Samyang 12mm f2.8 fisheye lens review
Samyang (Rokinon) 12mm f2.8 fisheye lens review
A full frame 12mm fisheye lens with a stereographic projection geometry
The Samyang (aka Rokinon) 12mm F2.8 ED AS NCS Fisheye lens gives a huge field of view, 180 degrees from corner to corner on a full frame (35mm) sensor.
Keith has been trying out the Canon EF version on a 50MP Canon 5Ds body. It was kindly loaned to us by Intro 2020, the UK distributers.
The Samyang fisheye lens is interesting in that it has a different geometric projection, compared to other fisheye lenses, such as the rather more expensive Canon EF8-15 Keith regularly uses – just what is the difference and why might the Samyang be a better choice for some photos?
Fisheye lenses tend to be dismissed as ‘one trick ponies’ by a lot of photographers. I think this is unfair and reflects as much on the limited vision of -some- photographers, as it does on the actual lens type.
The Samyang 12mm f/2.8 ED AS IF NCS UMC Fisheye Lens (also available under the Rokinon brand) is a manual focus lens (with manual setting of aperture on Canon EF mount). That said, the depth of field of a lens like this is huge, so it’s hardly difficult to use.
It’s available in a range of mount options: Canon EF, Nikon, Sony E, Pentax, Sony A, Canon EF-M, Fujifilm X, Samsung NX, Four-Thirds, and Micro Four Thirds (MFT). I’m testing the Canon EF mount version on a 50MP Canon 5Ds.
I used to have the Canon EF15mm f/2.8 fisheye, and a few years ago moved to the EF8-15mm f4L zoom (review), so I regard having a lens like this as an essential part of being able to represent three dimensional spaces in meaningful and interesting ways.
There are many technical reviews of this lens, with lots of charts and tables available. However, I’m primarily going to look at how you can use a lens like this, with a few technical notes along the way.
The lens comes with a removable lens hood, which given the 180 degree field of view from corner to corner, means that it’s more for protecting the front element against knock than keeping the sun off your lens.
From new, this hood feels quite stiff, and actually comes off more easily with the large lens cap fitted.
It loosens up, but to be honest, it rarely needs removing – the old EF15mm 2.8 fisheye had a fixed hood.
The lens cap is made of solid feeling plastic – the whole lens has a well built feel to it.
Looking at the lens, with light from underneath, shows the aperture (here at f/5.6)
An oblique view shows the natural vignetting caused from the angle of view.
The aperture has half stop click detents from f/4 to f/22.
With the range of glasses in the lens, it’s worth noting that the focus scale is a bit temperature dependent, so if you are out at night photographing stars, you will need to ensure sharp focus at infinity, since the lens does not have a hard stop at the infinity mark.
The internal construction is shown, with aspheric optics and low dispersion glass (ED). The internal nano coating layer keeps down reflections.
Focus action is smooth, and as the scale on the lens suggests, if you go to f/8 you’ve a massive depth of field. At f/2.8 you need to be focusing on an object at under a metre to get softness in the far distance.
The lens has a solid metal mount, and at ~500g feels reassuringly well built (you do notice such things when swapping lenses around).
I’d note that red mounting dot would benefit from being duplicated on the side of the lens, making it easier to see in day to day use.
The lens comes well packed, and includes a soft padded bag.
The 12mm focal length
All fisheye lenses are not the same. There are a number of mathematical formulae that describe how the wide angle scene in front of you is mapped to the flat surface of the camera sensor.
Almost all other fisheye lenses are what is called an equidistant projection, the Samyang uses a stereographic projection.
This changes the apparent ‘distortion’ seen when using the lens, it also means that for my Canon lens, the focal length is ~15mm to get a field of view that is 180 degrees across the diagonal, whilst for the Samyang it’s only 12mm.
Look at these two photos taken across the road where I live.
First up with the Samyang 12mm
Now with the Canon EF8-15mm (set at ~14mm to match the horizontal view of the Samyang lens)
Note how the building seems to ‘bulge out’ more in the second shot, and how the buildings at the edges are more squashed up.
There are some more examples of the differences on the fisheye WP page
The stereographic projection of the Samyang lens is often more visually appealing and less obvious when you have people in the shot, such as this one (in a very poorly lit basement bar) taken by Karen when I was running an architectural pub quiz for local architects and students.
