Hands-On Review: Rokinon 100mm T/3.1 Cine DS Lens
Right of out of the gate, I should admit that I'm not a macro shooter. While I've owned and used lenses with short minimum focusing distances, I've rarely ever shot with a true macro. So, when offered the chance to do a hands-on review with the new Rokinon 100mm T3.1 Cine DS lens, my interest was piqued. Covering full frame sensors, the manual focus, portrait-length lens is the latest addition to Rokinon’s cine-style family, which consists of modified versions of the company’s DSLR lenses that feature geared focus and iris rings, a de-clicked aperture, and increased focus throw to benefit filmmakers and video shooters. While these are all great features that I’ll touch upon in this review, the highlight for me has to be its macro capabilities; after spending a couple of weekends shooting with the lens, I have to admit that I now find it hard to imagine life without a macro lens in my gear bag.
What is a Macro Lens?
So, what exactly makes a macro lens a macro lens? To answer this, you need to consider the relationship between the size of the subject in front of the lens and the size of the image being projected onto the camera's sensor (or film plane). This relationship is expressed as a ratio. When a lens can project an in-focus subject onto the camera's sensor that is the same physical size as its real-life counterpart, then that lens is said to have a 1:1 magnification (or reproduction) ratio and is considered a macro lens. Achieving a 1:1 ratio all comes down to the lens being able to focus close enough to make that possible. For the Rokinon 100mm, this means a minimum focusing distance of 12" (measured from focal plane to the sensor).
Macro lenses are a popular choice with nature videographers, who shoot flowers and insects, as well as product videographers who need to get those close shots of food, diamond rings, and watches we’re all too accustomed to seeing during commercial breaks in television programming. While these applications are fairly obvious, narrative filmmakers can also benefit from having a macro lens handy, as it allows them to capture stunning extreme close-ups of an actor's eye or detailed insert shots of a key object in the scene, to name just two common examples. When a director or client calls for such a shot, you’d better make sure that you have a lens on hand that can deliver—a lens such as the Rokinon 100mm T3.1.
Unboxing and First Impressions
Like most Rokinon lenses, the 100mm T3.1 lens is available with a variety of lens mounts, including Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony E, Sony A, and Micro Four Thirds. For this review, I paired the Sony E-Mount version with my Sony a7S, as the camera gave me the full-frame sensor I needed to test the lens properly. Additionally, its native 12MP sensor made it easy to take photos and judge how the lens performs at 4K resolution. With camera in tow, I was ready to see what the lens had to offer.
Opening the box, I found the lens safely and securely packaged between two Styrofoam holders. The lens features a construction similar to that of other Rokinon cine lenses, having an aluminum-alloy frame and a durable plastic exterior with a slightly textured finish. At 2.25 pounds, the lens had enough weight to feel solid and durable, while remaining light enough to not weigh the camera rig down too much. Included with the lens are the mandatory front and rear lens caps, along with a soft storage pouch and a plastic bayonet-style lens hood. For easy storing when not in use, the hood can be mounted in reverse, saving you space in your camera bag and keeping it readily available when you need it.
Now, if you’re looking for an autofocus lens, you’ve come to the wrong place. Rokinon lenses are fully manual, which isn’t really a concern for video shooters, especially for a portrait-length macro lens where you’ll want full control over your focus. The lens has an internal focusing design, which means that the length of the barrel won’t change as you focus, which is particularly important when shooting with a matte box.
A quick look at the exterior of the lens will distinguish it from its non-cine counterpart; most notably the removal of the rubberized focus grip and the addition of integrated 0.8 pitch gearing on the focus and iris rings for use with a follow focus. The aperture has also been "de-clicked," enabling you to do smooth iris pulls while filming, rather than the noticeable jumps in exposure you get with a clicked aperture. Focus, depth of field, magnification, and aperture markings have all been placed on the side of the lens to allow for easier viewing by focus pullers/camera assistants. Rather than using f-stop markings on the aperture ring, the lens uses T-stops, which are adjusted measurements of how much light is actually passing through the lens to the sensor. This is important in video productions, as you want to make sure that the exposure stays consistent when switching between lenses on set. The Rokinon 100mm has a maximum aperture of T/3.1 and a minimum aperture of T/32.
Previous Rokinon lenses that I’ve worked with only had markings on one side of the lens, but I was pleased to see that the new Cine DS models duplicate all the lens markings on the opposite side of the lens, allowing assistants to easily work from the operator side, or dumb side, of the camera. Another benefit of the Cine DS line is that the position of the focus and iris gearing is unified across all of the models so you can change lenses without having to waste time re-aligning your follow focus or lens drive motors. Additionally—and perhaps most importantly—Cine DS lenses are all color-matched, so you know that the colors you get from the 100mm will match that of the other Cine DS offerings.
Optics and Performance
Optically, the Rokinon 100mm T3.1 is identical to the non-cine version. It is made up of 15 elements in 12 groups, including one high refractive element and one extra-low dispersion (ED) element to help to control chromatic aberrations and minimize distortions throughout the focusing and aperture ranges. Applied to the lens elements is Rokinon’s Ultra Multi-Coating (UMC), which helps reduce unwanted flares and ghosting. When tested outdoors and around bright light sources, I found that the anti-reflective coatings did their job well. More often than not, I didn’t even bother with the lens hood unless there was direct sunlight on the glass.
