This April, Rokinon introduced the world to its brand new 100mm f/2.8 Macro Lens, an all-manual lens making a mark in a niche that demands top image quality. Fortunately, it holds its own amongst a wealth of competition. The lens is available for Canon EF, Nikon F, Samsung NX, Sony E and A, Fujifilm X, Pentax K, and Micro Four Thirds mounts. On cameras with APS-C sensors, focal-length equivalency is approximately 150mm (or 160mm with Canon). On Micro Four Thirds systems, you can expect something closer to 200mm. Regardless of sensor size, its focal length is perfect for macro photography, medium telephoto photography, and even portraiture.
The Rokinon 100mm f/2.8 is a “true” macro, with a magnification ratio of 1:1, which will make subjects appear to be the same size on the image sensor as they are in real life. This close-focusing spec enables photographers to capture insects, tiny plant life, or even small figurines or toys. Paired with a long 100mm focal length, you can achieve some beautiful isolated close-ups and detail shots and not worry about scaring off or disturbing your subjects. Also, with a minimum focus distance of just 1', along with an internal focus system, you can get in close but still leave room for lights and other items to be handled without getting in their way.
A rounded, 9-bladed diaphragm promises dreamy background blur with soft, natural bokeh, free of blocky shapes. Also, a broad aperture range of f/2.8 to f/32 lets you create either an ultra-shallow or deep depth of field. The 100mm f/2.8’s optical design includes high refractive and extra-low dispersion elements to help minimize chromatic aberration and distortion, while an Ultra Multi-Coating is meant to reduce ghosting and preserve rich contrast and color fidelity. Its 67mm front filter mount doesn’t rotate, so you can easily use polarizers or variable neutral density filters without much hassle.
One of the key specs to consider before purchasing this lens is that it is all manual. If you’re already familiar with Rokinon lenses, this fact won’t sway or surprise you at all. If you aren’t, however, be aware that you will need to adjust your focus and aperture manually. For macro photography, this means you’ll need a steady hand and a little more patience. A tripod is strongly recommended.
I tested the Canon EF mount version with a full-frame camera, both indoors and out. The wide aperture range makes it easy to go from dark to light areas without issue, and you can see the effect of turning the aperture ring instantly as you look through the viewfinder. Using an aperture ring is no more easy or difficult than selecting an f-stop through your camera, so don’t let that sway you if you’re unfamiliar with one. Both the aperture and focus rings are smooth, ergonomic, and easy to maneuver. If you like to shoot with your lens hood on backward, when it’s not in use, note that it will cover most (but not all) of the focus ring. The pinch-style front cap stays secure and won’t fall off if you bump it. Overall, it feels good and quality-made in the hand. It’s comfortably heavy and feels durable, without being overwhelming in size or weight. With its hood on, it reaches about 7" in length.
Using this lens is a delightfully hands-on experience, which feels like a welcome quality in an industry dominated by fast, automated features. Handheld shooting is totally possible; just get set up nice and stable when coming in for a close detail shot. For tiny moving subjects (such as insects), you’ll be better off using your tripod than shooting freeform. At the minimum focusing distance and for very small subject matter, camera shake is hard to overcome, even for the most sure-handed shooters. And, unlike many of its autofocus compeers, this manual lens does not offer the modern remedy—image stabilization—that can still compromise sharpness in certain lighting situations. While that is obviously not a symptom of this particular lens, it is something to bear in mind when using any macro lens manually. The fix is pretty easy: remember to use your tripod. Using manual focus is no foreign concept to experienced macro photographers, many of whom prefer it anyway, because autofocus sometimes experiences difficulty finding a precise focal point at such close range. In manual mode, you have total control over precision.
On review, images showed off bright, vibrant, accurate colors and fantastic contrast. There was no noteworthy aberration or distortion to speak of, and the background blur was smooth and stunning, as advertised. Tight macro images that were shot handheld admittedly had fewer winners, but that was to be expected. Minimal movement or camera shake, even at fast shutter speeds, resulted in some out-of-focus photos or motion blur. The shots captured with a tripod eliminated that problem pretty much instantly, and these images were wonderfully sharp. Details were fine and crisp, reproduced with the quality you’d expect from a great macro lens.
The successful images achieved with the Rokinon were indistinguishable from photos from other popular, “professional-grade” lenses. Sharp, accurate, colorful images are the standard for this lens. Passionate macro photographers can embrace this newest lens with open arms. The Rokinon 100mm f/2.8 Macro Lens has shown it deserves its place in the lineup of so many other great macro lenses. In a niche market that demands excellence, this glass has delivered.