SAMYANG XP PRIMES

Samyang de­liv­ers a tra­di­tional mix of prime fo­cal lengths and man­ual fo­cus­ing in its ac­ces­sory lenses plus sig­nif­i­cantly boosted op­ti­cal per­for­mance in its new XP se­ries mod­els.

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The ac­ces­sory lens world is full of de­light­ful sur­prises at the mo­ment, among them South Korean com­pany Samyang’s new premium level XP se­ries primes… es­pe­cially handy if you’re a tra­di­tion­al­ist who still likes to be in charge of fo­cus­ing.

Things couldn’t cur­rently be much more var­ied or ex­cit­ing in the world of in­ter­change­able lenses, with a steadily ex­pand­ing band of in­de­pen­dent brands of­fer- ing nu­mer­ous al­ter­na­tives to the cam­era mak­ers’ own prod­ucts. The tra­di­tional ‘big three’ in­de­pen­dents – Sigma, Tam­ron and Tok­ina – face grow­ing com­pe­ti­tion from nu­mer­ous new­com­ers, many of whom are Chi­nese and par­tic­u­larly keen to cap­i­talise on the gath­er­ing pop­u­lar­ity of mir­ror­less cam­eras. But D-SLR own­ers aren’t be­ing ne­glected ei­ther and, if you’re ready to look beyond the main­stream brands, there are some in­ter­est­ing al­ter­na­tives.

As it hap­pens, Samyang Op­tics – which is a South Korean com­pany – isn’t ex­actly a new­comer, hav­ing been around since the early 1970s, but it’s only re­cently that it’s started to gain some real trac­tion in the ac­ces­sory lens mar­ket. Iron­i­cally, the im­pe­tus for this mostly came from its range of prime cine lenses for D-SLRs which quickly gained a rep­u­ta­tion for af­ford­able per­for­mance. With cin­e­matog­ra­phers singing the brand’s praises, it wasn’t long be­fore pho­tog­ra­phers started to get in­ter­ested and found out that Samyang is just a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent to most of its com­peti­tors. For starters, it only makes prime lenses and, un­til quite re­cently, only man­ual fo­cus mod­els too. The first Samyang aut­o­fo­cus lenses are in the Sony FE mount, but the rest of the com­pany’s of­fer­ings for both D-SLRs and mir­ror­less cam­eras are res­o­lutely man­ual fo­cus. The com­pany be­lieves that the com­bi­na­tion of a prime fo­cal length and man­ual fo­cus­ing en­ables it to de­liver op­ti­mum op­ti­cal per­for­mance at a price that won’t break the bank. Well, primes are right back in fash­ion and fo­cus­ing man­u­ally is a skill ev­ery pho­tog­ra­pher should have.

PREMIUM GLASSWARE

Samyang’s new XP se­ries is the com­pany’s premium lens line – sim­i­lar to Tam­ron’s SP – and it kicks off with two mod­els, an 85mm f1.2 short tele­photo and a 14mm f2.8 ul­tra-wide. Both are ini­tially only avail­able in the Canon EF mount, but the 14mm will also be in the Nikon F and Sony E mounts.

It’s prob­a­bly no ac­ci­dent that the XP 85mm f1.2 looks quite a bit like Zeiss’s Otus 85mm f1.4 model on the out­side, complete with flush-fit­ting fo­cus­ing col­lar and a smooth, satin fin­ish on the sleek metal bar­rel tubes. And just like the Zeiss lens, Samyang says its XP 85mm has an op­ti­cal res­o­lu­tion to match full-35mm sen­sors in the 50 megapix­els class and 8K video pro­duc­tions (yes, 8K is rapidly be­com­ing a re­al­ity). The bar­rel tubes are alu­minium and all the el­e­ments are glass which all adds up to a sub­stan­tial 1.05 kilo­grams, giv­ing this lens a nicely weighty feel, but it also has a pre­ci­sion feel and is beau­ti­fully fin­ished with all the qual­ity nor­mally as­so­ci­ated with a Ger­man-made lens. The

fo­cus­ing col­lar has quite a stiff ac­tion, but once mov­ing, it’s very smooth and al­lows for ex­tremely pre­cise con­trol.

On the in­side, the op­ti­cal con­struc­tion com­prises ten el­e­ments in seven groups, and in­clud­ing one as­pher­i­cal type to cor­rect for dis­tor­tion and two made from glass with a high re­frac­tive in­dex to min­imise chro­matic aber­ra­tions. The fo­cus­ing group is in­ter­nal with a min­i­mum fo­cus­ing dis­tance of 80 cen­time­tres, and the di­aphragm has nine blades to give rounder, smoother out-of­fo­cus ef­fects… some­thing that’s par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant when you’re com­bin­ing 85mm and f1.2 to give an ex­tremely shal­low depthof-field. As with any EF mount lens, the aper­ture di­aphragm is elec­tro­mag­net­i­cally con­trolled and set from the cam­era body. Given the width of the front el­e­ments needed to de­liver f1.2, not sur­pris­ingly the screwthread fil­ter fit­ting has a di­am­e­ter of 86 mil­lime­tres

RUN­NING WIDE

The 14mm f2.4 also fea­tures alu­minium al­loy bar­rel tubes with the curved sec­tion step­ping up to this lens’s truly mas­sive con­vex front el­e­ment. A petal-shaped hood is built in and it’s the only pro­tec­tion so it pays to get into the habit of al­ways re­plac­ing the dish-like hood when this lens is not be­ing used. Ob­vi­ously, it’s not pos­si­ble to fit screwthread fil­ters.

