In the last couple of years the Korean brand Samyang became well known among photographers and videographers worldwide, not only for delivering cheap lenses for a variety of camera mounts, but especially for a more than decent optical quality. Both the 35mm & 85mm f/1.4 are stellar lenses with pretty good sharpness and a very pleasing bokeh at a price point that makes it hard to believe. Yes, they are manual focus only, but so are the Zeiss offerings available for Canon and Nikon. Since DSLR lenses are bulky and heavy, Samyang started to design lenses specifically to accommodate the growing market of smaller and lighter mirrorless cameras systems. Beside two fisheye lenses for APSC and mFT they came up with a fast wide angle prime. I have always been a sucker for fast wide angle glass and the 12mm f/2.0 caught my attention immediately. After using it on a Fuji X-T1 for almost 6 months here is my review of the lens.
If you already own a Samyang lens then you know what to expect here. Its’ outer barrel is made of plastic but doesn’t feel cheap by any means. The lens feels pretty lightweight especially considering the fast maximum aperture. In the box you also find a hood which fits nicely on the lens and is a big step forward compared to the hood that came with the 85mm f/1.4. They also provide you with a small pouch to store your lens in, which is a nice touch. The focus ring turns very smoothly, but might be a little too stiff for some folks.
To sum it up, in this price range the build quality is as good as it gets.
After having a look at the images I took I was surprised how well this lens performs. Especially in the middle of the frame it’s amazingly sharp even wide open. The borders are noticeably softer but will catch-up pretty soon when stopping down 1 or 2 stops. That being said, you don’t need to go beyond f/5.6 to get the best results in terms of sharpness across the frame.
Flaring is well controlled and as long as the front element is dust free and you don’t point a super bright light source directly into the lens, there is nothing to complain.
Since the Samyang 12mm has only six aperture blades, sun stars or bright light sources at night don’t look really tempting. Despite the rather poor sun stars, the background blur this lens is able to deliver looks damn good to me.
If you love shooting wide and if you prefer fast glass, then the Samyang 12mm f/2.0 might be the perfect match for you. Ok, there is the lack of autofocus which is no big deal for me. With a wide angle lens you don’t have to be super accurate with focusing and if you don’t have much time for zooming into the image to focus precisely, you can easily get away with guessing the distance and making use of the distance scale on the lens.
For low light shooting, this lens is a perfect companion and by giving up autofocus you gain one extra stop of light sucking capability which is perfect for wedding photography, astrophotography and of course if you want shallower depth of field to some extent.
In the last couple of months I used this lens for almost everything. I even took it to a Hardcore/Punk show and the maximum aperture of f/2.0 was a huge benefit for capturing the action there in that poorly lit club environment.
Fujinon 14mm f/2.8
The Fujinon 14mm f/2.8 is a great lens with a very good build quality and stellar optical performance, but isn’t as wide and as fast as the Samyang. If you’re just after sharpness across the frame the 14mm isn’t any better. The only bonus you get when spending double the price to get the Fuji – in terms of optical quality – is how it renders sun stars and bright light sources in dark environments in general.
Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8
The 12mm Touit shares the same focal length with the Samyang but is only a f/2.8 lens like the Fuji 14mm. In terms of optical quality it seems to be a very good performer that can focus really close. It might not be relevant for everyone, but the bokeh looks amazing on the sample pictures you can find all over the web. The biggest downside of the Zeiss is its high price tag.
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