What's worse than a low light test? A LENS test of course!! Ahhhh tests. They are what fuels the internet when it comes to camera and film-making forums. So, here's one that's sure to get your argumentative type on. This is more of a comparison though, not really a test, but hopefully you'll get something positive out of it.
Not long ago I purchased a Rokinon/Samyang Cine lens set which included the 16mm, 24mm, 35mm and 85mm primes. After much research on line, I found mostly positive reviews and comparisons which was great! Although, I did read a lot of garbage which basically came down to people throwing around words like "un-useable wide open", "un-acceptable distortion", or "pointless without the 50mm". What gets me is If words like that come from the mouths of people with enough forum posts next to their name, it could deter people from actually making a decision for themselves. I for one rarely listen to what other people tell me hehe. That's not to say I don't listen to people! Of course I do! I'm talking about taking advice, and taking it as golden without looking into it myself. So, if you get through this post, please don't take my word for anything...go a borrow the set and see for yourself :)
Once I received the lenses (how exciting!!) the first step was to destroy the notion that these babies are "un-useable" wide open. That's what THIS TEST was all about :)
The next thing I looked at was, how do they compare to my trusty Nikkors from the 80's? I say trusty, not because of what I've read on-line, but because everything you see on my blog up until a few months ago was shot with them. It took me a good while, browsing through hundreds of e-bay listings and combing the net for reviews (thanks Ken Rockwell), but over the course of a few months I gradually parted with a good chunk of cash and built up a set that have served me very, very well - for almost 5 years in fact.
Why Nikkors? And hey wait...isn't it Nikon? Ahhh, that's right, the lenses are "Nikkor", the camera's are "Nikon" :)
> They're affordable (especially when comparing them to Canon L's or Zeiss)
> They're very sharp (from f4 onwards, but also perform well below that)
> They have excellent build quality (most of my lenses are over 20 years old)
> They use hard-stop friction driven focus rings (Knowing where your focus begins and ends sounds like a standard thing right? Not with a Canon L and many other still lenses. Nikkors stop hard and the focus feel is silky and smooth)
> They have aperture control on the lens (Great for adjusting the aperture! No seriously, try that with a Canon L on a camera that doesn't support electronic lenses)
> They are of super compact design (great for traveling)
> They are cheaply and easily converted to fit any camera mounting system
> Not all lenses match in terms of color and contrast (means more work in post)
> Focus direction is the opposite to most (hard to get used to, frustrating when you're brain switches back to auto-pilot during a take)
> No focus gears (this can be fixed, DIY style)
> Aperture "clicks" when you adjust it (not so good if you're trying to achieve a smooth iris pull, although it can also be fixed DIY style)
> Noticeable breathing is present (not as bad as the Zuiko's and it's never bothered me or my clients)
MEET MY NIKKORS!
For a couple of years I did have the Nikkor 15mm 3.5 which cost me an arm and a leg. I found the distortion (dare I say) un-acceptable and the flaring was crazy too. That on top of the fact that a Tokina 11-16 2.8 is faster, has less distortion and less flair issues, I had to sell it..leather pouch and all! It was a sad day but in the end it's the image which is important to me, not the brand or coolness of what I'm shooting with. That being said, it is a fucking cool lens and I miss it. I mean LOOK AT IT! Not to be confused with a fisheye, this baby is aspherical, although the massive bulging front element literally looks like a fish's eye. The SKATEBOARDING SHOT at 1:02 in my old DSLR reel was shot with this, and so was a lot of this high energy stuff: RUNNING LATE
The 24mm, f2.8 can be picked up fairly cheaply, between $150-$250+ on e-bay for something in decent condition. This lens is not bad wide open, but it could be better as you'll see in the comparison below. That being said, it's worth every penny and like all of these Nikkors, it's nice and sharp when stopped down to f4 and above. I also love the flairs you get on this lens, not that it flairs like crazy but if you let it go, it's nice :)
The 35mm, f2.8 is the cheapest of the bunch. Again, somewhere around $150-$200+ on e-bay, but you'll find most of them are cheaper than the 24. I find this to be the worst performer of the bunch however in terms of sharpness, you'll see what I mean in the comparison below when it's at f2.8, but I have fallen in love with it's flaws. Shooting a subject close, wide open really does look beautiful...soft-ish, but beautiful.
