Samyang 85mm f1.4

"Can't afford an auto-focus lens, Son?" said the voice? Now, it wasn't the first time I've heard someone ask the question, but the person in question (a guest at a wedding I was shooting a wee while ago) had been following me around for most of the day, carrying a DSLR with a basic kit lens on it, and shooting over my shoulder. It dawned on me that there's a general opinion that if someone owns a digital SLR, then they "...own a good camera..." (something we've all heard time and again - in fact, a few years ago, it was me that my friends were talking about) and that's the end of that! Well, actually, no it's not. Let me explain:
Don't believe me? Okay, try this - pick up a beer bottle (empty, preferably), stick it to the front of your camera and take a few photos. No? Why not? Okay, this may be an extreme example but the principle is exactly the same:- There's glass and then there's GLASS!
We all know that the basic kit-lenses supplied with entry point DSLR's are getting better and that they're capable of producing some half-decent results. However, when you first use a high-quality, professional level lens the difference is incredible! Now, there are a multitude of high quality auto-focus lenses on offer from the big camera manufacturers, as well as 3rd party companies like Sigma, Tamron etc. but the lens I want to introduce to you here is old-fashioned/ boring/ rubbish (delete as you wish, but at your own peril...) and manual-focus! (hence the comments from my shadow with his DSLR)
The Samyang 85mm f1.4 is not only manual-focus but manual aperture as well (that means you need to do a wee bit of work when you use it) and comes in a variety of fittings for Canon, Nikon etc. (it's frequently re-badged as Rokinon/ Vivitar/ Falcon and Opteka - same lens though.

Samyang are making a bit of a name for themselves these days and rightly so as they are producing VERY high quality manual-focus lenses at VERY affordable prices (especially when compared to their auto-focus counterparts from the big camera manufacturers). And there's a big clue as to why I have two of their lenses in my bag (the other being a Rokinon 8mm fisheye) - these lenses are incredibly sharp! For me the 85mm is perfect as a portrait lens: 85mm on a full-frame camera like my 1Ds, and as near as damn it to a 135mm on my crop-frame Canon bodies and that fast aperture of f1.4 is an absolute dream.  As well as allowing more light in than a kit lens (or even my f2.8 zoom) there's a beautiful quality to the bokeh it produces. The biggest problem with a lot of fast-aperture lenses is that they tend to be a wee bit soft when used wide-open - NOT something to worry about with the Samyang, it's sharp at f1.4 (even if the depth of field is only a few millimetres). 'But doesn't manual-focus slow you down?' - Well, yes a wee bit, but let's be honest - if you're shooting portraits and bridal shots, they don't tend to move very fast anyway do they? Now, there are loads of reviews online which will give you all the technical info you could ever want (number of blades/ weight/ how well it shoots a bloody wall etc.) so I would just like to share with you a few shots taken with it to let you see what it's capable of producing and how I find it in day-to-day use - when it helps me to feed my family and protect my reputation as a photographer. The lack of electronic coupling means I need to try and remember my settings - although installing a cheap 'focus-confirmation' chip helps that side of things a bit and it's more practical - for me, at least - than using live-view. All the shots below were taken using a Canon EOS 7D.

First off, a few family portraits taken using available light at f1.4 - f2 :

I missed focus slightly on this one as it was before I installed the focus-confirmation chip and I was using live-view. 

Pin-sharp, with nice smooth bokeh.

At a recent shoot for a female bodybuilder, the lens was stopped-down to f9-f10 and delivers exceptional results:

On a family trip to Paris, we stumbled onto a shoot near the Eiffel tower and I grabbed this at f2.8:

Meanwhile at Disneyland:

ISO 1250 and f2.8 (it's always good to have fun and practise your focusing technique when you get the chance, right?)

In action capturing a portrait of a German Shepherd - I thought Id share a colour and black & white version of the shot to show not only the sharpness but also the colour rendition of of the lens.

ISO 100 at f2.8

And finally, a couple of shots from a recent wedding:

 Bride and her mother - ISO 1600 and f2
ISO 100 and f2.8

So, to recap on my conversation at the start:
Yes, I can afford an autofocus lens - but none as sharp as this one. Does manual-focus slow you down? Yes, obviously - but in these days of 'Spray & Pray' (the practise of firing off dozens of shots and hoping for a few decent ones) I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing - I know of a pizza-delivery guy who also shoots the odd wedding & model portfolios and he once told a friend and I that he takes an average of 10,000 shots at a wedding and reckons there's at least 100 good ones in there!? Surely real photography is about taking your time, working with your tools (a wee black box, a piece of glass on the front of it and some light) and creating something special, instead of hoping that the law of averages will help you - then using some 'quirky' filters to hide the times it doesn't work out?
Would you like to know the best bit? Here goes - Where the manual-focus Zeiss 85mm f1.4 will cost you nearly £1100 - and an autofocus Canon 85mm f1.2L will cost a whopping £1650 (both great lenses, incidentally - I'm not saying otherwise) the Samyang can be found for around £250 if you shop around a bit! At less than £100 over the price of a kit lens the Samyang 85mm f1.4 is an incredibly cheap way for any wedding or portrait photographer to produce exceptionally sharp images.

And that is exactly why this lens is in my bag - it allows me to create something beautiful when I have a bride or portrait client in front of my camera. It captures the most intricate detail in The Dress. It lets me fulfil my vision when I want to make a fraction of a second... last a lifetime.


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