Samyang 14mm F2.8, Zeiss 21 F2.8 and Sigma 50mm Reviews/Observations
(plus some others mixed in that I didn't end up with - Canon 50 F1.4 and Canon 24L II)
(a lot of the images below are animated gifs)
Fall 2012 I have made the jump back to full frame. This is my journey to how I wound up with what. A set of lenses I'm now quite happy with(though still probably need the 24-70 F2.8 or some zoom in that range). I sold my Canon 10-22 EF-s in the process. Kept the Canon 100-400L seen on right above. Bought a Canon 5D II, Samyang 14mm F2.8, Zeiss 21mm F2.8 and Sigma 50 F1.4. Those three lenses in that order in the middle of the above image. My ol nifty 50 Canon F1.8 is on the left for more size comparison. It was anything but a straight path to these lenses. And in the course of this, it wasn't a plan I'd do any reviewing at all. More of a realization part way through that I have now used several lenses and have some experience.
My first, biggest consideration in what lenses to get, was a main nice wide. Well before that, owning that 100-400L basically kept me with Canon cameras. Going to the Nikon D800 would have been the likely route if I wouldn't have to sell and replace that lens. Just too much of a hit and added cost to the already high cost of this. It's pretty funny I wind up getting all non-Canon lenses during the jump. I never even noticed till after I was done. Because again, I dumped my Canon 10-22, then picked up the Canon 5D II and the three non-canon lenses in the middle above.
The first lens I went with was actually the Canon 24L II F1.4. I was torn between going with it and the Zeiss 21 for my main wide lens. I wanted to play with F1.4 at night on stars and whatnot. What I quickly found was the coma on the points of light was soooooo bad F2.8 and more open. It was really a pointless deal to me, to have that added speed if I could just count on straight up silly coma with it.
While testing out the 24L I noticed at infinity the left side was soft and focused inside infinity the right side was then way more soft than the left. I sent it back to lensrentals.com where I had bought it used and they tweaked it some. Problem was the problem was still there. The possibility it was my camera's flange/mount to sensor plane was off came up, but that I could return it or do whatever I wanted. I tried it on my crop sensor T2i and could see the same behavior so I chalked it up to the lens. I decided to swap it for the Zeiss 21 and just live with it if it did the same thing on my 5D II. It did. Voila, the problem all along was my camera. Which I then had to send off to Canon and get fixed for $250.
Canon 24L II
The desire for a wide F1.4 for night sky stuff quickly went out the window after seeing the coma on even an expensive Canon 24L II.
Full frame camera, 100% crop from the upper left of the above image. I'm sorta happy the coma is that bad on full frame with apertures under F2.8. The wide angle F1.4 buying bug quickly went away and wasn't part of the equation anymore. F2.8 would have to do. When I thought I had a lens issue(which turned out to be the camera's problem that needed fixed) and I had the chance and choice to swap the lens or return it, the Zeiss 21 was now the very easy choice. And so I wound up with it. The 24L was super sharp otherwise and contrasty. I really only wanted it because it was the widest lens that went to F1.4. I had read the coma on this lens was bad in the corners. I didn't realize just how bad this was wide open with light sources though. Or just how far towards center it does it. Sadly it doesn't improve a whole lot stopping down to F2.8. Weird the lens is otherwise sharp out towards the corners on full frame. For such a pricey lens, that is kind of a joke. So in the end I'm not sure how useful this would be for starfield shots.
There is so much to consider on lenses. Just look at the other options on those links at the bottom of the pages. Vignetting, resolution/sharpness, flaring, distortion, this coma, chromatic aberrations. Comparing the Canon 24 to the Samyang 24 for coma, it's far better than the Canon. But then compare the resolution of the two. The Canon smokes it. So really it's not like it is a better option. The Canon is a better option. This coma is so troubling though, I'm just not sure it's really a starfield lens at all. This sucks given it's the widest F1.4 there is to get.
