Samyang RF 14mm F2.8 Review
December 30th, 2019
When Canon released the Canon EOS R full frame mirrorless camera last year it arrived with a fair bit of controversy. There were some key areas where Canon lagged behind the competition despite offering some innovation in other areas. My consensus (largely echoed by other reviewers) was that there was a lot of potential there, and the early Canon RF lenses were excellent, but more work was needed. Fortunately, Canon has continued to support the EOS R and expand it’s capabilities via firmware along with delivering more and more outstanding lenses. There’s been another problem, however, and that is of the ten RF mount lenses from Canon at this point, only two fall under $1000 in their MSRP, with the majority of the lenses (7 of them!) being in excess of $2000! Canon desperately needs more financially accessible lenses for a broad rollout of the R system, and to date third party support had been reserved to a handful of manual focus lenses. Fortunately, that seems about to change, and leading the charge is Korean lens maker Samyang (also sold as Rokinon) with this lens – the Samyang AF 14mm F2.8 lens in an RF mount. This is an autofocusing lens (and one that autofocuses very well on the Canon EOS R that I tested it on) along with having a beautiful, weather sealed build. It delivers an extremely wide angle of view that is wider than any other autofocus lens on the platform (at the time of review) and comes with a more approachable price tag of $699 USD. The RF14 (as we’ll refer to it for brevity) is an intriguing option for those who want a wide angle of view without breaking the bank.
14mm is a very dramatic angle of view, and the RF14 allows you to produce some uniquely dramatic images. It can also be a challenging lens to compose with if you aren’t accustomed to using wide angle lenses, as very wide focal lengths have a way of making everything feel like it has been pushed away from the camera, leaving foreground objects to really stand out. It can fun to revisit familiar scenes with a wide angle lens and make them look completely different.
In many ways the importance of the Samyang RF 14mm is disproportionately exaggerated by this being the first autofocusing third-party lens on the new Canon full frame ecosystem, and I was pretty delighted to discover that the RF14 enjoys a much more thorough amount of Canon support than my years of experience with third party lenses on Canon DSLRs have led me to expect. The lens is fully supported in Canon’s Lens Aberration Corrections with nothing (not even Digital Lens Optimizer) greyed out.
This enables you to have a variety of corrections to either JPEGs or Video footage that results in the optical defects of the lens being minimized. In years past only first party Canon lenses received this support, though in the last year or so Sigma lenses also started to have access to LAC. Having full support like this is a great sign that perhaps Canon is opening up the R platform a bit more than it did with DSLRs in the past. Samyang has had a number of 14mm varieties (both MF and AF versions), and, while doing a little research, I discovered that this new RF mount lens most closely resembles the Sony FE version, though with the upgrade in weather sealing. I’m actually happy about, this, however, as I’ve reviewed a number of Samyang AF lenses for Sony FE over the last couple of years and been very impressed by a number of them. Canon R shooters would be fortunate to get access to lenses like the 35mm F1.4, 45mm F1.8, 85mm F1.4, and even the little 18mm F2.8.
By the way, it seems (like with the Sony FE lenses), that firmware updates will require using the dedicated Samyang Lens Station rather than receiving them via camera or some other means, though as of this review the RF version of the Lens Station is not yet available.
But is the Samyang AF 14mm F2.8 RF a lens that you should consider yourself? Let’s explore more fully what you are getting if you decide to lay down your money…
RF14 Build and Handling
A great place to start to explore the build, handling, and autofocus performance of this lens is by checking out Part 1 of my video review here:
I’m really happy on this front as the RF14 is pretty much everything I would want save one detail. It has a beautiful build (including weathersealing), a handsome look, and a nicely compact size considering that this is a very wide angle focal length with a fairly large maximum aperture. So what’s the one missing detail?
Part of the magic of Canon’s new RF lenses has been the control ring – an extra point of control that can be figured to a variety of different functions from aperture to EV compensation and more. It remains to be seen if other third party lenses will have this ring, but the RF14 does not.
What it does have is a very handsome finish on a lightweight anodized metal (probably aluminum) body. Samyang “borrowed” Canon’s red ring accent years ago, and I actually like their shade of red a little better.
