The Rokinon (Samyang) 12mm F/2 is an affordable wide-angle lens for APS-C cameras. The focal length equals a 18mm full-frame lens. This lens has already been around for years, so how good does it still perform when it comes to video work?
Aperture and focus
The lens is completely manual and has a focus and an aperture ring that goes from F/2 to F/22. While the lack of auto focus certainly is a big downside, pulling focus manually works smoothly.
Sharpness and image quality
Over the years I noticed that it’s often sharper at F/8 than comparable lenses from camera manufacturers such as Fujifilm or Canon. Especially the zoom alternatives often lack sharpness. But to be fair Fuji or Canon glass would perform better at F/4 than the Rokinon. But between F/5.6 and F/8 it’s hard to beat the 12mm.
Vignetting and corner shapness
One of the biggest advantages of this lens is the aperture of F/2. While it doesn’t deliver when shooting at infinity it certainly can be used to isolate subjects that are close to the lens. The close focusing distance of 20cm certainly comes in handy. The bokeh looks busy but overall enjoyable between F/2 and F/2.8.
Barrel distortion and vignetting is clearly noticeable until F/5.6 which of course can be fixed easily in photos by applying lens correction in Photoshop. But doing the same for video is a bit annoying and the edges won’t look sharp anymore.
One of the biggest issues with this lens is the lack of contrast when removing the sun hood to mount an ND filter. While this may sound obvious it’s more noticeable on this lens than on other wide-angle I have used. This can be an issue when changing lenses since the color and contrast will change noticeably.
The star shaped lens flare is noticeable when closing the aperture and in long exposure photography.
Even though the lens housing may seem cheapish at first, the lens is solidly built. Half of the lens is made from metal, the other from plastic. After using it for over four years the lens looks like it’s in better condition than a lot of other premium lenses that I use just as much.
For any architectural or landscape shots I highly recommend shooting above F/5.6 too avoid vignetting and soft corners. For up-close filming the lens is certainly a joy to use especially when shooting wide open.
A wide-angle lens for everyone?
For whom is this lens? If you like traveling lightweight this is certainly a solid companion. It’s also a good fit for gimbal work since a lot of other comparable lenses are heavy and big which can make balancing tricky.
For documentary filmmaking I would rather recommend getting a wide-angle zoom lens because of the variety in focal length.
Alternative lenses (but more expensive)
If you are looking for APS-C alternatives the Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8 with auto focus is a rather old but still good option. If you are looking for an even smaller lens the Venus Laowa 9mm F/2.8 is a rock-solid and well-performing lens that has almost no distortion but certainly shows vignetting when shooting wide open.
As you can probably tell the Rokinon (Samyang) 12mm F/2 is a mixed bag. It’s compact and long-lasting, has a nice looking bokeh but also has heavy vignetting and low contrast. If you need a lens to film in low light wide-open I don’t think this is the right lens. But if you simply need a wide-angle for architectural or landscape shots it’s still pretty unbeatable for the price.