The Rokinon/Samyang AF 50mm F1.4 FE ($500) and AF 35mm F1.4 FE ($800) represent the South Korean manufacturer’s first foray into the autofocus lens market. The 50mm F1.4 is a steal compared to Sony’s own Planar T* FE 50mm F1.4 ZA ($1400). So what do you sacrifice, and is it worth the savings? In short, it’s enough to say this lens is no gem in a bargain’s disguise. But it’s not a bad piece of glass either.
The housing is made of metal like the Planar T* and the build quality is reassuringly dense – nothing rattles around when you shake it (a very scientific test indeed). It’s a little bit smaller than the Planar T* (the filter ring is 67mm vs 72mm), as well as lighter (645g / 1.4lb vs 778g / 1.7lb). But the Planar T* is by all accounts a large, heavy prime, meaning the Rokinon too feels hefty to lug around. It left this reviewer yearning for the comparably tiny/light-weight Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA instead.
|The Rokinon/Samyang AF 50mm F1.4 FE, shot wide open. ISO 100 | F1.4 | 1/5000 sec|
Photographers considering the Rokinon AF 50mm are likely doing so because of its F1.4 maximum aperture. Wide open, it’s not terribly sharp, but photos shot at F1.4 are certainly usable, especially if you add more sharpening in ACR or Photoshop. As you’d expect, sharpness improves as you stop down (until you hit diffraction territory). For a full stop aperture progression, head to the end of our gallery.
There’s a considerable amount of longitudinal chromatic aberration (purple and green fringing), and it can be really distracting around high contrast edges – see the second image in the gallery. While this can often be removed – to an extent anyway – in ACR or Lightroom, it’s often difficult or very time consuming, and comes with the risk of desaturation of other areas of your photo. Lateral CA corrections were left off for images in this gallery, and while you can turn it on in-camera or in Raw processing software, lateral CA seems to be well-controlled in this lens.
The AF motor is very noisy, not unlike a distant submarine distress call
The other significant reason photographers are likely to consider this lens over the cheaper manual focus Rokinon 50/1.4 is its autofocus. Unfortunately, we don’t have a whole lot of good news in this department. In use, the AF motor is very noisy, not unlike a distant submarine distress call. That, or a very near dental tool. Trying to use it paired with the Sony a7R III in AF-C is a nightmare. Focus speeds are slow, loud, and AF is easily confused, sending the lens into a painfully long hunt. Performance and focus accuracy are far more reliable in AF-S. Eye AF, one of our favorite Sony features thanks to its uncanny ability to grab a subject’s eye and lock focus is sadly inaccurate and unreliable when used with this lens.
|This would not be my first choice for a normal Sony FE lens with AF, but it’s still capable of lovely results. ISO 100 | F2.5 | 1/1000 sec|
The lens also has some issues with bokeh. Take a look at the onion rings in the out-of-focus highlights here, and if you search around the image above at 1:1, you’ll see slightly out-of-focus highlights having distracting holes in their center.
The takeaway: If you’re on a budget and want an FE 50mm F1.4 lens with autofocus, well, you don’t have a lot of options. Seeing as you can get some nice, usable images wide open, I wouldn’t steer you away from pulling the trigger on the Rokinon. But I would probably try to convince you to settle for F1.8 and save up for the Sonnar T* FE 55mm F1.8 ZA ($900) instead (quality-wise it is far superior to the Sony FE 50mm F1.8 – $200).
That said, optically this lens actually performed better than I expected a first-generation AF lens to. And I’m pretty excited to see Rokinon stepping into new territory.