Every photographer has their favorite lens. In the end, lenses are just tools, but some lenses just connect so well with the photographer that they become an extension of the photographer’s vision. For me, that lens is the Samyang 12mm f/2.0. I have mentioned this lens in several previous blog posts. One of the things I have said once or twice is that this lens has singlehandedly added more images to my portfolio than any other lens in my photographic career. This lens has produced the most images in my Top 10 photos of the year for 2014, 2015, and 2016. Despite all this, I have never actually made a proper blog post about the Samyang, and I think it’s time to change that. This is my tribute to a great lens.
The Samyang 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS (also branded as Rokinon), as it’s officially called, was released around May or June of 2014. Back then, I was mainly shooting a Fujifilm X100S and wide/tele converters. However, I felt the need for something wider for my landscapes. After seeing the first announcement online, I immediately knew this lens was something special and picked one up soon after it was released. The Samyang ticked all the right boxes for me. It is compact, fast, sharp, and relatively inexpensive. I didn’t mind the lack of autofocus at all because I knew focus peaking would take care of that. Being in Korea where the Samyang company is based, it was quite easy to find the lens and I had one the next day. Funny enough, I ordered the lens before I even had a Fuji X-mount body to use it with. A quick look on the local photographer’s forum landed me a very good condition Fuji X-E1 body. Three years and many portfolio images later, I still use the Samyang 12mm and X-E1 combination today. Now let’s talk about what I like and don’t like about the Samyang.
Samyang 12mm f/2.0 Pros:
- Compact size – at only 245 grams, the Samyang is light and compact. That makes it great for travel photography. I use it mostly for landscapes, interiors, and even street photography.
- Fast f/2.0 aperture – the bright aperture of this lens makes it perfect for low light shooting and astrophotography. It is one of the fastest ultra-wide lens available for mirrorless systems to date (also available for other mounts).
- Sharp images – this lens is very sharp, even wide open. Some folks have complained about softness, but I have found that it’s more about nailing the focus. With the Samyangs, infinity focus may not be exactly where it’s marked on the lens. Once you find the correct focus, you should be able to get very sharp images. I’ve found that the Samyang’s sweet spot for landscapes is f/11. Most of the photos I will show here were taken at f/11 at infinity focus.
- Works well with filters – this lens is designed so that it can be used with filters. That’s another reason that makes it great for landscape photography. My favorite filters for this lens are the Cokin P-Series filters, which I talk about in-depth here.
- Affordable price – at the time of writing, the Samyang 12mm f/2 seems to have an average price of around $330 USD. Second hand prices are even cheaper, of course. I have also seen it go on sale at Amazon for even less than $200. That’s a lot of bang for the buck.
Samyang 12mm f/2.0 Cons:
- Manual focus only – not really an issue for ultra-wide lenses, plus focus peaking makes it a non-issue except maybe for fast-paced shooting.
- 6-pointed sunstars – this is probably my biggest gripe with the Samyang 12mm. It used to bother me quite a bit, actually, as it’s not the most attractive looking sunstar. But now I think of it more as a trademark of the lens. 🙂
- Slightly warm color cast compared to Fujinons -. I actually did not notice this until someone posted a question to my blog. It does have a slightly warmer cast, especially obvious when photographing people. However, it’s very easy to correct in post, especially if you shoot in RAW (please always shoot in RAW ;)).
- Small bit of play at the lens mount – This is another thing I didn’t really notice until it was brought up by someone’s comment. There is a tiny bit of play if you try to rotate the lens back and forth while it’s locked in to the mount. It doesn’t affect functionality at all.
- Not weather sealed – This may be a deal-breaker for those who shoot in extreme environments, but I don’t think it’s an issue for most people.
Overall, I think the pros greatly outweigh the cons and I would recommend this lens to anyone looking for a solid and affordable landscape and astrophotography lens. As mentioned before, my favorite body to pair this with is the Fujifilm X-E1. The older body is a perfect match for this lens in my mind, as there is no need for the AF speed improvements or bells and whistles of the newer bodies. The only reason I’d want to use newer bodies with the Samyang is higher megapixels and and articulating screen.
Is it “unsexy”?
As I have seen in the forums and Facebook groups, the Samyang seems to be a stepping stone lens of sorts for a lot of people. People tend to buy the Samyang as an intermediate lens due to the low cost, then later sell it off when they can afford the Fuji 10-24 f/4 or something similar. Perhaps it’s the limitations of manual focus or maybe even the “unsexy” non-Fuji factor of the Samyang that drives this. However, I have personally never felt the urge to “move on” from this lens, especially when it produces such nice images. The images it produces are sexy enough for me.
What about the Zeiss?
There is a somewhat similar lens to the Samyang, the Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8. I have never used this lens so I can’t really say anything about it. But on paper, the only advantage that it seems to offer over the Samyang is autofocus. Reviews have stated that the Samyang is even sharper than the Zeiss, not to mention a stop faster and much cheaper.
A Worry-Free Travel Companion
Another thing I like about this lens is that it doesn’t make me worry when I’m out traveling with it. With more expensive glass and bodies, you tend to worry a bit more about damaging the gear or it getting stolen. I’m not advocating being careless about gear nor do I have money burning a hole in my pocket, but the Samyang is affordable enough that you won’t be too devastated if it gets damaged or stolen while traveling. Pair it with a cheaper body like the X-E1 and you’ve got a pretty worry-free travel setup that makes high-quality images. If the worst does happen, it won’t be too hard to replace the kit. I’d be more worried about losing the SD card of images.
Overall, the Samyang has been, and still is a great lens for me. It is a good match with my vision and the way I work. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fast ultra-wide lens for landscapes, astro photography, and even interiors and street. If you would like to pick one up, please do so here. These affiliate links help me out at no additional cost to you.
Thanks for reading! I’ll leave you with a gallery of images that I have created with the Samyang 12mm f/2.0 (and mostly the X-E1).