The 14mm fo­cal length gives an ex­pan­sive 114 de­grees an­gleof-view and the 18-el­e­ments con­struc­tion in­cludes three as­pher­i­cal el­e­ments (one a hy­brid type), three made from high­re­frac­tive in­dex glass, and two made from glass with ex­tra-low dis­per­sion char­ac­ter­is­tics. For the record, hy­brid as­pher­i­cal el­e­ments are made by ap­ply­ing op­ti­cal-qual­ity resin to a spher­i­cal glass core, and it’s a cost-ef­fec­tive means of cre­at­ing com­plex shapes to help cor­rect for dis­tor­tion and op­ti­mise cor­ner-to-cor­ner sharp­ness. Samyang’s ‘Ul­tra Multi Coat­ing’ (UMC) anti-re­flec­tion coat­ings are used to min­imise ghost­ing and flare.

The min­i­mum fo­cus­ing dis­tance is 28 cen­time­tres and again, of course, fo­cus­ing is man­ual, but such is the mas­sively deep depthof-field in­her­ent with 14mm, you could use the hy­per­fo­cal dis­tance to elim­i­nate the need for any ad­just­ment at all, es­pe­cially when shoot­ing with a smaller aper­ture. Use the cam­era’s depth-of-field pre­view fa­cil­ity to de­ter­mine what’s al­ready in fo­cus with the lens set to in­fin­ity. Then pull the fo­cus back to in­clude more of the fore­ground, but dis­tant ob­jects will still be sharp be­cause you’ve sim­ply shifted the long depth-of- field closer to you (mak­ing use of what was pre­vi­ously ‘wasted’ on the other side of in­fin­ity). As on the 85mm, the fo­cus­ing col­lar is flush-fit­ting with a fairly stiff ac­tion and there’s nearly 270 de­grees of ro­ta­tion to span the full fo­cus­ing range. Nev­er­the­less, its smooth rub­ber grip makes it very com­fort­able to use and, again, al­lows for very fine ad­just­ments.

PER­FOR­MANCE

We tested both the XP lenses on a Canon EOS 6D body and while its aut­o­fo­cus­ing is in­fe­rior to that of the new Mark II, ob­vi­ously this is aca­demic with man­ual fo­cus lenses. What’s par­tic­u­lar wel­come though is that you still get the fo­cus con­fir­ma­tion in­di­ca­tors which can be par­tic­u­larly handy with the 14mm. That said, if you’re a reg­u­lar user of aut­o­fo­cus­ing, it takes a bit of ad­just­ment to re­alise that you’re now on your own here.

Let’s talk about the XP 14mm f2.4 first, be­cause it re­ally is a re­mark­able ‘bit of bot­tle’, par­tic­u­larly in terms of its op­ti­cal per­for­mance. The ex­treme an­gle-of-view presents par­tic­u­lar chal­lenges with fram­ing and com­po­si­tion, as the fore­ground be­comes a very im­por­tant part of the im­age. It’s a case of ex­per­i­ment­ing with the view­point, but also bear­ing in mind that, if the cam­era is kept level (i.e. so the imag­ing plane is par­al­lel with the fo­cus plane) then you’ll max­imise the ul­tra-wide ef­fect. This is be­cause there’s ab­so­lutely no cur­va­ture – nope, none – so tall build­ings, for ex­am­ple, are ren­dered ab­so­lutely straight. How­ever, tilt the cam­era up or down and some con­ver­gence will start to oc­cur which, vis­ually, looks a lot less dra­matic. Dis­tor­tion is min­i­mal – which is quite an achieve­ment with such an ul­tra­w­ide fo­cal length – and there’s just a hint of bar­rel-type bend­ing that will ac­tu­ally be hard to no­tice with many sub­jects. Cen­tre-to-cor­ner sharp­ness is also sur­pris­ingly good with only a slight fall-off when shoot­ing wide-open at f2.4. Stop down to f4.0 or beyond and the uni­for­mity of sharp­ness across the frame is sim­ply stun­ning.