The Nikkor 50mm, f1.4 is a stunning lens. It's sharp (in my opinion, sharp enough by f2) and is a pleasure to look through. Contrast is awesome, color rendition fantastic, flaring minimal and bokeh beautiful. It can be found on e-bay for $250-$500+ and I highly recommend it. Since there is no Rokinon/Samyang 50mm just yet, I still use this as part of my "go-to" kit. It's awesome! I was lucky enough to get a really good one...it felt like it was brand new! That's saying a lot for a lens that was constructed over 20 years ago.
The Nikkor 85mm, f1.4 is the pick of the bunch. It's SO FRICKEN SHARP it's not funny. The flare is so beautiful..the contrast superb and the sheer physical feel of the thing is almost arousing. This one's not cheap though, but can be had between $400-$800+ on e-bay. It out-performs my Rokinon/Samyang Cine in terms of sharpness and interestingly has a much closer focusing distance than the Samyang so it's more versatile. Mine was dropped by my AC and it's never been the same since :(
The Nikkor 105, f2.5 isn't as fast as the 50 or 85 but it makes up for it in focus feel and bokeh. This lens has the most creamy bokeh I've ever seen (apart from Cooke's hehe). It's affordable and very compact for it's speed and reach. Focus distance is nice too...it's a tough choice picking this or the 85 sometimes. Since Rokinon/Samyang haven't released a telephoto Cine just yet, this is also part of my "go-to" kit.
The Nikkor 180, f2.8 ED is the only one of these lenses that is actually sharp, wide open. So, Not as fast as it's little brothers and sisters, but wow. I shot THIS AWESOME SCENE from Dead Therapy with this lens, wide open. It has a loooong focus throw, amazing build quality (you could kill someone with this thing) and a handy built in hood! Focus distance isn't very close but that's why I've got the 105 :) If you can find a good example of this lens, buy it. They're relatively cheap from $250-400+ (depending on condition).
That completes the Nikkors in my kit. I do however have a really cool 80-200, f4 "CRASH" zoom Nikkor that is surprisingly sharp for how cheap it was. I found one on e-bay for $110. I bust it out ever now and then if I'm shooting hand-held action scenes (don't go there). The lens's construction means that you don't twist it to zoom in, you literally pull it back and forth (don't) to change focal lengths. It's a really cool look and when you get used to it, you can create some awesome crash zoom effects. The other cool thing is that the focus point does not change throughout the entire zoom range. Get one! They're mad :)
SO! They were the very first lenses I ever purchased and I still use them today on my biggest shoots. Every now and then I get temped to go and browse the e-bay seller listings for others...there's a super speed set (24mm f2, 35mm f1.4, 50m f1.2 105mm f1.8) but they're double the price. I think you're better off with the Rokinon's I'm about to talk about. That being said, there's something special about the old Nikkors that are just, well, hard to beat. It's almost as if you can feel that they have been in the hands of other artists and seen amazing things over the years. I love 'em. Anyway, I have now replaced the 15, 24, 35 and 85 with my new Rokinon/Samyang Cine primes and I have been LOVING the results. These lenses are worth every single dollar, and that includes shipping and taxes hehe :)
When it comes to shooting films, time is of the essence. I like to make use of that time making creative decisions, not technical ones. The less I have to worry about technically, the better I am creatively. Don't get me wrong, I love problem solving but having lenses that are all "geared" towards cinema, straight out of the box, is a big deal. This also means I can better communicate with the director and my crew because my mind isn't thinking about weather or not the lens I chose will reach the matte-box or be compatible with my follow focus for example.
