ON TRIAL

SAMYANG AF 14MM F2.8 EF

Camera - - CONTENTS -

The ac­ces­sory lens mar­ket is the most dy­namic it has ever been and, if you’re look­ing be­yond the cam­era brands, the choice is be­com­ing more var­ied by the minute. South Korean man­u­fac­turer, Samyang, gives Canon D-SLR users some­thing to think about with its new aut­o­fo­cus 14mm ul­tra-wide.

South Korean lens maker Samyang has earned its rep­u­ta­tion – with both pho­tog­ra­phers and cin­e­matog­ra­phers – from build­ing man­ual fo­cus prime lenses which per­form well be­yond the ex­pec­ta­tions set by their price tags. It’s en­abled Samyang to es­tab­lish a clear point of dif­fer­ence with its many ri­vals (con­tin­u­ing to grow in num­ber these days) while also avoid­ing a myr­iad of tech­ni­cal chal­lenges. So why de­cide to jump on the aut­o­fo­cus band­wagon now?

Well, many pho­tog­ra­phers need aut­o­fo­cus­ing be­cause, for one rea­son or an­other, they have dif­fi­cul­ties fo­cus­ing man­u­ally, but it’s also mostly quicker and there­fore the bet­ter op­tion in many sit­u­a­tions or with cer­tain sub­jects. And from purely a com­mer­cial point-of-view it makes sense to have aut­o­fo­cus of­fer­ings in your prod­uct line-up, es­pe­cially as the cam­era man­u­fac­tur­ers con­tinue to work on speed, cov­er­age and ac­cu­racy. Not en­tirely sur­pris­ingly, Samyang’s first aut­o­fo­cus lenses have been for Sony’s FE mount and this line-up now in­cludes a 35mm f1.4, a su­per com­pact pan­cakestyle 35mm f2.8, a 50mm f1.4 and a 14mm f2.8 ul­tra-wide prime. It’s this last model that’s the plat­form for the Korean com­pany’s first lens for Canon’s EF D-SLR mount and which is, log­i­cally, des­ig­nated the AF 14mm f2.8 EF.

It’s good news for own­ers of Canon full-35mm D-SLRs who like the idea of an ul­tra-wide 116.6 de­grees an­gle-of-view, but re­ally don’t want to pay $2839 for Canon’s own Mark II lens or $2398 for Sigma’s f1.8 Art line model de­spite the at­trac­tion of the ex­tra aper­ture speed. The Samyang 14mm AF ul­tra-wide is yours for a very much more af­ford­able $1099.

Start­ing with the ex­ter­nals and, as we’ve seen with Samyang’s new XP se­ries models, it’s hard to fault the build qual­ity or the fin­ish, which looks and feels very high-end. The clean styling is crisp and con­tem­po­rary. The main bar­rel tubes are alu­minium al­loy and sealed to pre­vent the in­tru­sion of dust or mois­ture with a very sub­stan­tial rub­ber gas­ket around the lens mount. The mount it­self is heavy-duty stain­less steel.

As is fash­ion­able right now with premium lenses, there’s a red an­odised stripe around the bar­rel to break up all that black and add a stylish note (Nikon and Tam­ron use gold, Fu­ji­film uses sil­ver, Olym­pus uses blue, Pen­tax uses or­ange, Canon uses red as well and green for its top-of-the-range DO models).

As with Samyang’s 14mm f2.4 XP se­ries model, the lens hood is in­te­grated with a pro­nounced petal de­sign to en­sure it doesn’t cause any vi­gnetting. While shad­ing the front el­e­ment’s ex­posed sur­face is un­doubt­edly its main duty, the hood also pro­vides some de­gree of pro­tec­tion for what is a fairly large ex­panse of glass. And it’s all you’ve got as there’s no way to fit a front fil­ter so it’s a very good idea to get into the habit of im­me­di­ately re­fit­ting the large lens cap when you’ve fin­ished shoot­ing… which will also help keep all that glass free of dust and grime (par­tic­u­larly as the weather pro­tec­tion mea­sures don’t ap­pear to in­clude a flu­o­rine coat­ing).

