A fully-manual prime lens with a fast aperture at a bargain price
This 35mm f/1.4 attracts an immediate comparison with Zeiss lenses on account of being a manual-only prime lens. There is no support for autofocusing, though the host camera’s AF indicator can be used as an electronic rangefinder.
Despite its Zeiss-like look and feel, Samyang’s lens carries an un-Zeiss-like £350 price tag. Not surprisingly, Samyang makes much of offering the best combination of price and specifications. A wide focusing collar dominates the middle of the lens, sitting in front of old-fashioned fan-type depth-of-field markings.
Behind this is the brand-defining red metallic band and, on the Nikon-fit lens tested (there are also Canon, Pentax, Samsung NX, Four Thirds, and Sony Alpha fittings available), a manual aperture ring that must be set to f/22 for automatic exposure. Electronic data transfer is supported for the latest cameras and peep-hole support is provided, in the case of Nikon bodies, for film-based AI cameras.
The action of the focusing collar is absolutely perfect but the throw is longer than normal at around 120°. This is not a problem: in fact it gives the lens a uniquely precise feel. A petal-type lens hood is also supplied.
Technical testing was a little disappointing as the figures were rather weak at very wide apertures. Stopping-down improves things greatly but it’s a shame to reserve the widest apertures for bright viewing rather than also being able to exploit their very shallow depth-of-field characteristics while retaining maximum image quality.
In use, the lens handles very nicely indeed. Not everybody will want a fully manual lens but those who try this 35mm f/1.4 are likely to be impressed. Helpfully, a soft carrying pouch is included to help protect the lens while it is in transit.
Overall it is very difficult to characterise this lens. It is certainly a specialist optic on account of being manual-only, but it also looks and feels great. It's a bit heavy but you are getting an ultra-bright f/1.4 maximum aperture and well-corrected optical performance. The price makes it such a bargain that the low performance figures at maximum aperture can easily be forgiven. On the basis of this lens it will be very interesting to discover the performance of other lenses from the Samyang stable.