Saturday, March 11, 2017

Review: Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS Lens

Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS Lens & Fujifilm X-E1
Like many people, I don't have tons of money to spend on gear. By taking an unconventional approach I was able to expand my glass for less than the price of one brand-new budget lens. But there was one lens that I wanted that I just couldn't afford: an ultra wide angle.

I use a Fujifilm X-series camera (an X-E1), and the lens that I wanted was a Fujinon XF f/1.4 16mm, which costs one grand. An alternative that I would also be happy with was a Fujinon XF f/2.8 14mm, which has an MSRP of $900. These two lenses are both well outside of my budget. So I looked for what inexpensive options were available, and didn't find a whole lot of choices.

There was one lens that I found as a cheap alternative: the Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS, which has an MSRP of $400, but can be found for less (I paid $300 for mine). It's a little wider than I was originally planning for (12mm vs 14mm or 16mm), but it's in the neighborhood. Rokinon (did they purposefully name it similar to "rockin' on"?) makes this lens with mounts for several brands including Fujifilm, Sony, Samsung, Canon and micro-four-thirds. I'm using it with a Fuji X camera, and this review is based on that, although everything should still apply to the others brand mounts.

Is this cheap ultra wide lens any good? Is it worth the price? Is it something that you should have in your camera bag? Or should you skip it and buy a more expensive option?
Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS
The first thing to know about the Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS is that it is a manual focus lens. There is no focus motor and no option for autofocus. It's manual focus or bust.

I've been manually focusing lenses for a couple decades. In fact, almost all of my lenses are manual focus only, so it's no big deal to me to use a manual focus lens. But if you mostly rely on autofocus, manual focus might seem intimidating. If you don't think that you would like to manually focus your lenses, perhaps this is not the best option for you. Otherwise, keep reading.

Rokinon is a brand name of Samyang Optics, a South Korean lens manufacturer that's been around since the early 1970's. A number of Vivitar lenses are actually made by Samyang. The Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS is also sold under the Samyang name, as well as a couple other brand names (it's the same lens no matter the brand name on it).

The Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS lens has 12 elements in 10 groups. It has a six-blade aperture that goes from f/2 to f/22. The 12mm focal length is equivalent to 18mm on APS-C cameras due to the crop factor.
Playing Large - South Weber, Utah
Fuji X-E1 & Rokinon 12mm @ f/11
What "CS" in the lens name stands for is Crop Sensor. You can't use it on a full-frame camera even if the mount allows you to (unless you want some crazy vignetting). The lens is designed for cameras with APS-C or smaller sensor sizes.

The lens is mostly made of plastic (with some metal), but the build quality seems good. I've owned plenty of lenses that felt cheaper. Still, I wouldn't want to abuse it too much, and I wonder how well it would handle a fall (I have no plans to test this). It's average in size and pretty lightweight.

The aperture ring works like it should with the right amount of resistance and well defined clicks. There are half-stops in-between (most of) the standard f-stops. The focus ring is smooth and pleasant to use, although the scale markings seem to be a little inaccurate.

The Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS is a solidly sharp prime lens. At f/2 there is some noticeable corner softness, but at f/2.8 there is very little corner softness and by f/4 the lens is nearly crisp all over. Center sharpness is great throughout the apertures, and is especially sharp from f/2.8 through f/8. Diffraction begins around f/11 but isn't really noticeable until f/16, which is still a usable f-stop. Diffraction is quite pronounced at f/22, and that's the only aperture I would avoid.
The Bike Jump - South Weber, Utah
Fuji X-E1 & Rokinon 12mm @ f/8
There's noticeable vignetting at f/2 and a little less so at f/2.8. By f/5.6 it's hardly noticeable, but a small amount can be found throughout all of the apertures.

Chromatic aberrations are a problem at all apertures, but are especially prevalent at f/2. I've seen plenty of lenses that produce worse purple fringing than the Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS, but it's definitely an issue with this lens. Coma is well controlled.

If you are a fan of lens flare, this lens is good for that. The "NCS" in the name stands for Nano Coating System, which is supposed to help keep lens flare under control. I'd hate to see what it would produce without it! If you dislike lens flare you might want to avoid shooting towards the sun and religiously use the included lens hood. If lens flare is something you try to put into your images then you've found the right glass.

The Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS has somewhat minor distortion, which is pretty amazing considering that this is an ultra wide angle lens. There is some obvious barrel distortion, and if you photograph a brick wall you'll definitely notice it. I've seen worse on some "standard" lenses. There is also some minor mustache distortion. It wouldn't be difficult to correct the distortion from this lens with post-processing software. None of the photographs in this review received any distortion correction.
Come On In - Ogden, Utah
Fuji X-E1 & Rokinon 12mm @ f/5.6
Everyone wants to know about bokeh. Bokeh on a 12mm lens? Sure! The minimum focus distance on the Rokinon lens is about eight inches, and when wide open it's possible to achieve an out of focus background. Bokeh is pleasant if unspectacular on this lens. But, really, you aren't using any ultra wide lens for the bokeh.

I was afraid that the 12mm focal length might be just a little too wide, but it's not. I think if I had purchased the 16mm lens I originally wanted to get that it might not have been wide enough. The 12mm ultra wide focal length can be very dramatic, and I'm really loving the challenge of it.

Because the lens is so wide angle you really have to get close to the subject. This can be intimidating, especially if you are capturing action shots or people pictures. You really have to push that glass right into the scene! This is not a lens that you can use inconspicuously, but the results can be powerful.

So what's the verdict? What are my conclusions? Should you drop a few hundred dollars on this lens?
The Night Is Young - Ogden, Utah
Fuji X-E1 & Rokinon 12mm @ f/2.8
The Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS is a pretty darn good lens, but not without flaws. It has some impressive points and some disappointing points. The good definitely outweighs the bad, but not quite enough to justify $400 in my opinion.

A fast ultra wide angle lens for under $500 is almost unheard of. You can expect to pay closer to a grand or more. But for that price I think you get more (including, perhaps, autofocus, weather sealing and fewer flaws). If you can afford the more expensive lens I would recommend going that route. However, if you are like me and a lot of other people, you don't have money to burn through on gear, and you can't afford more expensive models. The Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS lens is a close enough facsimile to those high cost lenses that I think you'll be plenty happy using it.

Just don't pay full price. If it's not on sale right now somewhere, it will be shortly. Shop around and find it for a good price. I paid $300 for mine brand-new. I saw one used for $225. It's easier to overlook the shortcomings when it doesn't hurt so bad to buy.

If you want to go a little wider than your 18-55mm lens allows but you are on a tight budget, the Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS lens is your best bet. It's a great lens in some aspects and a so-so lens in some other aspects. It's worth the price just as long as you don't pay full price.
I Heart Alley - Ogden, Utah
Fuji X-E1 & Rokinon 12mm @ f/4
1984 - Ogden, Utah
Fuji X-E1 & Rokinon 12mm @ f/5.6
Open Espresso - Ogden, Utah
Fuji X-E1 & Rokinon 12mm @ f/5.6
Appreciating Art - Ogden, Utah
Fuji X-E1 & Rokinon 12mm @ f/4
Weber River Spillway - South Weber, Utah
Fuji X-E1 & Rokinon 12mm @ f/11
What Do You Do - Ogden, Utah
Fuji X-E1 & Rokinon 12mm @ f/4
This Fox Says Nothing - South Weber, Utah
Fuji X-E1 & Rokinon 12mm @ f/8
Walkers - Ogden, Utah
Fuji X-E1 & Rokinon 12mm @ f/2.8

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