I didn't just wind up with the Sigma 50 F1.4 either. I bought the Canon 50 F1.4 first. I thought it sucked. I've seen reviews really go opposite ways on those two. Turns out it sucks wide open compared to the Sigma but by F2.8 it's starting to pass the Sigma and by F5.6 the Sigma has been left in the dust. If I had that to do over now, I'd have kept the Canon. Instead I spent the $150 more on the Sigma and found out the hard way. But even so, the Sigma is plenty fine and still better wide open. The only reason I bought a different 50 than the Canon F1.8 is for a real focus ring. The Canon 50 F1.8 is optically as good as either the F1.4's basically. That flimsy focus ring is a deal breaker though when you shoot a lot at night. Seriously the shutter slap will move that focus ring. Don't dare sneeze around the camera on the tripod with that lens. And that is if you can even focus it and let go without it moving too much. So having had all three 50s I couldn't help but feel I should compare them. The Canon F1.4 isn't framed exactly like the others but it's close enough. The whole review deal just slowly came along as an idea. I was testing them all out at different times.
I'm really really happy with my lens line up now(these plus the 100-400L). The Samyang 14mm F2.8 on the left is a cheap lens. $400 or less new. Rokinon and Bower resell the same exact lens from Samyang. It's a 14mm F2.8 which the Canon equivalent to is $2200. I've used that lens too. It really comes off at least as sharp and likely more sharp out in the full frame corners. What the hell! It does have more vignetting wide open, a lot. That cleans up fast by F5.6 though. It also has heavy mustache distortion. But just plug a profile in photoshop and that is gone. You don't lose much frame. There's so much resolution that isn't hurt either. It really is a non-issue. It's a mind-blowingly-priced quality lens, it really is. No autofocus but who needs that at 14mm.
The Zeiss 21mm F2.8 is a beast. It's my main beast now. It's an $1850 lens. I got it from lensrentals.com used for $400 off that. They list resolution figures on all their used items for sale. By the way they sell all their stuff once they've had it in their line-up for 2 years. Most renters are paranoid about damaging equipment that costs a lot. I know I am when I do. And it's not rented all that time. They test stuff between rentals and when it is time to sell. It really is the best place to buy used I'm thinking. It looks brand spanking new. Their 8.5 rating is basically a 10. Anyway, 18/18 lp/mm resolution on there seems to be a simply good or even poor level. Most will say 20/20 lp/mm and be good. 22/22 lp/mm shows up on some with very high resolution wording. Well this one had 24/24 lp/mm and obscenely high resolution for the wording lol. I've watched a lot on there and it seems the few times a lens will get that it happens to be a Zeiss.
The Sigma 50mm F1.4, eh, I'm content enough with it and happy to have a real focus ring for the 50mm range now. Just look how much bigger that lens is than the Canon F1.8 next to it on the far right. Again, if I had it to do over, I'd easily opt for the Canon F1.4 and save $150 in the process too.
Onto the 3 sections for these lenses below.
Samyang 14mm F2.8
The thing about the Samyang 14 that will surely cause the most concern is the heavy mustache distortion. Put a horizon near the top or bottom and it will look like a wave. In the end, it's far less of an issue than I figured. Heck the mustache reports on the Zeiss 21mm were giving me pause and this is far more and I'm not the least bit bothered now. Stick a profile for it in photoshop and it's gone in RAW conversion. Above is a gif animation before and after distortion fix. You can see you don't lose much frame/width due to cropping after the fix either. There's plenty of resolution it's not going to hurt that really either. For what it is worth, the distortion looks similar to the 17-40L at 17mm. The corners of the 17-40 I had on full frame in the past, were horribly soft, even stopped down. The 17-40 vignetted big time too. This Samyang vignettes big time, but it seems with stopping down it goes away better than the 17-40L did stopping down.
An important note. They quickly re-issued this lens in a new version. Some old reviews may not be with the much improved newer version.
The Samyang 14 F2.8 doesn't have any autofocus and the aperture is controlled on the lens as well. Autofocus isn't terribly missed on an ultrawide. I never trust it anyway and always use manual unless it's telephoto bird stuff. So I don't miss autofocus at all. I seriously never use it on anything other than 100-400L and only then when it is on birds. All the other lenses I've had, the autofocus switch spent its life in off position.