Everything here is metal, including the finely ribbed focus ring that feels good in the hand and turns with a nicely damped amount of resistance. Like other mirrorless lenses, the RF14 has “focus-by-wire” manual focus where the focus input is routed through the focus motor, but there is not really any perceptible lag and focus is fairly responsive. Fortunately the only time I actually needed manual focus is when I was setting up astrophotography shots in the dark.
Also included is a nice degree of weather sealing, with a gasket as the rear mount along with some internal seals and coatings on the front element. It’s very important in a lens likely to be used for landscapes to have some sealing in the body.
Speaking of that front element, it is by necessity a curved front element that is protected by a fixed lens hood (the only plastic part of the lens, though a very tough, very thick plastic). This means two things: 1) screw-on filters are precluded and 2) the lens cap is a deeper one that has to fit over the lens hood, making it a little tougher to fit into a pocket. Fortunately the lens hood does have some tension clips that helps keep the lens cap firmly attached.
Samyang has worked to help minimize the impact of not having access to screw-in filters by including a rear gel filter holder. While I’m rarely enamored with the optical properties of gel filters, I am heartened by the fact that the rear filter holder assembly is attached by screws, meaning that it will be very easy for a third party filter maker like Aurora Aperture to design a replacement filter holder for better quality glass filters. I’ve tested something similar that they designed for Canon and Irix lenses with rear filter holders, though that particular holder won’t work here because the RF mount has a wider diameter. I did find that I could slide my existing Aurora glass filters into the stock rear holder, and, while the fit isn’t secure (the filter isn’t as wide as the opening), it seemed at least on a cursory level the the filter would work and cover the sensor area. This would be an easily solvable problem by companies like this if there is some demand for them.
I’m also really happy with the size of the lens. While it isn’t a small lens, per se, it is a reasonably compact one with a nice weight. Samyang had previous released it’s manual focus 14mm F2.8 in an RF mount, though that lens wasn’t a fresh design for mirrorless. It weighs in at 800g (1.8 pounds) compared to the more svelte 523g (1.15 pounds) of the RF14. The Canon 15-35mm F2.8L IS, by comparison, weighs 840g (1.85 pounds), though that comparison hardly seems fair considering the zoom range and image stabilization that the RF 15-35 sports. Still, if traveling light (or working from a gimbal) is important to you, that extra bit of weight savings could be a big deal.
The lens is also fairly compact in length. It is (D x L) 3.39 x 3.75″ (86 x 95.3mm) compared to 3.43 x 4.73″ (87 x 120.1mm) for the manual focus version. The zoom lens is longer and wider still at 3.48 x 4.99″ (88.5 x 126.8mm). So, while not tiny, I feel like Samyang has delivered a very reasonably sized lens that is a nice match for either the R or RP bodies.
I also appreciate the inclusion of an AF/MF switch on the side of the lens, which is still my preferred method of controlling this. You can also switch from within the camera body if preferred.
The lens can focus down quite closely (20cm or 0.66 feet), which produces a rather uninspiring 0.12x magnification:
To be fair, however, close up image quality is quite good and the MF version of the lens only manages a very weak 0.08x. The 15-35 zoom lens can deliver a much higher 0.21x magnification on the long end of its zoom range.
All told, though, I’m very happy with what we are getting here. I do miss the control ring, but I’m also not surprised that it isn’t here. I love the fact that the lens is weather sealed and also appreciate the quality feel of the construction. This is a beautiful lens that looks like it belongs on the EOS R that I tested it on (that red ring doesn’t hurt…)
Samyang RF 14mm F2.8 Autofocus
This is another section that I’m very, very pleased about. When I first began reviewing Samyang AF lenses, I found the focus a little primitive in behavior (somewhat course and buzzy). I’ve watched Samyang make huge strides in this area very quickly. Some of the more recent lenses (the 18mm F2.8 and 45mm F1.8) have been downright excellent, and the 85mm F1.4 became so after some firmware updates. Fortunately the RF14 falls into the category of excellent, with autofocus every bit as good as native Canon RF lenses that I’ve used to date. The RF14 employs linear motors that provide silent, accurate, and fast autofocus. I can faintly hear the focus motor if I put my ear on the barrel of the lens, but even in traditional viewfinder position I cannot hear it at all. The in-camera microphone did not pick up anything when I did focus pulls in a silent environment. There was also no hunting or settling. Focus was quick and accurate in my video tests, and this proved true in real world shooting as well. To be fair, a wide angle lens puts less pressure on a focus system because depth of field is quite large at any aperture, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t wide angle lenses with poor focus systems. This isn’t one of them. I had zero complaints about the nature of the focus during my review period.
I also had no complaints over focus accuracy. The EOS R has improved Eye AF performance after firmware updates, and, while situations where Eye AF were necessary/applicable are fewer with a lens like this, it did prove effective in those situations. At a distance of 3m/10 feet or greater you will almost never get Eye AF with the small box covering the eye for the simple reason that the eyes occupy too little of the sensor space for that to be possible. Case in point is this shot:
I could not get apparent eye detection at this focus distance in camera, though the larger depth of field essentially made this a moot point. Focus is accurate, and you can tell my subject is more in focus than the backdrop here:
At a closer focus distance (I’m no more than 2m/6.5 feet away here), Eye AF picked up quick and accurately. All of the shots from this series were as well focused as this one even at F2.8:
Close focus results (where depth of field is shallow) also show good focus accuracy in those rare moments where depth of field is more shallow:
I got smooth, consistent focus results when using the RF14 on a gimbal or for a brief vlogging test where I held the camera away from my face as I walked along talking. I could see from the articulating screen on the camera (which I had facing me) that Eye AF was keeping an effective lock on my eyes, and the footage is crisp and confident (no pulsing or focus drifts).
It’s also worth noting that I was able to get focus lock in extreme low lighting conditions. In the first example the EV value is roughly -2.67 EV (1/8th second, F2.8, ISO 40,000). This was near dark conditions, and I had no problem focusing on the books on the shelf. In the second example, I was shooting in a room so dark that I couldn’t see the subject with the naked eye. I was unable to lock focus on the boxes higher on the shelf (I was able to do so with the wider aperture Canon RF 50mm F1.2L lens), though I was able to lock focus on the “Welch’s” box below that had a slightly higher contrast subject. This was down to a 0.8 second exposure, which drops the EV value to an amazing -5.33 EV. In other words, I was able to get focus in essentially dark conditions, meaning that you should expect good low light performance out of this lens.
Kudos to Samyang for delivering a very mature autofocus experience on their first lens on the RF platform. Their years of growth on the Sony FE platform have paid dividends here. It seems like Samyang has gotten mirrorless autofocus nailed down.
RF14 Image Quality
My evaluation of the image quality from the Samyang RF 14mm F2.8 went through ebbs and flows during my review period of about three weeks. I was originally somewhat disparaging, as I was disappointed with some of my real-world results. As I spent time with the lens, however, and did a few comparisons to other lenses, I realized that perhaps my expectations were a little skewed and also that I was able to get better real world results with a few tweaks. I’ll do my best to deliver those results in as nuanced a way as possible here. If you wanted to see the image quality more “hands-on”, watch Part 2 of the video review:
As previously noted, the RF14 has full in-camera profile correction support, which does make a difference for dealing with various aberrations. The two that I always start by exploring are vignette and distortion. There is some of both present here, with the barrel distortion exaggerated by the close focus distance. The vignette is similarly moderately heavy in the extreme corners with a diminishing pattern seen moving towards the center of the frame. I was able to do a fairly good manual correction of both of these things in Lightroom by entering a +13 on the distortion scale and a +53 value on Amount and 18 for a Midpoint in Vignette correction.
I’ve certainly seen far worse results for both metrics in wide angle lenses. There is a mild amount of a “mustache” type pattern in the barrel distortion which leaves a bit of uncorrected distortion in the corners, but by and large the result is pretty clean after these corrections.
An even better result can be had by digging a little in Lightroom. At the moment, the lens is too new to have a standard profile, but I was able to find a profile for the Sony FE 14mm F2.8 version under the Rokinon tab (Rokinon is the label that Samyang sells under often in North America). I believe that the optical properties of the two lenses are the same, and the profile does a quite effective job correcting the vignette and distortion.
JPEGs and Video footage can receive similar corrections in camera if you enable the corrections. So, while neither result is flawless, neither is either result unusual for the class or among the worst examples that I’ve seen. If you need extremely low distortion results for your work (and don’t mind manual focus), you might try either the 12mm or 15mm Laowa Zero D options (now available in an RF mount). Neither of them will offer less distortion (more, actually), but they have negligible amounts of barrel distortion. For most people, however, the RF14 will work fine for their purposes.
The RF14 has an optical formula of 14 elements in 10 groups, and this includes 3 aspherical lenses, 1 high reflective lens and 2 extra-low dispersion elements. The credentials sound good, but how does this play out in real life?
If look at center sharpness and contrast, we see a good result from F2.8 on. There’s good sharpness and contrast in the center of the frame at F2.8, with mildly better contrast at F4:
Real world usage verifies this observation, with excellent sharpness on this portrait shot in the center of the frame.
Mid-frame also looks fairly good, but there is some obvious drop-off in the extreme corners. Part of this is exaggerated by field curvature due to the short focus distance for this test.
F4 looks better than F2.8 a little ways out from the extreme corners, but not much better in the actual extreme corners.
We see improvement in the extreme corners at F5.6, and a bit more at F8.
I often shoot with higher resolution cameras like the Sony a7RIII/RIV, and so I’ve learned that F5.6 is often the landscape sweet spot for me. You avoid any softening due to diffraction, and often lens sharpness peaks around there. With the EOS R and RF14 combination, I’ve found that I prefer F8 for the additional evenness of contrast and resolution across the frame when shooting landscapes. Part of this is instinctive more than techinical (I found that when I started shooting at F8, I liked the end results more), but I think you might be able to see what I mean in this pixel crop from a controlled tripod shot taken at F5.6 and then at F8:
The snow has a brighter look to it with improved contrast – which makes resolution look better even though it isn’t technically all that different. It’s subtle, but that subtlety was enough to shift my perception of the lens performance from negative to positive. I just liked the images better, and that matters.
Field curvature becomes less of an issue at distance, and I found real world performance at wider apertures better there in the corners. There the biggest improvement came from F2.8 to F4, with more moderate improvements after that. This is a crop taken from the lower mid-frame along the right side of a formal test image, and you can see that F2.8 is usable while F8 looks great.
Here’s a look at the full image this crop is taken from (the F2.8 version). Globally it looks pretty great for a wide open shot.
The RF14 is capable of producing some lovely landscape images at smaller apertures with good color, contrast, and that dramatic angle of view:
The RF14 does suffer from a bit of lateral chromatic aberrations in some extreme situations (see the green and purple fringing on the edges of the tree branch in the upper left corner).
Fortunately this is the “simple to correct” variety that exhibits and corrects in a consistent fashion, so either using the in-camera profile for JPEGs or clicking the “Remove Chromatic Aberrations” button in post is enough to fix it nicely (that’s all that’s been done to the image on the right). I didn’t actually see the CA very often in any of my test images, and if you set up an import preset with a profile enabled, you’ll never see it again.
I found colors to be very nice from the lens. Winter isn’t the most colorful season, but I think you’ll agree that these images have a certain pristine crispness to them:
I also found flare resistance to be an area of relative strength. At wide apertures I rarely saw any veiling or ghosting with the sun in the frame (though a bit showed up when I panned the camera back and forth shooting video). Ironically in stills images I saw a bit of ghosting when stopped down to F11 but little when panning back and forth for video. You’ll also see some longer shafts of light coming off the “blades” of the sunstar at small apertures at times. Either way, however, this is a lens with fairly good flare resistance…which is really important in a lens with such a wide angle of view as the sun is far more likely to be in frame. In some of the images (including the last), you can see the shape of the sunburst effect from the seven-bladed aperture.
You are not going to see much bokeh with this lens, as the focal length is too wide to have things much out of focus, but the quality of the blur I’ve seen isn’t bad.
Finally, I also had a chance to test the coma performance of the RF14, and I have mostly encouraging news to report on that front as well. Obviously you do have to contend with some vignette for such photos, though I found that the benefit of correcting that vignette was situational; some images looked better with it corrected while others did not. With the flat plane of focus for distant stars, I actually found sharpness quite good, with star points very crisp in the middle and only that deterioration in the extreme corners. Coma is fairly well controlled, with most star points looking good and only mild wings growing on some of the brighter stars in the corners. Even this was only visible at a pixel level, so I feel like this would be quite a suitable lens for shooting astro due to the dynamic focal length and fairly sharp rendering of the night sky. Here’s a look at an astro image with a crop from first the center and then the upper left corner followed by a few other astro images:
I would consider this to be a useful tool for those wanting to shoot astro images. You’ll note from the first image in the second series that perspective distortion will always be an issue with a lens with a wide focal length. Tilting the lens up will provide a very obvious leaning effect; this is no tilt-shift lens! You will also get some “stretching” near the edges, so you probably won’t want to put people there. This cabin won’t complain about it’s “weight” the way that a human subject will!
All told, though, I got a lot of images I liked from the lens despite not shooting at the most colorful time of year! Once I discovered that I preferred shooting at F8 than F5.6 for my landscape shots, I began to get more and more images that I was pleased with both artistically and technically. You can see more of them by visiting the image gallery here; I only have room for so many samples in the review itself!
As I mentioned earlier, I believe the Samyang RF 14m F2.8 has a somewhat outsized significance. If this lens had been released years into the development cycle when there were dozens of lenses available, I think that it would be easy to say that it was an attractive option for those without the deep pockets required for Canon’s L lenses, but with little more weight than that. At the moment, however, it is important and special because it is the first to start to plug the gap in the Canon RF lineup between the moderately expensive ($499 USD for the Canon RF 35mm F1.8 IS) and the exceptionally expensive (there are a number of lenses with price tags in excess of $2500 USD). There have been some manual focus options released from a few manufacturers in an RF mount, but the fact remains that the vast majority of photographers are not really interested in manual focus. The RF14 asks you to sacrifice very little (save the control ring), and has a beautiful build and handles very nicely. It’s autofocus works fantastic and that, combined with the full lens aberrations corrections, will make you quickly forget that you aren’t using a Canon lens.
It’s not perfect; the extreme corners aren’t super sharp until smaller apertures, and I didn’t feel that the best landscape performance came until F8. Fortunately the wide focal length means that you can still effectively handhold in a lot of lighting conditions as you don’t need a particularly high shutter speed to avoid motion blur even without image stabilization in Canon bodies (thus far). I found that even shooting at 1/30th to 1/50th of a second was sufficient to get reliably sharp results (unless I was particularly cold!), and that’s possible in most lighting conditions. There’s a fair bit of barrel distortion, and definitely some vignette, though all of these are correctable in either camera or post. There’s no question that you can produce some dynamic, intriguing images with this lens, and the fact that you can do it without breaking the bank ($699 USD MSRP) is just icing on the cake. It’s also an intriguing option for video either on a gimbal (light weight and good autofocus help!) or for doing vlogging. By the end of my review period, I had come full circle and appreciated this lens for its many strengths despite having a few shortcomings. If you want a really wide angle of view and can’t afford the pricey Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS, then the Samyang RF 14mm F2.8 might just be the lens for you.
- Beautiful, attractive, functional build
- Weather sealed
- Excellent autofocus performance – quick and silent
- Widest angle of view with autofocus currently available on RF
- Good astro performance
- Good center sharpness at wide apertures; good edge performance stopped down
- Good color and contrast
- Excellent price
- Corners a little soft until smaller apertures
- Best contrast and “pop” doesn’t come until F8
- Some “mustache” pattern in distortion
- Vignette doesn’t ever completely go away at smaller apertures
- No Control Ring
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