Eric L. Woods

Rokinon/Samyang AF 50mm f/1.4 and firmware v33: Sony 50mm lens full run down.

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Blogging through the madness.

While there is a lot of buzz surrounding recent camera releases I am good with my current set up so I am instead looking to fine tune my lenses. Currently 50mm is the target. This led me to reconsider previous purchases.

As a preface I must first admit that I have an immense weakness when it comes to 50mm prime lenses. With one exception…

Contax G1
The Contax G 28mm f/2.8 is so good that I have sold all other G lenses without hesitation and have never looked back. It is my sole non 50mm-ish exception. It just suits my use of this one camera perfectly.
Film - 20200101 Durham Photo Walk

…film or digital if I own an interchangeable lens camera one of the very first if not the first lens I purchase will be a 50mm-ish prime or equivalent focal length for crop. For film cameras this is often the only focal length I will own for it. Regardless if you see me with a camera odds are it will have a 50mm equivalent lens on it.

But as much as I like this focal length all 50mm-ish equivalent lenses are not created equal.

Some do not render to my liking. One example that comes to mind is the AF Minolta Maxxum 50mm f/1.7. Sharp enough and all, but it rendered foreground and background blurry bits in a squirrely fashion.

Minolta Maxxum 7 w/ Fuji XTra 400

As a result it dashed my notions of a happy A and E mount analog/digital family so I sold off the otherwise great Maxxum 7, 7d, and the Sony A to E mount LA-EA4 adapter as well.

Some perform well above their size, price point and spec. Back when I was still dealing with 2x MFT crop 25mm equivalents there were Olympus and Panasonic variants that did well enough.

Blooms

One other very good example that comes to mind is the Samsung NX 30mm f/2.0. Between its size and relatively humble 2.0 aperture for crop this lens should not be anything special. But it is. How much so? It is the primary reason I held onto my dead mount walking NX300. It is a great little lens.

Duke Gardens

Another more recent crop favorite is the Sigma 30mm f/1.4. A very respectable performance for an APS-C lens.

Crown Vic

Combined with either the a6000 or a6100 it is the perfect digital size and weight replacement when I do not carry a film SLR. Full frame digital cameras, including mirrorless, grow larger than I would like to carry every day but they have their perks as well.

Personal preference for sure, but no matter how well crop lenses perform I have yet to encounter one lens that can match a solid full frame 50mm. The best crop lens come close, but cannot fully make up for the inherent advantages of a larger sensor. Physics. I will provide a side by side below.

Full frame or bust

I briefly owned an older Canon full frame DSLR, but the only one I have had for a good amount of time is the Pentax K-1. Used an older SLR era AF 50mm f/1.7 for a time (that I still own for my film Pentax SLR) but I much preferred the Sigma EX DG 50mm f/1.4.

Veteran's Day Parade 2016

As much as I enjoyed this combination I eventually moved away from Pentax and landed on Sony.

Adapter Chapter

I already mentioned the Sony A to E mount LA-EA4 adapter earlier, but there are more options for Sony.

Sigma MC-11/Canon STM 50mm f/1.8

While I did enjoy the images it created I did not enjoy using the Canon 1Ds Mark II I mentioned earlier. I tried a zoom lens but what really sold me was the excellent Canon 50mm f/1.8 I used with it.

Canon 1Ds Mark II

As a result when I went back to Sony I quickly picked up a Sigma MC-11 adapter and the even better Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM variant. Great lens that performed admirably for an adapted lens.

Canon EOS RP

While usable it did hobble the stellar Sony stills AF a bit so it went away.

TECHART LM-EA7/About any 50mm MF film lens you want to

7Artisans 50mm f/1.1

7Artisans 50mm f/1.1

Contax CY Zeiss Planar 50mm f/1.7

Contax CY Zeiss Planar 50mm f/1.7

Helios 44-2 58mm f/2

AF Helios 44-2 58mm f/2

And any other number of lenses. Still have it. But while fun and usable the TECHART is not a serious solution. One has broken and bought another. I have no regrets, but I expect that the second may fail as well one day so when combined with the less than optimal AF it is not a suitable ‘real’ solution.

