Hands-On Review: Samyang XP 10mm f3.5 Ultra-Wide-Angle Lens for Canon EF

Hands-On Review: Samyang’s XP 10mm f3.5 Ultra-Wide-Angle Lens for Canon EF

I’m not a stranger to wide-angle lenses. If anything, I’m partial to them. In my book, a 24mm lens is a normal lens, and I can’t tell you how many times I shot my way out of tight spaces using a 15mm rectilinear lens. The Samyang XP 10mm f/3.5, which boasts a 130° horizontal viewing angle, is just shy of the horizontal viewing angle of our eyes (approximately 135° AoV). Though I’ve never been intimidated by ultra-wide-angle lenses, Samyang’s 10mm rectilinear ultra-wide is a beast of another color.

Photographs © Allan Weitz 2019

An abandoned gas station was captured using Samyang’s XP 10mm f/3.5 ultra-wide-angle lens. When shooting with lenses this wide, it’s imperative to make use of strong foregrounds.

Wide-angle lenses, especially ultra-wides, can be intimidating to use, and because everything “looks so cool” through a wide-angle lens, it’s easy to believe everything you aim the lens at looks amazing when, in fact, that’s often not the case. If anything, it takes a huge amount of constraint and discipline to take truly worthwhile wide-angle photographs, especially wide-angle photographs that don’t look wide-angle.

The above photograph illustrates how well Samyang’s XP 10mm f/3.5 ultra-wide renders cityscapes. Distortion is nil and, at f/11, everything is tack sharp.

The Samyang XP 10mm f/3.5 ultra-wide is a rectilinear lens. Unlike fisheye lenses, which take in wide fields of view without having to maintain straight, parallel lines, rectilinear lenses are designed to keep parallel lines parallel to one another, which is imperative when shooting architecture and other types of photography in which the dimensions and visual dynamics of the subject must be rendered faithfully.

A major benefit of using ultra-wides when photographing architecture is that if your camera is level and you have enough room to back away, you can capture taller structures without having to deal with keystone distortions, in which it looks like the building is leaning backward. You end up with a lot of foreground detail, but if you’re shooting with a camera sensor with a pixel count north of 30, you can crop into the image easily and still have enough data to produce photographs equal to or, in some cases, better than photographs you would get using a tilt-shift lens or if you would correct the image perspective post-capture.

Photo on left (of the 2-story building) was taken about 8 feet from the curb, with the camera mounted on a leveled tripod. Because the camera and lens were both level and parallel to the building being photographed, there is little in the way of visible keystoning or similar optical distortions. The photo on the right is the same image cropped for a tighter, more precise composition.

Original image on left. A cropped, visually improved composition on the right produced from the same original photograph.
With the camera positioned level, a bit farther to the right, I was able to create this elongated horizontal photograph by simply cropping the lower two thirds of the foreground and a bit of the sky.

Even though smaller-format cameras are designed for handheld image capture, once you go wider than 20mm, I recommend shooting from a tripod to ensure straight, distortion-free perspective and horizon lines. If your tripod has a bubble level, or if you have a bubble level you can slip into your camera’s accessory shoe, you should make use of them. This isn’t to say you cannot or should not hit the streets with this camera/lens combo in your mitt but, if you do, pay attention to what you’re doing and if your camera features grid lines and an electronic horizon indicator, make use of them too.

Something you learn early on when shooting with wide-angle lenses is that you need a dominant foreground or background element to hold things together. Without a strong visual center of attention, your eyes become rudderless.

Peering through the remnants of a circa-1904 munitions storage building, at Fort Hancock, NJ. The rusted window frame acts as a visual anchor for the viewer’s eye.
In this photograph, the white fencepost acts as an anchor for the eye that establishes the visual rhythm of the image.

One of the design benefits of ultra-wide-angle lenses is that when capturing photographs taken for editorial or advertising applications, they allow one to capture a scene while leaving open space for dropping in headlines and/or body copy. Ultra-wides also give you options for cropping the 2:3 aspect ratio of the original image to wide-field panoramic or square formats, depending on the needs of your client or personal/creative preferences.

