How quickly things can change.
Up until the acquisition of the precious (since replaced by the smaller, lighter precious) that title had been held by the Sony FE 85mm f/1.8. Had a good long run too. And deservedly so. The lens had not turned a foot (or element?) wrong. Sharp, fast to focus, so on and so forth as described in my initial review. Plus it performed oh so well on a recent wedding shoot providing some of my favorite images from the day.
This non money tree possessing photographer very much appreciated a viable, relatively compact, relatively affordable, actually competitive 85mm alternative to pricier Sony G Master, Sigma Art, and Zeiss lenses.
Sidebar: This was not the only new to the market AF FE 85mm lens. Viltrox also released an f/1.8 I have heard good things about. But it has the same spec as the Sony I already have so I may as well stay put with the Sony.
So what happened?!
I blame fstoppers, Spinal Tap, Dustin Abbott (again), and Rokinon/Samyang.
Fstoppers posted a great non-scientific (my favorite type) comparison between the Sony G Master and the Rokinon/Samyang. At the time I was happy with my Sony 85mm f/1.8 and was just curious how the Rokinon/Samyang would fare against the similarly spec’d and much larger/more expensive G Master. The Rokinon/Samyang fared well which left me to comment/muse jokingly at the time.
Well, that “joke” about buying both the Sony f/1.8 and Rokinon/Samyang and still not spending as much as the G Master seeded itself in my psyche and I could not shake it. Ok. So my own gear OCD is really to blame, but what fun is that?
Spinal Tap has one of my all-time favorite (and popular) gags where an amp is deemed superior because it goes to 11. This lens goes to f/1.4.
Rokinon/Samyang made it a no-brainer decision by putting the 85mm f/1.4 on sale. Can be had for $599 as of this article’s writing. Rokinon/Samyang has been on a much appreciated prime tear recently. From the 35mm f/2.8, 24mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.4, 45mm f/1.8, and 18mm f/2.8 I have had a pleasant experience with them all. They seem to be getting better and better with each release.
I have loved Sony’s cameras since the A7II. But even as AF lens offerings grew they were often mediocre and affordable (with exceptions like the 85mm f/1.8 and the far better than it has any business being 28-70mm kit zoom) or excellent, large, and expensive. Large glass makes little sense with such diminutive camera bodies. Defeats a main argument for mirrorless. Compactness. Tamron and Rokinon/Samyang have really stepped up their game and have been offering fantastic, affordable, light, and reasonably sized glass.
So as you have likely gathered I now own the Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 (have sold it since writing this) and the Rokinon/Samyang 85mm f/1.4.
The Rokinon/Samyang impressed right out the box. It was even better after upgrading the firmware to version 4 with the (must have if you own Rokinon/Samyang AF Sony glass) lens station.
So you know what that means. A wildly unscientific comparison!
- Place: Duke Gardens.
- F Stop: As wide as they each would go. I saw no point in testing the Rokinon/Samyang at f/1.8 because shooting at that aperture defeated the whole purpose of the purchase.
- Shutter speed: 1/2000s. Figured that would do for most conditions.
- ISO: Whatever the cameras chose.
- Hoods: On.
- Bodies: A7II for the Sony and A7III for the Rokinon/Samyang. If there was an advantage to the III I figured I would give it to the non-native lens.
- Plan: Shoot the exact same scene from the same vantage point back to back.
- Editing: Light touch up (exposure, contrast, and such) to my personal taste as I would normally. Left the Sony Lightroom presets since I would use them usually. Rokinon/Samyang does not have Lightroom presets yet. Distortion was not noticeable to me and any vignetting was not to a level that I would bother correcting so I did not do so here. Purely personal preference.
Now the photos. First up will be Sony shots followed by Rokinon/Samyang.
The rest are posted in this gallery. My thoughts.
What the Sony does better.
- Cannot be seen here, but slightly quicker focus in low light for video and stills.
- Smaller and lighter if compactness is your main goal.
- Clean design with AF/MF switch and focus hold programmable button.
- Less expensive, but not massively so. And if less spend is the main goal you might give the Viltrox a look.
- Very sharp at f/1.8.
- That is all I have got. Still an excellent choice. More of an indication of how good the Rokinon/Samyang is rather than any ding on the Sony.
What the Rokinon/Samyang does better.
- Firmware. Slightly slower focus than blazing fast is still very fast. Only apparent in direct comparison. Not noticeable in isolation. Gap likely closed further if not eliminated entirely if Rokinon/Samyang updates firmware further.
- Larger, but not large. Nowhere near as large as more expensive options.
- While more expensive than the FE it is a screaming bargain when compared to Zeiss and other f/1.4 offerings.
- Actually prefer the clean, switchless, and buttonless design. Personal preference.
- As sharp at f/1.4 as the Sony at f/1.8 to my eye.
- This one goes to f/1.4. As witnessed with the sample shots this does allow for slightly lower ISO, slightly thinner depth of field. Both slight, but noticeable.
- Warmer colors than the Sony which I prefer.
- As shown in the one photo of the blue light above it seems to better handle flare. Both had hoods on, but the Sony still showed flare while the Rokinon/Samyang showed none.
Expected a fun lens, but not a better one.
I had originally planned to keep the Sony in my bag as the more sensible low light and video lens until the comparison above. Using the lenses back to back for the first time I realize that the difference in real-world performance between the two is nearly nonexistent. Add to that the better colors and better flare control and it makes for an easy decision. Rokinon/Samyang for the win.
I have not decided fully yet, but it is looking like I will just be keeping the Rokinon/Samyang. (Update: Traded the Sony not long after writing this post.)