Native options

There are quite a few Sony FE full frame 50mm fast aperture options on the market. Lets get the high end ones off the list first. In my universe 50mm lenses do not cost near or more than $1,000. This knocks the Sony Planar T* FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA, Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA, and Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art off of my list.

The Sony Zeiss 55mm is sized right, and by all accounts it is a stellar performer, but at nearly $1,000 it is a hard sell for a f/1.8 lens. Personal preference. I would expect at least an f/1.4 spec at that price point. For that amount of money I could buy a 50mm and 85mm f/1.4 from a third party maker with change left (more on this later). For some that may not matter. For me it does.

So what of the more pedestrian lens offerings.

Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 Lens

I tried so hard to like this lens. Was capable of creating a decent image here and there. It’ll do.

VW Bus

But there is nothing at all special about this lens. Was hoping it would be Sony’s answer to Canon’s 50mm STM, but no. Build quality does not compare. Image quality does not compare. Focus speed does not compare. And that last one was the most curious. It may be bias influencing my senses but the Canon STM adapted with the MC-11 focused more swiftly and confidently than Sony’s own FE. And lastly it technically costs more than the Canon. Try as I might I could not warm up to it.

Rokinon/Samyang AF 45mm f/1.8 FE

Absolutely great lens with not a single down side I can identify. Quick and silent to focus accurately. Just fantastic image quality. Great colors,…

Samyang/Rokinon FE AF 45mm f/1.8

…sharpness and swift focus,…

Kauffmann Wedding - The Reception

…and low light performance.

Samyang/Rokinon FE AF 45mm f/1.8

Has an almost film like rendering quality to it.

A7 II/Rokinon-Samyang 45mm f/1.8

Light and even smaller than the much more expensive (and yes better built) Zeiss 55mm f/1.8.

So case closed. Thank you for…

Nope. Did not choose this lens. Why not? I can offer you no good, logical reason. But I do have a few illogical reasons to offer.

  • For starters I sold this lens off because I thought I could make do with other TECHART adapted lenses above initially. Nice for fun, but as mentioned earlier TECHART adapted lenses would not do as a reliable AF solution.
  • Next up I thought I could make do with the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 crop solution mentioned earlier so a full frame equivalent was not necessary. That lens does very well, but I still wanted a full frame 50mm.
  • Lastly this next lens exists.

Rokinon/Samyang AF 50mm f/1.4 FE

Link above is from an earlier purchase. Have bought, sold, bought back, and sold this lens yet again at my favorite local camera shop.

So why do I keep selling it?

  • It is a touch larger than I would like a 50mm lens to be.
  • While it had matched or bettered the focus speed of the Sony FE f/1.8 the 45mm is a bit quicker.
  • Like the 45mm above I had thought I could make do with adapted and crop options.

So why do I keep buying it again.

  • In a Spinal Tap moment it goes to f/1.4 like the much more expensive AF options.
  • While larger compared to f/1.8 options it was good value and more compact when compared to the Sony Zeiss f/1.4 (though only slightly so) and Sigma Art f/1.4 (significantly larger) options.
  • Lastly I blame Flickr. Simply put I love the images this lens produces.
Rokinon/Samyang FE 50mm f/1.4

A gaping maw of a front element does not hurt either.

Every time I go back and view my own Flickr images with this lens I wanted it back again.

(High fallutin’ spendy gear connoisseurs look away now.)

I regularly shoot medium format film. The lens I like most is an 80mm f/2.8 for 6×6 which works out to a 44mm f/1.54 full frame focal length and aperture equivalent (handy calculator). It has a certain look, a 3-D pop, and level of detail that I love even in the simplest of pictures. I love its ability to create subject isolation even with objects a fair distance away.

Grandma's House

I freely admit that I would love to say the words, “I have a medium format digital camera.”, and I have spent a good amount of time scheming and plotting to get my hands on a medium format digital camera. Have come close to purchasing one a couple of times. But it is really that certain look I am after. As far as crop lenses they seem close on paper, but:

  • MFT 25mm f/1.8 works out to a 50mm f/3.6 full frame equivalent.
  • APS-C 30mm f/1.4 works out to a 45.9mm f/2.14 full frame equivalent.

While 50mm f/1.8 is extremely close that little bit more at f/1.4 gets me very close and technically a bit beyond that f/1.54 equivalent’s light gathering and DOF capability I was seeking. If I can get close enough to that look using cameras I already own that would be great. The other advantages of digital medium format, like color depth or ability to blow up the image for example, that full frame would struggle to match are not nearly as much of a concern to me personally.

