Samyang V-AF Lenses Overview
April 17th, 2023
Photography continues to evolve. When I started using DSLRs, video recording wasn’t really an option. The Canon EOS 5D Mark II was a breakthrough camera for having some decent video capabilities…if it was hacked! The idea of getting decent autofocus during video recording was still a long way off, and in fact most of my early videos were filmed using manual focus as it was all too easy to record a 15 minute video and discover that the camera had not focused on me at all during the segment. But over time DSLRs evolved towards the idea of being “hybrid” instruments that could do both stills and videos, though that idea became more fully realized in the transition of the industry towards mirrorless cameras. Modern cameras are almost equally as capable as video recording devices as they are at capturing still images, and Samyang (also sold as Rokinon) has launched an interesting new lineup of lenses that are really targeted at that hybrid audience – the V-AF series.
Cine lenses are designed around a different set of priorities than typical photography lenses. Uniformity is important, as a setup with gearing, or focus follow, or even the balancing on a gimbal relies on being to swap lenses without a complicated process of rebalancing or setting gearing for a different diameter or location. Often a cine lens maker will have a variety of focal lengths with similar sizes, diameters, and location of the focus and/or aperture rings.
These lenses also prioritize the quality of focus action, a longer focus throw (or rotation) for precision when doing manual focus pulls. They are typically manual focus only to allow more complete control over the focus process to the cinematographer.
But Samyang has recognized that increasingly there isn’t two separate audiences for photography and videography equipment but rather that audience is merging together. They have determined that what this new hybrid audience needs is true hybrid lenses that work equally well for photo and video work. Enter the V-AF (Video Autofocus) lens series that tries to merge the strengths of both style of lenses into one lens/series of lenses.
The V-AF series leverages Samyang’s beloved “Tiny Series” of compact, lightweight F1.8 autofocusing lenses as the foundation for the V-AF series. Samyang has been releasing these lenses over the past five years, including the 18mm F2.8 (my review here), 24mm F1.8 (my review here), 35mm F1.8 (my review here), 45mm F1.8 (my review here), and 75mm F1.8 (my review here). The weakest performer of this series was the 18mm F2.8, and it is being excluded from this lineup and will be replaced with a future V-AF 20mm F1.8. Each of these other lenses will have their excellent optics repackaged in an updated and improved form. Samyang launched the series with the V-AF 24mm, 35mm, and 75mm T1.9 series with the 45mm to follow mid 2023 and the 20mm slated to release in the fall of 2023. I’ve got the first three lenses on hand and will create my general observations on the series based on them. I’ll then follow that up with an individual review of each lens…which you can access directly through these links as they come available:
- Samyang V-AF 20mm T1.9 Review | Image Gallery
- Samyang V-AF 24mm T1.9 Review | Image Gallery
- Samyang V-AF 35mm T1.9 Review | Image Gallery
- Samyang V-AF 45mm T1.9 Review | Image Gallery
- Samyang V-AF 75mm T1.9 Review | Image Gallery
The introduction for each of these reviews will include this section with an individualized review to follow. You can see my video that overviews the series and breaks down Samyang’s marketing premises compared to the reality of using the lenses here…or just read on.
Thanks to Samyang for sending me review copies of the V-AF series. As always, this is a completely independent review. *The tests and most of the photos that I share as a part of my review cycle have been done with the Sony a7IV along with the Sony Alpha 1 which will serve as my benchmark camera for the foreseeable future (my review here).
Samyang V-AF Design Elements
I’ll start by detailing the difference in the naming convention here. Photography lenses are designated by their focal length and physical aperture (35mm F1.8, for example), while cine lenses are designated by their focal length and light transmission, which is measured in T-stops (35mm T1.9, for example). A T-stop rating is almost always a bit smaller than the measurement of the physical aperture, as there is always some loss of light due to the glass elements in the lens. A little less light arrives at the sensor than what enters the opening of the physical aperture. The fact that the T stop of the V-AF series is T1.9 tells us that these optical designs are actually quite efficient. It’s not unusual for F1.8 lenses to have light transmission of T2 or even a bit smaller.
