Samyang Cine Lenses for Video Production (16mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm)
Samyang cine lenses and case
Anyone who’s taken more than a passing interest in photography or videography over the past decade or so would have no doubt become familiar with the sight of Samyang – or Rokinon outside the EU territories – lenses appearing more and more in shop listings, review sites and on the end of many photographers and videographers cameras. They seem to have more lenses for more mount fittings than pretty much any other lens manufacturer around. But despite the seemingly scattergun approach to lens making the most resounding question surrounding them all is surely: are they any good? Well, for the past six months we’ve put four Samyang cine lenses through their paces in real-world video productions and have now compiled our thoughts to try and answer the all important question.
Samyang cine lenses 35mm for video production on our brand new Canon C200
Where we’re coming from:
Anybody reading this article has probably read at least dozens of lens reviews in their time, if not many more, and all with the same purpose to see if that lens is, well, any good. But what you’re not going to find her is MTF charts or other data analysis of each lens, instead we’re reviewing how we find using them on a daily basis in the field of professional video production and how we like the resulting images we get when editing the footage we capture with them.
The past is the past is the…
Samyang cine lenses seem to offer lenses for most major camera mount including Canon EF, Sony, Fujifilm, Micro Four Thirds, Nikon, Pentax, Samsung, and probably if you can name the modern mount they do a lens for it. So whatever lens ecosystem you’re in, Samyang lenses are probably an option for you. At Viva la Zoom we primarily specialize in corporate video production and event filming but we also work as freelance camera operators and for this kind of work we’ve used Canon video (and photo) cameras since we started in 2008. We’ve gone from Canon DSLRs (60D, 7D & 5D) to the Canon C100 and recently to the Canon C200. Throughout this time apart from the odd Tokina lens here or there we’ve generally always stuck with Canon EF lenses. Why? The Canon EF lenses we’ve used in past have been sharp and had nice colour rendition as well as having nice image stabiliation in many of their lens’ lineup now, and in regard to the zoom lenses we’ve used from Canon they’ve always been reliable workhorses. So why the temptation to change?
Photography lens or Videography lens?
Comparing the Canon EF lens range with the Samyang Cine lenses for video production there is one striking difference between them: the Samyang cine lenses are completely manual with no electronic parts in them whatsoever. For people working in videography manual focus is more often than not the choice of focus control when operating and so a smooth and highly accurate focus ring is essential, especially when using a follow focus system. Many of the Canon EF lens range have been largely untouched in design for nearly 30 years and as such many have focus rings aimed at photographers not videographers, while also the apertures are all controlled electronically in camera in usually hard 1/3 exposure stops. This is fine for photography but for anyone who’s shot video on a lens with hard aperture stops knows a sudden change of exposure such as a cloud revealing more sunlight or the operator turning towards a brighter environment mean that those hard stops are really jarring when adjusting for exposure, whereas a de-clicked aperture works just like the iris of the human eye and can be contracted or expanded smoothly. This was something we wanted to move towards: a set of lenses aimed at videographers that allowed us to smoothly change aperture and focus on the lens itself.
The price of the Samyang Cine lenses are often at similar prices than their Canon EF equivalents, so when some of our Canon EF lenses were starting to show some wear and tear from nearly a decade of use we started looking around at some replacements. The idea of nice, fast prime lenses aimed at videographers not photographers, with de-clicked aperture rings on lens and smooth focus rings which can easily be used with follow focus systems became an appealing one. The idea of having a full set of prime lenses which would produce in theory the same colour rendition and look across the focal length range also; we liked the of having a set of lenses that would give us a consistent and high level prime ‘look’.
After many ummings and ahings we went out and bought four Samyang Cine lenses for video production: the 16mm, 35mm, 50mm and the 85mm. And now after six months of use we think we’re in a good position now to let you know if we think these lenses are the past, the present and/or the future of our video productions?
Samyang 85mm Cine lens for video production in use on the on the Canon C200 and Konova slider
There have been many things we’ve liked about the Samyang Cine Lenses over the past six months, but also a few things to consider that may be considered drawbacks by some. So first, what did we like about the lenses?
Our range of Samyang Cine Lenses – all with matched focus and aperture ring height, useful for follow focus rigs.
Build and design
One of the first thing noticeable about the lenses when holding them for the first time is the build quality: all the lenses are made from the same mixture of aluminium alloy and plastic, giving a very sturdy and high quality feel and look. The other noticeable attribute is the focus and aperture rings being at the same heights, allowing fast lens changeovers in a follow focus system. IT is worth noting that it is only with the Samyang Cine Lens for video production Version II that the aperture and focus gears are at the same height, so if you are a follow focus user it is highly recommended to shop around for the version II.
Consistent look and colour rendition across range
It’s not just the external look and build of the lenses which is kept consistent across the range, optically the lenses are designed to match which each other too. So when editing footage and cutting between shots captured with different lenses the colours should be easier to match and give the desired look. We found that this is indeed the case and the lenses tend to have a low contrast and slightly de-saturated look, especially when wide open, which is easy to match to each other in post-production.