A bit of a crop and the curved ceiling and walls are not quite so obvious.
A closer shot, showing the quiz picture round, and the one permitted use of a mobile phone.
There are many ways of changing the way images are shown, ranging from full rectilinear correction, which essentially transforms the image into that you’d get with a conventional ultra wide lens, through to different partial corrections that may produce images that you like.
I’ll look at some of the different photos I took with the lens and how I processed them later, but first a quick look at just how good the lens is.
Using the photo taken of the houses across the street at several different aperture settings I noted that vignetting is slight, but noticeable in the corners at f/2.8, but essentially gone by f/4 and above.
That’s about as accurate as I’d really want to go since with a lens that covers 180 degrees of view from corner to corner, subjects that show up the vignetting are not going to be common.
If your RAW conversion software has profiles for the 12mm lens then they should fix this, although with no EXIF lens info, some software (such as DxO Optics Pro) won’t be able to do its tricks.
Even without profiles, the automatic chromatic aberration (CA) correction in ACR (photoshop CS6) did an excellent job of removing the colour fringes, whist a small about of defringing fixed residual colour.
Here are two screen shots (100% views) from the street view (at f/4) with and without CA correction.
The CA looks quit obvious here, but remember that these are 100% crops from a 50MP sensor (default ACR sharpening).
The colour fringing on my much more expensive Canon 8-15mm is quite similar…
Although I’ve had the lens for a few weeks, the number of good clear days has been very few. I did nip out a couple of times to photograph some stars from outside of Leicester.
A first quarter moon and cloud are not helping (1 second f/2.8 3200 ISO) – you can see Venus shining through the cloud.
A 100 percent crop shows the Pleiades star cluster just above the moon
Hunting around a bit further and tweaking RAW settings a bit, I find the minor planet Vesta moving across the constellation Gemini (100% crop again)
(Finding Vesta S&T)
There is a bit of coma present in images towards the edges, and you’ll need to correct the CA, but images are very clear – if only I wasn’t in the UK’s 10th biggest city…
Fisheye lenses by their very nature, tend to exhibit less complex optical aberrations than rectilinear designs.
I also noticed just how easy it was to spot the constellations in the shots I took – there’s that stereographic projection again…
The photos here are all taken in the vicinity of my home and reflect a couple of trips out with just the Samyang 12mm – I find this the best way to force me to think about using the lens, and it also helps get over some of the ‘new toy effect’ where you can easily mistake ‘different’ for ‘better’. I’ve used fisheye lenses for several years, but I’m still not immune to the effect ;-)
I’ve used the excellent Fisheye Hemi software for some shots – it s a very simple plugin that is a key part of my image processing arsenal (see also Why I use Fisheye Hemi) I’ve also used the Photoshop Adaptive Wide Angle filter, although the fisheye settings are optimised for the usual type of fisheye, not the stereographic projection of the Samyang lens.
Just down the road I note how long a nearby street looks (actually ~200m)
The slight mist just adds to the feeling of distance. Note too how straight lines that run through the centre of the frame remain straight.
Applying Fisheye Hemi at the full frame setting corrects some of the verticals.
A 100% crop gives a feel for the detail. I’m taking almost all of these outdoor shots at ~f/5.6.
Of course, I can’t be sure – there’s no EXIF data
Further down the street (on the sunny day this time) I get the sun in the frame to check for flare.
There are also bright reflections from the car and a window.
Using my hand to shield the lens from the sun, you can see the improved contrast, but there is no obvious flare that I can see
At the bottom of the street, I’m waiting to cross the road – with the depth of field, I’ve the lens set at infinity and exposure set manually to 1/320
The camera is at my side, just being pointed towards the oncoming traffic.
A 100% crop shows the detail in the image.
With the lens set at its shortest 20cm focus, close up objects look vast – in general, whenever I thought I was too close to something, I wasn’t.
Across the road I’m at the river, going along the tow path.
If you want to process image like this to get rid of the curvature for verticals, it’s a lot easier if you keep the horizon level, through the centre of the image.
Of course, the ‘distortion’ is not always so obvious, such as going under a bridge.
