Hands-On Review: the New Rokinon 24mm f/3.5 Tilt-Shift Lens

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I come from a photojournalist background, so being asked to test the new Rokinon Tilt-Shift 24mm f/3.5 ED AS UMC lens was a bit of a challenge for me. I am accustomed to grabbing gear from my bag and shooting in a hurry, often with little regard for the well-being of my equipment. Tilt-shift shooting tends to be a slower enterprise, maybe a bit too precise and precious for my taste. However, this lens and I met each other halfway. It proved up to the challenge of my looser, handheld style and I slowed down bit, placed it on a tripod, and utilized the lens in a manner that best emphasized its unique capabilities. In the end, Rokinon’s “most advanced optic to date” has me convinced that not only can it handle the rough-and-ready urban shooting that I enjoy, but that its accurate movements and depth-of-field control enabled me to produce sharp and expressionistic images that I otherwise would not have had the ability to create.

The 24mm f/3.5 Tilt-Shift is designed for full-frame sensors and available in Nikon, Canon, and Sony Alpha mounts. I was using the Canon-mount version on the full-frame Canon 5D Mark III DSLR. This wide angle of view (83.5°) on my full-frame camera gave me ample space for broad cityscapes and provided room in the frame to utilize its tilt-enabled selective shallow focus and shift movements. The lens can also be used on APS-C format cameras and has a 35mm focal length equivalent of 38.4mm on such cameras. However, I was happy to have used it on a full-frame sensor in order to maximize the potential of its tilt and shift movements.

The lens’s 8.5-degree tilt movement (left and right) and +/-12mm of shift movement are controlled by small knobs, each with its corresponding locking knob. The tilt knob sits on top of the lens when in the horizontal orientation. Its locking knob is a small plastic one on the bottom of the lens that needs to be loosened in order to perform tilt adjustments in either direction. The action of the tilt knob is smooth but not loose, allowing precise control without force. The tilt scale is clearly marked in white for exacting control. The smaller shift knob is located on the left side of lens with its corresponding gray locking knob on the right. When I loosened the shift lock, I was sure to hold the lens barrel to prevent the shift section from dropping too quickly. With my thick fingers, I found the shift locking knob a little difficult to get at because the camera’s hand grip blocked my access somewhat. This was only a nuisance when I was shooting handheld and wanted to make adjustments in a hurry.

The lens also has the capacity to rotate on its optical axis, to the right 90º at the mount, and to the left 90º at the tilt-shift section. These rotations were easily achieved by pressing their respective plastic release levers on the right side of the lens and twisting the barrel. Both rotations provide clear but soft (not clicks) detents at each 30º mark and a click-stop at 90º. The affect of the rotation allows the tilt and shift to be adjusted independently, placing their axes either on the same plane or at right angles to each other. And as the shots of the balls demonstrate perspective and subject placement within the frame can be adjusted significantly. This function puts the Rokinon T-S 24mm more on par with its Canon counterpart than with the Nikon 24mm f/3.5 version, which does not provide this capability.

Although it is slightly lighter (1.5 lb) than both the Canon and Nikon versions, the all-metal lens barrel feels solid and mounts stably. When mounted, it was balanced, not front-heavy. Like the Tilt and Shift markings, bright white distance and depth of field scales are clearly visible on the lens. The aperture ring is marked from f/3.5-22 and its pronounced ridges and soft clicks made it easy to find and adjust with my eye at the finder. The focus ring is wide and adjusts smoothly. As a manual focus, manual-exposure lens, these points should not be overlooked. Finding focus on moving subjects, though not the principal application for a lens like this, was not a problem. The filter thread diameter is a healthy 82mm and a lens hood is not included. This is something that Rokinon may want to reconsider because when shooting in strong sunlight, I had to work carefully to avoid flares.

In terms of its optical performance, the lens surpassed my expectations. Extreme close-ups of flowers and eyes were quite sharp and images with selective focus were equally crisp at their in-focus areas with pleasant out-of-focus spaces. Colors were rendered accurately without heavy tints or unwanted saturation. Of course, a wide-angle focal length is effective for nature and architecture shooting, as you can include a distant sweep of landscape or the full height of an office tower under construction. And it is for these types of architecture and product shots that the benefit of the shift function is apparent.

