Best manual APS-C wide-angle for shooting video that is also affordable? Rokinon (Samyang) 12mm F/2 lens review

Review of the Samyang 12mm F2 APS C wide angle lens for video shooters

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?

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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.

Samyang Rokinon 12mm F2 close focusing bokeh test at F2
Close focusing bokeh at F/2 (frame grab from video)

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.

Samyang Rokinon 12mm F2 corner vignetting and sharpness comparison at F2 and F5.6
Vignetting and corner sharpness comparison (frame grab from video)

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.

Samyang Rokinon 12mm F2 heavy lens flare ghosting and low contrast when shooting without the sun hood
Heavy lens flare, ghosting and low contrast when shooting without the sun hood. (Frame grab from video)

The star shaped lens flare is noticeable when closing the aperture and in long exposure photography.

Star shaped lensflare of lights in long exposure photography
Star shaped lensflare of lights in long exposure photography. Especially noticeable on the bottom left.

Built quality

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.

Samyang 12mm F2 without sun hood
The Samyang/Rokinon 12mm F/2.0 without sun hood

Recommended aperture

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.

The Samyang 12mm F2 with the Fujifilm X H1 mounted on to a motorized camera gimbal during a corporate shoot
Gimbal setup with the Samyang 12mm F/2 (Moza Air & Fujifilm X-H1)

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.

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Conclusion

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.

Written by filmmaker Moritz Janisch on August 16, 2021

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