For all budget landscape photographers out there in search of some fast, wide-angle glass, the Samyang 14mm f/2.8 might be the one for you. Available for less than $400 by most retailers at the time we write this post, this Samyang lens is compatible with almost all modern digital cameras.
Shipping under a variety of brand names (Rokinon, Bower, Vivitar, Falcon, Walimex, Opteka, Bell and Howel, Pro-Optic, Polar) with slightly different features. In this review we will be focussing on the Rokinon/Bower version of this lens, compatible respectively with Nikon and Canon DSLR’s.
Although the lens requires you to do almost everything manual – focus as well as aperture – and does not send much information to the camera, the outstanding image sharpness of this lens for the attractive price make it definitely worth your consideration.
In the Rokinon and Bower versions, a chip has been implemented to help with focus confirmation, auto white balance and auto exposure, amongst other things. The low aperture also makes this a very suitable lens for low-light situations, and it has been proven to be great for astrophotography.
The Samyang has a great focal length for landscape, with a wide 14mm that turns out a bit wider than the Nikon 14-24 f/2.8. This will allow you to include even more in your frame, and can help you out in narrow situations. It will make close objects seem larger, easily creates leading lines and will give the viewer the feeling they are there in the scene with you. When you use the 14mm lens on a APS-C sensor camera, you will get an equivalent of 22.4mm. Still a great wide angle, and useful for similar purposes as the 24mm staple.
One of the main reasons you might be looking into this particular wide-angle lens is the maximum aperture, which is extremely low for wide-angle standards. This will come in handy in low-light situations, and is one of the reasons this lens performs well for astrophotography.
That being said, this lens’ aperture has to be set manually with most versions of the lens, using the aperture ring on the lens. But, with the Rokinon and Bower versions, the implemented chip will allow you to set the aperture automatically from your camera.
With this chip you’ll also get full EXIF support, something you wouldn’t be able to receive with the original (less expensive) version of the lens. If you do choose to use the aperture ring, be aware that it works with a click system. There is no stop in between f/2.8 and f/4, meaning that if you want your aperture to be somewhere in that range you will have to leave the aperture ring between clicks. It does work, but might not always be very convenient.
If you see yourself using this aperture a lot, consider purchasing the cinema version of this lens instead, that comes with an aperture ring that doesn’t click and gives more freedom in your aperture choices.
If you do choose a low aperture, be ready for some significant viewfinder darkening (if you happen to be shooting handheld, this might be a problem). To work with this, I recommend setting your focus and choosing your composition using a higher aperture, and then changing your settings to the correct exposure right before taking the photo.
When it comes to focusing, this lens will require you to do some practicing.
Focus is manual only, using the very long but slightly inaccurate focus ring.
The Rokinon and Bower versions come with focus confirmation, which means the camera will confirm when your subject is in focus. However, be wary when using this system, because if you keep turning the focus ring after your camera confirmed focus, it will not “un-comfirm”. This could result in some out-of-focus, very blurry images if you’re not careful.
To avoid this, check your focus yourself using live view. As I mentioned earlier, the focus ring is very long, so it does allow you to focus very accurately.
For more in-depth talk about the focus (and focus calibration), have a look at this video:
When taking a look at the images this lens produces, you might be pleasantly surprised. The images, especially for such a cheap lens, are very sharp and even comparable to more high-end Nikon lenses.
There are some soft corners noticeable at lower apertures, but as soon as you hit f/5.6 these troubles are over. And as a landscape photographer you are in luck, because the image sharpness of this lens peaks at f/8 and f/11 – apertures you will probably be using the most.
However, peripheral shading is a lot more visible on this lens than on more expensive wide-angle lenses. Luckily the shading is very gradual, which makes it less obvious than you might expect, and sometimes it might even come in useful to help draw in the viewers eye. The shading is mostly visible at the lowest apertures, from f/5.6 up there is hardly any shading noticeable.
Chromatic aberration is kept to a minimum, as well as coma aberration. The latter is another reason this lens performs so well for astrophotographers.
If you mainly shoot in the daylight however, be wary of flare. Any light directly hitting the lens may easily create flare and ghosting in your image (and with a front element this bulky, directly hitting light is not that easily avoided). So if you really don’t want any flare in your pictures, avoid shooting into the light with this lens.
One of the biggest set-backs (after the complicated focusing), is the significant distortion this lens produces.
Where more expensive lenses have implemented various technologies to battle this, this lens will produce noticeable barrel distortion – especially when used with a APS-C sensor. This can make framing your (curved) horizons straight quite a challenge.
Distortions can be fixed in post using Adobe Lens Profile Creator or DxO Optics Pro for example. It is quite easy to fix, and I would not it as a major issue as most of the reviewers want us to think. Distorsion adds a creative touch which I personally look for when I use such wide lenses.
Another setback for landscape photographers in particular, is the fact that using regular filters is not possible with this lens. The front element is too bulky to allow the use of screw-on filters, a problem we’ve seen in the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 as well.
Another important thing to note for landscape photographers is the lack of weather sealing on this lens, making it extremely vulnerable to any dust or moisture. So when shooting with this lens out in the elements, make sure to protect it well!
To avoid most peripheral shading, take a look at the Zeiss 15mm f/2.8. Compromising in width ever so slightly, this high-end lens from Zeiss will give you the professional look and feel as well as the sharp image, while keeping shading to an absolute minimum.
This lens is manual focus only, just like the Samyang, but has a more accurate focus ring. Naturally, this is something you will notice in the price. It is available with multiple mounts, making it compatible with almost all modern digital cameras.
Another lens that performs great in low-light situations is this Nikon 14mm prime with a maximum aperture of 1.4. Seldom do you find a wide angle lens with such a low aperture, and along with that it is also capable of producing some very nice bokeh thanks to a rounded 9-blade diaphragm.
The lens uses a rear focus, meaning the lens won’t change in length while you set the focus. It also comes with Nikon’s famous Nano Crystal coating to prevent ghosting, and needless to say it will allow you to use auto focus and auto exposure. This lens also allows you to use 77mm screw-on filters, a huge plus for landscape photography.
It is way more expensive than the Samyang, but we are moving to a different level.
The image sharpness is unmatched, and all of Nikons best techniques have been used to best prevent flare, ghosting or chromatic aberration. Same set-back here as well though: the bulky front forms the same problem for regular screw-on filters as the Samyang’s front. If you want to use filters with this lens you’ll have to purchase a specially designed filter system from Lee.
We have an in depth review of the Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED here.
This lens is a great budget option that will offer superb image sharpness for its price. The lack of coma aberration and the wide aperture also make this lens highly suitable for astrophotography.
The manual focus only does require some practice and patience, and together with the darkening of the viewfinder at lower apertures this makes for a lens best used with live viewing. If you want a reasonably priced glass that will still produce high-quality images; this lens might be the one for you.
Hi, I am Luca, founder and editor in chief at photographyambition.com. I am crazy about photography and I always have a camera with me. When I am not busy with my day job, enjoying my family or taking photos, I am on Photography Ambition to share what I have learnt so far.
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