take a look at how the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 compares to the excellent Sigma 35mm f/1.4:
Again, the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 shows very impressive performance. It is weaker than the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 at the largest aperture, but gets very strong at f/2.8. At f/5.6 and smaller, there is practically no difference in performance between the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 and the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lenses!
Having used Samyang lenses before (the Samyang 24mm f/1.4 and the Samyang 85mm f/1.4), I knew that the 35mm f/1.4 version would not disappoint. But while testing the expensive 35mm f/1.4 lenses, I still thought that it would show worse performance than all of its competitors. I was rather surprised to see the lens outperform the exotic Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm f/1.4 lens in my lab and perform so close to the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G. In fact, I had to re-test the Zeiss and the Nikon lenses over 5 times to make sure that I was not miscalculating anything or missing focus. In all cases, the lenses performed about the same, with the Samyang still rocking the game at smaller apertures. This lens surely shows a lot of value when compared to the expensive brands, with its under $500 MSRP price (compare that to the $1850 price of the Zeiss). For those that shoot landscapes and other types of photography where autofocus is not needed, the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 seems to be a superb choice for sure. And with its 77mm filter thread, you do not have to worry about dealing with extra filters or step-up rings, which is surely an advantage for landscape photography.
The Samyang 35mm f/1.4 does come with its share of problems and annoyances though. First, the lens feels a little cheap compared to other 35mm lenses with its all-plastic barrel (can be both good and bad – read the Handling section of the review for more info). Second, it is not weather sealed, so you have to be careful when using it in extreme and poor weather conditions. Third, it has visible barrel distortion, so you will have to learn to deal with it in post-processing (Lightroom 4/5 have no lens profiles for the Samyang 35mm f/1.4). Fourth, it does not seem to handle flare and ghosting very well when shooting against bright sources of light. And lastly, it has a strange-looking, dirty bokeh if you want to use the lens at large apertures. Most of these are not big issues as far as I am concerned, as long as if you work at smaller apertures and you are willing to do some post-processing work. The biggest drawback for me personally is construction and lack of weather sealing. I do not think this lens would live through my typical abuse when working on the field.
But keep in mind that this is a cheap 35mm lens – if it did not have any of the above issues, it would not have cost $500! For those that are looking for great value and want to get a solid wide-angle lens with impressive sharpness, the Samyang f/1.4 is definitely a great choice.
15) Where to buy and availability
B&H is currently selling the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 lens for $489 (as of 07/15/2013).
16) More Image Samples
All Images Copyright © Nasim Mansurov, All Rights Reserved. Copying or reproduction is not permitted without written permission from the author.
Samyang 35mm f/1.4
- Optical Performance
- Bokeh Quality
- Build Quality
- Size and Weight
Photography Life Overall Rating