SAMYANG XP 50mm f1.4

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South Korean lens maker Samyang is on a roll at the mo­ment and its lat­est new model is a third XP se­ries high-per­for­mance prime for the Canon EF mount. It’s a clas­sic ‘fast fifty’ which means there’s plenty of com­pe­ti­tion, but the Samyang XP 50mm f1.4 is up to the chal­lenge.

the ‘fast fifty’ lens sec­tor is hotly con­tested by just about ev­ery­body and samyang is throw­ing a new high-per­for­mance Xp se­ries model into the mix… man­ual fo­cus too.

t one time the vast ma­jor­ity of 35mm SLRs would have been sold fit­ted with a 50mm lens which, as a re­sult, be­came known as the ‘stan­dard lens’. The word “stan­dard” has sub­se­quently of­ten been in­ter­preted as mean­ing that the 50mm fo­cal length (on the 35mm for­mat) best rep­re­sents the way we see the world, par­tic­u­larly in terms of the an­gle-of-view and per­spec­tive.

This is par­tially true (in fact, 40mm is ar­guably the clos­est to the hu­man eye), but the 50mm fo­cal length is a stan­dard for a va­ri­ety of other rea­sons, most no­tably for how it cov­ered the 35mm film frame, firstly in movie cam­eras and then in still cam­eras. The world’s first 35mm still cam­era, Leica’s I, had a fixed 50mm lens be­cause it was this fo­cal length which op­ti­mised sharp­ness across the frame while also min­imis­ing dis­tor­tion. Im­por­tantly, it de­liv­ered this qual­ity while also be­ing com­par­a­tively com­pact and, as time went on, eas­ier to man­u­fac­ture in higher vol­umes while still main­tain­ing the nec­es­sary level of op­ti­cal pre­ci­sion. The tran­si­tion from the hand-craft­ing of in­di­vid­ual lenses to the masspro­duc­tion of a stan­dard de­sign largely came about be­cause of the in­dus­try’s adoption of the 50mm fo­cal length as the bench­mark for op­ti­cal qual­ity.

Since then, build­ing a bet­ter ‘50’ has pre-oc­cu­pied lens mak­ers both big and small, aided by tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ments such as mul­ti­coat­ings, spe­cial glass for­mu­la­tions and ad­vanced CAD-CAM pro­duc­tion tech­niques. And the ‘fast fifty’ has be­come the badge of hon­our, proof of the abil­ity to both de­sign and build a high per­for­mance prime lens ca­pa­ble of com­pet­ing for the ti­tle of the ‘world’s best’.

The fast fifty sets the high­est bar for op­ti­cal per­for­mance and, con­se­quently, there are some real high-fliers in this cat­e­gory – among them the Zeiss Mil­vus 50mm f1.4 T* Distagon, Sigma’s 50mm f1.4 DG HSM Art, the Leica Sum­miluxSL 50mm f1.4 ASPH and Canon’s mighty EF 50mm f1.2L USM. It’s a very brave – or very con­fi­dent – lens maker which de­cides to play in this pool, but Samyang has al­ready proved it­self ca­pa­ble of match­ing it with the bet­ter-known brands via its line-ups of sur­pris­ing af­ford­able

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PER­FOR­MANCE IS HARD TO FAULT AT EI­THER EX­TREME OF THE APER­TURE RANGE WHICH IS QUITE AN ACHIEVE­MENT AND SHOOTS THE SAMYANG XP 50MM F1.2 STRAIGHT TO THE TOP OF THE SHARP­NESS CHARTS.

high-per­for­mance lenses for pho­tog­ra­phy and cin­e­matog­ra­phy. Re­cently the South Korean com­pany upped the ante with its new XP se­ries of man­ual fo­cus primes for full-35mm for­mat D-SLRs. XP is short for ‘Ex­cel­lence In Per­for­mance’ and the new 50mm f1.2 model joins the 85mm f1.2 and 14mm f2.4 which we re­viewed in the Novem­ber/ De­cem­ber 2017 is­sue. It’s ini­tially only avail­able in the Canon EF mount, which is in­ter­est­ing given the huge rep­u­ta­tion of Canon’s own 50mm f1.2 L se­ries lens, but it’s per­haps no sur­prise that the styling is rem­i­nis­cent of Zeiss’s Mil­vus and Otus mod­els, in­clud­ing a flush-fit­ting and smooth-coated fo­cus­ing col­lar.

a BiG hand­FuL

It’s a big beast of a lens too, weigh­ing in at a hefty 1.2 kilo­grams and with a wide-enough di­am­e­ter to ne­ces­si­tate a screwthread fil­ter fit­ting of 86 mil­lime­tres. All this weight is ac­tu­ally a good thing though, be­cause it’s the re­sult of a solid con­struc­tion which em­ploys all-metal bar­rel tubes and all-glass el­e­ments. There’s no weather seal­ing though.

Not sur­pris­ingly, it feels very solid in the hand – in­deed very sim­i­lar to a Zeiss lens – and bal­ances well on any full-35mm for­mat Canon D-SLR. The ex­ter­nal styling is fuss-free with a black satin fin­ish, sim­ple mark­ings and the dis­crete sil­ver band which is the hall­mark of the Samyang XP se­ries. In fact, the mark­ings are prob­a­bly just a bit too sim­ple, be­cause if ever a lens could ben­e­fit from hav­ing a depth-of-field scale, it’s one with a very large max­i­mum aper­ture… par­tic­u­larly as the fo­cus­ing is man­ual.

It would be nice to be able to see, at a glance, what’s go­ing to be sharply ren­dered at a par­tic­u­lar com­bi­na­tion of aper­ture and fo­cus­ing dis­tance.