The use of alu­minium al­loy bar­rel tubes helps keep the lens’s over­all weight down to a shade un­der 500 grams and, de­spite this model be­ing aut­o­fo­cus, there’s still a very good-sized man­ual fo­cus­ing col­lar which is flush-fit­ting. Not sur­pris­ingly, it’s fly-by-wire (i.e. elec­tronic) rather than me­chan­i­cal so it spins freely – which can mean a bit of fine-tun­ing to park it pre­cisely on in­fin­ity. Cu­ri­ously, it doesn’t al­low for a full-time man­ual over­ride when us­ing aut­o­fo­cus. Be­hind the fo­cus­ing col­lar is the AF/MF switch, but that’s it, so there’s no dis­tance scale and, con­se­quently, no depth-of-field in­di­ca­tors which can ac­tu­ally be quite handy on an ul­tra-wide lens.

On the in­side, nearly half of the 15-el­e­ment all-glass op­ti­cal con­struc­tion com­prises spe­cial types – two as­pher­i­cal el­e­ments, four made from high-re­frac­tive glass el­e­ments and one which uses ex­tra-low dis­per­sion glass. The as­pher­i­cal types cor­rect for dis­tor­tion and also op­ti­mise cen­treto-cor­ner uni­for­mity of sharp­ness while the oth­ers pri­mar­ily deal with chro­matic and spher­i­cal aber­ra­tions. In­ter­est­ingly, Samyang ad­vises that the in-cam­era lens cor­rec­tions per­formed by Canon’s D-SLRs should be dis­abled, al­though it would ap­pear that they’re sim­ply not sup­ported so any cor­rec­tions need to be done post­cam­era. The cam­era sim­ply reads “Cor­rec­tion data not avail­able”. In­ci­den­tally, the AF lens’s op­ti­cal con­struc­tion is dif­fer­ent from that of Samyang’s man­ual-fo­cus 14mm f2.8 ED AS IF UMC model which has 14 el­e­ments in ten groups and only two spe­cial types. It’s also dif­fer­ent to the Sony FE mount AF model which also has a 14/10 con­struc­tion. It would ap­pear that the level of cor­rec­tion has def­i­nitely been in­creased in the newer AF ul­tra-wide.

Ad­di­tion­ally, Samyang’s new ‘Ul­tra Multi Coat­ing’ (UMC) is ap­plied to min­imise ghost­ing and flare. The fo­cus­ing group is in­ter­nal and en­ables a min­i­mum fo­cus­ing dis­tance of 20 cen­time­tres, giv­ing a max­i­mum re­pro­duc­tion ra­tio of 1:6.6. The di­aphragm com­prises seven blades to give smoother out-of-fo­cus ef­fects.

PER­FOR­MANCE

We tested the AF Samyang 14mm f2.8 EF on a Canon EOS 6D Mark II which has a sig­nif­i­cantly up-graded AF sys­tem which uses 45 mea­sur­ing points, all cross-type ar­rays. The Samyang cer­tainly ap­pears to aut­o­fo­cus as quickly as a Canon­branded lens with no hes­i­ta­tion or hunt­ing. Aut­o­fo­cus­ing is via a step­ping mo­tor which is both smooth and very quiet, pro­duc­ing only a very low ‘chirrup’ when the full fo­cus­ing range is tra­versed.

Op­ti­cally, this lens is an­other very strong per­former. Over­all sharp­ness is very good even when shoot­ing at f2.8, but im­proves fur­ther be­tween f4.0 and f11, af­ter which dif­frac­tion starts to cre­ate some slight soft­en­ing at the cor­ners of the frame (the small­est aper­ture is f22).

THE MAS­SIVE AN­GLE-OF-VIEW PRO­VIDES EVEN MORE FUN AND PLENTY OF CREATIVE PO­TEN­TIAL, TURN­ING EVEN FAIRLY OR­DI­NARY SCENES INTO EYE­CATCH­ING IM­AGES.

