This review features real world sample photos from the Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye (which is also sold under Samyang, Bower, Pro-Optic brands), my thoughts on the lens, and side-by-side comparison images to the Zenitar 16mm and Rokinon 8mm fisheye lenses. This is the new full frame fisheye built by Samyang Optics, and while it is technically a budget fisheye lens, its ~$500 price point puts it nearly in line with regular third party brands. The question for this review is thus whether this glass can command the premium price. Given the stellar performance of the Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 fisheye, I was optimistic that it could…or I wouldn’t have bought it in the first place.
Before we get to the substance of the review, a little background is in order. I think this is the first review to be posted of the new Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye, so I’m guessing some of you reading this might be “regular” photographers, and not the normal audience of crazy Disney enthusiasts who frequent this site. As such, you might be wondering why there is a review for a fisheye lens on a Disney fan site and why you should trust my opinion.
As is the case with all of my photography reviews, this is a “real world” review, meaning that it’s based on my use of the lens in the regular course of taking photos in the field, not arbitrary photos in a sterile lab. Some people have an affinity for photographing lab charts and pixel peeping at 100%, but I’m not one of those people. I have an affinity for photographing landscapes and environments I find beautiful, and I see more value in how the lens actually performs in such scenarios, and how edited photos from the lens actually look.
With that said, let’s take a look at this Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye lens, how it stacks up to its competitors, and whether it’s worth the price…
There’s a lot to cover, so I’ll spare you my normal spiel about fisheyes lenses being great for Walt Disney World and Disneyland photography, but it being important to use them in moderation. You can read all that in the reviews linked to above. Cutting to the chase, let’s start with the first concern that invariably pops up with a lot of photographers looking at Rokinon lenses. Yes, this lens is manual focus. With a fisheye lens, this is literally no issue. I hate manual focus (I don’t see myself ever buying their 85mm f/1.4 lens for this reason), but fisheye lenses are the one type of lens where I actually prefer it.
The depth of field is so great on a fisheye lens that you almost never have to focus. Set focus on the 3′ mark on the lens, and forget it. All of your shots will be in focus unless you get within inches of your subject, in which case you’ll have to adjust. There’s some crazy science behind this, but we all know science is a dark art, so let’s just agree that manual focus on a fisheye lens is the fastest, most accurate type of autofocus available for fisheye lenses because you’ll never have issues hunting for focus or grabbing incorrect focus.
Next up is build quality of this lens. It’s fantastic. If you’ve ever held another Rokinon lens, you know exactly what I mean. Solid, metal construction. The lens is roughly the size (slightly larger, actually) as the Rokinon 8mm fisheye, and the hood on this lens is removable.
In terms of sharpness, it would have been surprising to me if this lens were anything short of razor sharp. Fortunately, it’s so sharp you have to be careful you don’t cut your fingers handling the raw files. This was the case with the Rokinon crop fisheye before it and the Zenitar fisheye. How these budget fisheye lenses manage to rival options in my bag like the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 is a little astounding. I shot all of the photos for this review with my Nikon D810 and Nikon D750 cameras and did some pixel-peeping when I got the shots into Photoshop, and IQ was stellar. I’m not normally a peeper, so take my opinion with a grain of salt, but I think the photos speak for themselves in terms of sharpness.
I took a bunch of shots from my tripod using all three lenses with the same settings to demonstrate the sharpness and field of view. Here’s one such set.
Above is the Rokinon 12mm f/2.8.
Above is the Zenitar 16mm f/2.8.
Finally, the Rokinon 8mm f/3.5.
Forget the weird streaking (that’s people passing me) in spots. In terms of sharpness, there is very little that separates the 3 lenses. I would say the Rokinon 12mm is the sharpest of the bunch, but the other two follow closely behind, and I’d describe them all as razor sharp at middle-of-the-road apertures like f/8 and f/11. The Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 falls a bit behind due to it requiring a crop, but on a higher MP camera like the Nikon D810, even this crop isn’t really an issue.
These photos between the Zenitar 16mm f/2.8 fisheye and the Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye also illustrate how 12mm stacks up against the 16mm. There’s always some confusion about focal length in full frame fisheye lenses since they all cover 180 degrees. As you can see, despite the coverage, the Rokinon manages to fill more in the frame vertically and horizontally. In other words, there is a benefit in the wider focal length. (Actually, the Rokinon 8mm would be the ultimate winner here by a slight margin if I had the version with the removable hood.)