As with the other XP mod­els, Samyang says that the 50mm f1.2 has the op­ti­cal res­o­lu­tion to match full-35mm sen­sors in the 50 megapix­els class and 8K video pro­duc­tions. The op­ti­cal con­struc­tion com­prises 11 el­e­ments in eight groups, in­clud­ing one as­pher­i­cal el­e­ment and one made from glass with a high re­frac­tive in­dex. Re­spec­tively, th­ese cor­rect for dis­tor­tion and chro­matic aber­ra­tions. Samyang’s ‘Ul­tra Multi Coat­ing’ (UMC) an­tire­flec­tion coat­ings are used to min­imise ghost­ing and flare.

The fo­cus­ing group is in­ter­nal so there’s no change in the lens’s length and the front el­e­ment doesn’t ro­tate which is im­por­tant when us­ing ori­en­ta­tion-sen­si­tive fil­ters such as a po­lariser or a grad.

The min­i­mum fo­cus­ing dis­tance is 45 cen­time­tres, and by stick­ing with man­ual fo­cus­ing helps op­ti­mise the op­ti­cal per­for­mance and also main­tain af­ford­abil­ity (no CPU or drive sys­tem to worry about).

How­ever, as we noted with the other XP mod­els, the man­ual fo­cus­ing col­lar is quite stiff in its ac­tion and, on the 50mm f1.2, ro­tates through well over 180 de­grees so travers­ing the full dis­tance range takes at least a cou­ple of sec­onds.

On the plus side though, it al­lows for ex­cep­tion­ally pre­cise fine-tun­ing of the fo­cus which is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant when shoot­ing at very wide aper­tures such as f1.4 or f1.2. Use­fully too, there’s as­sis­tance from the fo­cus con­fir­ma­tion indi­ca­tors in the Canon D-SLR bod­ies.

The di­aphragm has nine blades to give smoother out-of-fo­cus ef­fects and com­ple­ment the very shal­low depth-of-field in­her­ent at aper­tures larger than f2.0. As with any Canon EF mount lens, the aper­ture di­aphragm is elec­tro­mag­net­i­cally con­trolled and set­tings are made from the cam­era body.

Per­For­mance

The XP 50mm f1.2’s op­ti­cal de­sign is all about the pur­suit of im­age qual­ity and it cer­tainly de­liv­ers both high lev­els of sharp­ness and cor­rec­tion for aber­ra­tions. The uni­for­mity of cen­tre-to-cor­ner sharp­ness is ex­cel­lent across the aper­ture range, but truly ex­cep­tional be­tween f2.0 and f11. It’s hard to fault at ei­ther ex­treme of the aper­ture range which is quite an achieve­ment and shoots the Samyang XP 50mm f1.2 straight to the top of the sharp­ness charts. It can eas­ily han­dle the re­solv­ing power of a 50 megapix­els sen­sor, with very fine de­tails be­ing very crisply and cleanly reproduced.

Dis­tor­tion is min­i­mal with just the slight­est bar­rel-type bend­ing ev­i­dent when straight lines in an im­age are sit­u­ated close to the frame edges. Chro­matic aber­ra­tions are very well-con­trolled across the frame and we strug­gled to see any colour fring­ing at all even along high-con­trast edges. Coma is also very well-con­trolled even at f1.2 and f1.4 (and it’s to­tally elim­i­nated from f2.0) which is good news for, in par­tic­u­lar, as­tropho­tog­ra­phers.

both ghost­ing and flare are ef­fi­ciently sup­pressed even when shoot­ing in strongly con­tre-jour light­ing (al­though the beefy lens hood helps here too).

as noted ear­lier, pre­cise fo­cus­ing be­comes quite a chal­lenge when shoot­ing with very wide aper­tures be­cause of the ex­tremely shal­low depth-of-field. us­ing the cam­era’s depth-of-field pre­view func­tion is pretty well es­sen­tial to con­firm what’s in fo­cus and what’s not.

The 50mm’s sub­stan­tial and heav­ily-damped fo­cus­ing col­lar al­lows for very fine ad­just­ments so it is pos­si­ble to nail even the small­est of tar­gets at f1.2. ad­di­tion­ally, the tran­si­tion from the in-fo­cus zone to the out-of-fo­cus ar­eas is nicely smooth and pro­gres­sive, giv­ing a con­vinc­ing im­pres­sion of sep­a­ra­tion and depth.

in­ter­est­ingly, while the XP 50mm f1.2 may not have aut­o­fo­cus­ing, it’s still chipped and so sends com­plete exif data to the cam­era body. in fact, the eos 6d we used for test­ing recog­nised it as canon’s own ‘ef50mm f1.2l usm’ and al­lowed for the in-cam­era corrections of vi­gnetting and chro­matic aber­ra­tions.

The Ver­dicT

bravo samyang! The XP 50mm f1.2 de­liv­ers a com­mand per­for­mance and so it’s a bit of a pity that only the own­ers of full-35mm canon d-slrs will get to en­joy its full po­ten­tial (at least for the mo­ment any­way).

it’s a very big lens – big­ger, in fact, than the XP 85mm f1.2 – but it rewards for ef­fort and, per­haps more im­por­tantly, works so well at f1.2 it’s def­i­nitely worth con­sid­er­ing over an f1.4 speed lens. it’s beau­ti­fully made – eas­ily on a par with Zeiss’s best (yes, we know that’s a big call) – and suited to a wide range of ap­pli­ca­tions from por­trai­ture to as­tropho­tog­ra­phy. Then there’s the price tag which (but don’t men­tion this to samyang) would still rep­re­sent pretty good value for money if it was a grand more ex­pen­sive.

how­ever, in the end it’s the su­perla­tive im­age qual­ity at any aper­ture that makes this 50mm stan­dard lens any­thing but stan­dard.

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