Readers ask me about my photography set up and camera gear quite frequently. I’ve written reviews on my standard kit of a Sony a6000 paired with the Sony 10-18mm wide angle lens. The Sony 10-18mm is an incredible wide angle lens for moments with lots of available light, but I found myself wanting more options for low light situations. I searched through just about every available E mount lens and settled on the Rokinon 12mm f/2.0. The closest competitor to the Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 was the Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8. The Zeiss came in at $999, whereas the Rokinon was available for $375. Other than price, the major difference is that the Rokinon is completely manually operated for focus and aperture. I thought this would be a big deal at first, but I’ve actually grown to enjoy the process of shooting with a manual lens. I’ll discuss this more in my review of the Rokinon 12mm f/2.0. I have the E mount version of this lens for Sony mirrorless cameras, but it is also available for Canon, Fuji, Olympus/Panasonic (MFT), and Samsung.
**Note that the Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 can also be found listed as the Samyang 12mm f/2.0. There is no difference with these two lenses as they are exactly the same and differ in name only. **
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Lens Construction And Build Quality:
The Rokinon 12mm is a crop sensor lens made for APS-C sensor cameras giving it an effective focal range of what would be 18mm on a full frame sensor. The aperture range goes from f/2 to f/22. The fixed 12mm lens has a minimum focusing distance of 7.9 inches. The glass uses a Nano Coating System (NCS) to improve the transmission of light, reduce lens flares and ghosting, and provide more contrast. This lens takes a 67mm filter. The Rokinon 12mm is built like a little tank using a combination of metal and plastic. Coming in at 8.64oz (245g), this lens is not the lightest, but it handles very well.
As I mentioned above the Rokinon 12mm is a manual focus lens that requires user manipulation for aperture and focus. The aperture ring is solid and has a nice clicking feel with each turn. The focus ring is smooth and firm, with the perfect amount of stick.
For those new to a manual focus lens, the new process can seem a bit daunting. In the new age of digital photography, it’s easy to get used to just aiming a camera and snapping away. There was a time not too long ago that auto focus cameras and lenses didn’t exist. Having a manual focus lens has brought me back to this age of photography, and in a lot of ways, has helped me hone my craft as a photographer. That being said, I use the built-in focus peaking technology of my Sony mirrorless camera to ensure my exposures are not out of focus. This is especially helpful when taking photos around f/2.0 with a shallow depth of field. Missing focus at this aperture usually means a blown shot. My a6000 allows me to set the focus peaking color to yellow, red, or white, and then highlights the focused parts within the viewfinder to let me know I’m locked on. When I first started using this lens, I’d have a few shots from every outing that were out of focus, but with a little practice, I’ve improved quite a bit.
Image Quality And Performance:
For me, the most important thing to see in a camera or lens review is the ‘real life’ image quality. In this section I’ll talk about and show pictures to demonstrate the Rokinon 12mm f/2.0’s abilities in low light, flare, bokeh, vignetting, distortion, it’s ability to ‘get close’, and it’s performance while hiking outside.
The main reason I purchased the Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 is so that I could shoot more handheld shots in low light. I almost never travel with a tripod, so getting quality handheld shots in low light is a must for me. There is no substitute for a tripod, but below you can see the kind of shots I’ve been able to get while walking around in low light situations. My a6000 handles very well up until about ISO 3200, with noise levels very manageable below that. Having an f/2.0 lens allows me to keep my ISO below 3200 in almost all low light situations.
While shooting outside, I haven’t had too much of an issue with flares. The Rokinon 12mm comes with a lens hood that I don’t use due to the constraints of my hiking camera bag. You can see what the flares look like in the image below. They are very easy to remove in post processing.
For those that aren’t familiar with the term, bokeh is the blurry out-of-focus area in a photograph. As you can see below, the bokeh of the Rokinon 12mm is quite pleasant, but not as nice as what you’d expect with the Sony 35mm or 50mm offerings.
Vignetting is the light falloff, or dark corners, found in an image. The vignetting on the Rokinon 12mm is strongest at f/2.0, but falls off considerable as I approach f/8. You can look at the corners at some of the photos in this review to see the vignetting on the 12mm. Most of the time when I’m shooting at f/2.0 I’m composing a shot in low light so the dark corners are hardly noticeable. This is another exposure issue that is very easy to correct for in post processing.
One of my favorite components to play with in photography is perspective. The presentation of perspective can really separate a good photo from a great photo. A wide angle lens like the Rokinon 12mm is going to exaggerate perspective due to the fact that there is more distance between the object being photographed and the lens. This is why people or objects in the foreground of a wide angle exposure will appear larger than objects further away. Having a wide angle 12mm lens really allows me to play with the depth of scale on landscapes. The one issue on wide angles that can cause problems with perspective is distortion. Distortion is when a lens presents an image with curved lines even though the lines are actually straight. The two most common types of distortion are barrel distortion (for wide angle lenses) and pincushion distortion (for telephoto lenses). With barrel distortion, straight lines will bend outward from the center of an image, like a ball is pushing towards you from behind the photo. There are time when distortion makes a photo more interesting, but in architecture shots distortion can be a distraction. Luckily, distortion is easy to fix using lens profiles in Lightroom. Here are some examples of distortion in the photos below.
Many people assume that the sole purpose of a wide angle is to allow the photographer to capture more of what they’re seeing. This is true, but my favorite part of what wide angles offer is their ability for me to get closer. When shooting with lenses higher than 18mm, I often find myself having to step far away from an object to capture it. With a wide angle, I’m able to stay close and capture everything that my eyes are seeing. This is especially important when I’m indoors and don’t have the option of creating more space with my feet.
When hiking outdoors, I still prefer to use my Sony 10-18mm, as I almost never feel limited by it’s range of f/4. Still, the Rokinon 12mm has proven to be a very serviceable hiking lens, too. I’ve used the Rokinon on a number of hiking outings and the results are on par with my Sony 10-18mm.
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The Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 is an excellent lens choice for those looking to shoot in low light. I wouldn’t suggest the Rokinon 12mm as a starter lens for newcomers to photography or as the sole lens in a photographers kit, but instead as a low light tool for those looking to improve their images when light is scarce. At under $400, this lens is a bargain compared to the competition.