Chro­matic aber­ra­tions are very ef­fec­tively con­trolled and so is flare, al­though with such a wide an­gle-of-view it’s some­times a chal­lenge to keep the sun out of the frame. How­ever, even with it po­si­tioned just out­side the frame – so quite a bit of con­tre­jour light was fall­ing across that mas­sive front el­e­ment – flare and ghost­ing were very well su­pressed. Vi­gnetting can be quite dra­matic when shoot­ing at be­tween f2.4 and f2.8, but it’s sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced at f4.0 and gone com­pletely by f5.6.

The XP 85mm f1.2 is an­other sharp shooter. There’s plenty of com­pe­ti­tion in fast 85mm primes at f1.2 or f1.4 – from both the cam­era mak­ers and the in­de­pen­dents, in­clud­ing heavy­hit­ters such as Zeiss – so Samyang is jump­ing in the deep end here, but it’s more than able to hold its own. Sharp­ness is again the big story with ex­cel­lent cen­treto-cor­ner uni­for­mity even when shoot­ing wide-open. There’s a tiny amount of soft­en­ing at the cor­ners when shoot­ing be­tween f1.2 and f1.8, but it’s un­likely to be an is­sue – even with big en­large­ments – and from f2.0 to f11 the over­all sharp­ness is ex­em­plary. At f16 dif­frac­tion has an ef­fect, but again the re­duc­tion in sharp­ness is very min­i­mal. Chro­matic aber­ra­tions are vir­tu­ally non-ex­is­tent ex­cept with very high con­trast bound­aries

SAMYANG HAS BUILT ITS REP­U­TA­TION – AMONG BOTH PHO­TOG­RA­PHERS AND CIN­E­MATOG­RA­PHERS – ON DE­LIV­ER­ING A WHOLE LOT OF OP­TI­CAL PER­FOR­MANCE AT A VERY REA­SON­ABLE PRICE.

oc­cur­ring near the frame edges, and even then the de­gree of colour fring­ing is very slight. Dis­tor­tion is very well con­trolled with just a hint of pin-cush­ion type bend­ing which will be hard to see in most sit­u­a­tions. Flare and ghost­ing are ex­cep­tion­ally well han­dled even when shoot­ing into the sun.

THE VER­DICT

Samyang has built its rep­u­ta­tion – among both pho­tog­ra­phers and cin­e­matog­ra­phers – on de­liv­er­ing a whole lot of op­ti­cal per­for­mance at a very rea­son­able price, made pos­si­ble by stick­ing with prime fo­cal length de­signs and man­ual fo­cus­ing.

With the new XP se­ries lenses, Samyang moves into price cat­e­gories where it is fac­ing stiffer com­pe­ti­tion with much more em­pha­sis on per­for­mance. The bad news for those ri­vals is that Samyang has man­aged to raise the per­for­mance of its XP lenses to an­other level, so the value propo­si­tion re­mains the same. And the build qual­ity is among the best there is too.

The 14mm ul­tra-wide is a joy to use – ad­dic­tive even – and a re­minder of the last truly stun­ning lens in this fo­cal length: Sigma’s aut­o­fo­cus 14mm f3.5. The Samyang XP lens is, of course, faster and sharper thanks to the many de­vel­op­ments in spe­cial el­e­ments – es­pe­cially as­pher­i­cal types – since the Sigma lens was new. The XP 85mm f1.2 is a solid per­former in a class of very solid per­form­ers, in­clud­ing Sigma’s new Art se­ries 85mm f1.4 and not for­get­ting Zeiss’s Mil­vus and Otus f1.4 speed lenses, but Samyang can hold its head high in this ex­alted com­pany. It’s faster, of course, and its di­rect com­peti­tor from Canon is quite a lot pricier so if you have a full-35mm EOS D-SLR, the Samyang lens should be on your short­list.

What about the man­ual fo­cus­ing? If you’re a long-term AF user, it’s true that hav­ing to go D-I-Y may ini­tially come as a bit of a shock, but you soon get used to it and will al­most cer­tainly end up rel­ish­ing be­ing in con­trol.

Value-for-money has un­doubt­edly been a key rea­son for buy­ing a Samyang prime lens in the past, but with the XP mod­els op­ti­cal per­for­mance moves to the top of the list… and the price tag is just an added bonus.

SAMYANG XP MAN­UAL FO­CUS LENSES

Canon EF lens mount re­tains elec­tronic di­aphragm con­trol. The 14mm will be avail­able in Nikon F and Sony E mounts down the track.

Mas­sive front el­e­ment is shaded by built-in lens hood, but both flare and ghost­ing are well con­trolled for such a wide-an­gle lens.

Man­ual fo­cus­ing col­lar is flush-fit­ting with a smooth rub­ber grip.

Samyang’s ‘Ul­tra Multi Coat­ing’ (UMC) anti-re­flec­tion coat­ings pro­vide very ef­fec­tive sup­pres­sion of flare and ghost­ing in the XP 85mm f1.2.

The 85mm’s fo­cus­ing col­lar has a fairly stiff ac­tion, but al­lows for very pre­cise ad­just­ment.

XP se­ries lens mounts are in stain­less steel.

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