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Rokinon 85M-C F/1.4 Aspherical Lens Review

March 3, 2011 -- Review by Ron Risman




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Video Overview of the Rokinon 85mm F/1.4


Video Samples from the Rokinon 85mm F/1.4 M Lens

At a time when auto focus technology is so accurate and reliable it might seem strange that I decided to review a fully manual lens. While there are many photographers who prefer focusing manually when shooting stills, I personally am not one of them. So why then did I opt to review (and purchase) a manual lens? Because when using DSLR's for video work you can't and shouldn't use auto focus. Let me explain.

One of the biggest reasons that the television industry, cinematographers, and filmmakers are shooting more and more with video-enabled DSLR's is due to the large image sensors inside these cameras. Large sensors provide exceptional low-light performance and also allow for images with very shallow depth-of-field. Shallow depth-of-field mimics the look of big-screen cinema and provides filmmakers with quality that visually goes beyond "video."

Shallow depth-of-field is the reason why manually focusing is so important. Since auto focus systems don't know which part of the scene you want in focus, they make assumptions based on where you aim your camera. If you're shooting handheld, the slightest movement will make the focus drift from one subject to another, depending on where the camera's focus point falls. When shooting on a tripod the focus will drift if someone walks across the frame or if the subject moves beyond the focus point. Shooting a film? The camera has no idea at which point in the dialogyou want to change focus.

Keep in mind that while AF lenses are very quick in stills mode, in video mode they are much too slow. Sure, AF could be used when shooting at more forgiving apertures (f/11, f/16), but when depth-of-field is so great why even bother with auto focus. - everything will look sharp anyway.

This brings me back to the reason I wanted to review the Rokinon 85mm f/1.4 lens, price vs. performance. The Rokinon 85M-C 85mm f/1.4 is priced at around $270. This is one-thrid the price of a Sigma 85mm f/1.4 and a fourth of the Nikon 85mm f/1.4. Canon doesn't have an 85mm f/1.4, but there f/1.2 model is $2000. Sure, all of those lenses have auto exposure and fast ultra or hyper-sonic motors, but these features just don't get used when shooting video.

In hand, the Rokinon 85mm feels like a quality lens. It's metal body adds a bit of weight, the manual focus ring is silky smooth, and the aperture ring lets you select aperture values between f/1.4 and f/22 with click-stops that help you set it without looking. The aperture ring has nine printed "full-stop" values (1.4, 2.0, 2.8, 4.0, 5.6, 8.0, 11, 16, 22) but you can stop at any of 15 settings.

When shooting with a manual lens like the Rokinon 85mm you'll want to keep the camera either in Av mode, where the camera will automatically adjust the shutter speed to keep proper exposure or in manual mode, where you can dial in the appropriate shutter speed to compensate for the selected f-stop. When shooting video it's always best to manually expose your scene so that exposure doesn't drift during the shot.

When used on a camera with an APS-C sensor, the 85mm focal length turns into a strong 136mm (Canon 1.6x) or 127mm (Nikon 1.5x) lens. This may be too much telephoto for many of your shots, but it's idea for video portraits and for those times when you need a strong telephoto combined with a fast aperture such as when filming weddings, school plays, theater, etc. I tested the lens on both the full-frame Canon 5D Mark II at 85mm and on the Canon 7D at the 136mm equivalent focal length. The video comparison below shows off the footage captured with this lens using both cameras, as well as some side-by-side comparison with other Canon lenses that I had in my bag. This is not a scientific comparison by any means and since I compared it with lenses that are so different in focal length and/or aperture range that I'm sure how useful the comparisons will be for you. However, I think you'll agree that this $270 f/1.4 lens looks great.

The lens is shipped with a velvet soft pouch and a 1.5" deep lens hood. My biggest little gripe is that the lens cap won't go on if the lens hood is in place. Instead, you can either remove the lens hood or place it over the lens backwards (storage position) then put the cap back on. I assume that a 72mm squeeze cap would cure this.

In this quick review I didn't bother testing the lens against resolution charts, because when shooting video the resolution is limited to 1920x1080 anyway, not the 18 or 21-megapixel capability of the sensor. I also didn't take a bunch of beautiful photographs to illustrate the beauty of the lens since I won't have another shoot for at least a few weeks and stills just don't tell you what the lens can do for video. Instead I created the video that you can view at the top of the page.

I will mention that when shooting wide open at f/1.4 you will sometimes notice a bit of chromatic abberation along high-contrast areas that are out of focus. When shooting stills this seems to be more of a problem, but when shooting video it was more noticable when pre-focusing than it was once I had focus nice and sharp. Chromatic abberation shows up as a blue, green, red or purple color fringe around the edge of a high-contrast area. Once you stop the lens down to f/1.8 it wasn't noticable at all. I have yet to see a fast f/1.4 lens that didn't suffer from some chromatic abberation and the Tokina actually seemed to handle it better than many fast lenses I have used.

Conclusion

In summary, I would say that if your main intention when buying your DSLR was to shoot video and just can't justify $800- $2000 for a fast 85mm lens, then definitely take a long look at the Rokinon 85mm f/1/4. Even if you can justify $800-$2000 for a lens, take a look at this first. There are plenty of other things you'll need to buy with that extra cash (shoulder rig, good quality tripod, other lenses, slider, etc.).

However, if you're a photographer first and have learned to rely on auto focus., then this isn't the lens for you. You'd be better off getting the Canon or Nikon 50mm F/1.4 for a little bit more money. With the crop factor of most DSLR's you'll still be shooting at around an 80mm focal length and will get a fast auto focus. system.

You can check out the Rokinon lenses over at Amazon:

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