By cropping the lower portion of the frame, it’s easy to transform this cityscape captured with Samyang’s XP 10mm ultra-wide into a wide-field cityscape comparable to the type of image one would capture with cameras such as the Hasselblad X-Pan, the Widelux, and comparable 6x12 and 6x17-format cameras.

If you’ve ever shot with a wide-field camera such as a Hasselblad X-Pan, a Widelux, a FUJIFILM 617 or similar 6x12 or 6x17 camera from Linhof or other manufacturer, the extreme field of view offered by Samyang’s XP 10mm ultra-wide can be easily cropped to emulate the unique look of these wide-field cameras.

Another example of cropping a “normal” 2:3-ratio picture to a wide-angle, wide-field image. Samyang’s XP 10mm f/3.5 ultra-wide is a perfect lens for these applications.

Logic says it should be easy to focus a lens so incredibly wide, but that’s not the case. When shooting at the lens’s 10.24" minimum focusing distance, the edges of the frame, not to mention a great deal of the immediate foreground and distant background areas, never seem to be sharp. In fact, the only images in which everything was sharp from a few feet from the camera to infinity are the images in which the lens is focused at infinity with nothing closer to the lens than about 5 to 6 feet.

The sharpest photos I captured during my time with the Samyang XP 10mm f/3.5 ultra-wide were pictures in which the lens was set to f/11 or f/16 and focused at infinity with nothing closer than 5 – 6' from the lens. For street shooting and cityscapes, this lens is a natural.

Note the elongation of the black car on the left side of the above picture. The trees, shrubs, and brick walkway on the right side of the frame are equally elongated, but harder to decipher. This is why one should avoid positioning people toward the periphery of the frame lines of photographs captured with wide-angle lenses.

Though we lack bench-test facilities here at the B&H Explora headquarters, after photographing a wide variety of photographic scenarios, including many buildings and structures with this lens mounted on a Canon 6D, I noted little, if any, barrel or pincushion distortion in any of the pictures I captured along the way. Chromatic aberrations and color fringing, which are common bugaboos of many wide-angle lenses, are also nowhere to be seen. Considering its extreme AoV, this lens is a fine performer and well worth its selling price.

The Samyang XP 10mm f/3.5 ultra-wide-angle lens is an extremely well-tuned lens that exhibits little in the way of optical distortions, making it an ideal lens for architectural photography.

The Samyang XP 10mm f/3.5 ultra-wide contains 18 elements in 11 groups. To minimize spherical and chromatic aberrations, color fringing, and optical distortion while bolstering color accuracy, optimal contrast, and resolving power, Samyang’s widest ultra-wide features a trio of aspherical elements, a trio of extra-low dispersion elements, and a single high-refractive index lens element. Ultra multi-coatings are also employed for minimizing ghosting and flare which, in turn, optimizes contrast levels and color neutrality. The outer housing of the lens is made of aluminum alloy and, to better ensure pleasing bokeh, the lens diaphragm contains 7 curved blades.

Though designed for use with full-frame cameras, Samyang’s XP 10mm ultra-wide can be used equally effectively as a 16mm equivalent ultra-wide (105.9° AoV) on APS-C format cameras.

Some late afternoon shadow play

Like most ultra-wide-angle lenses, there is slight vignetting toward the edges of the frame, which becomes a non-issue once you stop the lens down about 3 stops. When shooting in APS-C mode, vignetting occurs beyond the frame lines even when shooting at wide aperture. As with all ultra-wide-angle lenses, anything residing toward the edges or corners of the frame are going to be stretched or otherwise distorted—get used to it, and whatever you do, avoid placing people in corners.

The Rokinon SP 10mm f/3.5 for Canon EF-mount cameras is one and the same as our Samyang XP 10mm f/3.5 test lens. My guess is that both lenses will be available, ultimately, for other camera mounts, but that’s just speculation on my part so take it with a grain of salt.

Are you into ultra wide-angle lenses? If so, how would this lens lend itself to the kind of photography you enjoy doing? Let us know your thoughts in the Comments field below.