The aperture turns in half stop increments, not thirds. So F2.8, F3.5, F4, F4.5, F5.6, etc. The above gif showing the vignetting goes through each of those listed here. F2.8 to F3.5 there is seriously almost no change. You can see on the grill just a slight change dead center. Half the time metering picked a faster shutter with that one half stop down on the lens aperture. Then some change by next one at F4. Still too much vignetting for my tastes at F4. By F5.6 though, I'm pretty damn happy.
The build of the lens is really damn good for something that comes in under $400. The focus ring is smooth and really long. It's longer than any focus ring I've turned. You can really move it while seeing no difference. The lens hood is built into the lens and not removable which isn't a bad thing, given how much that front element has to stick out there, being ultrawide. Good for protection.
Full frame corners are a real challenge for lens makers. Fast ultrawide ones especially. It can be a real nightmare, even on expensive lenses. Full frame is just not kind while it images further out in the lens circle than a typical crop body. Given this lens is a 14mm, a F2.8, $400 or less new, on a full frame...the corner performance scares me it's so good. The above is the extreme upper right corner. No sharpening done in RAW conversion. And also the profile distortion fix is applied, which has to result in some resolution loss. But most importantly, this is all unsharpened and a full frame extreme corner of a 14mm F2.8 cheap lens lol. My 17-40L could never do this when I had it on a 5D II in the past. Sure the above shows it is soft at F2.8 and even at F4. But it's largely the last bit of the corner out there and it's not overly unusable. By F5.6, hello. Use this lens at F5.6 and it really is dope. Good luck finding something so wide, so nicely priced, with such good resolution out to the corners for full frame. Good luck.
Above right of middle, 2 frame gif. Even wide open at F2.8 there's just not much to complain about for an unsharpened, distortion corrected, 100% crop like this. By F5.6 it improves a bit and is just truly sharp. It's an F2.8 14mm lens for under $400 lol. I would not be the least bit surprised if its corner performance is better than the $2200 Canon 14L II. Or the center. It doesn't seem to have much chromatic aberration either. Really in a lot of the important categories, it is better than the much higher priced Canon. http://www.lenstip.com/239.4-Lens_review-Samyang_14_mm_f_2.8_ED_AS_IF_UMC_Image_resolution.html Some hefty praise there.
For night sky ops, that probably says a lot. I can seen plenty of coma from 14L II shots I took in the Badlands this year. I wish I had done more day stuff with that lens and well kept the files. I get the impression the Samyang all around owns it on resolution. It's really hard to imagine convincing myself it's even worth such a switch if the Canon was the same price, let alone ummmm 5-6x as much.
It's just a beast really and a stupidly low priced one in the process. It's really kinda hard to even understand that it exists given that price and how good it is. I'm sure distortion will scare some off. Then the 17-40L better scare them off too as it's about identical at 17mm, something not nearly as wide even.
Sigma F1.4 50mm vs Canon F1.8 50mm vs Canon F1.4 50mm
All 3 shot at F1.8
The lens names are in the file names upper left of each grab. This first example all 3 lenses were shot at F1.8. And yes, clearly the Canon 50 F1.4 was framed a hair wider at the time. It really doesn't change the outcome, obviously. The crops are from the very top and to the right of center. Same framing as done on the Zeiss examples basically. More wide open the Sigma owns the two Canons. Just look at the white shadows off the PVC. The Canon F1.4 is scary bad here, even if it's contrast more than anything. Not even fully open either. Even the cheaper Canon F1.8 beats it.
All 3 shot at F2.8
Stopped down to just F2.8 and the Canon F1.4 has floored it into first. I suspect the bit of contrast difference/weakness on the Sigma is a lot to do with the day it was shot and some cirrus dinking around the sun, not much but maybe enough. On the gif comparison with the F1.8 canon below you can see the contrast is much the same.
All three shot at F5.6
At F5.6 the Canon F1.4 still handily winning. They are all pretty good by here. Through the range the cheapest Canon F1.8 is always in range of either leaders. If only it didn't have the useless cheap flimsy focus ring. I'd just keep that if it had a real ring. I wish I had kept the Canon F1.4. I didn't feel like taking the Sigma back and asking to have the Canon and the extra $150 back.
