Review – Samyang AE 14mm 2.8 – First Impressions

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Construction: 12 groups / 14 elements
Field of view: 114 deg. (88 deg. for APS-C)
Aperture: f/2.8
Min. focusing dist.: 0.28 m
Filter size: NO FILTERS FOR YOU!!! ūüėÄ
Dimensions (length x diameter): 92.0 mm √ó 86.0 mm
Weight: 550 grams

I recently came into the possession of the Samyang AE 14mm – the second iteration of Samyangs ultra wide effort. The original version of this lens was a quite frankly a genius move by Samyang – not only as a quality optic but as a piece of quality marketing by the then little known Korean optics company known best for their work on CCTV systems.
Whilst this wasn’t their first SLR lens what the 14mm did was get peoples attention – here was a full frame, fast aperture, ultra wide lens which was a far cheaper alternative to the high priced first party offerings. The 14mm showed that they were capable of some truly daring designs. If this had been a 50mm or some sort of standard zoom I doubt many would have taken notice. But going for a market previously dominated by high priced and complex Canon L’s and Nikkors was both bold and brilliant. This was certainly what drew my attention to Samyang and now I own three of their lenses and I’m very happy with the performance from each of them.

I must confess to being something of an ultra wide fan – back in the days when I was using my D200 I used the sigma 10-20 more than any other lens. When I made the jump to full frame the sigma became a lot more niche due to it’s smaller image circle and resulting vignette and fisheye effects.

I longed for Nikon’s legendary 14-24 but never got round to getting it – other things seemed more pressing and the high price of the Nikkor meant that I just kept putting it off. When I first heard about the Samyang I was understandably intrigued but it wasn’t until recently than I actually got round to getting hold of one. The version I have is actually the newer AE version of the lens – it allows for communication between the camera body and the lens. This allows you to control the aperture via the body, ensures accurate metering (even when using flash) and records all the relevant EXIF data along with the photograph.

The first thing you notice about this lens is its bulbous front element. It’s comically huge – sticking out from a relatively thin barrel. A built in petal hood surrounds it to protect it from stray light and resulting flares. This unfortunately means that you can’t attach filters directly to the lens but I hear Samyang intend to release a filter holder later in the year. You can always try a DIY solution although you’ll need very large filters for this lens due to it’s very wide angle of view.

The barrel itself is largely dominated by the focusing ring (like all Samyang lenses this one is manual focus only). Like the 35mm and 85mm offerings from Samyang the 14mm has a really nicely dampened focus. Out of the three lenses I think the 14mm feels the best Рa little bit slacker than the 85mm but with slightly more resistance than the 35mm. To me it feels like focusing a mars bar Рthick but smooth Рa real pleasure. Behind the focusing ring sits the aperture ring making this lens compatible with old manual film cameras as well. The aperture range is 2.8 to 22 with the ring moving in 1/2 stops.

So how does it perform? Well I don’t really go for pixel peeping and long, protracted analysis of MTF’s. Those kind of discussions are available elsewhere. My review of this product will be ongoing and I’ll no doubt add posts going into more detail about specific characteristics of this lens. For now let me say that I have a new favourite lens. The performance is far greater than I was expecting. Centre sharpness is ridiculous – I was blown away by the amount of fine detail recorded here. The edge of the frame isn’t quite as good but that’s to be expected. It is however well above average for a lens of this type. It seems to perform higher than the legendary 14-24 I longed for for so long (this is backed up by other tests and reviews I’ve seen online) Simply put Samyang have produced a fantastically sharp lens that easily competes with the high priced first party offering

The new coatings and redesigned hood found on this version of the lens seem to be doing their job well – I’ve been purposely trying to get the lens to flare but so far I’ve only seen tiny hints of it (unlike my old sigma 10-20 “flared like a bitch”) This is apparently a huge step up from the original version of the lens.

As for distortion… well this is an odd one. Lines are rendered very straight (noticeably better than the 10-20) however the lens does exhibit a complex moustache type distortion. Most of the time it’s easy to overlook however whilst photographing down by the beach I really noticed it in shots of the sea as the water curved up and down in a very unnatural manner. Samyang have however provided a lens correction profiles (currently in Nikon and Canon flavours) for use with photoshop which will deal with this distortion quickly and effectively with just a few clicks. I’ll add the links to these profiles down below.

Ultra Wide Macro?

For a bit of fun I decided to try some macro. As well as being a lover of ultra wide I’m also a bit of a macro whore and was interested to see the crazy perspective such a wide angle lens could give at close range. ¬†I also enjoy pushing bits of kit to do things they weren’t designed for just to see what happens. Unfortunately¬†due to it’s short focal length extension tubes won’t work with the 14mm – they are too long and end up shifting the focusing distance behind the front element. Instead I tried free lensing – this involves holding the lens away from the body and is normally used to provide cheap and cheerful tilt-shift effects however it’ll also provide macro as well. by holding the lens a very short distance from the body (being careful to block as much light as possible from creeping through the gap) I was able to focus on objects literally touching the front element. The results were unusual but very pleasant ¬†– the increased bokeh, aberrations and distortions combined with the unusual perspective gave the images a dream like quality. I’m looking forward to experimenting with this some more.

So that’s my first impressions. I’ll write a follow up once I’ve had more time to play with it. For now I’ll just conclude by saying that this is a bargain – excellent optical quality, great build quality and and more than excellent price. Samyang have produced a real gem with this one and if you don’t mind a manual focus only lens then I can’t recommend it enough.

Lens correction profile download (Nikon)

Lens correction profile download (Canon)

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