I'm not going to profile these bad boys like I did the Nikkors. Honestly, I've only TESTED THEM and shot a few things professionally at this stage so I don't know what I could write, other than:
> They're REALLY affordable (compared to anything)
> They're very sharp (from f2.5 onwards, some of them are sharp wide open!)
> They're SUPER FAST (Most of them opening up to T1.5, that's a whole extra stop of light)
> THEY GOT GEARS BRO! (Yep, permanent gears on the focus ring AND aperture ring)
> NO CLICKS CUZ! (The aperture ring not only has gears, but it's smooth like butter so iris transitions are the same)
> They use hard-stop friction driven focus rings (maybe not AS super silky smooth as a nikkor in good condition, but still smooth with good friction and throw. They also focus in the right direction)
> They come in all of the common mounting options (Nikon, Canon, M4/3rds, Sony, etc)
> They have focus marks on the side of the lens, not the top like the Nikkors (This means that your AC can see them when he/she is pulling focus for you)
> They have a red line on them, which makes you look professional!
> They have a red line on them, which makes you look "professional" (Okay, I'll stop)
> They're not as tough as a Nikkor (But they're tough enough, solid with a good quality feel)
> Noticeable breathing is present (not as bad as the Nikkors but again, it's never bothered me or my clients)
> The complete set isn't complete! (Currently (Jan 2014) you cannot purchase a 50mm or higher than an 85mm, that sucks)
[ Now, no doubt this next part is going to piss someone off because it's not a "scientific" test....blah blah...look...I got bored one night and decided to compare my new "cine" lenses to the kit that I already have. Turns out that they're better in almost every way, and they're cheaper. There's no test charts and nothing REALLY measurable here. I'm mostly sharing my thoughts and enthusiasm about what is available to film-makers today. From the few times I've whacked these baddies on the front of my Scarlet, I've been gobsmacked. The comparison images below don't really give off that same vibe, but they do tell a story worth sharing.
Since I sold my glorious 15mm Nikkor, I have replaced it with a Tokina 11-16mm. It's a great lens, but I hate the build quality and the design. Also, I've compared the Nikkor 105mm to the Canon 100mm Macro which is super sharp, great for macro shots (obviously) but the focus is down-right disgusting and impossible to use for cinema.
Finally, before we dissect, note that I have compared all of the lenses at f2.8 which technically isn't really fair to the Nikkors (24 and 35) or the Tokina, since the competition get's to stop down some. Lenses perform better in all aspects when they are stopped down, hitting their sweet spot around f5.6. I'm aware of this, but it's not really a comparison to see which lens is "better", it's more of a comparison to see which lens is a better choice. That's far more practical in my mind. Feel free to download these or if you want the hi-res TIFF files, I can supply them. ]
THE SUPER WIDE
THE LONG END
At the ultra-wide end, the Sammy and Tokina have noticeably different distortion patterns. I feel this comparison doesn't give the Samyang justice though. Since I've been using it, I've liked it's distortion better with human faces.
The Sammy's seem to be longer than they say too, notice that? There's an extra couple of mm crop you get compared to the Nikkors.
Chromatic aberrations are better all round on the Sammy's at f2.8 (helped some-what by being stopped down) with the exception of the stellar Nikkor 85.
The Nikkor 105 performed superbly well since the Canon is known to be REDONKULOUSLY sharp and costs nearly four times as much.
All in all, I was very happy with this comparison. I would have paid that price for the gears, de-clicked aperture and markings alone, but on top of that I get better performance at f2.8 AND an extra stop of light if I'm desperate. If you're interested to see how the Sammy's perform wide open, check out the link I've pimped three times now > LOW LIGHT IGNITE Every one of those shots are wide open at T1.5.
Finally, if you do a Google search you'll find plenty of in depth reviews and proper tests, but I hope you found this post interesting and informative. My opinion on lenses is that you're better off spending masses of money on a decent tripod, lighting and catering ;) Cheers!