One of the frustrations I’ve had with the Samyang Tiny series is that they continued to evolve and improve over the course of the series, which was great for the newest lenses but made the older lenses seem less attractive. The earliest lenses (18mm and 45mm) were “plastic fantastic”, with a very basic build quality. Extremely lightweight (and with great optics), yes, but no switches or buttons, no weather sealing, etc…. They were plastic lenses with a mediocre focus ring…no more. As new releases came, slow but steady improvements also came. The 75mm added a custom switch that allowed for the ring to be used for different purposes (including aperture), and, if properly programmed, could also serve as an AF/MF switch. The 35mm added weather sealing into the package, and the 24mm added a “focus hold” button. I’ve lamented that the earlier lenses from the series had great optics but not the build quality and features they deserved. That’s resolved here in the V-AF series, where all of the lenses have a common feature set and identical build quality. I’m actually most excited for the 45mm T1.9 to come, as I adore the optics of the 45mm F1.8 but have long wished it could get rehoused in a better package.
Whenever you design around one common standard, there are some compromises that must be made. Namely that some lenses end up being bigger or larger in diameter than necessary, but Samyang has arrived at a design that, while larger than the Tiny lenses, is still compact and lightweight while improving the building quality and handling of the lenses. The exterior dimensions and weight are all identical: the lenses are 72.2mm in diameter (2.84″) and have a common 58mm front filter thread. The length of the lenses are 72.1mm (2.84″), or almost identical, which gives these lenses a rather squat profile that looks really good mounted on camera.
They each weigh 280g, or 9.6oz, making them nice and lightweight, though a little bit heavier than any of the Tiny lenses. These V-AF lenses do have more complexity of design and a higher grade of build than the Tiny series, however, so I think that Samyang has done a good job of keeping the size and weight down while also standardizing the series.
Part of that weight comes in the form of a metal accessory mount at the front of the lens. It has a handsome titanium-look finish with Samyang’s signature “hidden red ring” behind that. There is a bayonet style mount on the front of the lens complete with electronic contacts that allows for front-mounted accessories.
The first of those accessories to be released is a manual focus adapter.
You may ask, “why?” since there is already a manual focus ring. The answer lies in the nature of autofocusing lenses on mirrorless. The type of focus system that mirrorless cameras uses relies on “focus by wire”, which means that manual focus input from the ring is actually routed through the focus motor. It’s a manual focus “simulation” rather than a direct connection between the focus ring and the focusing elements. The quality of that focus simulation varies from lens to lens just like the quality of actual manual focus varies. In this case the quality of the manual focus simulation is actually quite good, with 300° of linear rotation (which means precise and repeatable focus pulls are possible), and with a nice level of damping that produces smooth, precise results, though with a tiny bit of lag between input on the ring and movement of the elements.
But what you don’t get is hard stops or precise distance markings, two things that are often very important when doing video focus pulls. This manual focus accessory gives you both, with hard mechanical stops at both ends of the focus range along with frequent and precise distance markings shown in both meters and feet.
The manual focus adapter replicates the tally lamp on the front of the lens so that you don’t lose that forward facing ability to monitor recording status. It is also compatible with a 95mm matte box, which would allow you to then use square filters up front for even more flexibility.
It is very easy to mount. Just line up the electronic contacts on the MF adapter with those on the front of the lens and push into place. There is a locking lever on the side that firmly locks it into place, leaving no wobble behind. When mounted and locked the adapter feels like a natural part of the lens and gives the lenses a profile similar to a wide angle prime.
Samyang plans to have a lineup of other accessories available in the future, but at the time of this review only the manual focus adapter is announced.
The manual focus adapter mirrors another V-AF feature, and that is a tally lamp which shows you recording status. There are actually two tally lamps on each lens: one on the front to be seen by the subject and a second on the side near the lens mount to be seen by the videographer.
The standard is for these LEDs to be green (standby) and red (recording), though you can change those colors by using the Samyang Lens Station (all of these lenses are compatible with it) and the free Lens Manager software.
You very quickly get accustomed to having the visual cue of the tally lamp. I recorded a video segment for this review with another lens as I had all of the V-AF lenses on camera, and I missed that little visual reminder that recording was active as I looking into the camera.
You can also tweak the behavior of the focus ring, determine what each of the two custom switch positions do (my personal choice is Aperture Control in Mode 1 and Manual Focus in Mode 2), and do firmware updates (here’s a quick video on how to do those firmware updates):
The unique front bayonet design for accessories precludes the inclusion of a lens hood, so you’ll have to use these lenses without a hood. The front element on all of them (thus far) is a bit recessed, so there is some protection for the front element right in the lens design.
As noted above, all of these V-AF lenses sport a two position custom switch and a focus hold button. The custom switch can be programmed via the Lens Station, while the function of the focus hold button is set within the camera just like any other lens on Sony.
Each of the V-AF lenses sports a nice weather sealed design with a total of six seal points, including the front and rear elements, on either side of the focus ring, and at the custom switch and focus hold buttons. Here’s a look at the diagram that shows these seal points.