De-clicked Aperture and Smooth Focus Ring
As outlined at the beginning of the article one of the main attractions of the Samyang Cine Lens range was that they were aimed at cinematographers/videographers rather than photographers, and as such featured de-clicked aperture rings and smooth focus rings aimed at people who would want to utilise more dramatic manual focus changes than photographers usually would. So how has the move from Canon EF lenses to the Samyang Cine Lenses for video production been? Smooth, to say the least! Being able to smoothly alter the f-stop (or the t-stop, more accurately) without sudden jumps in light transmission can make certain footage salvageable when conditions suddenly change. For example if shooting outside and a cloud moves over the sun the image can suddenly go darker, but having a smooth aperture ring and quick action can adjust the exposure more rapidly and can make the shot useable whereas with a ‘clicked’ aperture lens the result will be much more jarring for the viewer. Likewise the focus rings although designed to aid a follow focus rig are great to use without one too. The focus rings rotate smoothly and accurately, with just enough resistance to make accurate focus pulling a breeze. Compared to the Canon EF prime lenses we were using previously the difference is noticeable and makes manual focussing simple and accurate.
Samyang 50mm Cine Lens on the Canon C200
One of the things that stand out about Samyang or Rokinon lenses is their obvious lack of electronic components: unlike Canon, Nikon, Sigma or Tamron et al., Samyang lenses are nearly all manual without any electronic components at all. Apart from the aforementioned benefits of easier control of the focus and aperture rings this feature can also have one other major benefit: the ease to use the lenses on many more camera bodies than just the mount they’re made for. Although the Samyang Cine Lenses that we purchased were designed for Canon EF mounts and a Super 35mm sensor, it’s very cheap and easy to get an adapter to fix the lenses onto other camera mounts. We also use the Samyang lenses on the Fujifilm X-T2 camera and DJI Ronin-M using a simple passive EF to F-Mount adapter which has meant that the Samyang lenses have not only been a solid investment for our Canon cameras but also other camera manufacturers we may use in productions. For example if we were to stick with our Canon EF lenses but want to use them on a Sony camera such as the FS7 then we would have to buy something like the Metabones EF to E-Mount adapter which costs $449, whereas a passive EF to E-mount adapter that could be used with the Samyangs can cost around $20, which is something very much worth considering when investing in a whole new set of lenses.
Samyang 16mm cine lens on the Fujifilm X-T2 and DJI Ronin-M
Prime lenses make you a better person
Well, maybe not make you a better person but maybe make you feel like a better shooter anyway 🙂 This is obviously not just specific to Samyang Cine lenses but to any prime lens in that shooting with fixed focal length lenses rather than zoom lenses can make you think more about each shot and think more about how each focal length can drastically change the look and feel of a shot. And there is also the benefit that most prime lenses have wider apertures available than most zoom lenses so giving much more control over selective focusing.
The Maybe Not So Good:
Six months on and all is perfect, no? Well, nearly but there are a few points to consider that could be seen as drawbacks of the Samyang Cine lens range.
How sharp is sharp?
Like we stated at the beginning you won’t find any MTF charts here for sharpness but instead just our real-world and non-scientific opinions. Perceived sharpness depends on so much from the camera, the lighting, the subject and the lens. From our experience we’ve found the lenses can look a little soft wide open, which is common to many lenses. However, we don’t think they’re unreasonably soft and either stopping down slightly does improve the perceived sharpness markedly. For the price we’ve found the lenses to be as sharp as can be expected for the this price range and wide aperture range. There are even those who’ve compared the Samyang Cine 50mm lens to other lenses including a $5000 Zeiss 50mm and found the Samyang stands up well against it. For an average price of $400 per lens the levels of sharpness are definitely on par with others in this range.
Unless you buy one of the dedicated Macro lenses that Samyang offer you’re probably not going to be able to get too close-up with your shots. In particular we found that the 85mm has quite a long minimum focussing distance (1.1m) which can be quite annoying when quickly trying to capture a nice detail shot with the lens.
No electronics = no image stabilisation
Depending on your style of shooting or equipment being used this may or may not be a problem. A noticeable difference between some of the newer Canon prime lenses and the Samyang primes is that lenses such as the Canon 35mm f/2 now has image stabilisation built into the lens, which means using that lens on a shoulder rig , or even handheld, can produce some nice and useable footage. The Samyangs not having any image stabilisation though means that more care is needed if shooting handheld or with a shoulder rig as the image is not as smooth in comparison, especially if using anything longer than 35mm in focal length.
Cameras’ Autofocuses are improving, but not with these lenses
One of the main reasons we liked the idea of switching to the Samyang Cine Lenses is that they were fully manual – we can control the aperture and focusing quickly and smoothly. And so far this has been a pro point of the lenses. However, having recently upgraded our main camera to the Canon C200 we now have a camera with fantastic autofocus abilities but a set of lenses that can’t utilise this feature…dammit! But perhaps this is where a little disclaimer should enter in: we haven’t ditched all our Canon EF lenses and have actually kept two, the 24-105mm and the 70-200mm. Our rationale behind this is that on some projects, such as events and conference filming we need to work fast to capture the footage and sometimes a zoom lens can really help in getting the shots we need in the small amount of time we may have. Similarly, testing out the autofocus on the Canon C200 has been quite revelatory and with the advance in camera autofocus systems for video there are some situations when it can be envisaged to be very useful, such as self-shooting an interview or filming fast moving subjects. So does that mean the Samyangs are suddenly redundant? Not at all! It’s more about having the right tool for the right job – like all of filmmaking. And having the Samyangs as part of an arsenal of lenses has suited our filmmaking methods superbly.
Samyang cine lenses for video production are Manual so you can’t use the Auto Focus options on cameras
Over the past six months that we’ve had the Samyang Cine lenses for video production and we’ve found them to be great value, versatile and produce a great matched image across the range that we have. We’d recommend them to anybody who is in the market for some fast primes with full manual controls. If, like us, sometimes you need to work fast and get a range of coverage in a short space of time or may want to use your camera’s autofocus feature, these lenses may not be for you.