Samyang Optics has been around for over 40 years, but has gained recent acclaim in the past decade by releasing some truly outstanding lenses for SLRs and mirrorless cameras that provide high-end image quality at bargain prices, under a variety of brand names including Rokinon, Bower, Walimex and a few more. The company has been active in the mirrorless space over the past few years, starting with excellent manual focus fisheye lenses. While they’ve also released most of their SLR lenses in native mirrorless camera mounts, the new 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS is the second non-fisheye that has been specifically designed for mirrorless cameras (the other is their 300mm f/6.3 mirror lens).
The 12mm f/2 is available for Sony E-Mount, Fujifilm X-mount, Micro 4/3, Samsung NX and Canon EF-M mount. On the APS-C cameras, the 12mm f/2 has a field of view similar to an 18mm lens on full frame, and the lens is still rather wide on Micro 4/3 (24mm equivalent). What’s remarkable about this lens is the ultra-wide-angle focal length combined with the very fast aperture of f/2.0. Making an f/2.0 ultra-wide of this width is no easy feat of optical engineering, especially given the modest price of $399.
We’re looking at the Rokinon-branded Sony E-Mount version here, but the findings should hold for all the APS-C mirrorless mounts, as the optics are identical.
If you’re not familiar with my reviews, I review from a real world shooting perspective. You won’t find lens charts or resolution numbers here. There are plenty of other sites that cover those. I review products on how they act for me as a photographic tool in real-world shooting.
Construction and Handling
The Rokinon 12mm f/2 is constructed of a mix of high-quality plastic and metal. The bottom portion of the lens including the mount flanges is metal, while the remainder of the exterior is plastic. Samyang has upgraded their plastic a bit in the past year, so the outer shell is very solid and the finish is rather durable.
The lens is rather small for an ultra-wide-angle, especially so when considering the f/2.0 maximum aperture. In length and size it’s roughly the size of the Fujifilm 14mm f/2.8, and notably smaller than the other 12mm lens available for mirrorless cameras: the Zeiss 12mm f/2.8. The Rokinon 12mm has a narrow barrel that is actually slightly narrower than the outer rim of the E-mount itself, and it flares to the somewhat wide 67mm filter thread. The front element is bulbous, almost spherical, and juts out a bit, but stays back enough so that standard screw-in filters can be used.
Samyang includes a good size petal hood that is reversible, and while the plastic quality on the hood isn’t quite as nice as the lens itself, it secures firmly on the lens and provides some extra protection and shading while in use. Having used the Zeiss 12mm f/2.8, it was refreshing to see the more modest proportions on the Rokinon 12mm. The Zeiss 12mm felt somewhat unwieldy due to the huge flare at the end, and the Rokinon manages to keep things small and manageable, even on a small body like the a6000. The lens is also rather light weight considering the width and speed.
The 12mm f/2 is a fully manual lens, and as such you will need to perform stop down metering and manual focus. Stop down metering isn’t an issue, as the EVF of mirrorless cameras can compensate in dim environments for the working aperture when stopping down. Manual focus is also not generally an issue, especially when shooting outdoors. The focus setting you see on the lens in the pictures above is the ideal setting for outdoor shooting. This puts the lens extremely close to the hyperfocal distance at f/2, allowing you to simply set your aperture and shoot. When stopping down to f/5.6 or f/8, this gives you a nice sharp field of focus from around 3 feet to infinity. If you’re shooting at wider apertures and closer subjects, it may make more sense to focus at f/2 while zooming the view and nail the focus, then stop down. You will absolutely have to do this when shooting near the quite close 8 inch minimum focus distance.
The aperture ring features nice solid detents every half stop and the focus ring is well damped and smooth, allowing for precise manual focus and helping to prevent accidentally knocking it out of the set focus point accidentally.