I shot with all of them quite extensively around Niagara Falls over a week where I took some of my family there. When you are close to the falls it is essentially like constantly being in a light rain because of all the mist. I had to clean off the front element a number of times (as you can see from the shot below, which still manages to look pretty cool!), but the lenses showed no negative impact from the moisture. They are all internally focusing as well, which means that there is even less chance of dust or moisture intrusion.
All of them also sport a similar 9 bladed aperture iris which does a good if not exceptional job of maintaining a circular shape when the aperture is closed down.
You can see in this sequence (courtesy of the 75mm) at aperture settings of F1.8, 2.8, and 4 that you can see bit of the blade shape fairly early on as the blades are straight, not curved.
I will note that you can control the aperture via the focus ring if you move to that setting via the custom switch. There are no preset “clicks”, so in theory the aperture works like a declicked aperture. It is still a manual input that is translated into an electrical input that moves the aperture iris control (not a direct mechanical coupling), so doing aperture racks is an area where the V-AF lenses a little short of a fully mechanical cine lens. Samyang has cleverly differentiated the nature of aperture control between stills (where the ring acts a little more like it is “clicked”) and during video recording, where the aperture control is smoother and with less visible steps, allowing for slightly smoother aperture racking than the typical autofocus lens.
These lenses all look and handle pretty much identically. I was impressed with the consistency of design across the various manual focus rings, which performed very similarly. The lens cap is a little different than normal, as the front bayonet setting means that these need a cap that goes over the outside of the barrel (a 70mm diameter) rather than a traditional pinch cap. There is a little cutout on each side of the lens cap, and I would recommend aligning that with the lens designation on both sides of the barrel as it one of the few visual cues that will allow you to tell these lenses apart if you have multiple lenses.
So what varies from lens to lens?
In terms of handling very little. The optics are obviously going to vary from lens to lens, but the only real handling difference is that each lens has a unique minimum focus distances and maximum magnification. This chart breaks down the difference in the focusing distance across each lens with the exception of the 20mm F1.8, it is still under development and Samyang has not released the details on its individual performance yet.
The chart above does not include the maximum magnification for each lens, but we can glean that information (mostly) from the performance of each lens’ “Tiny” counterpart. I say “almost” for the simple reason that the 45mm V-AF lens is shown to be able to focus considerably closer than its Tiny counterpart. The 45mm F1.8 can only focus as closely as 0.45m (1.48′), which the new V-AF lens should be able to focus as closely as 0.35m (1.15), which should significantly increase its magnification figure up closer to 0.20x range. I’ll confirm that once I have one in hand. As for the other lenses:
- 24mm = 0.21x
- 35mm = 0.17x
- 75mm = 0.13x
Most of these figures are fairly competitive within their classes, though none of them are class leading. The 45mm has the potential to be better than most competitors if the closer focus distance translates to higher magnification.
Another are that will vary from lens to lens is the amount of focus breathing. The amount of breathing on the 20mm is not yet mentioned, but the rest of the lenses in the series follow a linear progression with the 24mm having the least amount of breathing (almost non-existent at 0.7%) and the 75mm having the most amount of breathing (a significant 11.7%). As third party lenses the V-AF lenses will not be compatible with Sony’s Focus Breathing Compensation that has begun to show up in their most recent cameras. This could change, of course, but I know from Sony briefings that they do tout this as an advantage for their first party lenses, so it may be unlikely to change.
I’ve really enjoyed spending time with the V-AF lenses. I’ve long been a fan of the excellent optics in the Tiny series (many of them lenses with real “personality”), and those optics are now getting the kind of build quality and feature set that they deserve. The only potential fly in the ointment here is that the Tiny series has always been a tremendous value, but the V-AF lenses are a little more expensive. MSRP is $699 for the series, though they are already selling at the $650 price point at retail. At the same time, these are unique lenses with a lot of real strengths, and for cine lenses (which tend to be more expensive) the price point is quite reasonable. In many ways the V-AF lenses make the most sense if you plan to buy more than one of them, as having a common design and dimensions is only an advantage if you are using multiple lenses. It would probably be wise of Samyang to sell them as a kit in the future. They could discount the price compared to buying the lenses individually and maybe throw in a nice hard case for storing all of the lenses. I have one piece of advice for Samyang if they did that: make room for a camera body in the case. Most of Sony’s full frame cameras are very similar in size, so it would be easy to include a spot for a camera to fit in, allowing you to pack out a whole kit in one case.