The cor­rec­tion for dis­tor­tion is ex­cel­lent and, if you keep the im­age plane and fo­cus plane ab­so­lutely par­al­lel, only a slight amount of bar­rel-type bend­ing is no­tice­able and is more em­pha­sised when straight lines in the im­age are po­si­tioned close to the edges of the frame. Chro­matic aber­ra­tions are vir­tu­ally un­de­tectable in the cen­tre of the frame and very well su­pressed at the edges. With such a wide an­gleof-view, some­times hav­ing the sun ei­ther very close to or ac­tu­ally in the frame is un­avoid­able and here the Samyang 14mm AF lens de­liv­ers a fairly clean and tight star­burst with­out too much ran­dom flare and ghost­ing to com­pro­mise con­trast or colour. Quite no­tice­able vi­gnetting (light fall-off to­wards the cor­ners of the frame) is ev­i­dent when shoot­ing at f2.8, but it pro­gres­sively di­min­ishes at f4.0 and at f5.6.

The in­her­ently deep depth-offield al­lows for plenty of scope for se­lec­tive fo­cus­ing, al­though at f22 vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing from the im­me­di­ate fore­ground to the dis­tant back­ground will be sharp if you fo­cus at around five me­tres. At f2.8, back­grounds will be thrown suf­fi­ciently out-of-fo­cus to pro­vide some dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion with sub­jects in the fore­ground. The mas­sive an­gle-of-view pro­vides even more fun and plenty of creative po­ten­tial, turn­ing even fairly or­di­nary scenes into eye­catch­ing im­ages, thanks to the out-ofthe-or­di­nary per­spec­tive.

One note to make here is that, oc­ca­sion­ally, when shoot­ing in ei­ther the pro­gram or shut­ter-pri­or­ity auto modes (i.e. with auto aper­ture con­trol), im­ages would be over­ex­posed with­out any ob­vi­ous ex­pla­na­tion. This can ac­tu­ally hap­pen with any non-Canon lenses for the EF/EF-S mount – and we’ve ex­pe­ri­enced it be­fore – as they are all re­verse-en­gi­neered for the rea­son that Canon has never li­censed its aut­o­fo­cus and ex­po­sure al­go­rithms to third-party lens mak­ers.

THE VER­DICT

Value-for-money is again the ma­jor at­trac­tion of this Samyang lens be­cause it is sig­nif­i­cantly less ex­pen­sive than im­me­di­ate ri­vals, but gives lit­tle away in terms of its op­ti­cal per­for­mance or its build qual­ity which in­cludes a metal bar­rel and weather-proof­ing.

It’s ex­cep­tion­ally sharp over­all and well-cor­rected for both dis­tor­tion and chro­matic aber­ra­tions with nicely smooth out-of-fo­cus ef­fects, al­though it’s nec­es­sary to shoot with the largest aper­tures to re­duce the oth­er­wise mas­sive depth-of-field. It han­dles com­fort­ably and while the ab­sence of a full-time man­ual over­ride for the fo­cus­ing is an in­con­ve­nience in some sit­u­a­tions, the re­al­ity is that this lens is more about de­lib­er­ately try­ing to min­imise the depth-offield rather than chase sharp fo­cus.

While Samyang is tak­ing a big step by start­ing to com­pete with the big guns in the aut­o­fo­cus ac­ces­sory lens mar­ket, its first EF mount model in­di­cates that it’s more than up to the chal­lenge.

VALUE-FOR-MONEY IS AGAIN THE MA­JOR AT­TRAC­TION OF THIS SAMYANG LENS BE­CAUSE IT IS SIG­NIF­I­CANTLY LESS EX­PEN­SIVE THAN IM­ME­DI­ATE RI­VALS.

Samyang’s first aut­o­fo­cus lens for Canon’s EF mount is an­other vari­a­tion on the 14mm ul­tra-wide prime. The South Korean lens maker al­ready has two man­ual-fo­cus models (at f2.4 and f2.8) and an aut­o­fo­cus model for Sony’s FE mount.

On-bar­rel switch se­lects AF or MF op­er­a­tion. A full-time man­ual over­ride for aut­o­fo­cus­ing is not avail­able.

Fif­teen-el­e­ment op­ti­cal con­struc­tion in­cludes no fewer than seven spe­cial types to cor­rect for dis­tor­tion and lens aber­ra­tions.

Weather-proof­ing mea­sures in­clude a sub­stan­tial run­ner gas­ket around the lens mount.

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