Where this lens shines as compared to the other manual focus fisheye lenses as wide open. I almost never use my Zenitar or crop Rokinon at apertures wider than f/8 because of softness at the wider apertures. This Rokinon full frame fisheye is not tack sharp at f/2.8, but it is usable at f/2.8, which is a bit mind-blowing. I was shocked to see some of the results I came away with on Haunted Mansion Holiday and other dark rides. Granted, I wouldn’t want to shoot normal landscapes from a tripod at f/2.8, but I could see using this lens for Milky Way photography, for dark cathedrals in Europe, or for Disney dark rides. This lens is more akin to the Sigma 15mm fisheye in terms of sharpness when it comes to shooting wide open.
Above and below are good examples demonstrative of sharpness wide open. Above is a shot taken at f/16 and below is the same scene at f/2.8. Setting aside the natural starbursts produced at f/16 that are not produced at f/2.8, I think the f/2.8 shot holds up pretty well. When I was peeping at 100% (that just sounds wrong), I did notice that the wait time sign in the f/16 version is completely crisp whereas the f/2.8 version is soft, but honestly, who is going to be looking that nicely? That’s exactly why I normally don’t pixel-peep. It’s too arbitrary, and not how regular people view photos. The short of it is that this lens produces usable photos at f/2.8 and is sharp corner to corner at f/4. That’s a huge selling point–probably the lense’s biggest, and the greatest differentiator from the other Rokinon and Zenitar lenses.
Minor differences are contrast, color, and punch straight out of camera, all of which this lens does slightly better. Another big difference is the relative lack of color fringing and chromatic aberration. This is another thing about which I don’t really care since it’s a one-click fix in post, but I know it matters to a lot of people, so it bears mentioning. Again, it’s like the Sigma fisheye in that regard. In fact, as a whole, this lens seems to have more in common with the (former) class-leading Sigma than it does with the Rokinon 8mm and Zenitar.
One concern I do have about this lens, and this is purely a personal thing, is its sunbursts/starbursts. My initial impression (and the jury is still out to a degree) is that these are much more akin to the Sigma full frame fisheye than the Rokinon 8mm or Zenitar fish. I really like the way the latter produce starbursts that fan rays of sunlight out, instead of the tighter, clean sunbursts made by the Sigma. The starbursts produced by those manual focus fisheyes, in my opinion, have an eye-catching look. I actually think this is a characteristic of cheaper lenses that don’t control flare as well, but whatever. I love the look–so much so that I might return this lens simply because of the lack of sunburst rays. Your starburst preferences may be totally different than mine, so if you prefer the clean look or don’t care one way or the other, this is the lens for you.
With all of this said, the question becomes who should purchase this lens. If you’ve read the foregoing and looked at the photos, you can probably decide for yourself, but I’ll throw in my two cents, anyway. Anyone on a tight budget should probably skip this lens. Anyone who will use fisheye lenses very sparingly should probably skip this lens. Anyone who really loves that fanned starburst/sunburst should probably skip this lens. The Zenitar full frame fisheye runs under $200 and is perfectly capable for anyone who won’t use fisheye often, is on a budget, or prefers that aesthetic. Likewise, for full frame shooters who have a DSLR with some resolution to spare and want a slightly better performing lens, the Rokinon 8mm is cheaper, offers better coverage, and gets the job done in most cases–it just has a black area around the image that will need to be cropped out. The photographers who should buy this are those who want the absolute best in image quality, want to be able to shoot at f/2.8, and/or are not concerned about cost. I would take this lens over the dated full frame Nikon fisheye lens, and I’d also give it the slight edge over the Sigma full frame fisheye. The Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye is the new king of fisheye lenses; it just won’t be for everyone.
One final note: After receiving the lens the other day, I had the chance to test it around my neighborhood for 2 days for some throw-away shots and also take it for a spin at Disneyland. I normally like to test a lens for a month before reviewing, but to provide others a resource before investing the money in this lens, I wanted to get my review up before further testing. I still plan on doing more daytime into-the-sun and sunset/sunrise shooting with the lens to see how it handles those situations, so if you care about seeing shots and thoughts from those scenarios, drop me a line in the comments below.
Does this new Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye lens intrigue you? Do you think it’s worth the extra money over the Zenitar (or Rokinon 8mm), or is the budget manual-focus fisheye sufficient for you? Share your thoughts about this lens and any questions you might have in the comments!