Shift Function Correction

By raising the shift several millimeters and dropping the placement of my camera slightly, I was able straighten the convergent lines of a building while maintaining the composition. Using a standard wide-angle lens, a building will “keystone” and appear to be tilting backward. The shift function corrects this, whether slightly or at full +12mm, depends on your needs and sensibilities. A second advantage of the shift is that you can create images with a larger, almost panoramic scope. Shooting vertically for example, I shot three (or more) images while adjusting the shift to the left and then right after each frame. This allowed me to frame the entirety of a tall building and also include the area around it for context. By stitching together the shots in post, an image with a wider aspect ratio can be produced and with creative cropping, high-resolution panoramas can be made. Another nice effect facilitated by the shift movement is accomplished by raising or lowering the shift during a long exposure to create impressionistic night cityscapes. This may take several tries to get right, because the smoothness and timing of your knob twist is a difficult trick to master, but the results can be worth the repeated attempts.

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Controlling the depth of field is the main benefit of the tilt function. With help from even a small degree of tilt, a uniformly crisp focus up and down your frame can be created without having to stop the aperture down to its minimum f/22. The shots of the toy dinosaurs, for example, were shot at f/8. The image on the left, in which the focus is on all three objects, utilized a 5 degree tilt and those in which the focus rests solely on the toy in the foreground were shot normally, without tilt. This is a function prized by many, but often seen to its fullest extent in product photography and landscape photography where both close foreground and distant background are kept in focus.

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A very popular effect nowadays is to “miniaturize” your image, and while this can be done with post-production software and even in the Effects Mode on standard compact cameras, using the tilt function on a lens such as this Rokinon offers more versatility and provides the nicest results. By opening the aperture wide and engaging the tilt function to its maximum, I placed focus on one part of the frame while the rest of the frame remained out of focus. The miniature effect usually places focus on an object near the center of the frame, thus creating the impression of miniaturized objects or “toy effect,” which can be especially effective when shooting cityscapes.

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Of course, selective focus can be placed in other areas of the frame for aesthetic or narrative reasons. It is possible to divide the frame in half, one side in focus, the other out of focus, for example, or to place focus on the face of your main subject while all else in your frame drifts into an intriguing soft haze. The shot of my daughter lying on the grass offers a clear example of just where the selective focus runs through the frame.

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The Rokinon 24mm f/3.5 T-S lens is constructed of 16 optical elements in 11 groups, including 2 aspherical and 2 Enhanced Dispersion (ED) elements. The minimum focus distance for the lens is 7.87” and its maximum reproduction ratio is 1:2.2. When shooting selective focus shots of flowers with the tilt at 8º, I saw just how sharp this lens can be at close-up lengths, even with the aperture open. As the shots below will indicate, not only can the depth of field be so shallow as to hold focus on just the thin edge of the flower’s petal, but the clarity at such short distance is impressive. Overall, my time with this sturdy, versatile lens left me a more adroit photographer and has me anticipating the next time I can experiment with its range of applications, including those for which it is ideal, such as broad landscapes and vistas. However, truth be told, I could just as soon throw it around my neck, get on my bike  and grab selective focus impressions of the city as I roll by. Either way, this lens is up to the challenge.

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For more information about this lens, stop by the B&H SuperStore in New York, speak with a sales professional on the telephone at 1-800-606-6969 or contact us online via Live Chat.

  Nikon F Mount Canon EF Mount Sony Alpha Mount
Focal Length 24mm 24mm 24mm
APS-C (DX) Focal
Length Equivalent
36mm 38.4mm 36mm
Aperture Range f/3.5-22 f/3.5-22 f/3.5-22
Angle of View 83.5° 83.5° 83.5°
APS-C Angle of View 59.9° 56.9° 59.9°
Tilt ± 8.5° ± 8.5° ± 8.5°
Shift ± 12mm ± 12mm ± 12mm
Mount Rotation 90.0° (in 30° steps) 90.0° (in 30° steps) 90.0° (in 30° steps)
Tilt/Shift Axis Rotation 90.0° (in 30° steps) 90.0° (in 30° steps) 90.0° (in 30° steps)
Minimum Focus Distance 7.87" (0.2 m) 7.87" (0.2 m) 7.87" (0.2 m)
Focusing System Manual only Manual only Manual only
Maximum Reproduction Ratio 01:2.2 01:2.2 01:2.2
Lens Construction (Groups/Elements) 11/16 (2 ED Elements) 11/16 (2 ED Elements) 11/16 (2 ED Elements)
Diaphragm Blades 6 6 6
Filter Thread 82mm 82mm 82mm
Dimensions 3.39 x 4.35"
(86 x 110.5 mm)
3.39 x 4.45"
(86 x 113 mm)
3.39 x 4.43"
(86 x 112.5mm)
Weight 1.50 lb (680 g) 1.50 lb (680 g) 1.50 lb (680 g)