Or it might not matter – this swan is only a foot or so from the camera (focus set at ~ 1 metre)
The building behind the swan is the new Vijay Patel building at De Montfort University (we have two in the city, I went to the other older one)
Sometimes with such wide angle shots much more than the basic composition is down to luck.
Heading back to the new university buildings, I take this shot from the bridge I was under, in the earlier shot.
Here’s the photo after applying Fisheye Hemi (full frame setting). This is a modified cylindrical projection
And here’s a fully ‘defished’ version, as you’d get with a very wide rectilinear lens. Note the stretching of the road sign and considerable cropping.
Moving along, I get this shot of the new cafe.
It’s the sort of shot that designers like, but architects hate (I do work for both).
My normal choice for a building like this would be to get out my 17mm tilt/shift lens and tripod, but I’ve neither with me.
Making use of the curves of the building may work, but take care where strong lines intersect the frame.
Watch for your own reflection too…
At the side of the building is a new gallery
Inside is an exhibit of a self playing piano.
Two views of this interesting space – one is as shot and one has had some correction for verticals applied.
Do you prefer one over the other?
Walking out of the gallery into the foyer of the Vijay Patel building, there is a great sense of space, with the multiple free flying staircases.
People can anchor the image and give a sense of scale.
That said, just the geometry of the structure can be of interest.
In this image (uncorrected). I’ve cropped off the bottom of the shot (big close-up steps), so that the symmetry of the shot gradually breaks as you go upwards.
In this shot, I’ve corrected verticals by applying the Fisheye Hemi plugin.
As in all of these shots, once you are working at such wide angles and potentially correcting geometry later, it pays to take several shots. Relatively slight movements of the camera and where you’re pointing it can have a huge effect on the results.
From an image quality point of view I’ve very little to quibble about. The lens is robustly constructed and the addition of the padded bag for it most welcome.
The f/2.8 lens gives a nice bright image in my viewfinder, although manually stopping the lens down and not having any aperture information (Canon EF) may cause some difficulties if you are not used to manual lenses.
Going to f/5.6 was enough to sharpen up the edges of the frame a bit, and gives me so much depth of field that the only reason to check the focus settings was to make sure I’d not nudged the focus when changing aperture or vice versa.
From my own point of view, learning to trust manual exposure and setting apertures and focus can do nothing but improve your understanding of what’s going on and your appreciation of light.
If you really must work on auto settings then setting a shutter speed and aperture, along with auto ISO may be of help.
I’m only testing this lens here with a full frame DSLR camera where the 180 degree field of view gives the lens its distinctive look. I’d suggest that with a crop sensor camera you’d be better off with a shorter focal length lens.
Here are the different specs for different mount options.
The Samyang lens is subtly but distinctly different in how it represents the field of view to most fisheye lenses.
This makes for ‘out of the camera’ shots that are more generally pleasing, but combined with the lack of EXIF information does mean you need to take a bit more care in how you choose and use any de-fishing or other correction software.
Flare and other aberrations are well controlled – If you want the numbers then I’m afraid you’ll need to search elsewhere, since I’ve really been looking at the lens from a what can you do with it POV.
It’s different enough that I may well consider it in addition to my EF8-15mm.
Definitely not the one-trick-pony some might dismiss it as…
|Lens type||Prime lens|
|Max Format size||35mm FF|
|Lens mount||Canon EF, Nikon F (FX), Pentax KAF2, Sony/Minolta Alpha, Sony E|
|Number of diaphragm blades||7|
|Aperture notes||Circular blades|
|Special elements / coatings||2 aspherical, 3 ED, nano coating system|
|Minimum focus||0.20m (7.87″)|
|Full time manual||Yes|
All articles and reviews are listed on our main Articles and Reviews page, or use the search box at the top of any page. Experimental items, hacks and how-to articles are all listed in the Photo-hacks category.
Some articles that may be of interest:
- Using a tilt/shift lens - what it is they actually do
- Focus with tilted lenses - lots more information about what's going on when you tilt a lens. See also: Focusing the view camera - External link to [very] detailed coverage of camera movements
- Keith's tilt table spreadsheet (zipped file)
- Using old lenses on your DSLR - fun with adapters
- Keith's lens reviews and lens related articles
Buying anything from Amazon (not just what's listed) via any of the links below helps Keith and Karen keep the site going - thanks if you do! [Amazon UK]