I wanted an ultra wide lens since I bought my little Fuji X-E1, the kit lens was a good lens overall, and while for street photography it’s definitely a great lens, for landscapes 18mm (equivalent to a 27mm on a 35mm) are not enough to me, I always felt like it was too long for me. So three weeks ago I decided to sell it in favour of a new ultra wide lens from the Korean manifacturer Samyang (or Rokinon in the States, Walimex somewhere else), the 12mm f/2 NCS CS.
I generally read thousands of review before buying a lens, but in this case I couldn’t find much as this lens came out on the market just a few months ago, but the few reviews I found were all very positive, and I often read good things about Samyang lenses, so I decided to give it a try.
Since I bought it I used this lens quite extensively, I went to Copenhagen two weeks ago and it was the lens I used the most, and I since then I was quite impressed by the image quality of this lens, and the fact that I could shot at dawn at f/2 with 1/60 of a second, hand held, and still having a sharp shot was simply superb.
12mm - f/2 - 1/60 - ISO 800
I’ve also used for some shots for the personal project I’m working at the moment, called “Commute”.
12mm - f/2.8 - 1/125 - ISO 800
12mm - f/2.8 - 1/125 - ISO 800
For this price tag is pretty incredible to see such level of quality on a lens, yeah it doesn’t have any electronics, no AutoFocus or even focus confirmation, but still, it’s pretty impressive. It’s part metal and part plastic, but even the plastic parts are on a very high quality level, it’s does feel very solid, there’s no wobbling whatsoever, the aperture ring it clicks every half stop (apart from f/16 to f/22). Maybe the focus ring is a bit to stiff, actually compared to any other lens I have, it’s insanely stiff, but to be honest I don’t really see as a problem, it’s an ultra wide lens guys, once you hit the 1 meter mark you already have pretty much everything in focus straight from f/2, there’s no real reason to quickly focus from the minimum distance to infinity, so I don’t really see it as an issue.
The cool thing of this lens is that while the front element is pretty spherical due to the nature of this lens, you can still put filters in front of it, it has a quite large diameter for a MILC lens, you don’t really see often a 67mm thread on these small lenses, which can be a great thing if you already have large filters like me, and you don’t need many Step-Down rings, but if you don’t, well it means that you will have to spend a few extra dollars for a filter.
I have to state that there’s no such thing as a perfect ultra wide lens. All wide lens has vignetting when wide open, all wide lens has distortions, and they are all, more or less, soft on the corners. I never seen an ultra wide lens that it’s sharp from corner to corner, even my beloved Sigma 10-20 f/4.5-5.6, which despite being considered an “okay” lens by many, it was the sharpest lens I ever had from f/8 onwards. And this lens is not much different to any of its cousins, but considering that it’s an f/2 lens, the amount of vignetting is minimal, at f/2.8 is barely visible, and from f/4 onwards it’s completely gone.
You can also see some chromatic aberrations on high contrast situations, but I really don’t see how this can be a problem anymore, as per the vignetting it’s just one click on Lightroom and they are gone.
Taking advantage of the beautiful day here in Ireland, I went out to do some test shots, shooting the same scene, on a tripod, from f/2 to f/22 to see how this lens behaves, and then I took some crops from the center and the bottom right of this photo for each stop.
Here the center of the frame from f/2 to f/22
And here one of the corners of the frame from f/2 to f/22
As you can see, as predicted at f/2 it’s quite sharp in the center frame and decent on the corners (but compared to my Canon 17-40mm f/4 L USM I use on my full frame camera and honestly I think that the Samyang is sharper or as sharp as the Canon one wide open), it gets better at f/2.8 where the center frame is already very sharp and the corners already beat my pro wide lens. It reaches the peak of sharpness from f/5.6 to f/11, after that it starts to decay again, but they are still very usable.
Well, bokeh is not something that you don’t really test on a ultra wide lens, but because it’s an f/2, if you focus close enough, you can get some decent bokeh, it’s a bit nervous and not as creamy as what you can get with a 50mm or longer obviously, but still decent.
The Samyang 12mm f/2 NCS CS quickly became one of my favourite lenses, and they did a great job with this lens, keeping the price low and at the same time keeping the build quality on a very high level. The image quality it’s simply superb for such a lens from f/4 onwards, and very good even straight from f/2. If you love to shoot landscapes at nighttime and you have a mirrorless, that’s a dream lens for you, but in general it’s a great lens for any landscape photographer, having the advantage to have good image quality and a very fast aperture.
Down here you can find some sample photos I took with this lens.
I've uploaded the full JPGs for the test I took back then, they are quite big (circa 6MB per file). They are not postprocessed, just the RAW files converted with LightRoom 5 to JPG, and you can find them on the links below: