Samyang AF 12mm F2 Review
May 24th, 2021
I had mixed feelings about some of Samyang’s (also sold under the Rokinon brand) early full frame lenses, but I really loved their compact APS-C primes whose design language was in many ways a precursor to their full frame “Tiny Series”. I love the tiny series, and the newest lens in the series (the Samyang AF 24mm F1.8 which I reviewed here) was the best yet. But fortunately Samyang has not abandoned APS-C shooters (who are perennially overlooked), and has released an updated autofocus version of one of my favorite lenses of the earlier series – a 12mm F2 (which I reviewed here). That lens was manual focus only, but I loved the compact, handsome build, and in many ways it had really excellent optics. I liked it well enough in my review that I bought one for my Canon EOS M cameras and only sold it when I moved from Canon to Sony on the APS-C mirrorless front. The new Samyang AF 12mm F2 is an autofocus version of this formula for Sony E-mount (APS-C mirrorless), and also comes with a new build and fresh design language that is slightly different than anything I’ve seen from Samyang before. It’s great to see Samyang give some fresh love to APS-C, and the 12mm F2 gives an approximately 18mm full frame angle of view (99.1°). The AF12 (as we’ll call it for brevity) can be mounted on a full frame Sony camera since the E mount is for both full frame and APS-C, but, as we can see, there is a significant amount of mechanical vignetting if you try to use the lens on a full frame camera.
The AF12 simply isn’t designed to cover the full frame image circle. In this case the APS-C crop isn’t far off. If I manually crop the full frame image (on the right, below), I end up with roughly 25MP of resolution vs the natural 21MP of the Alpha One’s APS-C crop.
If you didn’t happen to own a full frame wide angle lens, that might work in a pinch, though I certainly wouldn’t buy it specifically for that. The Samyang AF 18mm F2.8 is the full frame equivalent in the “Tiny Series”. But I’ve always enjoyed this focal length on its native APS-C, though, where it delivers nicely dynamic images with a great angle of view:
Samyang states that this becomes the widest autofocusing lens on Sony APS-C, though that’s not entirely true. The Sony 10-18mm F4 OSS lens does exist, and it is an autofocusing lens, though with a much smaller maximum aperture that is a full two stops slower. The Samyang AF12 is the widest autofocusing prime lens on Sony APS-C at the moment, though, and is certainly a better choice for low light situations or astro than the F4 zoom (which also costs more than twice as much!). That makes it a very welcome lens, and, there are a number of positive upgrades here that mean that things are looking up for this lens.
The AF12 has been updated with a some of Samyang’s recent design updates, including linear STM autofocus, weather sealing, and a few design element updates. What isn’t new, however, is the optical formula. This was always a strong lens optically, though it is a little less strong relative to the competition these days. Still, at $399 USD, it’s hard to point to a stronger wide angle option that goes this wide. You can get all the details by either watching the definitive (long format) or standard video reviews below…or just keep reading.
Thanks to Samyang for sending me a test copy of the lens. As always, this is a completely independent review.
Samyang AF12 Build, Handling, and Features
I love the compact design of the first Samyang manual focus 12mm F2 lens, though I did encounter a bit of sample variation. My loaner copy for review was mechanically good, with good manual focus action. I decided to by one, and my first copy had a stiff focus ring. I had the Canadian distributor of Rokinon (Samyang lenses are sold under both brands) replace it with a second copy, and it was similarly good to the review copy. It was not unusual to see a bit of inconsistency with early Samyang lenses, though I’ve seen a lot of maturity in that regard from them. I’ve reviewed about 10 Samyang lenses in the past few years, and they have all been functionally sound. The new AF12 has similar dimensions to the earlier manual focus lens, but they aren’t identical. The two lenses are about the same length (right over 59mm), but the new lens is slightly narrower at only 70mm. The original lens had a slimmer lens barrel that flared out considerably near the front element. The new lens has a more consistent diameter and thus a very different profile (see the third photo).
They’ve debuted a new look here, with a slightly more matte finish and a new diamond pattern texture to the manual focus ring. Samyang’s signature red ring (which they, ahem, “appropriated” from Canon) is a little more discreet in the current design, and mostly disappears if the lens hood is attached. They call it the “hidden red ring”.
I was surprised to find that the new lens was actually lighter than the manual focus version. It is only 213g (7.5 oz), which is over 30g lighter than the earlier MF lens (245g). The Sony 10-18mm is also very lightweight (225), though the Sigma 16mm F1.4 with its larger maximum aperture weighs in at a heavier 405g. Here’s a look at the basic spec comparisons across these four choices.
Though the body is mostly engineered plastics, the lens doesn’t feel cheap in the hand. The branding is a little more discrete than typical on this lens, with lens designation on the top near the lens mount (etched, not printed). The only Samyang branding is on the right side of the lens, and it pretty much disappears behind the lens grip. There is a bit more barding on the front fascia of the lens, but it reserves itself to the lens designation, minimum focus distance, and filter thread size (62mm rather than the 67mm on the manual focus version). I would personally prefer the 67mm filter threads, however, as 62mm is far less common.
Everything is based around a metal lens mount, which does have a weather sealing gasket. Samyang seems to indicate that there is at least one other seal point inside, too. Samyang touts something about the rear element and that it helps seal the lens as well.
There are no external switches. You’ll have to select manual focus from within the camera. The focus action feels good. I like the texture of the focus ring, and damping is nice. Focus seems mostly linear, from what I can determine, so you should get some repeatability.
The AF12 does include both a nice case and a lens hood, which is great to see in a reasonably priced APS-C lens. The only negative on that front is that the current physical design doesn’t allow the lens hood to be fully reversed for storage. There is a slight bevel narrower towards the front of the lens, which is the place where the lens bayonets on, meaning that the lens hood is slightly narrower than the diameter of the focus ring. I don’t find it to be a huge thing for the simple reason that the lens and hood are short enough that the overall length of the lens is still very compact with the hood attached. I just leave it in place all the time.
There are seven rounded aperture blades in the new design, which is a definite upgrade over the six blades in the older lens. I knocked the boring looking sunstars in the older lens, but the new lens has much better looking sunburst effects, which always add that extra bit of goodness to images:
As for the circular shape of the aperture when stopped down, that’s not overly relevant here. There will be few situations where you will be able to create much of a defocused background with the lens stopped down, and those mostly when at or near minimum focus distance. Here’s a look at F2.8, which still looks fairly round in the bokeh highlights.
Speaking of that minimum focus distance, it is 19cm (about 7.5″), and the magnification level is a fairly pedestrian 0.10x, though its worth noting that the new AF lens can focus about one centimeter closer and should give a slightly higher magnification figure than the older MF lens. Here’s what MFD looks like:
The magnification figure isn’t particularly high, obviously, but the plane of focus is relatively flat and close up performance is quite good. That translates to good results in real world close up work:
Here’s another example:
All in all, this is a nicely executed package that combines light weight and compact size with good handling, howbeit without much in terms of features outside of the weather sealing. Samyang’s most recent lenses for full frame have included some additional features like a custom switch and even, most recently, a focus hold button. It is worth noting that neither the Sony 10-18mm nor the Sigma 16mm F1.4 lenses mentioned as comparisons have any kind of switches or buttons either. Samyang has actually exceeded the Sony lens in having weather sealing. This lens is an excellent value when you consider that the Samyang AF12 has weather sealing, a lens hood, and a case at its $399 USD price tag. That price, incidentally, is exactly the same as the manual focus version of the lens that I tested back in 2014, and so you are getting a lot of additional value for no additional money. Hard to argue with that!
Samyang AF 12mm F2 Autofocus and Video Performance
I watched Samyang really grow by leaps and bounds over the past three years in their perfecting of autofocus. The earliest focus motors were a bit crude, but that improved when they switched to linear focus motors. They’ve continued to improve on their focus accuracy and focus confidence as well, and at this point I have a lot of confidence in their capabilities. The AF12 is equipped with a Linear STM (stepping motor) that provides fast, silent, and accurate autofocus. I had very good focus accuracy during my review, even when shooting more challenging narrow depth-of-field shots, like this:
I also had excellent “stickiness” in tracking human eyes when shooting my video tracking test. Focus smoothly traveled with me as I approached the camera (lens aperture wide open at F2), then moved rapidly forward and backwards. There was no drama or big, abrupt focus changes. All wide angle lenses are helped by the fact that depth of field is typically pretty deep due to the nature of the focal length, but it was obvious that tracking was accurate even when I moved very close to the camera and less was in focus.
Samyang has come a long way in “unlocking” quality autofocus:
My focus pull test produced silent, accurate focus pulls without any sound or drama in focus at all. Focus settled quickly and accurately without any pulsing or hunting. No focus noise was apparent…at all. This lens would work nicely for vlogging or working from a gimbal. It’s a great angle of view, very compact and lightweight, and will offer up a lot of flexibility for stylized shots commonly called “inception mode” or similar because the lens is small enough to never hit anything during full 360° rotations.
Here’s another shot from a low angle, and once again autofocus grabbed the right spot and focused accurately.
Kudos to Samyang for developing growing maturity in their autofocus design and execution!
Samyang AF12 Image Quality
Samyang lenses frequently “punch above their weight” optically, and that’s certainly true here. Don’t let the light weight of the lens deceive you; this is a very sharp lens! We have a fairly high end optical construction here of 12 elements in 10 groups, with 5 of those being special elements, including 1 High Aspherical, 1 Aspherical, and 3 Extra Low Dispersion elements. If you understand MTF charts, you will see that the lens is very sharp in the center but has significant drop-off in the corners.
We’ll break down how the AF12 operates in real world conditions along with chart testing. As noted in the intro, I was very impressed with the optics of original lens in 2014, but standards have changed since then. Wide angle lenses in particular have gotten a lot better. My first reaction when I saw that the optics were the same as the older lens, I shrugged, thinking, “it was already a good lens”. That’s true to some extent, but I’ve also found my expectations are higher these days. At the same time, I also recognize that I spend a lot of time with expensive full frame lenses, which influences my perceptions, but this lens is still quite good relative to direct competitors on APS-C. It’s certainly capable of detailed, punchy images.
So let’s jump into the technical side of things. The Samyang has mild amount of barrel distortion that is fortunately very linear in nature and easy to correct for…even manually. I used a +7 on the Lightroom distortion slider to correct it. What’s interesting is that if I tried using the preset for the earlier manual focus lens, I end up with a slightly overcorrected result, so it is possible that in the tweaking of the optics for the new lens, Samyang managed to clean things up a little.
Vignette is moderate (right over two stops), which isn’t bad for a wide aperture, wide angle lens. A +60 and moving the midpoint slider to zero did the trick, though we can see a slight amount of color variation in the recovered vignette area.
Longitudinal CA (LoCA) isn’t too bad, with a bit of purple (before) and blue/green fringing (after) the plane of focus.
You’ll see this a bit in certain high contrast real world situations like this one.
Most commonly it will probably manifest as a hint of green around bokeh highlights.
There is also a bit of LaCA (Lateral CA) which shows up on the fringes of images on either side of high contrast areas – like the transition from white to black on my test chart:
This is another deviation from the original lens that my tests revealed. The original lens really suffered from lateral chromatic aberrations, and that’s much less the case here. I went through a number of real world images where I expected to see significant fringing, but really didn’t find it. It was there every now and then, but not like what I saw previously.
So, on the basic optical flaw front, the AF12 is doing quite well for a wide angle lens. Distortion, vignette, and chromatic aberrations are relatively under control, and certainly not pronounced enough to cause any real issues.
So how about resolution?
Here’s the whole test chart. Tests are done in the APS-C mode on the 50MP Alpha 1 (21 MP of resolution in APS-C mode) on a tripod with a two second delay.
Here are the crops from the center, mid-frame, and corner at F2:
Resolution and contrast are fairly good, but acuity isn’t sky-high. Textures aren’t mushy or blurred, but neither are they pin-sharp. You can see some significant drop-off in the extreme corners.
Real world images tend to be a little more forgiving, as they aren’t viewed at such high magnification (I do my test chart at 200%), and also corner sharpness is only important in some (not all) images. Image quality fairly close up at F2 was impressive here:
I did note, however, that the corners were never quite pin-sharp, even when I stopped down a bit to F5.6.
In 2014, this was no at all unusual, but these days there are certainly lenses that are extremely sharp even in the extreme corners. For many landscape images, however, having good sharpness all across the frame (but not necessarily into the corners) is going to matter more. The AF12 fairs better if that is the criteria, delivering nice image sharpness here:
I felt like most of my images were quite sharp overall. Textures on the side of this barn at F4 looked nice and crisp:
Returning to chart examination, I found that sharpness and contrast improved mildly at F2.8, with the improvement most noticeable in the corners. Stopping on down to F4 made for further improvement, with the greatest improvement showing from F4 to F5.6, where the lens seems to show peak sharpness in most of the frame. Stopping on down to F8 didn’t really improve things further. Still, you can see how much progress is made in the corners by comparing F2 and F8. Contrast, in particular, has really picked up.
Shoot at F5.6 and F8 to get nice sharpness across most all of the frame.
Normally a wide angle lens is not where you look for bokeh, and that’s mostly true here. The aperture is a little wider than many wide angle lenses, and so you can get reasonably close and blur out backgrounds a bit. The quality of the bokeh varies according to the complexity of the background (wide angle lenses almost never completely blur everything out) and the ratio of the distance to the subject and then to the background. In some situations, I found the bokeh looked quite nice:
The transition zone can get a little “jittery” though. You can see the midpoint of the image on the moss/bark of the tree is “nervous”, but the distant background looks nice.
You’ve seen a number of “bokeh images” in this review already, but here’s a few more to help you determine whether or not you like the rendering from the lens.
I would call this at most a tertiary concern in a wide angle lens, but you can take creative shots with a wide angle lens that show a foreground object close to the camera in focus while not quite blurring out the whole scene. It is hinted at enough to give the image more context than a longer focal length that tends to blur everything.
Flare resistance was mostly quite good, with some minor ghosting artifacts that were never too strong or noticeable. Contrast remains good, and, as noted, the sunburst effect is noticeably improved over the previous lens when stopped down.
Coma performance was also quite good. This has always been a relative strength for the lens, as star points stay quite crisp and precise even towards the edge of the frame. The lens has an advantage in aperture relative to many wide angle lenses for APS-C, so being able to shoot at F2 allows you to keep ISO down (less noise) along with having shorter shutter speeds (less chance of star movement).
This is a solid choice for astrophotography.
Truth be told, there are few lenses like this on Sony APS-C. The combination of better-than-average build, autofocus, wider maximum aperture, and fairly strong optical performance make this lens quite unique. I’ve enjoyed the manual focus version of this lens in the past, and I was reminded why during this review. Check out the image gallery here if you would like to see more images.
Sony APS-C shooters are only rarely blessed with quality new lenses, but so far there have been at least a couple of really positive new additions. The Tamron 17-70mm F2.8 was a really nice professional grade zoom option (my review here), and this Samyang AF 12mm F2 provides a nice wide angle counterpart. Both lenses have weather sealing, quality autofocus, and strong optical performance. The weather sealing, in particular, is not something often seen on older APS-C lenses, mostly because many APS-C mirrorless cameras have not had weather sealing in the cameras themselves. Fujifilm has been the exception to that rule and take the idea of pro-grade APS-C cameras more seriously, but I suspect we’ll see more of that from Sony in the future.
This is a great option for those wanting a wider angle when traveling, working on a gimbal, or just to compliment a zoom lens. It has a great angle of view that is right in the sweet spot for landscape, city, or architecture. It has low enough distortion that the latter is a possibility, which further adds to its travel credentials.
It’s a nicely made lens that has great autofocus and a strong optical performance (minus the extreme corners). Images have a lot of pop to them, and I suspect you’ll have fun shooting with this one. Perhaps most importantly, though, is that Samyang has once again given us a great lens at a great price. $399 USD isn’t a pittance, obviously, but you would be hard-pressed to find a better value in the wide angle department if you want autofocus.
Here’s hoping that this is just the beginning of a new series of autofocusing lenses targeted at Sony’s APS-C mirrorless cameras. I know many, many photographers who would welcome just that!
- An excellent update of a well loved lens
- Incredibly lightweight
- Weather sealed
- New design is clean and elegant
- Autofocus is fast, quiet, and accurate
- Quite sharp in the center and midframe wide open
- Coma well controlled
- Improved aberration control
- Low distortion
- Good flare resistance
- Good coma performance
- Includes hood and case
- Awesome price to performance ratio
- Corners a little soft
- Samyang lenses don’t seem to get full in-camera correction support
- Hood doesn’t reverse for storage
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Keywords: Samyang AF 12mm F2, Samyang, AF, 12mm F2, FE, Samyang 12mm F2 Review, Samyang AF 12mm Review, Samyang AF 12mm F2 Review, Sony Alpha 1, Sony A1, Sony a6400, Sony a6600, Review, Hands On, Dustin Abbott, Real World, Comparison, Sharpness, Autofocus, Image Quality, Sample Images, Video, Photography, Astrophotography
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