Rokinon 85mm F/1.4: The Affordable 85mm
Manual focus lenses are popular amongst videographers and some photographers that want an old-time feeling to their gear. The Rokinon 85mm F1.4 is a portrait lens that will appeal to the crowd that wants a budget-friendly lens with great image quality.
Specs taken from the B&H Web site.
The Rokinon 85mm F1.4 is roughly the same size as the Canon 85mm F/1.8 USM. In the hand though, both lenses feel very different. The Canon lens has a smoother shell and feels like a much more modern lens. The reason for this is because of the glass focusing scale and the lack of an aperture ring. In contrast, the Rokinon lens has a slightly vintage feel to it with a textured surface and very large focusing ring. If I could liken it to anything, it would be very similar to the Sigma version of this lens.
Sorry old-schoolers, you'll have to go to Zeiss to get the metal construction—and pay the premium for it as well. However, the Rokinon 85mm F1.4 is targeted to the budget level crowd.
The front of the lens has a large front element and an area for you to attach the included lens hood. When attached, the hood makes the lens look quite a bit more intimidating. That hood will protect the lens from bumps and when reveresed on the lens body it will protect roughly around half of the entire lens: which adds even more protection for when the lens isn't in use.
The Rokinon 85mm is one very tough lens to focus if you don't have a split focusing screen. Even when in Live View, it will be best to ensure that you're using a tripod to ensure that camera shake doesn't throw off focusing when shooting wide open. If the lens is stopped down, it will be a bit simpler.
With that said though, it should be noted that the rendering of skin tones is where this lens really shines. Coupled with the Canon DSLRs, the metering is also spot-on.
Because I didn't have a split-focusing screen, ensuring that I've achieved accurate focusing required switching the camera into Live View, adjusting the metering, moving the focusing area over Lauren's eye in the photo above, zooming in, focusing, then coming out of Live View and metering again. After ensuring that I had the area perfectly focused, I needed to make sure that I didn't move much lest the plane of focus be thrown off.
On the Canon 7D, the Rokinon 85mm F/1.4 has an approximately 136mm field of view. This is a preferred portrait focal length for many photographers. Combined with a fast F/1.4 aperture and the way the lens renders skin tones, many photographers will be very pleased with just how much they get for so little money.
As a Walkabout Lens
An 85mm focal length isn't often the choice of many that like to casually walk around taking photos leisurely, but with the right angles it can still deliver interesting images. The Rokinon 85mm will do something that autofocus lenses don't necessarily do though: force you to slow down.
When you're forced to slow down and are limited to only one focal length, the human mind tends to take more time to compose the images, meter correctly, and sometimes even look through the viewfinder and wait for that one special moment to snap.
As stated earlier, it's best to have a split-focusing screen in place if you want to manually focus while looking through the viewfinder. Otherwise, you'll be using either:
- The Live View screen (best if the camera has a vari-angle LCD to maintain stealth)
- The hyperfocal length style of street photography which harkens back to the old adage, "F/8 and be there!"
Though if you stop the lens down, the viewfinder gets considerably darker. If you're shooting in bright and sunny situations, this is fine because there will still be plenty of available light to give you a usable display in the viewfinder.
The lens is already quite sharp wide open (and providing that you execute absolutely perfect focusing) and only gets sharper as you stop it down. By F/2.8, it is already very sharp.
But how sharp is it against the closest competitor in the price range: the Canon 85mm F/1.8? Here's a test at F/2.8 with daylight white balance and focus being placed on the word range finder on the dial. This test was done on the Canon 7D because most readers of this site have APS-C sensor cameras. Both images had the same exposure levels:
Canon 85mm F/1.8 at F/2.8; Click here to see the full image.
Rokinon 85mm F/1.4 shot at F/2.8. Click here to see the full sample.
Many videographers use manual focus lenses because they don't often need to focus back and forth very quickly with subjects. Additionally, tracking subjects walking into the camera can be much smoother and easier when done manually with items like a follow-focus system.
The video above shows what video will look like when the lens is attached to the Canon 5D Mk II. This was done in natural light and is a very rough preview.
In the end, this lens is one that will provide users with the most bang for their buck if they don't mind manual focusing. Videographers will greatly appreciate this since they manually focus anyway, but still photographers may perhaps not be so happy with manually focusing unless they have a split-screen focusing screen. For the price, the build quality is very good and photographers that are used to manually focusing their lenses will feel right at home with this one.
Because of my failing vision though, I prefer to autofocus or I'd at least like an autofocus confirmation chip. So for the moment, I prefer my Canon 85mm F/1.8 though the Rokinon is a viable option for me if I want to shoot more video.