Autofocus and General Performance
Samyang is still a relatively young autofocus developer, and they started releasing the Tiny series very early in that cycle. Autofocus performance grew steadily better in the early lenses via firmware, and later lenses in the series showed growing maturity. Some of the early lenses in the series are on firmware 6 and even 7 (18mm F2.8), which shows two things, one good, and one bad. The good news is that Samyang has showed a commitment to support and improve their lenses over time via firmware. The bad news is that those lenses have clearly needed tweaking over time. As a lens reviewer for over a decade now, I’ve learned that there is a direct correlation between the amount of power in a focus system and the accuracy it is able to achieve. It’s not just the amount of power needed to start the focus group moving, but also the power and control needed to quickly stop that movement at the perfect spot to achieve accurate focus without pulsing or settling. Samyang has developed a smooth quiet linear focus motor that is quite refined, and frankly it works better in these smaller aperture lenses than it does in their bigger F1.4 lenses.
Sony often employs multiple focus motors in tandem (even quad configurations) to provide enough force to move even the larger and heavier elements with speed, finesse, and quietness. I think that is the next level for Samyang to aspire to, but that’s less of an issue with these smaller lenses. Focus speed in AF-C mode for stills is near instantaneous for the shorter focal lengths, with the 75mm just a tiny bit slower but still fast enough for basically any application. I haven’t seen any focus pulsing or settling; just quick and accurate focus. This photo at F1.8 of my son at Niagara Falls is perfectly focused despite the distance and all of the potential focus distractions (taken with the 35mm):
I also took the V-AF 75mm along on a night of pickup basketball mounted on my Alpha 1 to see how it handled acquiring and tracking action. I was pleasantly surprised, as while I was limited to 15FPS (Sony’s restriction on all third party lenses), I found that the lens quickly acquired focus, tracked the action well, and delivered very well focused results. The 75mm would have the most challenges of any of the lenses in this situation due to having the longest focal length (and I was shooting at F1.8), so while sports action might not be a primary focus of the lens, it at least showed that the focus motor could keep up if need be.
On the video front the tuning for the focus motor is a nice balance between speed and smoothness. Focus pulls on my a7IV (with focus transition speed set at 5 – about halfway) are not instantaneous but are instead smooth and without visible steps. You don’t want video focus pulls to be abrupt, so this tuning seems pretty good to me. There does seem to be a split-second “settling” at the end of the pull where final focus is fine-tuned, but it is such a small and discrete movement that I almost missed it.
Eye AF tracking was excellent for both stills and videos. I’ve used several of the V-AF lenses for video episodes where I was in front of the camera and got steady, reliable results without any pulses away from my eyes. I’ve been behind the camera for a variety of video and photography shots, and seen good stickiness on the eye and reliable tracking.
Cine lenses typically employ a long focus throw to allow for precision in focus and smoothness in focus pulls. That’s true here, as the V-AF lenses have 300° of focus rotation (though that can be tweaked via the Lens Station). I found them to be fun to do manual focus pulls with, as the focus ring moves precisely and smoothly, allowing for some great looking pulls. 300° is a long rotation if you are just using your hands, however, and you can’t do that whole throw in one rotation. If you want to rack from minimum to infinity you are going to get better results by either using autofocus or some type of gearing.
The focus ring is linear, which means that it is not speed-dependent. Your finish point will remain constant whether you are focusing quickly or slowly, which allows for repeatable results. Without the manual focus attachment, however, you won’t have any distance markings or hard stops, so you will have to mark your own marks with tape or something similar if needed.
In short, the V-AF series fulfills its purpose of providing true hybrid lenses that can function for both stills and video. You’ve got quality autofocus and also quality manual focus that only improves if you use the manual focus attachment to give a more organic process.
Samyang V-AF Optics
I will deal with the optics of each lens in their own unique reviews, but the optics have always been the strong suit of this series. None of them are Sony G-Master level performers, but I’ve found that most of the lenses in the series have a lot of character along with having very strong sharpness. The optical standouts (for me) have been the 45mm and 75mm lenses, which I think have really lovely rendering. I’ve had dozens of anecdotal reports from people who have bought these lenses on my recommendation and give me glowing feedback on how much they enjoy the images these lenses produce.
One of Samyang’s priorities in the V-AF series is a standardized color balance across all of these lenses. Early Samyang lenses had a reputation for being fairly warm in their rendering. That could be pleasing in some situations, but made them difficult to pair with other lenses if you were looking for a consistent color balance. I’ve noticed that Samyang’s lenses have become increasingly color neutral over time, however, which means that the color rendering is increasingly accurate. I have a feeling that the quality of their optical glass has improved.
