Samyang 35mm – First Impressions

Bokeh (or background blur) isloates the subject well but isn't as "creamy" as the Samyang 85mm

Not too long ago I got my hands on the Samyang 35mm f1.4 – I’d been impressed by the quality of their 85mm (impressed doesn’t quite cover it – it blew my mind!) So I decided to throw caution to the wind once again and plunge into semi wide angle/large aperture loveliness. A few weeks of shitty weather and no real opportunity to test my new toy it’s fair to say I was getting restless. Thankfully local artist and friend Sarah Coonan needed some photos of her work for her website – The work in question being jewelery made of ceramic. She wanted a combination of macro work (showing all the fine detail) and some model shots for which she enlisted the help of her friend Lyndsay. Realising this was a perfect opportunity to test my new lens, help out a friend and also get a few nice shots for portfolio purposes I jumped at the chance and was joined by my business partner(in crime) John Sinclair.

SB800 was used to illuminate the face and also trigger an SB600 positioned behind her head to give the illusion that sunlight was striking her hair.

So the ladies arrived and we all drank tea like civilised people (as civilised as you can get drinking from a massive Lilo and Stitch mug) as we caught up with Sarah and were introduced to Lyndsay.
After tea it was time to move outside to Johns garden. Hardly the most glamerous of locales and once again the weather was murky. The wide aperture of the Samyang helped soften the surroundings and some speedlights helped liven up the images a bit.
I should note at this point for those of you unaware that the Samyang is a manual focus lens only. This could be a deal breaker for many but the price of this lens (£360) when compared to it’s Canon and Nikon counterparts is truly amazing. If you can live without autofocus then this is well worth looking at.
So how easy is it to focus? Well… That depends. The big, bright viewfinder of the D3 helped a lot – I could imagine that APS-C users might struggle. Having said that most cameras these days have focus confirmation in the viewfinder – my D3 certainly does and believe me this helps a lot – especially in low light. Another trick I found was to use live view and zoom in on the image to make sure focus is bang on. Accurate focus is essential when using a lens like this wide open.
Luckily the handling of the lens is pretty much perfect – a huge rubberised focusing ring dominates a large portion of the lens. It smoothly and is really nicely dampened. The lens also has a depth of field indicator which is something you don’t see much of these days and also features an aperture ring. The lens is also chipped allowing for aperture to be controlled through the body as well as recording full EXIF data and supporting matrix metering.

Aesthetically this is one of my favourite looking lenses. It’s huge – about the size of the Nikon 24-70 and is certainly the largest 35mm I’ve ever seen. It’s also covered in numbers – focus distance in meters and feet, the aforementioned depth of field scale, the aperture ring, the f number and a few Samyang abbreviations – AS (aspherical element) and UMC. There’s also a really cool looking metallic red ring just after the aperture ring. It serves no purpose other than to look awesome.
So how did it do on the job? There were a few shots where the focus was off but generally the focus confirmation dot did it’s job well and most of the shots where I relied on my eyeballs rather than the dot turned out fine too. It did however take some time to focus and to be certain that this was the case which lengthened the shoot somewhat. Luckily this was a portrait shoot and there was no real deadline.
The bokeh (background blur) was nice although not as nice as their 85mm which has one of the best bokehs I’ve seen. Even wide open the colours were punchy, contrast nice and vignette well controlled.
Overall it was a great shoot – The Samyang  performed well – far better than a lens of that price should. Our model was really fun to work with too. She went through several hours of snaptastic fun – indulging my whims and desire to play with my new toy and she was still smiling by the end.
I’ll be continuing to test this lens out in a variety of situations and will report my results accordingly.




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