If you’re looking for an autofocus lens, you’ve come to the wrong place. Rokinon lenses are fully manual, which isn’t really a concern for video shooters, especially for a portrait-length macro lens where you’ll want full control over your focus. The lens has an internal focusing design, which means that the length of the barrel won’t change as you focus, which is particularly important when shooting with a matte box. The optics themselves do move, so you will notice focus breathing when racking focus.
Mounted on a camera with a full-frame sensor, the 100mm focal length of the lens makes it great for shooting close-ups of actors. On an APS-C or Super-35-sized sensor, I personally find 100mm a bit too long for most close-ups and more suited for extreme close-ups and insert shots. What I do find the focal length well suited for is macro work, especially compared to macro lenses with shorter focal lengths in the 50 to 60mm range. At those focal lengths, to get a 1:1 magnification ratio, you have to get incredibly close to your subject. When your subject is a flying insect, getting that close is usually enough to cause it to fly away. Simply put, the 100mm focal length just gives you a more comfortable distance from which to work.
With a maximum aperture of T/3.1 (f/2.8), you can get some truly beautiful portraits with shallow depth of field, especially when you get in close, with the rounded nine-bladed diaphragm yielding a smooth, pleasing bokeh. For macro shots, I often found that with the iris wide open, the depth of field was usually much too shallow. For most of the sample flower and insect photos, I was shooting somewhere between T/5.6 and T/8, and occasionally at T/11. So keep in mind that when you’re taking macro shots, you may need to stop down more than you’re accustomed to doing.
Lens sharpness is important, but perhaps even more so for macro lenses. You really want to be able to bring out all of the details in those close-up shots. Fortunately for us, the Rokinon lens is sharp. How sharp? Well, after reviewing the photos I shot I can say that it’s easily sharp enough for 4K video. Even wide open, I found that the images I captured with the lens showed excellent edge-to-edge sharpness, corners included. Overall image sharpness seems to peak around T/5.6, which also happens to be when light falloff in the corners disappears. Thus, T/5.6 is the aperture at which the lens performs best, though with light falloff being pretty negligible at T/3.1 (and nearly gone by T/4), I would never hesitate to use it wide open.
On a camera rig, the lens handles well. The focus and iris rings worked seamlessly with my follow focus, offering smooth operation while having just the right amount of resistance to be able to hit focus marks without any play in the lens. Shooting handheld with the lens can be a bit more difficult, due to the lack of a textured focusing grip. I also found that when shooting handheld, the hand supporting and focusing the lens had a tendency to accidently bump the aperture gear ring, at least with the Sony E-Mount version, where there is a fair amount of distance between the ring and the lens mount. Regardless, if you do a lot of handheld work and don’t need the gearing or de-clicked aperture, then you may be better off with the non-cine version of the lens.
With a telephoto focal length, the lens will exaggerate any small bumps and shakes. Shooting handheld video with a smaller mirrorless camera like the a7S made it nearly impossible to get stable footage, and I definitely would not recommend it, especially as there is no in-lens optical image stabilization. It would be interesting to see how the lens pairs with a camera that has in-camera image stabilization, like the Sony a7II. But, it’s a 100mm lens, so more often than not you’ll have your camera on a good pair of sticks with a fluid head.
Overall, I was very impressed by the Rokinon 100mm T/3.1 Cine DS lens. It had all of the things I’ve come to enjoy from Rokinon cine lenses, such as the de-clicked aperture and geared focus and iris rings, along with the new improvements of the Cine DS models like color matching, consistent gear ring positions, and dual-sided lens markings. Optically, the lens showed excellent edge-to-edge image sharpness, even wide open, and delivered smooth, pleasing bokeh. But most importantly, it opened my eyes to the wondrous world of macro photography.
As I wrote at the start of this review, I now consider a macro lens to be a necessary part of my lens kit. Whether you’re looking to get into nature or product shooting, want to get even closer with those extreme close-ups and insert shots, or just need a versatile portrait-length lens for your full-frame camera, the Rokinon 100mm T/3.1 is a solid choice that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. And if you already own a set of Cine DS lenses, then it’s a no-brainer.
|Canon EF||Nikon F||Sony A||Sony E||MFT|
|Aperture Range||T/3.1 to T/32|
|Optical Construction||15 Elements in 12 Groups|
|Iris Blades||9 (Rounded)|
|Min. Focusing Distance||12" (30.7 cm)|
|Max. Reproduction Ratio||1:1|
|Angle of View||Full Frame: 24.8°
APS-C (Canon): 15.4°
Micro Four Thirds: 12.6°
|Max. Diameter||3.2" (81.6mm)|
|Length||4.8" (12.31 cm)||4.7" (12.06 cm)||4.8" (12.26 cm)||5.9" (14.16 cm)||5.8" (14.79 cm)|
|Weight||25.6 oz (725 g)||25 oz (710 g)||25.4 oz (720 g)||25.9 oz (735 g)||25.8 oz (730 g)|