SAMYANG AF 14MM F2.8 EF
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.
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.
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.