I better admit up front that my favorite lens is Canon's 16-35mm L lens. It's a great lens - particularly if you have a crop sensor camera like the Canon 7D. Solid, smooth, and it produces a great image. I love this lens.
But at $1,600 it is expensive. What about something a bit cheaper?
Samyang has a reputation for making good quality, inexpensive lenses. But you might not have heard of them because they aren't sold under the Samyang name here in the United States. Instead, they are sold under a variety of names including Rokinon and Bower.
I already have another lens from Samyang, the 35mm f/1.4 lens, which at $499 is a good deal itself. But I recently got to play with the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 lens, which at $399 is even cheaper!
The first thing that stands out about this lens is that it’s a lot smaller than both the 16-35mm zoom lens, and the 35mm f/1.4 as well. Of course, given that it’s not a zoom lens, and it is designed for APS-C sensor cameras, that probably should not be a surprise. The second thing you notice about this lens is that the front of the lens curves out well in front of the outer barrel of the lens. This means that you can't easily attach a filter in front of the lens.
The lens seems to be well made and the manufacture of good quality. It may not have the feel of some Canon L lenses, but then some Canon L lenses feel cheapish. This lens feels solid. The focus ring is smooth, and the aperture ring has very distinct detents, thought it's not too stiff. But if you want to adjust the aperture while shooting video, that might be a problem.
The front element of the Rokinon lens.
You can see that it curves out beyond the barrel of the body of the lens
I think I'm getting old; or maybe too dependent upon automatic focusing in my camera. I found this lens to be much harder to manually focus than pretty much any other lens I've used. I'm not sure why that is. I really had to use the distance scale, and check by zooming - in video mode - a lot. Depending on how you are shooting, and what external monitoring options you have, this may or may not be an issue for you.
The focus ring turns through about 270 degrees from .28 meters to infinity, which may work well with a follow-focus.
Comparing the 14mm with my 16mm zoom lens, those 2 extra mm add a surprising amount of area to the image. This can be seen in the example below taken with both lenses. It's not huge, but it's noticeable.
Canon 16mm (top) Rokinon 14mm (bottom)
If you don’t already have a wide-angle lens and are looking for one on a budget for shooting video, this lens seems like a good choice. Don’t forget that Canon has a 14mm lens, with auto -focus, that is $2,199. That’s well out of my price range. Of course, that lens fits Canon full-frame sensor cameras (like the 5D), while the Rokinon is for APS-C cameras, like the 7D.
The image quality of the Rokinon is very good, and for an APS-C sensor camera, it gives you a pretty good wide-angle. For video use, having the manual aperture control is attractive for those who use their Canon EF mount lenses on other cameras with an adapter, like the Sony NEX-FS100.
But since I already have the Canon 16-35mm lens, this lens really had to have some significant advantage for me to consider adding it to my lens collection, even if it is only $400. At that price, it's certainly attractive, but I'm not sure the difference is quite enough.
As a still lens, I have to attest that I prefer auto-focus lenses. This lens, for some reason, really made that clear to me. Or maybe my eyes are going.
But perhaps the biggest issue for me is the inability to attach an ND filter in front of the lens. This is a problem for those shooting with a DSLR that lacks ND filters. Sure, you can use a matte box if you're shooting on a tripod or a large rig. But for run and gun shooting, a matte box is a problem.
This lens would work great for some things, and not so well for others. I recommend it if it will fit with the way you shoot and work.
NOTE: The review unit was loaned by B & H Photo Video.