(While we are on the topic here is an excellent comparison between Fuji APS-C X and medium format GFX that also cooled my medium format jets.)

While some manual focus full frame lenses like the 7Artisans 50mm f/1.1 and 7Artisans 75mm f/1.25. get me close to there I have been hard pressed to find a native FE mount lenses that do the same.

Sidebar: As good as medium format digital? No. But buying in to a medium format system is prohibitively expensive from scratch. The goal was to get close enough. Not to match.

The Rokinon/Samyang 85mm f/1.4 gets me close, but it is a bit too long of a focal length for every day.

Rokinon/Samyang AF 85mm f/1.4 FE

It is not about clinical perfection or the very sharpest lenses, nearly any modern lens will be acceptable, but a certain look. The focus fall off and the way that light renders. Personal taste. But when I go back and look at the images I created with this Rokinon lens I get that certain feeling. A lovely 3-D pop at a distance.

Rokinon FE 50mm f/1.4

A lovely film like look to the images like the 45mm above.

Butterfly

Great colors and smooth transition into out of focus areas.

Roof

A wonderfully thin depth of field. While waiting at the DMV with my kid one day I took this photo to kill time. Was focusing on my laces but you can see that the ground is already out of focus.

Chucks

I just love the way that this lens renders. After spending a bit of time trying to decide between this lens and the 45mm I decided to go back and rescue the 50mm from the camera shop. Yes, the exact same lens. Even got the “Eric buying his own lens back again” discount.

Result? Thrilled.

Rokinon 50mm f/1.4
Rokinon 50mm f/1.4
Rokinon 50mm f/1.4

Bonus round: Firmware

The last time I bought this lens I updated it to v32 which further improved already acceptable AF. A small, very brief initial AF hesitation was now reduced to the point of being hardly noticeable. A bit of focus noise persisted, but this did not bother me. After this last repurchase I checked firmware again and to my surprise there was a v33 2020 update to improve AF on the A7III. Pulled out the Rokinon/Samyang FE update puck and ran it.

Result? While the bit of noise remains, which was not a surprise, all signs of AF hesitation have now been removed. In short this lens’ only issue for me has been removed,

Notes:

  • v33? Very Fuji of you Rokinon/Samyang. This lens has been out for quite a while and I am quite surprised they are still releasing firmware updates for it. Especially since they have released the 45mm f/1.8.
  • Oddly I only found v33 firmware on the Samyang site. The Rokinon site still lists v32. Fortunately these are different lenses in name only so the update puck and the firmware are compatible across both brands.

Lastly that APS-C and full frame comparison I alluded to earlier. Taken one day apart here is the first image taken with the Sigma 30mm f/1.4.

Sigma 30mm f/1.4 Contemporary

Next up is the 50mm f/1.4.

Rokinon 50mm f/1.4

Similar light both days, both wide open at f/1.4, set in aperture priority mode with auto ISO, taken from nearly the exact same position, and at the same time of day. For starters the 30mm Sigma image is a perfectly fine one. Just fine for a compact every day set up. But I like the Rokinon 50mm image better. Why?

  • Separation: Look at the blossom and the branch immediately behind it. While the 30mm is slightly out of focus the 50mm is fully out of focus which is exactly the look I was going for.
  • Bokeh: The 30mm is just fine, but I like the look of the 50mm better.
  • Light: While both are f/1.4 the 50mm benefits from a larger sensor so it was able to use a lower ISO (100 vs 200). Not a huge difference in good light, but could prove beneficial in low light situations.

And as mentioned before both the Rokinon 50mm f/1.4 and 85mm f/1,4 together (On sale. The 50mm is regularly on sale for $399 new.) can be had for less than the Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 alone. As sharp as the Zeiss? No. But close enough that I am perfectly happy having the two Rokinon/Samyang lenses instead. Throw in the 35mm f/2.8 (Available for peanuts used.) and you are in the same ballpark. The 35mm f/1.4 lens is also great even though I chose the compact f/2.8 instead in the end.

Well done Rokinon/Samyang. I am planning on having a lot of fun with this lens.

ELW

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