Samyang 24mm f/1.4: Are We Too Spoilt?

 

Is the lack of AF the only reason why the Samyang 24mm f/1.4 ED AS IF UMC feels cumbersome? Raj Lalwani wonders if we are a spoilt generation.

The Samyang 14mm f/2.8 lens that we tested in the previous issue was not only an excellent set of optics, it was almost one-third the price of similar lenses from proprietary manufacturers. This made me far more excited to test the 24mm f/1.4 lens, a focal length that I quite enjoy. There was only a tiny catch. With the 14mm, we tested the video version of the Nikon-mount lens, but with the 24mm, Samyang sent us a Canon-mount version, optimised for stills.

Features
Why should that make a difference? The answer is a little complicated. With most third-party lenses, the handling and operation of the lens stays consistent, irrespective of which mount you use. The quality may differ slightly depending on the sensor of the camera being used, but the lens shouldn’t ‘behave’ differently.

But life is a little different in the Samyang world. The Canon-mount version is a completely mechanical lens. So not only is it manual focus (like all other Samyangs), there is no manual focus confirmation!

Handling
This becomes an issue while shooting on field while using apertures wider than f/2. Considering that modern-day OVFs are not optimised for MF, it is difficult to get focus right, especially if you wear glasses or contact lenses. The non-Canon versions of the lens both have a green-dot confirmation when focus is achieved, but the slightly less expensive version that we tested on the EOS 6D, doesn’t.

At relatively narrower apertures, hyperfocal distance can make life easier, but there is another issue. As you stop down, the viewfinder darkens! This practically means that if you use f/8, f/11 or God forbid, f/16, you are virtually shooting through a dark, barely-see-through eyepiece!

24mm is a good focal length for shooting on the streets, but the darkened viewfinder when the lens is stopped down, makes framing difficult to guess, especially while shooting late in the evening or at night. Photograph/Raj Lalwani

24mm is a good focal length for shooting on the streets, but the darkened viewfinder when the lens is stopped down, makes framing difficult to guess, especially while shooting late in the evening or at night. Photograph/Raj Lalwani

How Does It Work?
These lenses, being purely mechanical, have thick rings that control both aperture and focus and a detailed distance and depth-of-field scale. They don’t make lenses like them anymore. The sheer experience of going manual not only encourages you to slow down and appreciate what you are shooting, but also encourages you to seriously consider factors like depth-of-field and hyperfocal distance. But then, the experience is not really complete with this particular lens, especially on the Canon mount. The constraints, instead of inspiring, seem to be a hindrance.

In other modern-day lenses, the aperture is stopped down only at the time of exposure, so using a narrow aperture does not affect the viewing experience. So with wide apertures making critical focusing difficult and narrow apertures not allowing you to frame accurately, I was constantly struggling to maintain an in-between balance, something that’s not too dark, and is a little forgiving to errors of the myopic eye.

Performance
All these problems can be avoided when shooting with a tripod and using Live View to confirm focus. That is when this lens’ capabilities come to the fore anyway, with deliberate, slowed down photography, of buildings, landscapes or in the wild.

The centre-to-edge sharpness is excellent, and colour rendition, quite pleasing. Photograph/Raj Lalwani

The centre-to-edge sharpness is excellent, and colour rendition, quite pleasing. Photograph/Raj Lalwani

The centre sharpness is excellent at f/1.4 and corners are quite decent. At f/2.8, the lens produces excellent detail from centre to edge. Control over fringing and flare is superb. Coma, an issue that plagues competing 24mm f/1.4 lenses, is virtually absent. There is heavy vignetting at wide apertures. It reduces only around f/4, and completely disappears at f/8. Barrel distortion is present, but well controlled and easily correctable.

Conclusion
At Rs. 58,320, the Samyang 24mm f/1.4 is half the price of the Canon version. If the focusing and framing was not this cumbersome, we would have recommended it wholeheartedly. But for its sheer quality, it is still a worthy buy, as long as you use it on a tripod, or invest in a focusing screen for your DSLR.

FINAL RATINGS  
Features
Fast f/1.4 aperture, four ED elements, two aspherical elements, manual focus only
15/20
Performance
Excellent sharpness at f/1.4, heavy vignetting, good control over other aberrations
32/35
Build Quality
No MF confirmation, viewfinder darkens when the lens is stopped down
23/25
Ergonomics
No MF confirmation, viewfinder darkens when the lens is stopped down
7/15
Warranty & Support
Limited number of service facilities
2/5
OVERALL 79%
VALUE FOR MONEY 2.5/5 Stars
Who should buy it?Serious landscape and architectural photographers who aren’t in a hurry.
Why?Though very sharp, its fully mechanical nature makes it difficult in streets or action-packed scenarios. The use of a tripod will be highly recommended.
Tags: Canon mount, f/1.4, manual focus, Samyang 24mm lens, wide angle