I guess it is possible if one had all 3 lenses at the same time and compared them again, the Sigma would come in closer to the Canon stopped down, just off the lighting difference. The sun angle by the Sigma test was even lower(notice the leaves are gone on that one). Could bring it closer but I think the Canon stopped down still beats it. Basically it's just clear that wide open the Sigma wins but Canon flies up and past it stopped down. And really, I guess I don't think the lighting difference is doing that much. Canon still goes from far less contrast to most contrasty stopping down. Stopping down made that happen even with any little bit of light difference.
I can't comment on the autofocus really. I just never use it. I seem to recall using it briefly with the Sigma and it being well off. Something I've since heard is an issue with it. But really I don't know. I should mess with it on a good bright day just for this. Foggy out atm. Sounds like it's probably just another reason to get the Canon F1.4.
This may or may not be interesting for some. Both images were taken from a tripod in one spot with the same manual settings for exposure and same white balance in RAW conversion. The Sigma's 50mm view is a fair bit wider than the Canon 50 F1.8. And there's some color differences. Mostly just thought the width difference was interesting.
Zeiss 21mm F2.8
This lens is often referred to as legendary and the best wide angle lens for dslr's(one location - http://diglloyd.com/blog/2012/20120224_1-Zeiss21.html ). So it's in a way silly to bother reviewing it much. It's built like a hefty metalic work of art. If you can get sharp corners on a wide angle on a full frame camera you have achieved something lol. Above is with and without a distortion profile enabled in photoshop. It's not that huge of a issue or correction if you choose to apply the profile in RAW conversion.
It's nice when you can do it without a lot of vignetting, at least if you stop down some. The Zeiss is also manual focus only, but unlike the Samyang, the aperture is controlled by the camera like most lenses nowadays. Unlike the Samyang's half stop increments, you have 1/3 stops. Each change of this animation of vignetting is 1/3 a stop, not half like the Samyang 14 higher up. The first frame is F2.8, the 4th frame is F4 and the last frame is F5.6 With this thing, already at F4 it is pretty happy in the vignetting department. F5.6....what vignetting.
People tend to think that because you can fix vignetting easily in RAW conversion it is not an issue. Well that is true if you have the dynamic range to spare. Canon at least isn't known for wonderful shadow pushing results. I shoot storms that often have a lot of much brighter light around or under them. If I keep that in check, it's hard to even keep good shadows without vignetting. If you have 3 or more stops of corner darkening/vignetting, eh it can matter. This thing should work really well for wide angle storm photography, given how well that is brought into check by stopping down. Even F4 it's great compared to some other lenses.
Crops from the extreme upper right corner. I didn't notice till after the fact that something got on the lens, so you can see the bottom right of this has some haze, especially as I stop down. Ignore that area. Full size, unsharpened, even at F2.8 up there in the extreme corner, is kinda silly for a full frame wide. F4 and F5.6.....this is extreme corner sharpness full frame! Finally. Expensive lenses shouldn't let you down. They should do this. F5.6 unsharpened is really just silly out there..even with my drop or smudge of whatever nearby in the frame lol. If you've never shot wide on a full frame you probably don't understand just how good that is.
These 100% crops aren't even near the center. It's the very top edge of frame right of center. You can see on the vignetting and distortion gifs where this is. Just look at the unsharpened F2.8 out there! Notice the micro contrast the Zeiss lenses are known for too. Heck these photos/RAWs weren't even processed for contrast and whatnot.
The Zeiss also have a hard stop infinity focus. You turn the lens to focus at infinity and it is a hard stop on it. Every other lens I've used has play room either side of the infinity line. This actually worried me at first. Was like, well what if it is off and you needed the play room past it on your camera. Must not be an issue or worthy concern. It was right on. This is quite nice for chasing storms and using it at night too. Just turn it to the end and know you are right on.
http://www.lensrentals.com/buy Great place to buy used gear. That page is always updating with goodies. Right now another of these 21mm Zeiss lens is listed on there but given 20/20 lp/mm not even 22/22 or 24/24 like this copy got. Wonder what dictates that the most. They had a 22/22 one there same time as this 24/24 one and I obviously made sure to get the 24/24 lol.