They are also drawing from a lot of experience with cine lenses now, including their premium XEEN lineup of cine lenses. Color consistency is very important for cine lenses, as you want the footage to match as you change lenses so that your final project looks comprehensive rather than patchwork. All of the V-AF lenses comply with Samyang’s CCI (Color Contribution Index) standard so that you get consistent color across them.
I tested this for myself by setting up a Datacolor Spydercheckr color palette along with the cover of a great portrait book as a subject. I then set the camera’s white balance at a constant 5000K to match the color temperature of the lights that I was using. I used the 24mm, 35mm, and 75mm in sequence, making changes to the position of the tripod to standardize framing as much as possible. When going through the videos in sequence I did feel that the color balance was very similar across them. It’s a little harder to illustrate in a text review, but here are screenshots from each video (24mm, 35mm, then 75mm).
There are optical strengths and weaknesses to each unique optical design, obviously, but I did feel that the three lenses I had to test worked nicely as a comprehensive optical package. Footage looked detailed, had great color, and did match nicely across different focal lengths even using typical auto white balance. Here’s a screenshot from a clip taken with the 24mm T1.9:
Each of these lenses is strong enough optically that I think that most photographers or cinematographers would be very happy with them, and to get better performance you’ll likely need to spend significantly more money. You can get a better sense of the optical performance of each individual lens by either checking out their individual reviews or going to the unique image gallery for each lens (they will be hyperlinked below as they become available, so you might want to bookmark this page to come back and check).
- Samyang V-AF 20mm T1.9 Gallery
- Samyang V-AF 24mm T1.9 Gallery
- Samyang V-AF 35mm T1.9 Gallery
- Samyang V-AF 45mm T1.9 Gallery
- Samyang V-AF 75mm T1.9 Gallery
The Samyang V-AF series was an unexpected (but pleasurable) surprise for me. I review so many lenses that I’m often aware of the “sameness” of so many lenses, so I’m always happy when a lens maker does something new and unique. I’m even happier when they do it well, and I do think that Samyang has accomplished that here. They have accurately assessed the changing market and recognize that many people that do both stills and video with their cameras might not be ready to go all in on fully manual (and often large and expensive) cine lenses, so the V-AF series does a great job of straddling those two separate needs without any fatal compromises.
It also means that the optics of Tiny series get improved packaging that is frankly more commiserate with their performance. The consistency of autofocus, handling, and features across these lenses is very welcome.
I would say that the biggest question for potential buyers is to determine whether or not they need the V-AF versions of the lenses. There’s no question that the V-AF versions are superior: better build, better features, more mature AF, more consistent color, etc… But they are also larger, heavier, and more expensive than their “Tiny” counterparts. If you are just going to shoot stills and maybe an occasional video clip, the Tiny variants will probably offer better bang for the buck. But if you could benefit from the actual cine strengths of these lenses (and in particular if you plan to buy more than one), then I think there are a lot of compelling reasons to consider these lenses. Their value as cine lenses is much higher than just as stills lenses, though they are extremely capable photography lenses as well, which makes them more versatile than pure cine lenses. The Samyang V-AF lenses are a great match for the modern hybrid photographer – true little “jack-of-all-trades” lenses that are a genuine pleasure to use.
- Standardized size and features
- Nicely damped focus ring with 300° of rotation
- 6 weather sealing points
- Good features and general handling
- Fast, quiet, and accurate autofocus from Linear STM
- Good balance of size, weight, and build
- Consistent color across series
- Innovative front accessory mount
- New manual focus accessory works very nicely
- Unique hybrid lenses
- Dual tally lamps are useful
- Aperture control adapts to stills or video use
- Aperture racking isn’t quite as good as a mechanical cine lens
- V-AF lenses considerably more expensive than their “Tiny” counterparts
- Not at “tiny” as the “Tiny” lenses
Purchase the Samyang V-AF 24mm T1.9 @ B&H Photo | Adorama | Amazon | Amazon Canada | Amazon UK | Amazon Germany | Ebay
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Keywords: V-AF, Samyang, Rokinon, 20mm, 24mm, 35mm, 45mm, 75mm, F1.8, F/1.8, Samyang V-AF review, Review, Telephoto, Action, Tracking, Hands On, Dustin Abbott, Real World, Comparison, Sharpness, Bokeh, Flare Resistance, Autofocus, Image Quality, Sample Images, Video, Photography, Niagara Falls, Sony a9, sony a7RV, Sony a7R 5, sony a7IV, a9II, Sony Alpha 1, Sony A1 let the light in, #letthelightin
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